Angels Open a Path through a Dark Forest

There are two things we must leave our descendents when we die. One is tradition, and the other is education. A people without tradition will fail. Tradition is the soul that allows a people to continue; a people without a soul cannot survive. The second thing of importance is education. A people will also fail if it does not educate its descendents. Education gives us the power to live with new knowledge and objects. Through education, people acquire the wisdom for living. Anyone who cannot read will be ignorant, but once educated he will know how to use the wisdom in the world to manage his own life. Education gives the sagacity to understand the principles by which the world operates. To open a new future for the Korean people we need to pass on to our descendants the tradition that has been handed down to us over thousands of years and also supply them with education concerning new things. Tradition and new knowledge are appropriately integrated in our lives, giving rebirth to an original culture. Tradition and education are both important, and it is impossible to say which takes priority over the other. The wisdom to integrate the two also comes to us through education.

At the same time that I founded the dance troupe, I also founded the Little Angels School of the Arts (later renamed Sunhwa Art School). The purpose in founding this school was to spread our ideals to the world through the arts. The issue of whether we had the ability to manage a school was of secondary importance. I first put my plan into action. If the purpose is clear, and it is something for good, then it was necessary to put it into action quickly. I wanted to educate children to love Heaven, love their country and love humanity.

I wrote my motto for the school as a piece of calligraphy that said in Chinese characters, "Love Heaven, Love Humanity, Love Country." Someone asked me then, "Why do you put 'Love Country' at the end, when you say your purpose is to show Korea's unique culture to the world?"

I answered him, saying, "If a person loves Heaven and loves humanity, he has already loved his country. Loving the country has already been accomplished in the process."

If a Korean can cause the world to respect him, then he has already accomplished the purpose of letting the world know about Korea. The Little Angels went to many countries and demonstrated the excellence of Korean culture, but they never made any nationalistic claims about their country. The image of Korea as a country of great culture and tradition was planted deeply in the minds of the people who saw their performances and gave them their applause. In that sense, The Little Angels did more than anyone to publicize Korea to the world and practice love for their country. It gives me great satisfaction every time I see the performances of Sumi Jo and Youngok Shin, graduates of Sunhwa Art School who have gone on to become world renowned vocalists, and of Julia Moon and Sue Jin Kang, who are among the best ballerinas in the world.

Since 1965, when they held their first overseas performance in the United States, The Little Angels have been introducing Korea's beautiful tradition all over the world. They were invited by the British royal family to perform in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. They were invited to take part in the Bicentennial Celebration in the United States, where they performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. They gave a special performance for President Richard M. Nixon, and they took part in the cultural and performing arts festival that was part of the Seoul Olympic Games. The Little Angels are known around the world as cultural ambassadors for peace.

This is something that happened in 1990, when I visited Russia. The Little Angels gave a performance on the night before I was to leave Russia, after having met President Gorbachev. Korea's little girls stood in the center of Moscow, the center of Communism. After performing Korean dances dressed in hanbok, these little angels sang Russian folk songs with their beautiful voices. Shouts of "Encore!" were repeated from the audience, making it impossible for them to come off the stage. In the end, they completely exhausted their repertoire of songs. First Lady Raisa Gorbachev was seated in the audience. South Korea and Russia had not yet established diplomatic relations, and it was very unusual for the First Lady to attend a cultural performance of such a country. In fact, Mrs. Gorbachev sat in the front row, and applauded enthusiastically throughout the program. After the performance, she came back stage and handed the troupe flowers, and repeatedly praised the greatness of Korean culture, saying, "The Little Angels are truly angels of peace. I did not know that South Korea had such beautiful traditional culture. During the entire performance, it was as if I was dreaming a dream about my own childhood." Mrs. Gorbachev embraced each member of the troupe, and kissed them on the cheek, saying, "My Little Angels!"

In 1998, The Little Angels visited Pyongyang as the first purely private, non-governmental cultural exchange program, and gave three performances there. They danced the cute "Little Groom Dance" and the colorful "Fan Dance." The eyes of the North Korean people watching the performance teared over. The image of a woman sobbing uncontrollably was captured in the lens of a newspaper photographer. Kim Yong Soon, chairman of North Korea's Asia-Pacific Peace Commission, praised The Little Angels after their performance, saying, "They have opened a narrow path through the dark forest."

That was exactly what The Little Angels did. They demonstrated for the first time that Koreans from North and South, who had turned their backs on each other for such a long time, were capable of coming together in one place and watching each other's performances. People often think that politics moves the world, but that is not the case. It is culture and art that move the world. It is emotion, not reason, that strikes people in the innermost part of their hearts. When hearts change and are able to receive new things, ideologies and social regimes change as a result. The Little Angels did more than just advertise our traditional culture to the world. They created narrow paths between worlds completely different from each other.

Each time I meet The Little Angels, I tell them, "You must have beautiful hearts to perform beautiful dances. You must have beautiful hearts to have beautiful races." True beauty is a beauty that wells up from within us. The Little Angels have been able to move the hearts of people throughout the world, because the beauty of Koreas tradition and spiritual culture that are imbued in their dances are beautiful. So the applause for The Little Angels is actually applause for Korea's traditional culture.