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Asian Philosophy


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Korean Philosophy

Haan of Minjung Theology and Han of Han Philosophy by Chang-Hee Son (University Press of America) Korean history and experience testify to the depth of human suffering, "haan." Those who are familiar with the "han" from minjung theology may question the word "haan" since the spelling, han, is more commonly known among Koreans and Westerners. Although they are two distinct concepts, haan and han, minjung theologians use the spelling "han" indiscriminately for both and so foster a confusion, particularly for English speaking readers. This study delineates the nature of han and differentiates it from haan.excerpt:

Han and haan are spelled the same in Korean, since the Korean writing system is purely phonetic. Sino-Korean notation is used to distinguish which term is being referred to.

Haan (han with extended a sound; JR; tI:) means "grudge, rancor, spite, lamentation, regret, grief" The word haan has been advocated and studied by Minjung theologians. Haan is a significant, psychological state and the prevalent, dynamic, emotive experience, as differentiated from the experience of the German notion of "angst." The notion of what is termed haan has been commonly used in daily life among Koreans from ancient times and is still in common use especially among those persons who have lived through the Korean War. Haan is pronounced with an extended "a" sound (as if spoken in a long sigh) hence the reason for the double letter "a" although Minjung theologians and others are indiscriminately spelling it "Han" or "han" in English.

Minjung theology rightly identifies and theologizes the haan of minjung as a significant emotional aspect or characteristic of the Korean people. Haan is Korean word, rendered in Sino-Korean is a compound word made up of two Sino-Korean characters. The first character, means "mind or heart;" the            second            character, means "to            remain            still or calm.” In Sino-Korean, haan is an ideograph evoking a picture of a tree whose roots are laid down deep, deep under the earth. So, haan is used to describe the heart of a person or people who has/have endured or are enduring an affliction, of which the pains, wounds, and scars are not always apparent or visible, because they are the kind that occur deep within the heart or soul of the person. The physical manifestations of haan in a person's heart or people's collective consciousness may eventually become visible and obvious. But haan is primarily what persons feel, experience, and keep within, not what they, wear on their sleeve, so to speak. Thus, haan connotes a mind's or heart's affliction and struggle with a deep emotional or spiritual pain which either poisons the entire being or even ends up nourishing the person (only when haan is resolved, but one's resolution of haan occurs very rarely). The accumulation of haan in a person's heart tends to turn into a lamenting, regretful, or inconsolable state of heart and mind. So, the word haan is combined with other words to disclose its multi-layers and multi-facets of meaning.

Han, an indigenous, philosophical concept descriptive of Korean identity, denotes oneness, sameness, wholeness, totality, extremity and summit.

The word advocated by the Korean indigenous, philosophical thinkers is believed by some to have first appeared m the earliest people of the Korean ethnic race, namely the Dong-i (meaning people of the East) in

contrast to the Southern Chinese people called the Han (han;     ) people (not to be confused with haan or han). The word han is pronounced with a shorter "a" sound in contrast to haan.

Ul-Ho Lee provides an exhaustive list of twenty-two definitive words (see chapter eight) which make up the inclusiveness and magnitude of the meaning of han which include,' "big," "one," and "perfect."ts Each of the twenty-two connotations of han can be used as a noun, adjective, adverb, suffix or prefix. Han is deeply embedded in the history, culture, and soul of the Koreans so much so that it is taken for granted.

As the residues of systematic dehumanization by Japanese colonialistic policies toward the Korean people began to diminish during the post World War II and Korean War era, an indigenous philosophy settled on the word, han [han, , af] as the essence of Korean identity or Korean mind, not in a nationalistic or political sense but in a cultural and metaphysical context.

Sang-Yil Kim, the most prolific writer and chief exponent of hanism, introduces the term, nonorientability, as a description of the Korean mind. Nonorientability is the presence of hanism in the Korean mind. What is not nonorientable is what is orientable, substantial, certain and with clear boundaries. So far, nonorientabi­lity may sound illogical, and irrational. The Korean mind places no boundaries between "I" or "you," in speech; hence, for example, when a man introduces his wife to his colleagues, he is heard to say, "this is our wife," not "this is my wife." I have introduced my own wife to my American friends in such a manner from my mind's literal translation from Korean to English. I was met with curious and stunned facial expressions and a not so pleased looking glare from my dear wife. One fellow leaned over to me and whispered a joking remark, "You share your wife with others!" Certainly, I did not imply that my wife was to be

"shared" with anyone! And most certainly, when Koreans speak in such a manner, they do not imply that the spouse is community property. But, Koreans find it unnecessary to mention personal possessiveness when it is so obvious whose spouse is being spoken of. "Our wife" means "my wife." In speech, there is no clear distinction between my and our, singular or plural. Such a scenario is an example of the nonorientability or han quality of the Korean mind.

Nonorientability or han is also evident in the design of Korean artifacts not just in the semantics and behavior. Hanbokbajee [Korean garment pants], the traditional trousers worn by men, is designed with the concept of han. The Westerner, who has a distinct, substantiated notion of what is front and back, may find hanbokbajee lacking structure and orientation. Questions such as, "uhh, which way are you supposed to wear it? Where's the fly?" can be heard from those unfamiliar with the hanbokbajee. The design of the trousers is quite ingenious. It has no distinct front or back; it can be worn either way for even wear. Its ample, baggy leggings accommodate freedom of movement and comfort for the laborer as well as the sedentary scholar. To the traditional Korean mind, specificities like front and back of hanbokbajee are nonessential.

This quality of hanism, nonorientability, is what positions hanism as a boon to overcoming the dualism and substantialism of Western traditions, as John Cobb, Jr. assesses the value of hanism. But bringing hanism to light is not an easy task. The problem here lies with the Koreans. Many of them still regard what is indigenously Korean as something that is antithetical to the progress of society in general. This pejorative evaluation of indigenous Korean thought was imposed upon the Koreans by Japanese colonialism. This low esteemed assessment of Koreanness or han has intensified ever since traditional Western philosophy was introduced to Korea. While Koreans were trying to eradicate the vestiges of Japanese propaganda and systematic dehumanization, Koreans embraced Western Christianity and did not adequately resume the recovery of their true Koreanness, which is centered on han with its ideas of oneness, totality, and greatness. The country was split in two; families were separated by the demilitarized zone; many children were orphaned. Physical reality spoke in very black and white tones: we are broken, there is no more han, only haan. Everything was filtered through the lens of Western Christianity to the detriment of the Korean mind. Souls may have been "saved," but the Korean mind began to see the world from a dualistic point of view. It is difficult enough to bring Koreans to the realization of han and sometimes more--and less--difficult to enlighten non-Koreans of han.

Minjung (minjung;            means people, the masses, populace. The terms minjung and haan go together like a needle and thread.

This book focuses on the "haan" of Minjung theology and the "han" of han philosophy and on the relevance of han to Eastern and Western theologies. Such a task does justice to the meaning and validity of both words and enables correct application of these words. If this study excluded any mention or explanation of haan, then the confusion between the two terms could still abide and proliferate in the minds of the readers.

The research methodology imposes a few limitations. First, the research for this book was challenged by the scarcity of resources in the English language related to han. Therefore, almost all of the resources regarding han are from writings in the Korean language. But, the resources regarding haan are prolific in the English language.

Therefore, the methodology for this book will include wide and extensive research on literature written in the English and Korean language. The very fact that there is so little literature on han in the English language helps validate the need for a study which pursues the subsuming of han in English for the Western world.

There are two main parts, their respective chapters, and a conclusion as part three. Part One deals with the historical development of haan among Korean people. It also facilitates not

only a clear understanding of the term, haan, but also deals with the theological understanding of the minjung. Part Two deals with the theological as well as the philosophical and metaphysical understanding and implications of han.

In Part One, chapter one attempts to probe the etymology of the word, haan. Chapter two presents an analysis of the geography of Korea, pointing out the geographical characteristics which have strongly contributed to the shaping of the history and sociology of the people. Furthermore, it deals with a phenomenological description of the historical development of the people's or minjung's suffering as well as an exploration of the advent of Christianity and its impact on the mmjung. Chapter three explores the meaning , of minjung in the Korean context since haan and minjung are inseparable from each other.

In chapter four, the theological understanding of haan is discussed so that its premises, or tenets, can be unobtrusively applied to many different social and national contexts. Chapter five attempts to develop the theological, hermeneutical concept of haan by looking at it from the view of Minjung theology.

In Part Two, chapter six explores the etymology of the word, han, and its historical development. Chapter seven explores the Korean ethnic race's impact upon Chinese culture. Chapter eight develops the concept of han from its philosophical and metaphysical implications and compares han with process theology. Chapter nine explores the Ch'onpu-kyong from a philosophical perspective and how it can be applied to Whiteheadian process theology and Oliver's metaphysics of relation. Part Three or chapter ten discuss han in relation to haan as the culmination of this study. An appendix, bibliography, and index are included at the end.

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