▲ Professor Jang Ha Sung. Photographed by Kim Hye Ri.
Professor Jang Ha Sung (’74, Business) discusses Korea, change, and rage.
Will a just society in which everyone lives happily in harmony ever come to Korea?
Society is something made by its constituents, not by itself. Thus, it really depends on how the public sets goals in creating the society, and what efforts they show to pursue it. Nothing can currently be said for sure. However, taking into regard that an effective leader in Korea that brings about change and people expressing their rage is rarely seen, it would not be so easy.
Starting from the academic world, you have participated in the society as far as the public community and politics. Is there a reason you have started participating actively?
Social science exists as an engagement of some relationship one has with society. In Korea many of the social sciences are imported. We expropriate the controversies of the subjects from abroad and fit Korea into a general scheme. However, the theories should fit Korea, rather than Korea fitting into the theories. Those who study social sciences barely look into the complexities of our society and, thus, hardly know Korea; I disliked that. I, as well, have studied in the United States and learnt about the US studies. However, contemplating upon how the things I learnt there could be applied to Korean society was necessary. Not every academician must intervene and attempt to solve all the social problems. In my case, because I deal with so many issues that are closely related to our real world, I wanted to bring about change.
What is the most important thing in maintaining hope and walking forth?
Knowing about what is going on in Korea is important. You see, everyone knows that the youth are having a hard time; that is why they are called “remainders” and “three give ups.” People should be questioning why it is hard for them, but currently people tend to individualize the problem. They think, “It is because I did not try hard enough,” or conversely, “If only I overcome this problem it will be okay.”
However, because the problem is deep within the Korean societal system, the problems are not going to be resolved unless the system itself changes. Some individuals may overcome the problems with great effort, but still a majority of others will have to suffer from them. The lack of perception is not the fault of the youth though. The older generation refuses to talk about these issues. Universities are not talking about them, schools are not teaching them, and the press is not dealing with them. All they try to teach the youth is “positivity studies” that deem individuality important. “It is all your fault. If you try hard and if you think positively, any problems in the world can be resolved,” is what they are saying. That makes no sense at all.
▲ Professor Jang’s bestseller books about Korean capitalism and society. Provided by Newsen.
Can “raging” and “being happy” coexist?
Those two are entirely different things from a different context. They are not mutually exclusive or do not go against each other. The rage I talk about is when we rage against things that are not just. Like when we cry when seeing something sad, it is that natural. If the world is wrong, we should be furious. In other words, I am not urging people to emotionally rage but rationally rage.
The youth in Korea depict a high level of happiness in their lives. It could be said that they ignore problems in society and remain content with what they have. Of course happiness does not always have to be defined as something big, but it is worth questioning whether their happiness is true happiness. A human being does not exist solely, but as a member of society. Thus, when people say that they are happy even though the future is gloomy, that cannot be said to be real happiness.
Flooded by information, we sometimes cannot identify the problems in society. How can we see the world correctly?
That is also the responsibility of the old generation. The first thing I said to students in my Core Elective Class this semester was, “I will provide you with objective facts. However, the judgement and interpretation of them will be my personal opinion. I do not teach with a general theory. You may dislike my views and think differently from me. However, someone has to be judging values so that a controversy can be generated. I do it my way.”
Because investigations on problems that are specific to Korea are so shallow and unexplored, the youth cannot help but feel lost. They have to dig in to their own problems because the older generation is not providing them with answers. Not to brag, but there should be more people like me. I am treated as a maverick because there are not a lot of people like me, when in fact I am not. Opinions about how people have judged Korean society with their own values and goals through diverse ways should be the norm; however, because there are so few, this remains a serious problem.
Some judge your books as a form of propaganda that sways youth. What do you think about this opinion?
That is great! The youth should rage. If that person is using “sway” to mean arousing with a foul intent, he or she is seeing it wrong. If, however, he or she uses the word to mean catalyzing the youth to see the world clearly, then that is correct. If people do not rage at unjust things, their society is dead.
Many people are afraid to speak their opinions because they want to “fit in.” What is the source of your courage to voice your personal views?
I do not know if you could say that I have courage…. Well, there are several reasons why people do not speak up. First, the Korean a c a d e m i c w o r l d somehow wrongly perceives “neutralism” as more scholarly. However, eventually academicians should delineate their values within the context of their studies, or else the study will merely be a “loyal study.” Second, many people are entwined with interests. Korean society can be described as a place where speaking a different opinion from the frame of society or interest tends to exclude those who dissent. This is why for the last 20 years I have never taken a seat in a corporate project or governmental committee. I did not want to create that relationship of interests in the first place.
The fact that you are cousins with Jang Ha Joon, also a renowned economist, has been an issue. Were you two perhaps rivals when you were young?
(Laughs) Ha Joon is 10 years younger than me, so we could never be rivals. I have always adored him. (Laughs)
▲ Professor Jang discussing the future of Korea in an interview with GT. Photographed byKim Hye Ri.
With such a prestigious personal history, you must have gotten many scout offers. Why did you choose teaching?
I became a professor to study more; there is nothing else I want to do. In the past and even today, I have been given many offers in politics or a governmental position. However, I refused all of that because I studied to become a professor, not a politician.
It was very impressing to see you wear sneakers with a suit in your classes and special lectures. Is there a special reason why you put on sneakers?
Because they are comfortable. (Chuckles) Very comfortable.