We are currently undergoing a major paradigm shift along with the flow of
globalization and living in an unstable society caused by ensuing social instability,
perplexed sense of values, and materialism from informationization and culturalization.
On account of the modern day case of Jinryeonggun that took place early this year,
all of us, including the Assembly, media and the people, focused on one term:
cooperative governance. Then, what does ‘cooperative governance’ mean and
where does the term stem from?
Many scholars believe that the term ‘cooperative governance’ was first used in
The Governance of England (1885) by Charles Plummer. Regular use of the term
didn’t arrive until the 1990s by UN, IMF, World Bank and other international organizations.
The World Bank defines the term ‘governance’ as ‘the exercise of political power
for governance that manages economic and social resources for the sake of national
development’ and Japanese scholars interpreted the term as ‘cooperative governance’,
which is still in use today.
Cooperative governance denotes a ruling method where various institutes in the society
autonomously participates in the governing process. It is not a unilateral controlling of
the government but a systematic governance under the principles of participation and
autonomy, separation of power and cooperation, and joint obligations and
As the form of governance where one person with an immense power runs the entire
country is dwindling, the role of the executive branch is withering, and as such,
it emphasizes that the society has become more diversified and various agents must
participate and cooperate in the governing process.
Moreover, because modern administration aims for decentralization, globalization
and internationalization, various communications and networks among the various
members from private sectors and communities are being emphasized.
Currently, we live in a nation that adopted the presidential system but the king of
Joseon exercised much more authoritative powers than current presidents. Current
government system is separated into three branches of powers, legislature, executive
and judiciary, and the president head the executive branch.
In addition, the term of president in South Korea is 5 years and each president is able to
serve up to 1 term but the king retained all the powers of the three branches of
government and the term was lifelong, unless disturbed for some reason.
With all the powers, the kings of Joseon regarded the hearts of the people as the
hearts of the gods and worked hard to realize a true cooperative governance with love
for the people.
Then, was the term ‘cooperative governance’ used during Joseon dynasty? The text in the
Chronicles of Joseon Dynasty contains expressions such as ‘support the politics
(Chronicles of Yeongjo, 1753)’, ‘if we were to cooperate and rule (Chronicles of Sunjo,
1812)’, and ‘support the affairs of state (Chronicles of Gojong, 1899), indicating that our
ancestors used ‘cooperative governance’ since late Joseon dynasty.
Based on these records, our ancestors used the term ‘cooperative governance’ 130 years
earlier than any other countries in the world and 240 years earlier compared to
the Japanese scholars interpreting the term ‘governance’ as ‘cooperative governance’
in the 1990s.
According to the examples of our ancestors practicing ‘cooperative governance’, it took
93 years for Gyeonggukdaejeon, the first code of law of Korea, after Joseon was
founded. After the proclamation of the Gyeonggukdaejeon, it took an astounding 260
years to proclame the Sokdaejeon.
What is more, the names of various levels of offices of education and the education
system have never changed for the 500 years of Joseon reign. This remarkable fact is a
proof that cooperative governance system prevailed throughout the reign.
The reason why we look into the history of our ancestors is to comprehensively and
scientifically study our historical developments, develop proper understandings of our
society and resolve modern issues in a creative and judicious manner.
And, to nurture the abilities to participate in communal activities to further individual
abilities and contribute to the development of the nation, society and humanity as a
democratic citizen and to foster the self-
consciousness and competence as the citizens of Korea living in the twenty-first century.
Our ancestors have left us numerous implications through historic records. 240 years ago,
our ancestors worked together to realize cooperative governance where the people came
We must practice ‘cooperative governance’ that is suitable to modern society and politics
and never forget to build a cooperative society with order, norm and confidence for our
〔Ahn Byung-il is the secretary-general of the South Seoul Scout Council and an adjunct professor at Global Cyber University〕