Ham the 'Failure' as an Organiser
Ham had been an enthusiastic supporter of Gandhi for a long time, having read his Young India while still at Osan School in his youth. After Gandhi's assassination in 1948, Ham became a more devoted follower, creating the Gandhi Study Group in 1958, reading more of Gandhi's writings and translating the English version of the Biography of Gandhi in 1964 and a diary of Gandhi, A Thought for the Day: The Memoir of Gandhi in 1981 into the Korean language. Ham personally admired Gandhi's spirit and the principle of Ahimsa (non-violence). Gandhi solved political problems through religious methods which Ham also wanted to adopt for the situation in Korea. Thus, when Ham established a monthly journal, the Ssial-ui Sori [The Voice of the People] in 1970 and when he engaged in dissident activities under the two military regimes, Ham always advocated the principle of non-violence to his fellow people as Gandhi had done. As a result, some radical dissidents regarded Ham's policy of non-violence as "too moderate".
Gandhi's non-violence stemmed from Hinduism, whereas Ham's stemmed from his love of pacifism which comes from philosophical Taoism, the Western Quakerism, and his 'gentle' nature. Later, in one of Ham's writings he described the greatness of Gandhi:
"Gandhi, was like a 'flare bomb' in modern history. When troops disembarked in the dark of the night, they could recognise and destroy their enemies only with the aid of a bright flare bomb, then they could march on their way. Equally, the human race of the twentieth century could recognise the direction of the new world through the Great Spirit [Mahatma] of Gandhi. Certainly, Gandhi's spirit came from the whole of the human race. In order to produce Gandhi's spirit, humans needed 5,000 years of religious civilisation in India, and 500 years of scientific development in Europe. And also the human race needed the oppression of coloured races in Asia and Africa. As other great spirits did in history, Gandhi could appear only through suffering and trial. He was an explosive spirit. When the pressure increased, he stood up more firmly. When he was deprived, he became stronger. He regarded 'Love' as a fundamental essence of good supremacy. When nationalism oppressed him, he transcended the nation and stood up as a humanitarian. When racism came to him, he transcended all religions, and stood up above the Universe. He became an explosive 'flare bomb' in the sky, and shone not only toward friends, but also enemies."
In this writing, we can see Ham's ardent love for the spirit of Gandhi. Ham admired Gandhi because Gandhi resisted through the ideal of non-violence against injustices and followed the way of pacifism.
Ultimately some of Ham's associates proposed he found a community based on Gandhi's 'Ashram Community' which Ham deeply admired. When land became available in March 1957 Ham and his followers decided to found a farm in the small city of Ch'onan, and Ham named the place Ssial Farm. At this point, let me to review the rise and fall of the Ssial Farm.
On the way to Ch'onan, Ham envisioned Gandhi's Tolstoy Farm in South Africa, where Gandhi taught his followers and worked with them for the independence of India from the Britain. In the beginning, Ham's associates urged him to serve as the head of the community. Ham declined, feeling that he did not have the essential suitability to oversee such a community. However, under pressure Ham at last embraced the post. Thereafter Ham concentrated all his efforts in bringing his dream into reality. As he put it: "Combine the religious [Christian] faith, education and farming into one, which I have always wished since the days of the Osan School. During the Japanese colonial period I tried to resist Japanese imperialism with these three things. Today, I am going to resist my opponents [Liberal Party or Syngman Rhee] with these three things."
Ham's life in Ssial Farm was very simple and elementary. Ham and his handful of followers woke at six o'clock every morning. Each morning they had half an hour of silent meditation followed by Ham's Bible study teaching for an hour. The rest of the day, they engaged in agrarian activities, such as cultivating rice, apples, sweet potatoes, grapes and peaches and tended rabbits and some 4,000 chickens. For the time being they were self-sufficient, selling their products in local markets. Ham lived at the Ssial Farm for three or four days a week, the rest of the week he gave public lectures throughout South Korea and wrote various articles for papers and journals, including Sasang-gye [World of Thought]. During this time Ham's wife and children lived in Seoul.
Ham and his confidants, like Kim Donggill and Ahn Byungmu, held special conferences for the public at the Ssial Farm twice a year, during the winter and summer seasons. Those attending these conferences were mainly young people or university students, and the number attending reached seventy or eighty. Influenced by this education a resident at the Ssial Farm, Hong Myongsun (c.1932-1992), became the first conscientious objector in Korea. Hong remembered Ham's influence on his decision to be a conscientious objector: "Through his teachings Ham used to say: 'Korean people experienced the Korean War, but why did not even one clergyman criticise it as an inhumane war?' Hearing Ham's remark I felt I must concern myself with peace rather than following conscription." As a result, despite Ham's tireless activity for Hong's release, Hong was imprisoned for one year and four months.
While Ham became a nation-wide figure through his various public lectures and prolific writings, more and more young people and university students came to Ssial Farm in order to farm with Ham as a member of the community. In its heyday there were around fifty residents at Ssial Farm. However, problems arose at the farm: those coming to Ssial Farm came because of their admiration for Ham's ideas and philosophy. Hence they wanted to learn from Ham his views and insights on religion, politics and society. But most of the young people were complete novices at practical farming, being more interested in 'listening' to Ham's teaching than 'labouring' in the fields. Thus the productivity of the farm visibly declined.
The decline of Ham's community may be compared with the decline of other utopian community schemes, for instance the Oneida Community in the rolling farmland of upstate New York, which survived only for thirty-two years (1848-1870). In the Oneida Community it seemed that the originators resolved to build a better life, yet because of the extreme psychological requirements made on the members, they succeeded only in making life worse. In this regard, as Maren Carden summed up, it is possible to say that striving after perfectionist goals and one's own ideals does not ensure either happiness or the reality of an ideal society.
In May of 1961 General Park came to power through a military coup. As Park's dictatorial rule became tougher and stronger, especially after the declaration of the Yusin Constitution, the repression of the Ssial Farm explicitly hardened. Since the coup, the Park regime did not like the outspoken Ham. Kim Jongp'il even referred to Ham as a "Psychopathic Old Man". Frequently Park's henchmen threatened the members of the Ssial Farm 'persuading' them to withdraw from the farm. Hong Myongsun asserted that, "I think if the Park regime had not oppressed the Ssial Farm or had left it alone, the farm would be very successful today." However, whatever the causes, either its internal inefficiency or external oppression, the Ssial Farm was not successful and in 1973 the farm collapsed. Ham bitterly felt what he saw as his 'failure' as an organiser.
"A Prophet is not Welcome in His Own Land" Table of Contents