3.3. 'Nationalist', 'Oriental' and Farmer (1938-1945)
At the "Prison University"
The Japanese entered upon a period of harsh transformations, making further demands on Christian activity to be obedient to their authority. Whole Christian denominations were eliminated and Korean Christians were compelled to amalgamate into a single government-directed association, named kyowon.
In February, 1940, Japan promulgated the 'Name Order'. As Ham refused to take a Japanese name, this meant he would suffer more trouble and difficulty from the Japanese authorities. Around 20% of Korean nationalists did not take a Japanese name. In return, the Japanese authorities prohibited their offspring from entering schools and these Korean nationalists were put under police surveillance. Considering Ham was one of the few Korean educated men, having a college degree, it is almost certain that if he had changed his name into the Japanese style, he and his family unquestionably would have been better off under the Japanese regime. Despite his secular disadvantage, Ham kept to his principle of non-collaboration with Japanese authority rather than compromising.
With regard to press activities, Japan began to curb indigenous newspapers. More and more Korean journalists and writers suffered as press censorship tightened. At last in August 1940, the remaining two Korean language dailies, the Choson Ilbo and Tong'a Ilbo, were forced to cease publication, and the Koreans were obliged to read only Japanese publications and dailies.
In the meantime, in 1941 Japan bombed Pearl Harbour. During the Pacific War Japan conducted a so-called nation-wide mobilisation policy, which was enforced with extraordinary harshness within Korea. Also the Japanese deported most of the Christian missionaries. By this stage, Christians in Korea were also a target of Japanese persecution for political as much as for cultural reasons.
When Protestant missionaries first entered China and Japan, they had come at a time of, and in connection with, gunboat diplomacy and mercantile exploitation. Yet in Korea, through a mixture of fortune and astuteness, the circumstances of Protestant churches were entirely different from those of China and Japan. Although there were some treaties with Western countries, such as with the United States, Britain and Germany in 1883, with Italy and Russia in 1884, with France in 1886 and with Austria-Hungary in 1889, the impact from the West through gunboat diplomacy and mercantile exploitation, was minimal and insignificant. Therefore, Protestantism had the advantage of entering the old-fashioned 'hermit kingdom', taking hold within the minds of the Korean population against the rising austere Japanese. Unlike China and Japan, the colonisers in Korea were not Westerners nor Western missionaries, but the more harsh colonial rulers of imperial Japan. In this respect, the establishment of Christianity in Korea was fundamentally different from China and Japan.
For the time being, after his expulsion from Osan School, Ham stayed in Chongju as a farmer, cultivating an orchard for his livelihood. Soon Ham created a Sunday Study Meeting, where he began to teach and enliven his beloved former students.
In March 1940, one of Ham's friends Kim Tuhyok (1903-1993), who had been running a private farming school in Songsan on the outskirts of P'yongyang, wanted to hand the administration of the school to Ham. Hearing this request Ham moved to Songsan. Ham took over the farming school called the Songsan Nongsa Hagwon and began to work as both an administrator and tutor. Although the school acreage was composed of five thousand p'yong (about fifteen thousand square metres) mainly farming fields, there were only thirteen students. Every morning Ham taught from the Bible, the Korean language and history to his students and each afternoon they worked together in farming the fields. Ham concentrated on three main areas for his teaching: education, Christian faith and farming. As the number of students at the school was so small, initially the Japanese authorities did not pay much attention to the school's administration.
Ham's friend, Kim Tuhyok, soon left for Japan to meet the members of Kye'uhoe (Seasonal Friends Society), which was the society of Korean intellectuals in which Kim was an active member. Kim had planned this trip when he handed the administration of the school to Ham. But five months later in August 1940, Kim was arrested in Tokyo and accused of being involved in Communist activity. However, considering that Kim became a Senior Official (Kukchang) in the Agricultural Department in South Korea after independence from Japan, and in 1971 became Headmaster of Hanol High School in Ch'ungch'ong Province of South Korea, it is extremely unlikely that Kim was ever involved in Communist activities, as any such involvement would have made impossible for him to hold such posts. Nevertheless after the arrest of Kim, the Japanese authorities saw the characteristics of Ham's farming school as Communistic and nationalistic. The Japanese did not approve of the style of Ham's leadership in the farming school nor the content of his teaching.
Eventually, on the basis of his previous writings on Korean history, as well as more substantially his 'Communistic' and nationalistic administration of the school, Ham was imprisoned in August 1940. This time he served a prison sentence for a whole year. Without its leader, the Songsan Farming School closed down, lasting only five months after Ham's take over.
Having heard of Ham's imprisonment, Ham's father was severely shocked. Ham's imprisonment led to the death of his father within three months. It was a rather cold November in 1940. Only when Ham was released from prison a year later, did he learn of the death of his father as well as the hardship his family had suffered. Ham's mother, wife and seven children endured a meagre existence living from hand to mouth. It appears to me that the poverty and resultant difficulties of Ham's family led him to question whether he had taken the right path. A conundrum faced by other leaders: had one made the right choice in putting the people's well-being even before that of one's own family? The Japanese authorities forbade Ham to teach or run the farming school any more, it seemed everything had turned to dust and ashes. Nevertheless, Ham began to farm his late father's land in order to pay off the debt left by his family. Thereafter farming became Ham's 'profession' as a means of livelihood. Now, as a farmer, Ham adopted the traditional Korean dress which he wore until the end of his life. But it was not the end of suffering for him nor was it the end of suffering for colonised Koreans.
In 1942, thirty prominent figures in the Han'gul Hakhoe [Korean Language Society] were arrested on accusations of encouraging nationalist activity. As a result of the brutal torture to which they were subjected by the Japanese police, Yi Yunjae and Han Chongun died in prison. An increasing number of Koreans were detained and found guilty as 'seditious' men. In particular on a charge of being "thought criminals", 409 Korean students were also arrested. Between 1940 and 1944 some 5,600 Koreans were imprisoned as "thought criminals."
In March 1942 Songso Choson was forced to cease publication by the Japanese authorities with volume number 158. Two months later, in May 1942, Ham, Kim Kyosin and eleven other colleagues who had published Songso Choson were arrested again. Without a trial, the Japanese took them to the Sodaemun Prison [Seoul's Main Prison] where Ham and his colleagues served one year imprisonment. Ham was made, by the law, a convict, no so much in consideration of what he had done, but in consideration of what he stood for, in view of what he thought, because of his conscience. Several hundred regular readers of Songso Choson were also rounded-up and imprisoned throughout the Korean peninsula. Ham says in regard to his bitter experience of imprisonment during this period:
"Those were the days when Imperialist Japan was resorting to the most oppressive measures to wipe the Korean race from the face of this earth. In 1943, the Japanese authorities arrested all the readers of the magazine [Songso Choson], charging us with harbouring dangerous ideas, and abolished the magazine itself. The case was dropped after we had spent one year in prison."
But because an evil may sometimes turn out to be a blessing in disguise, Ham turned his misfortune to fortune in terms of cultivating his inner strength and widening his knowledge. Ham used this prison experience as a 'university of life', reading the writings of John Ruskin (1819-1900) and Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). From his Biblical education, as Ruskin acquired his awareness of prophecy and mission as a critic of contemporary society, Ham presumably felt his sense of prophecy and mission as a critic of Japanese colonial society. But while Ruskin as Professor of Fine Arts at Oxford, was fascinated with issues of art and absorbed in questions of truth in art, Ham, despite his fondness for fine art, never could afford this 'luxurious privilege', since the social and political situation of Korea under Japanese imperialism was so desperate.
Ruskin stated in his writing, Unto This Last (1860), his conception of the responsibilities of employers toward their labourers, and by doing so, he profoundly influenced the founders of the British Labour Party. It is also conceivable that Ham had a corresponding vision to Ruskin's economic view, since he did not approve of the capitalist view of the world nor the revolutionary Communist one. I will examine in a later part of this thesis why Ham was suspicious of the capitalist view of the world.
Tolstoy propagated his belief in a humanitarian faith and refused to support man-made institutions such as governments and churches. Ham's scepticism with regard to churches and states could have been influenced by Tolstoy's philosophical anarchism. As Tolstoy also concentrated primarily on the moral problems of humanity Ham's view of humanity is similarly fundamentally a moral one. He saw the human race principally as moral beings rather than anything else. Tolstoy was concerned with the harm a materialistic society inflicts on natural, unspoiled man, and the disparity between natural man and the contaminated product of sophisticated society. His view on natural man corresponded with Lao-tzu's view of natural man as Uncarved Wood. According to Lao-tzu, in uncarved naiveté, human beings achieve their genuine character. Civilisation and society slice the wood into defined frames for their own use and consequently deprive us of the distinctive composition of their first completeness and intactness. It is not surprising that Tolstoy was the first European to admit a philosophical influence from Lao-tzu for his faith of 'non-action'. Since Ham was also fascinated with Lao-tzu, it is hardly unexpected that Ham admired Tolstoy's view on human nature.
In prison, Ham also read various Buddhist Scriptures such as, The Prajna-Paramita Sutra (The Book of Wisdom; Panya-gyong in Korean), The Lotus Sutra (Pobhwa-gyong in Korean) and The Amitayus Sutra (The Book of Constant Life; Muryangsu-gyong in Korean). It is not feasible to examine Ham's view on Buddhism since he did not leave any record of his thoughts. Later, in 1954, when Ham tackled the issue of atonement in Christianity we can see the reflective legacy of Buddhism in his views. As Ham put it: "Atonement [of Christianity] is at-one-ment, that is 'oneness' between God and oneself"; "Atonement occurs through Christ, only when Jesus and I are no longer divided characters but experience oneness together." Buddhist Scriptures also pointed out the oneness between Buddha and oneself: "Beings from the very beginning have the Buddha-nature within them, like the sun which emerges from the clouds, or like a mirror which, when rubbed, regains its original purity and clarity."
Ham's re-interpretation of the issue of atonement in Christian doctrine shows us the influence of Buddhism on Ham's thoughts as we can see through the further passages of the Buddhist Scriptures. According to the Fa-hsiang School (Popsang-jhong in Korean) of Buddhism, pure ideas lead impure ideas to a higher state of truth where subject and object are not distinguished. Buddhism teaches that the human heart has two aspects, the pure heart and the impure heart. But the heart in itself is not two; it is only classified in these two ways according to its workings. "The pure heart is the pure heart of our own nature, our natural heart which is not a whit different from the Buddha heart." In this regard, Buddha's heart is the same as our own nature. "The radiance of the Buddha heart breaks forth from ourselves, the compassion of the Buddha flows out of the Buddha heart within us. We come to know that the majesty of Buddha is our own majesty also." Through broad readings of various Buddhist Scriptures Ham could understand Christianity in a wider and deeper sense. Ultimately Ham reached the belief that "Buddhism and Christianity are not fundamentally different."
Through further readings of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu Ham was also deeply impressed by the pacifist teachings of philosophical Taoism. After broad readings in his 'prison university', Ham "gained a conviction that all religions [including Christianity, Buddhism and Taoism], in the final analysis, are one." It seems that, after climbing to the summit of a mountain, one only finds that there was more than one path to reach that summit. Thus Ham's recognition laid a cornerstone for the inspiration of the merging of Western Christianity and East Asian philosophies of his later years.
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