Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Kim Chi-Ha's Han Anthropology and Its Challenge to Catholic Thought

  • Kevin P. Considine (a1)

The Korean anthropology of han remains an untapped resource for envisioning Roman Catholic soteriologies within a globalizing context. Han refers to the deep wounds of the violated that are imbued with energy that will cause either creation or destruction. One means by which Catholic theologians can engage han is through the writings of Korean poet Kim Chi-Ha (b. 1941). Kim's works, Groundless Rumors: The Story of a Sound, Torture Road—1974, and Chang Il-Dam, provide evocative and challenging images of han and how God works for the salvation of both sinned-against and sinner in this world. Kim's artistic rendering of han in his works challenges Catholic soteriology to attend as thoroughly to salvation for the “sinned-against” as to salvation for sinners.

Hide All

1 The term “sinned-against” originates from the work of Fung Raymond. See his “Compassion for the Sinned-Against,” Theology Today 37 (July 1980): 162–69. For the purposes of this article, I am defining “salvation” as suggested by Edward Schillebeeckx, who proposes moments of fragmentary salvation that are God's incomplete but realized works of healing, liberating, forgiving, and reconciling in this world that will not come to fulfillment until the eschaton. See Schillebeeckx Edward, Christ: The Experience of Jesus as Lord, trans. Bowden John (New York: Crossroad, 1981), 646842.

2 Kim's given name is Yong-Il; he later adopted Chi-Ha as a pen name for his antiregime writings. Chi-Ha carries a twin meaning of “grass stream” and “underground,” both of which are pronounced identically, but the latter of which is Kim's intent.

3 Küster Volker, A Protestant Theology of Passion: Korean Minjung Theology Revisited (Boston: Brill, 2010), xiixiii.

4 Berrigan Daniel, “From a Korean Prison: A Path to Life,” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 9 (April–June 1977): 16.

5 Kim Chi-Ha, as cited in the preface to Heart's Agony: Selected Poems of Chi-Ha Kim, trans. Won-Chung Kim and James Han (Fredonia, NY: White Pine Press, 1998), 913, at 10.

6 Volker Küster, A Protestant Theology of Passion, 148 n. 46. Chan J. Wu argues that Kim's more recent poetry shows a Buddhist and shamanistic sensibility. Wu argues that Kim's writings show a “poetics of full-emptiness” and an interior turn away from politics. See Chan J. Wu, “Introduction: Cosmic Buds Burgeoning in Words; Chiha Kim's Poetics of Full Emptiness,” in Kim and Han, Heart's Agony, 15–33. Wu highlights two poems in particular: “My Home” and “A New Church.” In “My Home,” Kim longs for communion with the cosmos rather than explicitly with the God of Jesus Christ. Kim writes: “And You, the Cosmos, / Are the home / To which I shall return in the end.” In “A New Church,” Kim's vision of church coalesces with the ecological environment and the cosmos. He concludes this poem with a vision: “My / New church / Church of grass, soil, and water, / New / Society of Jesus / Am I dreaming?” (Kim Chi-Ha, “My Home” and “A New Church,” in Kim and Han, Heart's Agony, 95, 98).

7 The foundation for hanism, or a philosophy of han (韓) —“nonorientability”—is found within late twentieth-century Korean studies that worked with a hermeneutic of suspicion toward the works on Korean history that had been accepted as authoritative. These had been written primarily by Japanese colonizers who saw little value in traditional Korean culture and philosophy, as well as Westerners who worked within a Sinocentric paradigm in which Korean culture was little more than a mere derivative of Chinese culture. Kim Sang-Yil and other scholars used this hermeneutic of suspicion to attempt to retrieve the deep roots of Korean culture, particularly through the culture of an earlier Dong-i people who allegedly carried the philosophy of han (韓). See Kim Sang-Yil, “What Is Hanism?,” in Hanism as Korean Mind: An Interpretation of Han Philosophy, ed. Sang Yil Kim and Young Chan Ro (Los Angeles: Eastern Academy of Human Sciences, 1984), 1015; Kim Sang-Yil, “Hanism: Korean Concept of Ultimacy,” Ultimate Reality and Meaning 9 (March 1986): 17.

8 Son Chang-Hee, Haan of Minjung Theology and the Han of Han Philosophy: In the Paradigm of Process Philosophy and Metaphysics of Relatedness (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2000), 4.

9 Ibid., 14.

10 Lee Jae-Hoon, The Exploration of the Inner Wounds—Han (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1994), 3549.

11 Park Andrew Sung, The Wounded Heart of God: The Asian Concept of Han and the Christian Doctrine of Sin (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993), 1520.

12 Wang-Sang Han, quoted in Wonhee Anne Joh, Heart of the Cross: A Postcolonial Christology (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), xxi.

13 Ham Sok-Hon, Queen of Suffering: A Spiritual History of Korea (London: Friends World Committee for Consultation, 1985), 22.

14 Chung Hyun-Kyung, Struggle to Be the Sun Again: Introducing Asian Women's Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), 42. See also Chung Hyun-Kyung, “Han-Pu-Ri: Doing Theology from Korean Women's Perspective,” Ecumenical Review 40, no. 1 (1988): 2736.

15 Yani Yoo, “Han-Laden Women: Korean ‘Comfort Women’ and Women in Judges 19–21,” Semeia 78 (1997): 3746.

16 Suh Nam-Dong, “Towards a Theology of Han,” in Minjung Theology: People as the Subjects of History, ed. Committee on Theological Concerns of the Christian Conference of Asia, rev. ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1983), 5569, at 58.

17 One fundamental problem that I am unable to investigate in this short article is the postcolonial problem of “orientalism” when interpreting han and Kim Chi-Ha's work from a US, English-speaking, Anglo perspective and context. This work of intercultural hermeneutics through a semiotic understanding of culture must be outlined in a separate article. To better understand “orientalism,” see Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon, 1978). For the foundation of a theory of intercultural hermeneutics, see Schreiter Robert J., “Christian Witness in a New Modernity: Trajectories in Intercultural Theology,” Concilium 323 (2011/1): 2736; Schreiter, The New Catholicity: Theology between the Global and Local (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997); Schreiter, Constructing Local Theologies (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1985).

18 In this article I have relied on translations of Kim's work offered by other scholars. For an introduction to the intricacies of translating Korean poetry into English verse, see McCann David, “A Personal Introduction to Korean Poetry,” Korean Studies 14 (1990): 119–34. See also McCann David, Introduction to The Middle Hour: Selected Poems of Kim Chi-Ha (Stanfordville, NY: Human Rights Publishing Group, 1980), 311.

19 Suh Nam-Dong, “Towards a Theology of Han,” 63.

20 Kim Chi-Ha, quoted in Suh, “Towards a Theology of Han,” 64.

21 Joh, Heart of the Cross, 25–27.

22 Kim Chi-Ha, quoted in Suh, “Towards a Theology of Han,” 64.

23 Kim Chi-Ha, quoted in Suh, “Towards a Theology of Han,” 64. In Kim Chi-Ha's outline to his play, Sacred Place, he characterizes han as a “metal eating monster”; the full quote runs as follows: “Han, separating itself from human emotion, becomes substantial and grows into a ghostly creature. It appears as a concrete substance with enormous ugly and evil energy and rules and commands all of the prisoners. It is a hero, ghost, and a leader of a religious faction; how do I describe all this?” (ibid., 64).

24 Kim Chi-Ha, “At the Field,” in Kim and Han, Heart's Agony, 39.

25 Kim Chi-Ha, “Chiri Mountain,” in Kim and Han, Heart's Agony, 52.

26 David McCann points out this humor and irony. See his preface to Kim Chi-Ha's “The Story of a Sound,” in Contemporary Literature of Asia, ed. Biddle Arthur, Bien Gloria, and Dharwadker Vinay (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996), 466.

27 Kim Chi-Ha, “The Story of a Sound,” in Contemporary Literature of Asia, 466–79, at 468–69.

28 Ibid., 471.

29 Ibid., 472.

30 Ibid., 471.

31 Ibid., 472–73.

32 Ibid., 474.

33 Ibid., 475.

34 Kim characterizes Ando's reaction to his mutilation as shamanistic. Ando refers to flying like the birds and returning to his mother even in death. Chong-Sun Kim and Shelly Killen explain the presence of shamanism in many of Kim's writings: “Always the poet writes of return. ‘Kung’ returns the dismembered Ando to his mother; the poet goes back to where his father died. For the archaic shamanistic mind, the dead return when they have been wrongly slain; hence, the impulse to cut up their bodies. For the modern mind, the memory of the evil deed returns in the form of conscience. Lady Macbeth cannot ever wash her hands of blood. By going back to the wrong deed and memories of cruel destruction, Kim Chi Ha releases them into the present. By remembering and consciously bearing grief, the poet lifts the shamanistic urge for vengeance into the realm of an action that frees people for renewal. Kim Chi Ha returns in order to go forward into life again” (Chong-Sun Kim and Shelly Killen, preface to The Gold Crowned Jesus and Other Writings, ed. Kim and Killen [Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1978], ixxl, at xx).

35 One of Kim's allusions to han in Torture Road: “The mind falls and falls into a bottomless hole beyond all hope, from which it never returns. Thus, nothing but futile, bloody waiting: hell.” Kim Chi-Ha, Torture Road—1974, in Kim and Killen, The Gold Crowned Jesus and Other Writings, 67–84, at 77.

36 Kim and Killen, preface, xxii–xxiii. They continue, “The mystery of the spirit flashes in the poet's mind as a moment of religious, artistic, and political insight.”

37 Kim Chi-Ha, Torture Road—1974, 76.

38 Ibid., 72.

39 Ibid., 75.

40 Ibid., 76.

41 Ibid., 76.

42 Ibid., 77.

43 Ibid., 77.

44 Kim and Killen, preface, xiv.

45 Kim Chi-Ha, Torture Road—1974, 87.

46 As Chung Hyun-Kyung points out, han-pu-ri comes from Korean shamanism. This is a ritual means through which han is resolved. In Chung's analysis, there are three general movements throughout the duration and various steps of a kut. These are “speaking and hearing,” “naming,” and “changing.” Chung describes the first as the shaman enabling the han-ridden person(s) or ghost(s) to speak. This often occurs through a dialogue with or even possession of the shaman. This allows the ghost or person to break her/his silence and tell the story of her/his han that was never brought to light. In the second step, the shaman enables the han-ridden person(s) or ghost(s) to name the source that caused the unresolved han. In the third step, the community and hearers are emboldened to change the structures of whatever caused the han in the first place. Chung, “Han-Pu-Ri,” 34–36.

47 Kim and Killen observe: “The poet is a saint who calls himself a comic. In 1972, he wrote: ‘I'm not a Solzhenitsyn, you know. I'm Kim Chi Ha. Not a tragic figure. A comic, like these bad teeth of mine’” (Kim and Killen, preface, xxiv).

48 Tonghak (Eastern Learning) religion was a response to the influence of Western (especially Catholic) learning (called sohak) and encompassed a fusion of shamanism, Buddhism, Daoism, and perhaps some elements of Christianity. Its founder, Ch'oe Che-Son (1824–64), proclaimed enlightenment from heaven and taught that all humanity bears divinity. The third leader of the religion, Sohn Pyong-Hui, changed the name to Chondogyo (Religion of Heaven) and proclaimed the unity of God and humanity. This egalitarian vision was at odds with the hierarchy and class oppression practiced by the Yi Dynasty and attracted both peasants and disenfranchised yangban. Thus, this religion was the foundation for the Tonghak Rebellions (1876–77, 1888–89) against the Yi Dynasty. These rebellions led to the Sino-Japanese War (1894–95) for cultural and political influence over the Korean peninsula. See Chai-Shin Yu, Korean Thought and Culture: A New Introduction (Bloomington, IN: Trafford, 2010), 7275; Kyung-Moon Hwang, A History of Korea: An Episodic Narrative (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 118–38.

49 Kim Chi-Ha, “Declaration of Conscience,” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 9 (April–June 1977): 12. As Volker Küster points out, the text of Kim's prison writing was actually penned by Kim's friend Park Young-Nae (A Protestant Theology of Passion, 81 n. 11).

50 Kim Chi-Ha, quoted in Suh, “Towards a Theology of Han,” 65.

51 Kim Chi-Ha, quoted in Suh, “Historical References for a Theology of Minjung,” in Suh, Minjung Theology, 155–82, at 179.

52 Kim Chi-Ha, “Declaration of Conscience,” 10.

53 Ibid.

54 Contemporary Christian theologians have criticized Kim's proposal of a philosophy of dan. For example, Wonhee Anne Joh critiques Kim from a critical feminist and postcolonial perspective and argues that even a limited, “agonized violence of love” is not a solution. Instead, Joh argues for a nonviolent praxis of jeong that is truly transformative and salvific. She argues that dan is ultimately insufficient, although sometimes necessary, and instead advocates for a praxis of jeong, in which relationships between victim and victimizer are transformed through nonviolent relationships that still lead to justice (Joh, Heart of the Cross, 26–27, 91–115). Jae-Hoon Lee also offers a critique of Kim's philosophy of dan. For Lee, a continuous practice of psychological dan cannot lead to health and well-being. Although conflict and confrontation are necessary, Lee argues that these must be measured and limited so as not to exacerbate the wounds of han and unintentionally lead to more violence. Lee thinks peace and balance within the psyche is the ultimate goal, and dan cannot achieve it. In addition, Lee thinks that dan is an overly masculinized understanding of love based on an overly masculinized God of conflict. In Lee's opinion, this hypermasculinity that disregards femininity cannot lead to true healing (Lee, The Exploration of the Inner Wounds—Han, 155–58).

55 The text of the poem itself, Chang Il-Dam, has been lost. It was confiscated by the Park dictatorship when Kim was arrested in 1974. He never attempted to reproduce the poem but has published references and notes. There are conflicting accounts of the character of Chang and of the plot, and I have attempted to synthesize some of the commonalities among them. The sources on which I rely include Suh Nam-Dong's essays “Missio Dei and Two Stories in Confluence,” in Asian Contextual Theology for the Third Millennium: A Theology of Minjung in Fourth-Eye Formation, ed. Chung Paul S., Kim Kyoung-Jae, and Veli-Matti Karkkainen (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2007), 5167; “Towards a Theology of Han”; and “Historical References for a Theology of Minjung.” In addition, I use Kim's “Declaration of Conscience.”

56 Suh, “Missio Dei and Two Stories in Confluence,” 65.

57 Ibid.

58 Suh, “Towards a Theology of Han,” 65–68; Suh, “Historical References for a Theology of Minjung,” 177–80.

59 Jung-Young Lee, introduction to An Emerging Theology in World Perspective: Commentary on Korean Minjung Theology (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1995), 10. Suh Nam-Dong describes four steps in Kim Chi-Ha's understanding of dan, which Kim admits comes from the unity of “God and revolution,” as he interprets both Catholic Social Teaching and also Tonghak religion. “The first stage in this process is Shichonju (worshipping God in the mind), the second stage is Yangchonju (nurturing the body of God), the third stage is Haengchonju (practicing the struggle), and the fourth stage is Sangchonju (transcending death and living as a single, bright resurrected fighter for the people)” (Suh, “Towards a Theology of Han,” 67).

60 Kim Chi-Ha, quoted in Suh, “Towards a Theology of Han,” 67.

61 Suh, “Towards a Theology of Han,” 67.

62 Suh, “Historical References for a Theology of Minjung,” 179.

63 Kim Chi-Ha, “Declaration of Conscience,” 9.

64 Referencing Homi Bhabha, Wonhee Anne Joh describes hybridity as a “thick description of historical and geographical situations … [and] this framework suggests mutual agencies on all sides. Here power flows in multidimensional directions. Certainly one of the salient characteristics of hybridity is ambiguity. The indecision inherent in ambiguity is the very source of its power for being open-ended” (Joh, Heart of the Cross, 53–54). In other words, hybridity is an indeterminate space, created by the asymmetrical and ambiguous coalescence, collision, and confrontation of diverse discourses of knowledge. This indeterminate space then has a destabilizing effect on set power structures as something new emerges.

65 Kim and Killen, preface, xiii.

66 Kim Chi-Ha, “Declaration of Conscience,” 13.

67 Ibid., 12.

68 In addition, Kim and Killen observe that Kim's work is “a mixture of prose, poetry, and incantation, [and] testifies to the poet's alchemic wedding of Korean shamanism with Christian liberation theology. … Instead of judging evil deeds and condemning people for their wickedness, Kim Chi Ha justifies existence through his own power to transcend pain with love and with communal strength in resisting injustice” (Kim and Killen, preface, xxx).

69 Kim Chi-Ha, Torture Road, 79.

70 This critique and observation is based on Andrew Sung Park's analysis of the Christian doctrine of sin. From a Protestant perspective while also engaging Catholic thinkers such as Karl Rahner and Gustavo Gutierrez, Park argues that priority in this doctrine is given to the oppressor while marginalizing the experience of the oppressed (cf. Park, The Wounded Heart of God). Park's claim has roots in Korean minjung theology, and in particular the work of Suh Nam-Dong, who credits Kim Chi-Ha with this critique.

71 This critique of Gaudium et Spes needs much more development and explication in order to be convincing beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a shortcoming of this article, and I am unable to pursue that investigation here. I explore the anthropological shortcomings of Gaudium et Spes in chapter 1 of my dissertation, the entirety of which is now under review to be published as a monograph.

72 “For the human person deserves to be preserved; human society deserves to be renewed. Hence, the focal point of our entire presentation will be man himself, whole and entire, body and soul, heart and conscience, mind and will” (Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World [Gaudium et spes],, 3. Similarly, John Langan writes, “Theological anthropology enjoys pride of place in Gaudium et spes and provides a basis for the treatment of specific issues” (Political Hopes and Political Tasks: A Reading of ‘Gaudium et Spes’ after Twenty Years,” in “Questions of Special Urgency”: The Church and the Modern World after Vatican II, ed. Dwyer Judith A. [Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1986], 99122, at 108). In addition, Walter Kasper has highlighted the uniqueness of the focus on the human person. He observes: “Gaudium et spes signals the first time a council has consciously endeavored to set forth a systematic account of Christian anthropology in an independent thematic context. There are, of course, statements concerning anthropology in earlier conciliar texts. Nevertheless, such statements are always made in connection with the treatment of individual questions relative to Christology, the theology of creation, or grace. Prior to Vatican II no council had produced a ‘general outline’ of Christian anthropology. The Pastoral Constitution was the first to attempt to do so” (Kasper Walter, “The Theological Anthropology of Gaudium et spes,” Communio 23, no. 1 [Spring 1996]: 129–40, at 129). My summary here is drawn from GS 3 and 10.

73 As Andrew Sung Park points out, all human beings exist simultaneously as sinners and sinned-against. Nevertheless, he argues that we must make a distinction between the two positions in order to account for the particular wounds that have been inflicted on an individual, community, or people group by another individual, community, or people group (The Wounded Heart of God, 70).

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0360-9669
  • EISSN: 2050-8557
  • URL: /core/journals/horizons
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 2
Total number of PDF views: 16 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 131 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 24th October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.