Han Yong’un (韓龍雲, 한용운, 1879-1944) was a Korean independence activist and a Buddhist monk. He was of the Cheongju Han Clan (淸州韓氏, 청주한씨); his childhood name (兒名, 아명) was Yucheon (裕天, 유천); his dharma name (法名, 법명), which is the name he took after becoming a Buddhist monk, was Bong’wan (奉玩, 봉완); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Jeong’ok (貞玉, 정옥); and his pen name (號, 호) was Manhae (卍海/萬海, 만해).
He was born in Hongseong (洪城, 홍성) in South Chungcheong Province (忠淸南道, 충청남도) to a gentry, but impoverished Yangban (兩班, 양반) family. In 1892, he married Jeon Jeongsuk (全貞淑, 전정숙, 1877-1950) and had one son with her, but divorced a few years after. In 1894, Han Yong’un joined the Donghak Movement (東學, 동학) to rebel against the Chosun government policies. He quit soon after, however, because his father was assisting with quashing the revolt and left for Baekdam Temple (百潭寺, 백담사) in Inje (麟蹄, 인제), Gangweon Province (江原道, 강원도), where he studied Buddhism. In 1905, Han Yong’un became ordained a Buddhist monk and soon thereafter joined a militia (義兵, 의병) in their fight against occupying Japanese forces. In 1909, Han Yong’un published Reformation of Korean Buddhism (朝鮮佛敎維新論, 조선불교유신론) in Classical Chinese, in which he forwarded changes to Korean Buddhism such as allowing monks to marry (帶妻僧, 대처승). He also advocated for construction of Buddhist temples in cities and the translation of Buddhist sacred texts into vernacular Korean using Hangul. With Japan’s annexation of Korea in 1910, he fled Korea and roamed Manchuria and Siberia. Han Yong’un returned to Korea in 1913, but did not give up his pro-independence activism. During the March 1st Movement in 1919, he was one of the signers of the Declaration of Korean Independence (大韓獨立宣言, 대한독립선언). For his signing of the declaration, the Japanese colonial administration imprisoned him in Seodaemun Prison (西大門刑務所, 서대문형무소) for three years. In 1931, he formed the Korean Buddhist Youth Alliance (朝鮮佛敎靑年同盟, 조선불교청년동맹), which played a role in opposing the Japanese colonial administration-led Buddhist central ministry (朝鮮佛敎中央敎務院, 조선불교중앙교무원). Also that year, he married Yu Sukweon (兪淑元, 유숙원, 1898-1965), with whom he had one daughter. Han Yong’un passed away in 1944 from a stroke. He is survived by currently living direct descendants. Han Yong’un’s son took his family to the North and joined North Korean People’s Army, where he became a high-ranking officer. After the war, he resided in Pyongyang, where he passed away in 1977. Unlike the son, Han Yong’un’s daughter remained in South Korea and is still alive as of this post.
Although he is better remembered today among Koreans for his vernacular poetry, the most well-known of which is Nimeui Chimmuk (님의 침묵, — 沈默), Han Yong’un wrote several Classical Chinese poems. In his poem below, he ponders about Korean independence on the winter solstice day (冬至, 동지). Since the winter solstice is a solar term, the day falls on the same day on the western Gregorian calendar, December 21-23, but shifts on the Chinese lunar calendar.
Last night, the sound of thunder roared;
This morning, thoughts still remain.
After this year departs into the deep mountains,
Spring will start anew in the old country.
Opening my house, I greet new fortunes;
Facing my friends, I send old messages.
A multiplicity of omens all palpitate and tremble,
As I quietly contemplate and hold dear my stove.
Yesterday • night • thunder • sound • to be extreme
Today • morning • thoughts • to exist • to remain
Secluded • mountains • year • to depart • after
Old • country • spring • to be born • beginning
To open • house • to greet • new • year
To face • people • to send • old • letters
Group • signs • all • drums • to shake
Quietly • to watch • to hold dear • first person pronoun • stove
- Pentasyllabic regulated poem (五言律詩 오언율시). Riming character (韻, 운) is 魚(어).
- 古國(고국) – Literally “old country.” Refers to the homeland, which in this case is Korea.
- Korean translation available here.