Great, Harmonious, Fair Societies
The ``Great,” ``Harmonious” and ``Fair” Societies are all similar in scope; trying to effect change on a societal level.
The Great Society was designed by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. The Harmonious Society was the vision of President Hu Jintao of the People’s Republic of China. And the Fair Society was the dream of President Lee Myung-bak of the Republic of Korea.
As the 36th president of the United States, Johnson announced his goal of building the Great Society after his party’s landslide victory in the 1964 elections. Basically, there were two main goals of the Great Society: the elimination of poverty and racial injustice. Major spending programs for education, medical care, and transportation were included.
The U.S. GDP expanded by an average of 5.5 percent from early 1961 to late 1963, while inflation remained steady at around 1 percent and unemployment eased; industrial production rose by 15 percent. With this as his backdrop President Johnson advocated his goal of building the Great Society.
In 1968, the last year of his presidency, President Johnson announced he would not seek re-election. It was a year of great unrest. NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw claimed that 1968 was the worst year in U.S. history, citing the Vietnam War, anti-war demonstrations, the assassinations of Rev. Martin Luther King and Democratic Party presidential contender Robert Kennedy just to name a few.
Jan. 21, 1973 is the day I left Korea to start a new job assignment in Washington, D.C. the day after Richard M. Nixon was sworn in for his second term as the president of the United States. Throughout the campaign, Nixon portrayed himself as a figure of stability during a period of national unrest and upheaval. However, his second term was interrupted the following year due to his involvement in the Watergate scandal. All evidence that President Johnson’s dream had yet to be realized.
In 1994, I went to China, for the first time. I arrived in Tianjin and from there drove to Beijing on the newly opened Jing-Jin Expressway. It took one and half hours. Last year, I visited China again. This time I landed in Beijing and rode the China Railways high-speed train to Tianjin. It took only half an hour. A significant difference! The train was named ``He Xie” meaning ``harmony,” a word that Chinese leaders used to inspire continued growth. Wherever you were, two important words echoed through the streets, He Xie and He Ping, harmony and peace.
President Hu Jintao, at the beginning of his term, proposed the Scientific Development Concept to serve as the ultimate goal for the Communist Party of China. It emphasizes balance between urban and rural societies, reducing regional and generational differences in terms of personal income, therefore building a ``Harmonious Society.”
This concept redirects China's focus from economic growth to overall societal balance and harmony. In 2005, around the same time as this shift in modus vivendi, the Rand Corporation of USA reported ``Chinese Government Responses to Rising Social Unrest” stating that social protests had risen dramatically over the past decade. Chinese police analysts focused on popular grievances resulting from economic reforms, including layoffs and unemployment, withheld wages, pensions, housing allowances, health care and other benefits.
Although protests did precipitate during the late 1990s, they began as early as 1993-96 when China’s GDP was growing at more than 10 percent a year. More importantly, protests continued to increase at more than 20 percent a year during the 2000-03 recovery when the economy grew at 9 percent annually. Affirmation that President Hu’s vision had also yet to be achieved.
In his Aug. 15, 2010 Liberation Day speech, President Lee described an ``equitable world” as one of his principles for the management of state affairs. He stressed that everyone should receive equal opportunities without exception. “The ‘Fair Society’ policy could be troubling for social leaders and those with vested interests. Nevertheless, it will eventually bring our national status up a notch.”
A few weeks later, President Lee expressed hope that his fair society campaign will continue through to the next administration no matter who succeeds him, removing unfair practices in all sectors of society and make Korea an advanced nation. He said his pledge to create a fair society was not mere political propaganda, but is based on public needs and the country’s growing international reputation. He foresaw that the fair society initiative, if successful, would have tremendous long term economic effects and would help improve the global image of Korean products.
During his presidential election campaign, he promised the Korean people that his ``7-4-7 Platform” would realize a 7 percent annual GDP growth rate, $40,000 per capita income in 10 years, and Korea would rank 7th on the world GDP list. Of course, the global financial crisis was not foreseen. His promise also remains unfulfilled.
In 2012 President Hu Jintao is stepping down and his position will be transferred to Vice President Xi Jinping. The following year, President Lee will transfer his power to his successor along with the hopes that their dreams will come to fruition.
People want and expect change to be quick if not immediate. But with the dreams of visionaries changes on a societal or even global scale can be achieved. Like all evolution or the creation of great landscapes or even for us to be able to appreciate a giant redwood, they just need time.
The writer is a chair professor of the Catholic University of Daegu and a show host on Arirang TV. He headed the Foreign News Division of the Korea Overseas Information Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.