and "To the Last Breath" (1970-1989)
5.2. The Voice of the People
Overcome the Strength with Mildness
During the 1960s Park emphasised economic progress as the 'national motto' of South Korea. Nevertheless, by the 1970s, economic prospects were sluggish both by international and domestic standards. Park desired to 'create' another apparatus to maintain his power, this was to be the issue of 'national security' ahead of the issue of freedom of the press and the civil rights issues.
On the other hand, Ham urged the freedom of the press and considered the press rather than religious institutions should give a moral lead in contemporary society. In order to promote democracy and to emphasise morality in society, on April 19th 1970, the ten years anniversary of April 19th 1960 Student Uprising, Ham established a monthly magazine the Ssial-ui Sori [Voice of the People]. As an enthusiastic democrat Ham identified himself in his writings with the ordinary mass of his countrymen. His Voice of the People made use of unconventional verse-styles, and expressions common in everyday conversation in order to promote democracy, liberty and equality. Since freedom of the press had been suppressed throughout Park's rule, the Voice of the People became the focus for democracy in Korea, as well as working as a means for the enlightenment of the Korean people during the 1970s. Through the Voice of the People Ham heavily criticised not only Park's regime but also the submissive intelligentsia, particularly 'cowardly' journalists.
Political repression and social confusion permeated the Korean people, creating an intense feeling of insecurity, fear and defeatism. But Ham stood as a democratic symbol of hope. Ham was an uncompromising campaigner for human rights, gaining the love of the ordinary people. What is more, through the publication of the Voice of the People, Ham's followers, notably Kim Donggill and Ahn Byungmu, were also able to express widely their ideas on Korean society, becoming social leaders and prominent figures of public thought in the nation.
In this regard, as a counter action against Ham and his followers and other readers, in May 1972, the Park regime suppressed Ham's Voice of the People. Within five months, in October 1972, Ham was arrested under Park's National Emergency Martial Law. Despite his ordeal, when one looks into Ham's writings during this period, he sustained his inner optimism: "No matter how strong one may be, no one is eternally strong; no matter how weak one may be, no one is eternally weak --- in a short-sighted view the truth seems always defeated, but in a far-sighted view the truth is always a winner." In my view, this writing reflects how much Ham was influenced by the optimistic philosophy of Lao-tzu. As an example of this let me review the parallel aspects of optimistic writing from Lao-tzu: "In the whole world there is nothing softer and weaker than water. And yet nothing measures up to it in the way it works upon that which is hard --- the weak conquers the strong and the soft conquers the hard --- True words are as if contrary."
Whether or not Ham regarded himself as one, he was an international figure and a leader of the democratic movement in South Korea. As often happened later in Ham's life, Ham was more of an embarrassment to the Park regime inside prison than out. Thus Park was unable to keep Ham imprisoned for long.
Confucianism emphasises the value of filial piety as the source of all virtues. Confucian ethics stress hierarchical relationships not only between individuals but also between individuals and the ruler. Throughout the 1970s, Park also emphasised the Confucian virtue of loyalty and filial piety. In the Confucian environment the individual was a minor and trivial self (so-a) and the ruler was the Sovereign and Great Self (Tae-a). The minor self was frequently portrayed in a deprecatory way. The existence of so-a could not have a decisive importance, and moreover the absorption with the so-a's well-being to the default of the Sovereign Self, Tae-a, would be excessive self-indulgence, evil and unpardonable wrongdoing.
More interestingly, in Chinese characters, the term individualism means "everyone for oneself", and the meaning of freedom is "spontaneous un-control". Unsurprisingly, when a Chinese Confucian scholar translated the well-known book, On Liberty by John Stuart Mill (1806-73), he translated the title as Quan Jie Lun [Power Limits Theory]. That was the best understanding of the term 'liberty' by a Confucian scholar. The ideas of individual rights, liberties and equality were bizarre to Confucianism. Confucius defended a powerful paternalism in government and this remained unchanged as a fundamental doctrine throughout the whole history of Confucianism.
However, I must mention that Confucius himself was a great humanist and Confucianism is a great religious philosophy. Confucius' intention was not to provide ideological justification for tyranny. In China's turbulent days, Confucius emphasised practical morality. But absolute monarchy used Confucian ideology for its own ends. Similarly Park used some of the Confucian doctrines to strengthen his own hand.
Traditionally, Confucianism tended to be the ruling ideology or the religion for scholars, whereas philosophical Taoism tended to be treated as a heretic by the ruling Confucians as the peoples anodyne. In particular, after Neo-Confucianism became the state ideology of the Choson dynasty, the Confucians used Taoism to brand as heterodoxy. Nevertheless, Taoism tended to attract the attention of the common people as their folk religion or religious folklore. The unique and remarkable folk legacy of Korean Taoism is Sinson Sasang [The Philosophy of Taoist Hermits with Super-natural Power]. Both China and Korea share an authoritarian history. The Sinson Sasang can be seen as the antithesis of this authoritarianism. Sinson is a super-historical and super-natural power, which resists and is hostile to conventional systems or authoritarian restriction. This critical and resistant consciousness of Sinson manifested itself in the advocacy as well as in the pursuit of reversed values, against overpowering secular fixed values.
An illustration of reversed values is the tendency for the many female Sinson which appear in these tales, to have magical abilities stronger than their male Sinson counterparts. Considering that East Asian society is a male-dominated one and has traditionally accepted the predominance of male over female, the Sinson tales show the reversed value of this society and can be seen as embodying a rudimentary feminism. The Sinson tales refuse to accept the authoritarian order in Korea in general, even if the characters have to endure hardship as a result.
In this respect, from July 1971 until May 1988 Ham taught the Lao-tzu and the Chuang-tzu in public. Through his teachings, Ham advocated the dignity of human beings regardless of their social status and religious-orientation. Moreover Ham emphasised the value of humanity according to one's morality rather than one's economic ability. Thus Ham attempted to revolutionise Korea's socio-political situation through religious morality. In Ham's view, if a religion does not have a sense of morality it is not very different from fanatical belief and superstition.
In opposition to Park's emphasis on the Confucian ideology of fealty, Ham emphasised the free-spirit and transcendentalism of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu. As Taoism was a severe critic of Confucianism, by opposing Confucian conformity with non-conformity and Confucian worldliness with a transcendental spirit, Ham was a severe critic of Park's stress on the Confucian ideology. Confucianism contained a strong hierarchical notion and tended to rely on the concept of fatalism, which discouraged any attempt to 'live adventurously'. The traditional Confucian concept of using titles or names (ming) placed the titled or named into a hierarchical position, under the one who governs. However, Lao-tzu's Tao is non-hierarchical with no name, no fixed concept, definition or place in time or space. Equally, Tao takes none of the classifications, preferring the inclination to anarchy against either the 'divine right monarchy' or the 'ancien regime', or any sort of political power.
Confucianism concentrated on the formation of a moral and political conformity aimed at moulding both society and the Chinese imperial bureaucracy. Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu, by contrast, propounded a more naturalistic philosophy as against artificial fabrication, which emphasised human beings' freedom and the free spirit of humanity from conventional constraints. Confucianism also encourages the cultivation of self, but as it considers that complete cultivation of self is almost unattainable and that participation in state affairs is not possible without such attainment, in effect the concept of cultivation of self is severely confined by the notion of hierarchy and authority. As Roger Ames has argued "In fact, for Confucius, there is no individual - no 'self' or 'soul' - that remains once layer after layer of social relations in peeled away." The principle of inequality was an autocratic factor in Confucianism. Confucius thought that the abolition of inequality would irrevocably lead to a state of barbarism and chaos, in which mankind's desires would have no restriction. Hence, a popular and contented civilisation was feasible only inasmuch as everyone had a fixed place in society and a master to serve.
In contrast to the Confucian emphasis on the Yi, the relationships of authority and moral conduct, Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu emphasised cultivation of the qualities, by following the Way, or Tao, of inner harmony and tranquillity. According to the Tao-te Ching, the ideal ruler is one whom the people are not aware of, because he interferes as little as possible in the original circulation of numerous organisms. He lays down the barest minimum of laws. Hence the ruler ought to be a reflective thinker whose conduct is unidentified and his whose presence remains undetected. Such a ruler is practising wu-wei (in action).
However, Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu's wu-wei should not be seen as a concept of complete inaction. It is rather a tranquil activity. The relationship between wu-wei and those objects it absorbs is so harmonious it remains undetected, leaving no trace of its accomplishments. Lao-tzu's phrase expresses it as follows, "When the work is done the Man of Calling does not tarry with it." The accomplished sermon is comparable to a labourer whose tools leave no harsh imprint on the piece of crystal he is reforming. In such a way, the activity of wu-wei can be compared to a person who helps mankind whilst seeking no glorification for himself as opposed to one who helps in the most public of ways. In other words, "Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." In this way the least government is the best form of government, just as the religion with the least institution is the best form of religion. In Lao-tzu's direct expression "A good arithmetician needs no abacus." In Chuang-tzu's statement, "The feet can be forgotten when one walks in comfortable shoes. The waist can be forgotten when one's belt fits comfortably."
Since Ham was deeply attached to philosophical Taoism, especially the idea of wu-wei, any un-democratic regime was incompatible with Ham's basic nature. For Ham, democracy meant not only the "greatest happiness of the greatest number", but also the protection of the minority's dignity from abuse by the majority. Hence the idea of wu-wei in Taoism is very important not only in understanding Ham's direct involvement in the democratisation of Korea but also his philosophical elasticity. In particular, Ham could draw breath through the fresh philosophy of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu as a ventilating channel from the arbitrary pressure of the Park regime. Re-introducing Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu to the Korean public was a form of philosophical warfare between the dissident Ham and the dictator Park. Ham established further public study groups for the Bible and Quakerism in November 1973. Through these study groups Ham emphasised the awareness of social justice in Protestantism.
Ham the Promoter of Freedom Table of Contents