Journal of Undergraduate Research


han, heung, Korean culture


Family, Home, and Social Sciences




Current scholarship about Korea recognizes the importance that han has on Korean culture. Han is a feeling of melancholy and sadness that stems from constant suppression and opposition. Han is discussed within a historical context of political oppression from foreign countries such as China and Japan.

In my ethnographic study, I found an additional concept called heung that plays a pivotal role in the Korean culture. Heung is the collective energy and joy that motivates celebrations and builds solidarity within the community. Heung is underrepresented in the literature sounding Korean culture even though it is a critical Korean concept. These two moods create a dialectic tension that simultaneously provide a framework for cultural reproduction of the individual moods as well as the motivation for cultural change. Charles Nuckolls forwards a theory of culture as a system of dialectics in which culture is created by dialectical tension. Korean culture is not just han, nor is it just heung, but the tension between the two.

I found that han and heung are not just moods that are felt, but they must be done. They are embodied moods that are explicitly present in Korean music and dance performances. In addition to music and dance being an important location for the reproduction of han and heung, I found primary school children are socialized into han and heung in the classroom.

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