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Expressions #10 – “Han” is the most important Korean concept I’ve learned in recent months

84-pluck-a-star 85-vengeful-woman 85b-anguish 86-tame-cat 87-corruption 88-300-sword 89-maverick 90-seniority-rules 91-for-show 91b-yangban

With this set of Expressions, I’ve decided to link every image to it’s micro-post over on our Tumblr site. This will reduce the redundancy of retyping (or copying-and-pasting) all the information from there to here.

If there is any Expression that really interests you, and you’d like to know more about, simply click on that image to be taken to its individual Tumblr page.

That being said, I will still use these Expression Collection pages to talk about the most important or meaningful expressions for me in the past week.


“Han” is a concept expressed in pictures #2 and #3 above and is a literal cornerstone of Korean thought. It is a nearly indescribable feeling of anguish or loss that incorporates all of these other things as well:

  1. Revenge / vengeance
  2. Resentment
  3. Sorrow / grief
  4. Sense of loss or hardship
  5. Stifled love or passion
  6. Frustration of the downtrodden
  7. When injustice abounds
  8. Deep anguish

It’s one of those feelings in the depths of your spirit when you don’t have words to express your churning heart and you just feel the need to cry out, “AHARHHRAGG!” This is the expression and feeling of “Han.”

I like this idea because it is so raw and deep, and a genuine expression of humanity. Life is hard. Life isn’t fair. And life sometimes makes you just want to groan or cry out in anguish. You have no words to express your heart, but you need to release something from the depths of your spirit. This is “Han.”

“Han” in church?

In fact, this “Han” can even be seen in the church we attend. They have a specially prayer time called “Abba Prayer” (Abba means “Father” in Hebrew). It’s also known as “Intercessory Prayer by the Holy Spirit.”

Honestly, at times this prayer time can be quite annoying, because all you can hear is loud groaning, and many “Abba, Abba, Abba”s repeated in an almost Buddhist-style chant. But this is a perfect expression of the concept of “Han” and how Koreans have learned to “release” their “Han.”

The verses in the Bible they often point to as justification for this practice are from Romans 8:

  • verse 15: “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.
  • verse 26: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

For many Koreans, this kind of practice – loud, wordless groans when words do not suffice – seems to be an excellent way for them to relieve the deep pain in their spirits. Honestly, a good number of the Christians who’ve participated in “Abba Prayer” say that it has lightened their burdens in life and helped them to release many things to God in order to experience greater joy and life.

Resolved “Han”

The following are a few more good examples of resolved “Han”:

  1. When justice is done belatedly.
  2. When a sports team beats an archrival.
  3. When they FINALLY pass a test they’ve continually flunked.
  4. When they eat something they crave.
  5. In ghost stories and movies, when someone avenges an unjust death and brings peace to the ghost.

What do you think about the concept of “Han”? Does it open your eyes to some of the interesting cultural practices or moods in Korea? Does it open your eyes more widely to some of the deep emotions of the human spirit? Let us know in the Comments below.

**These expressions are from How Koreans Talk: A Collection of Expressions.For more in-depth explanations, buy the book.

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