2.3. At Osan School (1921-1923)
In 1921, having been increasingly sceptical for two years toward the credal tendency of the Korean church, Ham finally entered Osan High School, a private school, in Chongju, a small town in northern P'yongan Province. At that time, in terms of finance and material wealth Osan School was just above the poverty line. There was not a single desk or chair for several hundred students, and the students were studying in dilapidated thatched roof houses. Indeed compared with P'yongyang State High School, Osan was destitute and much smaller in physical size. What is more, unlike P'yongyang, Osan was deep in the countryside (Osan means five mountains) in an area where living conditions were extremely poor and difficult. As soon as Ham arrived at Osan, he learnt that the Osan School had previously been destroyed by the Japanese police, because of its deep involvement in various activities for independence.
Nevertheless, the lively environment of Osan School had a great effect on building up Ham's early ideas and future destiny. Ham summarised the essence of Osan education: "At that time Osan was the central axis for three main movements: nationalism, cultural and religious [Christian] movements. Thus the education at Osan school promoted nationalism, humanitarianism and Christianity."
Being founded by a nationalist Christian and industrialist, Yi Sunghun, from its inception the character of the Osan School was largely concerned with social reform and public-spirited activities, such as the independence of Korea from Japan. Hence, it is not surprising that at the time of the March First Movement all the teachers and students of Osan School were arrested and the school buildings were burnt at the hands of the Japanese police. Notwithstanding its material destitution, there was no pessimism or discouragement amongst the Osan students and teachers, rather they were in remarkably good spirits. This was a totally opposite phenomenon to P'yongyang State High School, which had relative wealth, yet most of its students and teachers were low-spirited, and hampered by strict regulations. Here at Osan, Ham's dream to be a medical doctor gradually faded away and for the first time he began to ask himself the question, "What is Korea?" Ham became increasingly concerned for the independence of Korea from Japanese control.
At the time of Ham's arrival at Osan School, the principal of the school was Cho Mansik (1882 - c.1950), a prominent Korean nationalist Christian leader. Despite the fact that it was not destined to last long, at Osan School the youthful Ham was to spend two years of his early manhood, breathing in an atmosphere of Christian spirit and dynamic patriotism.
Since 1919 Ham had felt acutely a lack of understanding by Korean Christians about scientific views of the world. Thus while at Osan School, young Ham actively familiarised himself with scientific and universal ideas by reading the writings of great thinkers, such as H.G.Wells' (1866-1946) The History of the World (1920), Thomas Carlyle's (1795-1881) Sartor Resartus (Clothes Philosophy), George Fox's (1624-1691) Journal and Percy Bysshe Shelley's (1792-1822) Collected Poems.
Wells' The History of the World left a great impression on Ham. Wells had a romantic conception of science that was to prove a source of inspiration for his view on history. He had been a resolute believer in the notion of a League of Nations and was a campaigner for world peace. Wells' writing provided a fundamental influence on young Ham's view of the world, the necessity of pacifism, a cosmopolitan view of religion and history. Because of Wells, Ham began to develop an immense interest in history, the theory of evolution, and science. In view of this early influence Ham later even decided to study history and become an 'historian'.
Sartor Resartus is an essay to illustrate the contrariety between the semblance of objects and their essence. Carlyle considered that institutions, like organised religions or systems of administration, were similar to clothes. They might be helpful "visible emblems" of the spiritual powers that they clothe, yet they wear out and have to be changed for new clothes. The Christian church, by way of illustration, which formerly showed humankind's everlasting saintly aspirations, was, in Carlyle's understanding, worn out and ought to be cast off. Yet the underlying divine spirit must be perceived actively and preserved whatever the circumstances. The finding of the essence behind the semblance is, for Carlyle, the incipient level of an answer to the dilemma of life. I assume that through Carlyle's writing, Ham learned the essential clue regarding the relationship between truth and institutions. Thus man is capable of discovering the 'reality' perceptively, without the interference of established institutions.The Journal of George Fox published first in 1694, set out the most important philosophical aspects of the Quaker faith. Fox was the first early leader of the Quaker movement, and his ideas were seminal in the establishment of the Religious Society of Friends. In his Journal, Fox maintained that everyone has the capacity for personal contact with God. Inside all human beings there is what was variously called an Inward Life, Inner Light, Christ Within, "That of God in every man" and The Seed of God, which can respond to the Divine Spirit, or God-given inspiration. The belief in the Inner Light has its roots in the Gospel of John in the New Testament, in passages such as: "In Him [Christ] was life, and that life was the light of men." "The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world." "I am [Christ] the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
Fox argued that humanity needed to recognise and nourish the Inner Light. Through the guidance of Inner Light, humanity is able to promote spiritual life.
Since all humanity has the Inner Light, Fox thought that each individual through silent worship can be led to divine the workings of God; the Inner Light in each person was the mainspring of faith and had a connection to God. By turning to the Inner Light, everybody had the opportunity of perceiving the truth, and therefore of choosing between good and evil. Fox also spoke out against the established church, maintaining that religion did not require rites sanctified by church canon and doctrine. Hence Fox was adamant that he could have open fellowship with God without the need of the ordinances or priests and the outward sacraments of Christian doctrine.
In this initial contact with Quakerism, Ham did not make clear exactly what he gleaned from Fox's Journal. But considering his later odyssey and nonconformist character, presumably Fox's conception of the Inner Light inspired young Ham's heart and encouraged him to question the authority of established churches.
Shelley, too, was also a radical nonconformist in every outlook of his life and ideas. Through his experience of the 'petty tyranny' and 'inhumanity' at Eton and Oxford, Shelley determined to devote his life to a war against injustice and oppression. After his expulsion from Oxford, Shelley worked for the improvement of the oppressed and poverty-stricken people in Dublin. Through his writing, Queen Mab, Shelley rebuked institutional religion and codified morality as the root of social evil. Shelley was never content to maintain a fixed mental view point; his poems contemplated stages in a continual pursuit of the truth. Various of his poems showed his determination never to let his lively intuitions and faith fossilise into a pedantic or sedentary religious doctrine. Shelley's poems also expressed an extraordinary variety of modes of expression: calm passion, tranquil and heroic dignity, the approximation to what is inexpressible, and the visionary conclusion.
Shelley's energetic poems offered to young Ham hopefulness and optimism regarding his country's future, though Korea was under Japanese colonial rule. In particular, Ham was fascinated with Shelley's Ode to the West Wind, the last line, "The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?" It is not surprising Ham later on published a book with the title of Sop'ung-ui Norae [The Ode of the West Wind] and wrote an essay about the life and thought of Percy B.Shelley with the title of Kyouri Manil Ondamyon [If Winter Comes].
Over and above his readings at Osan School, Ham met two men, Yi Sunghun (1864-1930) and Yu Yongmo (1890-1981), who became his teachers, and made the deepest impression on him. They taught him the significance of Korea's freedom and of East Asian philosophy, which were to have a remarkable effect on the perceptive Ham.
Yi Sunghun was orphaned as a child and from the age of eleven worked at a variety of jobs in factories. Through his enthusiasm and persistence, Yi lifted himself from being a factory worker to the distinguished position of an administrator in a comparatively large import and export business. After the Russo-Japanese War, Yi went to a Confucian school (sodang) to study the Confucian Classics, but was not satisfied with them. In 1907 he heard An Ch'angho, the great Christian orator and patriot, lecture on keeping Korea from being abandoned, dropping indolence and laziness and the importance of modern education. Yi was deeply impressed by An's speech and determined to adopt this as his life-goal. That meant, as Allen D. Clark pointed out, Yi was first interested in popular reform, then in Christ. On recognising Korea's national crisis, Yi became convinced that education was fundamental for the survival of Korea.
Yi established the Osan School to promote his Christian democratic ideals and in 1908 the P'yongyang Ceramic firm. He used the firm's profits to support the school. Yi devoted his whole life and income to the Osan School.
As one of the alleged conspirators of the "Conspiracy Case" of 1911, Yi served four years and two months in prison. Yi was ordained as a Presbyterian minister following his discharge in 1915. He was also one of the Christian leaders of the March First Movement. Yi inspired Ham through his deeds and ideas. Ham expressed his glowing admiration towards Yi this way: "Yi was the Light of Korea. He was a brilliant, passionate, energetic and truthful man. I have never seen such a man in my life!"
The other teacher was Yu Yongmo, a man of distinguished erudition both in Biblical and classical East Asian philosophy and who became Principal at Osan School in September 1921. It was he who introduced Ham to the philosophies of Taoism and Buddhism together with other East Asian classics. What is more, Yu presented an East Asian interpretation of Christianity to Ham. It was at that climactic age in his life that Ham began substantively to examine the purpose of life itself. Ham was reminded that it was Yu who made him into a "thinking person". Both the ideas of national spirit and East Asian philosophy were essential to Ham's further internal development. From this time on, Ham began to ask himself, "What is the truth?" But he was dissatisfied with the blind faith of others who believed and accepted the decrees of established Christianity without question. Ham began to seek instead for a more personal belief, but he was incapable of finding what he sought of "the truth" in the Presbyterian church. Ham procured further knowledge by himself and made it his own. At Osan, Ham devoted more and more time to 'thinking about life'. As a result, during the time at Osan the following three key issues were identified by Ham as basic values and ideas:
"I pondered the matter deeply and came to the conclusion that there are three things which I cannot forsake: First, I am a Korean and cannot give up the tradition of my nation. Secondly, I believe in God, thus I cannot live without faith. Thirdly, I have studied science, moreover having carefully read H.G.Wells' The Outline Of History, I have been influenced greatly by his ideas of cosmopolitanism and the role of science."
In the meantime an interest in new social and political ideas had emerged amongst groups of intellectuals active in the March First Movement. Despite their profession of liberalism and democracy, European governments and the United States did nothing for Korea, apart from providing moral support at the time of the Movement. In the aftermath of the 1919 Movement, the Japanese pursued a more 'generous' policy toward Koreans, and nationalists were relatively unfettered and able to discuss social, cultural and, within limits, political topics.
In this regard, the diffusion of left-wing philosophy introduced fresh concepts into the argument of the issue of Korean sovereignty. This phenomenon was particularly prevalent between 1920 and 1925. By 1922 there were 5,728 organisations of all types registered with the colonial police. They included study groups, youth leagues, labour and academic societies, tenant alliances, social clubs and religious associations. The Japanese police provided the following table: Registered Korean Organisations for the year 1922;
Religious 1,742;Youth 1,185; Church youth 639; Industrial 470; Recreation/social 348; Self-improvement 235; Labour 204; Academic 203; Anti-drinking/smoking 193; Women's 56; Savings/purchasing co-operatives 53; Political/intellectual 48;
Children's 40; Tenant 26; Health 6; Other 280.
What the above table illustrates is that during the early 1920s, there were increasing organisational activities among Koreans which took a variety of forms. In some quarters, the interest in new ideas even took a revolutionary form. After the Russian Revolution, thanks to the rise of the Soviet Union, with its opposition to capitalism and imperialism, the Soviet Union appeared as the protector of oppressed nations. In colonial Asia, nationalism began to be linked to socialism under the guise of the self-determination of nations. Lenin declared his willingness to support anti-colonial movements among the oppressed nations of the world. To some Korean nationalists the only proper policy, as a colony of Japan, was full-scale war against Japan, a war they hoped and anticipated would be assisted by the Soviet Union. Accordingly, the triumph of the Russian Revolution created an escalation of ideas and hope for revolutionary change. This interest in socialism was evident among Korean intelligentsia and students within the country and in exile.
Since the time that Korea had become a Japanese colony, much nationalist activity had been conducted abroad. Some Koreans who were persecuted crossed the Yalu river into west or north Kando (Chien-tao) in south-east Manchuria or into the Russian Maritime Territory, with a smaller number of émigrés going to the United States. The Korean population in the Kando area already numbering 65,000 in 1894, had increased to 109,000 by 1910. Those in exile in the areas of China and Russia, maintained close links with Chinese and Russian nationalists and moved in left-wing circles. Many of these exiles believed socialism presented a solution to the dilemmas of socio-economic reform and of national liberation. The increased interest in socialism gave rise to the formation of the Koryo Kongsan-dang [Korean Communist Party] in Shanghai in 1920. Under the guidance of Yi Tonghwi, it obtained financial assistance from Russia. Yi and his associates were among those nationalists in Shanghai who urged armed battle and social revolution.
From the outset of their occupation of Korea, Japan had accumulated whole Korean histories and biographies of distinguished national figures from institutions and even private homes and burned them. Then Japan fabricated a Korean history based on colonialism, which still provokes Korean historians today. By doing so, Japan determined to demoralise and mangle Koreans' national consciousness. The Japanese colonial view of Korean history described the national selfdom of Korea as that of dependency and enervation. Hence this Japanese attempt was a theoretical justification of the Japanese annexation of Korea.
In the same manner, in 1922, the Japanese authorities established the Text Book Compilation Committee on Korean history. The Committee argued that Korea was just a tributary state of China, and lacked the spirit of autonomy and independence. They considered Korean history and culture to be retrogressive compared with China and Japan. The Japanese authorities tried to forge an incorrect account of Korean history to persuade the world that Korea was unsuited for self-rule and required the supervision of Japan. By insisting upon these arguments the Japanese tried to justify their colonial regime in Korea.
Considering Ham had been an ardent nationalist since his childhood, the vigorous Japanese attempt to destroy Korean selfhood and the arguments of the Text Book Compilation Committee on Korean history must have been abhorrent to the young Ham. Koreans groaned under the persecution of the Japanese, but did not have the strength for an effective response or for taking matters into their own hands. It seems that this is the fundamental reason why Ham determined to write an account of Korean history from the standpoint of the oppressed, to inspire his downhearted countrymen. A decade later Ham began to write Songso-jok Ipchang-eso Pon Choson Yoksa [Korean History from a Biblical Perspective].
The spirit and atmosphere that Ham had breathed in the little village of the Osan School provided him with a rather progressive ethos that enabled him to work for the colonised country and open the way for the liberation of the nation. At all events, the education of Ham was comparably well under way when the twenty-two year old youth prepared to depart from Osan School for further study. In the wilderness of Osan, Ham was fairly well trained and prepared to stand on his own. In the springtime of 1923, with the mediation of Yi Sunghun and the financial support of Osan School, Ham decided to leave Osan for Tokyo in order to undertake additional study. At that time, for the majority of Koreans as colonial subjects of Japan the most recent ideas and world news came from Tokyo. As a result Tokyo was the main destination for Koreans who studied abroad. As well as being freer than Korea, it was also geographically close and therefore much less costly and easier to travel to than either the United States or Europe.
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