Life Under the Military Regimes (1961-1989)
The Aim of this Chapter
The Korean peninsula have remained a nation under domination at the hands of military men or under 'military occupation' throughout most of its twentieth century history. Most of all, during the three decades, from the 1960s until the 1980s, only the political-minded military faction enjoyed the highest posts in South Korean society and politics. Throughout the era of Generals Park and Chun, many civilians and politicians were blacklisted, blackmailed and even put to death. On the other hand, military officers arrogated key positions in the administration and most of the public sectors.
In this chapter I will examine the last phase of Ham's life, from 1961 until 1989. During this period, Ham was most vigorously and directly involved with civil rights activities along with the movement for democratisation in South Korea. What changed him from a 'downhearted-sinner' into an inexhaustible 'freedom-fighter'? How did he become indefatigably the participator in creating the 'Brave New World'? While Ham resisted the regimes of Generals Park and Chun, he also became enthusiastic about Quakerism and founded the Ssial-ui Sori [Voice of the People].
5.1. The May 16 Coup and the Passage to Quakerism (1961-1970)
Ham the Wanderer
Ham's political involvement, or more correctly direct participation, in the pursuit of social justice coincided with his deep association with the Society of Friends (Quakerism) in South Korea and his followers Ahn Byungmu (originator of Minjung theology) and Chang Chunha.
Ham first read about Quakerism while he was in Osan School (1921) through his reading of Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus. He was greatly impressed by the story of George Fox and subsequently resolved to read his biography. In his further readings Ham came across descriptions of other outstanding Quakers, and he viewed them with an increasing degree of curiosity.
While Ham was in Japan (1923-1928), he had a chance to attend a Quaker Meeting with Uchimura Kanzo. But it was not until 1947 that Ham's attention was drawn toward Quakerism in a serious way. At this time Ham had just escaped from north Korea, and he heard from Hyon Tonghwan of the large numbers of conscientious objectors amongst the Quakers. Hyon was the General Secretary of the Korean YMCA, who had just returned from a trip to the United States. Ham recalled: "I was very interested in the Quakers' absolute pacifism."
Ham came into direct contact with Western Quakers for a first time just after the Korean War. Immediately following the Korean War (1953), Ham had an opportunity to meet British and American Quakers at Kunsan Friends' Service Unit working in the Provincial Hospital and for refugees in South Korea. Following this work, a group including British, Americans, and Koreans such as Ingle Wright (1923-1997) and Lee Yoongu (1929- ), organised the first Friends Meeting for worship in Seoul. Ham was deeply interested in the humanitarian activities of the Western Quakers. It was this attraction to their humanitarianism and pacifism that was to lead eventually to Ham's becoming a member of the Society of Friends in 1967. Ham spoke about his first impression and his interest in the charitable actions of the Quakers in South Korea.
"Just after the Korean War in 1953, the British Friends Service Council and the American Friends Service Committee helped with the work of the rehabilitation of my country. While helping to reconstruct a hospital destroyed during the War in Kunsan, they organised a work camp. This was the first project administered by the Quakers in Korea. Some young Quakers were participants in the work camp as well. I met the Quaker participants and was impressed with their beliefs. Because of this I became interested in Quakerism."
Despite Ham's explanation of why he was attracted to Quakerism, I believe it was a practical decision brought about at a time of loneliness and as a result of being labelled a 'heretic' Christian. It should be remembered that at this time Ham was heavily criticised even by his lifelong teacher Yu Yongmo, and ostracised from the circle of conservative Korean churchgoers.
There is a further intellectual reason why Ham became a member of the Society of Friends. He was inspired by the fact that the Quaker way of faith focused on peace and social justice in this life rather than on going to heaven after death. In categorical terms, certainly, Quakerism belongs to the Protestant faith; however as will be discussed later, individual Friends, while they all aim to live a caring and humanistic life, believe to a greater or lesser extent in the central authority of the Bible and the orthodox doctrine of Christianity. Through the concentration on the search for truth, Quakers have also contributed to the development of science and attempted to explore the links between science and religion. Through science the human race can be seen as humble as well as sublime. Several remarkable Quaker scholars emerged in Britain: for example, the astronomer Arthur Eddington, the geneticist Francis Galton, the chemist John Dalton, the inventor of antisepsis Joseph Lister, and the anthropologist E.B. Tylor. Between 1851 and 1900 English Quakers were 50 times more likely to be chosen as Fellows of the Royal Society, than non-Quakers.
In this regard, the concept of social justice, and attempts to explore the links between science and religion within Quakerism, animated Ham's social and political activities. It can be said that if religion represents eternity and spiritualism, science represents the here-and-now realism and rationalism. It seems to me that the Western Quakers' fascination with science appealed to Ham with its sense of rationalism and realism as against the blind-faith inclination of the Korean church.
Ham also had an enthusiastic and a fundamental interest in history, which led him to interpret the Inner Light of Quakerism as the Inner Voice, and the Inner Voice as the Voice of God and the Voice of History. Thus from Ham's point of view, each historical era is a sheet of paper on which God writes, and history itself can be seen as one aspect of God Himself. Perhaps, for Ham, the concept of God is another word for history. This idea of history sounds very deterministic. But Ham also argued that human beings are creators of history as well as a product of history.
Moreover Ham also understood God as wholeness as well as oneness. He used the New Testament to argue his case: "The son of God is no different from the son of history. In plain language it is history, in religious terms it is God. For this reason, referring to Jesus, Matthew said, 'Son of Abraham', Luke said 'Son of Adam'." For Ham, a religion without a broad historical awareness is useless, because it shows only a slice of life not a whole picture of life. But the life of humanity is fundamentally historical. From this standpoint, Ham found a corresponding enthusiasm for the Quakers' wide historical awareness, commenting on the aspect of Quakerism he liked most: "I admire Quakers' astute awareness concerning historical events along with their positive attitudes regarding the future of the world. Quakers show whole-hearted concern with world affairs rather than their personal matters."
Quakers' beliefs are based on spiritual insight and understanding, which goes beyond reason, yet may also be 'reasonable' when applied in one's daily life. Ham held a belief corresponding to Quakerism, which experienced both mystical as well as common-sense philosophy. Ham anticipated the characteristics of a future religion or a new religion as 'reasonable' and scientific with a spiritual rather than an emotional perception. He considered a religion without reason could become fanatical and superstitious.
When Ham came into contact with Western Quakers he saw a close resemblance between his own ideas and those of Quakerism, notwithstanding the cultural gap and the historical disparities. As early as 1955, Ham wrote of the key meaning of Christian prayer and the "seed of God" within individual humanity in terms that are very close to the Quakers' view that "all life is sacramental". He wrote: "Real prayer is not a prayer through a mouth; it is through all your life." "Everyone has a seed of God". Just as Quakers emphasised the Inner Light rather than creed or doctrine, so he also shared a similar belief throughout his spiritual journey. Also as early as 1953, he stressed the changing characteristic of life as against the inflexibility of the Christian creed: "Life changes all the time, so it is ridiculous to emphasise a fixed creed for this changing life."
Ham's parallel historical awareness can also be found in one of his writings in 1959. In particular, it is his use of the concept of 'inner light' that is very noticeable. Through the writing, Ham illustrated his belief concerning the reciprocal relations between one's historical awareness and an individual consciousness of the inner light: "One cannot expose one's inner light from a valley in the mountain nor in a closet. The inner light comes from our history and society." In this respect, Ham felt in accord with the Quakers' various fundamental notions: the Inward Life, the Inner Light, Christ Within, the Seed of God, That of God in every man and its pursuit of social justice.
Indeed Ham drew attention to the similar characteristics of Quakerism and East Asian philosophies: "Howard Brinton described Quakerism as the most Oriental [East Asian] religion among the Western religious denominations. I have the same views as Brinton, Quakerism is quite Oriental." This is why characteristically, Ham saw a close likeness between Western Quakerism and the East Asian classics. In particular, he sensed that George Fox's realisation of truth through group meditation was a similar manifestation to Buddhist meditation in realising truth. In this respect, Ham also saw close parallels between the meditation of Taoists and the silent listening of Quakers in their meeting for worship. He spoke of the resemblance of Taoism and Quakerism in this way: "Lao-tzu emphasised the emptification [emptying] of mind. Emptification and calmness can be realised through meditation. Lao-tzu emphasised meditation because the life of the Spirit cannot be realised through material power. It is said that Quakers meditate in order to feel God's presence."
In light of this Ham believed all religions were ultimately one, which meant not insisting on 'a' religion as the monolithic religion, but holding the view that all religious terminologies are fundamentally one and the same. In Ham's view, the progress of the free spirit in humanity will also come from open ideological conflict not from restriction through violence. Ham understood the notion of emptying of the mind in Taoism and Quakerism as a removal of one's fixed ideas, frame of mind and rigid concepts.
Ham believed people should not bind their God or their experience of God to a fixed idea as ancient people had done. As Ham argued: "When the time is come, the unborn child should come out of the mother's womb into the new world. There was a time the womb protected the life of an unborn child. But when the time is right, the mother's womb should release the unborn child. Otherwise both mother and unborn child will perish together." As Ham showed through the above illustration, yesterday's inspiration could be today's dogma. Therefore, religious faith should not be a fixed notion.
In view of this, in order to be born to a new life, the living spirit of Christianity should also come out of the Christo-centric system. There was a time when the Christo-centric system protected the life of seminal Christianity. But when the time came, the Christo-centric system should release Christianity. Otherwise the living spirit of Jesus would be suffocated inside the Christo-centric system. Here it is possible to raise the following theological question, "Can one be Christian without focusing on Christ?" In my view, focusing on Christ means focusing on altruism, respecting and caring for others more than oneself and treating others in a dignified way. Christ himself lived and died for others. Anyone who so focusing on Christ, lives an altruistic life may certainly be termed a Christian. On the other hand, it is also possible to live an altruistic life in the spirit of Christ without necessarily focusing on Christ himself. By the same argument it is also possible for 'Christians' who accept the creed of Christianity, such as the Trinity and atonement, yet to miss the spirit of His teachings and love, and live for themselves more than others. It appears to me that content (living with the spirit of Christ) is much more meaningful than label (professing oneself with the name of Christ). It was this broad concept of altruistic Christianity which Ham embraced.
Ham also felt an affinity between the pacifism of Quakerism and philosophical Taoism. Inasmuch as there are various similarities between philosophical Taoism and Quakerism, Ham did not view Quakerism as a 'new religion'. I, as a Quaker, also must admit that I do not see fundamental differences between Quakerism and Christianity. In my view, Quakerism is a part of Christianity in the non-Conformist tradition. Instead Ham identified Quakerism as an embryo for the birth of a new religion in humanity. As he put it: "Quakerism is not the new religion to which I aspire, but I embrace the hope that out of this form, sprouting from this seed, will come forth the religion that will bring newness to mankind." As a clue to the vital 'seed' for the emergence of this new religion, Ham placed pre-eminent emphasis on the Quakers' corporate group-meditation, a tendency which did not appear in East Asian meditation (Zen). Ham specifically defined the differences between the meditation of the Quakers and the East Asian meditation: "Quakers' meditation is different from the Oriental [East Asian] one. Theirs is not individual but corporate. When they meditate in small or large groups, they believe that God is present amongst them. The Oriental style of meditation is a personal Zen [Dhyana; Buddhist meditation], even though a group of ten people meditate together."
In this connection, when Ham read the literature of the Western Quakers, in particular, the History of Quakerism, written by Howard Brinton, he came to appreciate the corporate spirit of Quakerism, because the Quakers' concept of the Inner Light is not only an individual thing but also arises from the life of the gathered meeting of the faithful. Ham vigorously commented on the effect of Quakerism on his outlook:
"Whilst reading the book, Friends for 300 Years: The History of Quakers, I have learnt a great deal about the importance of the corporate spirit. Prior to this, by and large, I lived only within a circle of liberalism with the concept of individualism. But since I was stirred by Quakerism, I cannot think of individualism without holism and a sense of wholeness."
Compared with Western Quakerism, Ham saw a lack of a corporate spirit in the East Asian tradition, even though East Asian society has been held to strong sense of collectivism. In this respect, Ham viewed this lack of a corporate spirit in the East Asia as a critical limitation. Through Quakerism Ham deeply recognised the limit of individual influence on the whole of society. Taking this into account, I perceive Ham's term the "holism and a sense of wholeness" as the public opinion as against arbitrary rule.
In my view, there were reasons why philosophical Taoism and other East Asian philosophies could not reach a corporate spirit in the same way that Western Quakerism did. The formidable powers of East Asian rulers had imbued the people with fatalism and a spirit of subordination. Correspondingly, it had undermined the potential for collective spirit in the East Asia. Whereas the corporate spirit of Western Quakerism had led to their involvement in issues such as the human rights movements and social-reform activity, equivalent actions were unlikely to have been prompted by philosophical Taoism. East Asian philosophical Taoists tended to be transcendental and 'ideal' when faced with a practical problem. Thus one can maintain that this pre-occupation with the ideal was a major factor limiting the relevance of philosophical Taoism to the practical world. Ham saw that if the ideal was to bring about influence on human history, it should appear as 'public testimony'. And for Ham, the public testimony meant direct action rather than contemplation.
At the time of Ham's 'sin' and loneliness, in 1961 when he was longing for a friend, the Friends appeared before him. He later remembered what had moved him to come into contact with the Western Quakers: "It was not that I had studied about the Quakers and had decided to become one. Rather, as a man with no place to go, and as a drowning man clutching at even a piece of straw, I attended one of the [Quaker] meetings." That was January of 1961. Since February 1958, a handful of Korean, British and American Quakers had held weekly meetings for worship in Seoul.
It seems to me that after the scandal in connection with his relationship with a woman, Ham may have wanted a sense of belonging and longed for a spiritual home as an ostracised Christian thinker. Western Quakers accepted Ham without condemnation as their 'friend', when he was longing for a friend. Thus it can be said that, at least initially, Ham's attachment with Quakerism came from his desire to have 'friendship' for his spiritual journey, rather than theological agreement with them. Nonetheless, Ham gradually found a spiritual meeting point with the Friends as well. Perhaps a saying of Confucius is suitable to summarise Ham's feeling at this time: "Is it not a joy to have friends come from afar?"
'The Turning Point' Table of Contents