Excerpt from Jesus of the East

From Jesus of the East:

The word “han” is used to describe the deep woundedness of the Korean people. Han is a sense of unresolved victimization that can lead to anger, hatred, and violence. The history of Korea is a history of han. This small country has been the focus of attempted conquests from the Japanese, Chinese, and even conflict with the U.S. on more than one occasion.[1]Han is a ubiquitous theme among the people of Korea that sits just below the skin of Korean culture. In my research of the idea of han I discovered a related term in the Vietnamese language, hận and oán hận, translated as hatred and animus, respectively.[2]It is no surprise that the Vietnamese borrowed this term given a similar history with the Chinese, Japanese, French, and United States. Like han, oán hận is animus or ill filling towards another because of some kind of offense. 

In the United States, something like “the blues” is the han for African-Americans. It is ingrained in the culture as music and lyricism. Where there are cultures and people who are oppressed, han seems to exist in their language and grammar. Korean-American Theologian, Andrew Sung Park, refers to the killing of Abel and the blood that cries out for justice as an image of han.[3]In the story of sibling rivalry, Cain kills his brother and there is seemingly no consequence, no justice, for Abel. Rather, the blood of Abel that saturates the ground cries out. Han is the cry of the victim whose wounds are unvanquished, unjustified. But what happens when this han is untreated? When the victim(s) of han is not healed then a cycle of han can be created and there can be continued violence toward not only the perpetrators, but also the victims and those who are innocent. Consider this example. A little girl is the object of abuse. She is an innocent victim. No one would blame her as a “sinner” or say that she caused what happened to her. What happens if she does not receive treatment for the trauma of her abuse? She then has the potential of abusing others and even herself. Violence then begets violence, and the cycle continues, unless her han is treated and the wound is healed.

[1]         Even before the Korean War the United States was tangled in conflict during an expedition to Korea in 1871.

[2]         Other scholars, such as Andrew Sung Park, have also made this connection. 

[3]         Andrew Sung Park, “The Bible and Han,” The Other Side of Sin Woundedness from the Perspective of the Sinned-Againsteds. Andrew Sung Park and Susan L. Nelson (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2001), 48.