The word “Han” is a culturally developed concept of Korean ancestors through the history of desolation. “Han” can be defined as a Korean cultural concept of deeply-felt bitterness and enduring sense of having been wrong; a sense of extreme sorrow. It is common to hear Korean elders expressing Han towards Japanese people who committed monstrous acts throughout Korean history. As a younger generation, you must have wondered the genuine root of “Han” in such remarks.
Recently, the news of a Japanese live broadcasting agency cancelling the performance of a famous Kpop group BTS shed a huge spotlight on the historical conflict between Japan and Korea. This phenomenon was mainly due to a member wearing a shirt conveying a political message: “PATRIOTISM OUR HISTORY LIBERATION KOREA” along with an image symbolizing Japan. The message celebrating Korean liberation from Japanese control attracted the eyes of young people around the world to learn about this enduring tension between these two countries. With more people yearning to study this sensitive topic in Korean culture, it is important to delve into the historical background from an unbiased perspective regarding this ongoing hatred.
In the beginning of the 20th century, the imperial Japan had annexed Korea illegally and made numerous efforts to destroy the Korean heritage in order to “move them towards modernization”. During this period of colonization, Japanese people committed cruel atrocities to Koreans. Such acts included: supplying Korean males as human shields in Japanese armies, brutally torturing any rebellious ones, putting Koreans into camps and prisons for labor, and conducting inhumane experiments to their bodies. The Japanese attempt for cultural genocide can also be found. The soldiers burned, defiled, destroyed, or stole Korea’s precious historical treasures. The traditional remnants of Korean culture such as the royal palaces and beautiful vases were effortlessly ruined during this period. In addition, the Japanese forced all Koreans to change their names to Japanese ones and prohibited the use of the Korean language.
Furthermore, the Japanese military kidnapped young Korean females and coerced them into sex slavery. An estimated number of 20,000 to even 410,000 comfort women were stolen from their homes and entered into forced prostitution. The surviving victims’ testimonies shared many similarities; repeated rapes, agonizing pain, unwanted pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases were common in the comfort stations.
It was not until the 1990s when the surviving victims stepped out to give testimonies. While Koreans are speaking up about their bitter past to demand apologies, Japan has been hiding these inconvenient truths under the rug. This tragic history has been whitewashed in Japanese textbooks. Japan has made some apologies but sadly, they have not properly apologized or compensated for the “Han” of our ancestors.
A nation that forgets its past has no future. It is paramount for us, as Korean Americans, to remember the tragic history of our ancestors; however, we must not hold grudges toward the Japanese descendents. Instead, we must take a crucial step towards understanding each other.
Dr. Paul Choi, a current AP World History teacher at Larchmont Charter School, shared his views towards this problem. “My parents were extremely prejudiced towards the Japanese people. As I pursued my study in this field of history, I got to learn deeply about this ongoing dispute. I strongly believe it is important for young people to know about the history of their heritage. Nonetheless, these same young people must go beyond the hatred that the older generation might feel and step towards a new level of understanding. Especially in a culturally diverse city like LA.”
Although the presence of both political and historical tensions served as immense obstacles, Japan and Korea became huge trade partners, cultural influencers and allies over time.
Goeun Lee, Grade 10
Larchmont Charter School