Han is considered by many to be a deep feeling of bitterness, regret or melancholy. Although its meaning is less than happy, it represents a key element of Korean identity, as no translation perfectly transcribes what Han can mean. Han can be considered as a painful psychic state, the turmoil of emotions experienced when feeling at the same time sadness, anguish, suffering, regret, affliction, melancholy, attachment, nostalgia, impatience, lack, despair, oppression, lamentation, frustration, and many other emotions from this record.
Let’s take a deeper look at what Han really is!
While this particular feeling is something Korean people have felt for a long time, it was during the Japanese colonial occupation of Korea (1910 and 1945) that the Han was at its peak. At that time, there was a strong repression of Korean culture and identity, so much so that there was a culture assimilation policy so that Koreans “became” Japanese. The Han thus finds its origin in this loss of identity imposed during the war and in the separation of Korea in two that resulted. Han can then be interpreted as the absence of hope to get out of a precarious situation, or the feeling of impotence in the face of an event that cannot be changed.
This unifying feeling allowed Koreans to regain ownership of their land after occupation. Even in neighboring countries like China and Japan, this feeling of injustice, this cry of pain, would not exist, at least linguistically. Han permeates the cultural identity so much that the people began to sing it to give courage in the face of adversity. The best example remains the traditional Pansori song, now classified as intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO. In the field of art, Han manifests itself more in painting, music, dance and literature.
Of course, it is very difficult to represent such a vague but powerful feeling as Han, and yet works of art on this subject often make everyone believe in it. For example, the song ‘Arirang’ almost represents the Korean national anthem, as it is known and loved in both South and North Korea. It must be said that before Korea was divided in two, the Han was felt throughout the entire peninsula in unison.
We also find the Han in poetry, an escape for many women of the time to express their sadness and melancholy. The Han especially found its place in the independence movements and the martyrdoms that resulted from oppression. Japan justified its annexation and occupation of Korea with the desire to educate a people considered uncivilized and inferior by the Japanese. The Han was therefore a way of repressing these accusations and crying out in despair at the situation. It is perhaps the most accurate word to represent the people that Koreans form.
Nowadays, Han manages to reach the Korean and foreign youth population with the help of K-Pop and K-Dramas. Here again, it’s a tricky exercise to represent that feeling, but Han’s strength lies above all in its diversity. A small detail, a word or a gesture can represent Han. Have you noticed this? What do you think of this particular feeling? Do you have the same thing in your country? Let us know in the comment below!