2. Structure of the Thesis
Ham combined humanitarianism with practical common sense, that is pragmatism. He regarded a religion without any sense of pragmatism as a form of religious fanaticism. Hence Ham held the conviction that religion should not ignore the pragmatic aspect, though the religious view is much more than pragmatism. In this light, I intend to examine the life, personality and multi-faceted philosophy of Ham from a historical standpoint.
In Chapter One, I will review the historico-philosophical background in which Ham lived, and the ideological characteristics of the Choson Dynasty (1392-1910) particularly neo-Confucianism. In this chapter, I will also examine the political and social settings of the Korean peninsula, from the end of the Choson Dynasty (1850 onward) until the beginning of the Sixth Republic (1988). Controversy still exists over whether one's philosophy is connected and formed by nature or nurture. Nevertheless, it seems that it is very important to discern one's social environment in order to understand one's life path.
Thus in Chapter Two, I present a profile of the early life of Ham; his childhood in north Korea, his family background and what kind of people influenced him during his youth.
In Chapter Three, I will explore Ham's adult life in colonial Korea, including his life in Tokyo as a history student, as a history teacher at Osan School in Korea on his return from Japan, and as an East Asian thinker and 'criminal' during the heyday of Japanese imperialism. Most of all through this chapter my interest has led me to closely examine one of Ham's most unique achievements: the rediscovery of an identity for Korea and her people. Through her colonial policy, Japan attempted to destroy Korean national identity by suppressing the Korean language and culture, and by imposing a Japanese colonial interpretation on Korean history. Ham endeavoured to find an identity for his country, a search he considered to be deeply connected with his nation's future destiny.
As a Christian thinker, Ham did not want to hide the shame of his country's history; rather he acknowledged the sufferings of Korea's history, and defined her position as the 'sewer' of world history. Ham proclaimed the historical suffering of Korea to be of epic proportions in his later book, Queen of Suffering (in Korean Ttus-uro Pon Han'guk Yoksa). He equated the suffering of Korea with the suffering of Jesus. Using Biblical interpretations of Korean history, Ham provided a vision for the Korean people. Having previously failed to come to terms with either its suffering or its causes, Ham's interpretation enabled Koreans to find their own identity and place within world history. Indeed Ham's life and thought itself can thus be seen as an important part of Koreans' identity in the twentieth century.
In Chapter Four, I review Ham's life under Communist North Korea, headed by Kim Ilsung (1912-1994), and in 'liberated' South Korea during the regime of Syngman Rhee (1875-1965). During this time, Ham was imprisoned by his fellow countrymen on both sides of the Korean divide.
In Chapter Five, I will examine Ham's last phase of life during the two military regimes, in particular his special relations with Western Quakerism and philosophical Taoism. It seems that the dominant characteristics in Ham's thoughts are closest to the philosophical Taoism of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu, and Quakerism. Both shared a 'heretical' tendency. The one was persecuted by Confucians: traditionally Confucianism tended to be the ruling ideology and the religion for scholars, and Taoism, which was embraced by the common people as a kind of 'antidote' to Confucianism, was treated as heretic by the ruling Confucians. In particular, after Neo-Confucianism became the state ideology of the Choson dynasty, the Confucians officially branded Taoism as heterodoxy. Despite this, it is notable that Taoism has supplied strength and refuge to the old, the poor, and the oppressed, and also to rebels and secret societies. In the case of Quakers, they suffered most severely among all the Dissenters in 17th century England. The Quaker Act was even passed in 1662, specifically to encourage persecution of Quakers.
Chapter Six takes an overview of the legacy of Ham through his connection with Minjung theology, the democratisation of South Korea, and what it meant "to be Christian" for Koreans. I hope to show that Ham's civil rights activities, as a non-politician, were a vehicle for sowing the seeds of democracy within the Korean peninsula. What is more, I will discuss how Ham reinterpreted and applied the philosophies of the East Asian classics and Christianity (including Quakerism) to develop a spirituality in keeping with the times which witnessed unjust political regimes. I hope to illustrate that Ham's introspective convergence between Western Christianity and East Asian philosophies played a part in recreating a national identity for Korea as well as in dissolving the immanent conflict between the East and the West.
The final chapter is a summary of Ham's position in modern Korean intellectual history, how he lived and stood as a man between the City of God and the Secular City.
Approach to Thesis Research Table of Contents