Jeong and Han, a look at the Korean psyche.

Maybe the title isn’t really accurate. Even though the world has many different cultures and cultural norms, one thing that all humans have in common is our range of emotions. Some sources claim that han and jeong are specifically Korean feelings, and for the most part, I agree, but not because Koreans feel in different ways than other kinds of people do, simply that the Korean language has specific words for these feelings.  Being someone who has lived in both Korea and outside of it, and kind of being Korean and kind of not, I can say that I myself have always had these feelings, but I only learned the words to express them recently.  Afterall, what are emotions other than words we assign to chemical concentrations in the brain.  What is the difference between happy, content, elated, pleased, and feeling good?  The differences may be minor, but there is a difference.  So is the case with jeong and han.

Jeong?

Jeong?

So what is jeong?

Jeong (정,情) is, according to certain translations, a feeling of affection or attachment.  The best short explanation I have ever heard about it is “Korean connection feeling”, but that translation already assumes that you know what it is.  Jeong, as I understand it, is a feeling of deep connection with something to the point that it is a part of you, and it is inseparable from you.  You can feel jeong for other people (like your parents, siblings, friends, lovers, spouses, or coworkers), things (like your house, your car, or a 1980’s era Spider-Man action figure with removable clothes made by Mattel that your brother took a hammer to years after you stopped playing with it), animals (like your dog, cat, or cow), and places (like your hometown or home country.)   I suppose you could call it a level of comfort and familiarity, but even that isn’t enough to truly embody what it is.  No translation or explanation can do justice to jeong, so I’ll try to explain with examples.  Couples who appear as if they hate each other often stay together because they have jeong.  When you move to a more modern apartment, you have a sense of loss because you’ve got jeong with your old house.  You can even have jeong with your old shoes, even though you know you need to buy new ones.

I think I understand.. what exactly is Han then?

Well, to put it briefly, han (한, 恨) is similar to jeong, but in some ways it is the exact opposite.

Han? Jeong?

Similar and opposite are totally different!  That’s impossible.

Well let me explain. Han is defined in the dictionary as deep resentment, sorrow, or regret.  But of course, that alone isn’t enough to explain it.  What’s missing is the level of familiarity.  So, I’d have to say that it’s almost impossible to have han if there is no jeong.  Say a thief comes by and steals your TV.  Yea, you’d feel pissed, but it doesn’t create any han because you don’t know the thief and you really don’t care about what happens to him, you don’t really hate him, you hate what he did.  On the other hand, if you give your son $500 so he can pay his rent and buy school supplies, and he blows it all on beer, it creates han.  You love your son.  You are angry at him for spending your money foolishly.  At the same time, he knows that he disappointed you and that disappointment might cause a little resentment.  
Another example that most Americans will get is the relationship between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox (or at least their fan bases)  The Yankees and Red Sox have an intense hatred for each other, but at the same time, they know each other so well and have a mutual respect.  Red Sox fans probably know just as much about the Yankees as they do about their own team, and vice versa.  Another example of han could be characterized by the relationship between Korea and Japan.  Casual observers would simply say that Koreans “hate” Japan for historical reasons.  But if you were to ask a Korean what some stereotypes of Japanese are, they’d tell you that Japanese are well organized, very clean, follow rules well, hardworking, diligent, polite, and kind.  That, if anything, is not hate.  It is respect.  And that’s why han is so hard to describe.  It is an intense loathing for something to the point that if it didn’t exist, your very identity would be totally different.

Cliche of cliches, I know, but it is the best description of han/jeong that I can think of.

Can you explain it in any different ways?

I don’t want to use any cliché but the yin and yang symbol is a perfect graphical representation of han and jeong.  All han must have at least some jeong in it.  All jeong must also have some han.

Why does jeong need han?

You can’t develop any kind of connection with someone or something, without knowing its good and bad points.  You have to accept those bad points and sometimes you will resent them.  Perhaps you feel comfortable in your old car, but it will rust after a while.  Perhaps you love your wife but she has an annoying habit that drives you nuts.  That is why all jeong comes with han.  All han, by definition must come with jeong.

I wrote this article in an attempt to explain emotions that Koreans identify as uniquely Korean feelings, but I hope that after reading it, we realize that these are universal feelings, and most languages simply don’t have the words to adequately describe them.

If you are Korean and think my interpretation of jeong and han are wrong, then by all means tell me in a comment about how you would describe both feelings.  If there’s something I overlooked, then I’d be happy to learn more.

Edit: I appreciate the fact that Koreans and Americans think differently (group mindset vs individual mindset)  I still feel however that jeong and han are feelings that can be felt by all.

46 Responses to “Jeong and Han, a look at the Korean psyche.”

  1. not at first understood well what was Han and Jeong, but as I was reading the article, I began to understand, and my interpretations and Jeong Han go hand in hand through life. one could not exist without the other. and as you say are universal feelings that we see and experience coitidiariamente.
    thanks all for the explanation of the hatred felt by each Korean and Japanese.

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      thanks all for the explanation of the hatred felt by each Korean and Japanese.

      I didn’t explain very much at all about that. I could write a book about that actually, and still I doubt I could capture the dynamic in a book. Please don’t think that I am an expert on anything.

  2. Good Post!,

    Even thou this are common feelings around the world the difference as I understand are the Words to describe it, is like Mexicans and when people say we are very passionate (or as some people call it “Caliente” hehe) because we Love/Hate/etc with passion.

  3. Understanding Jeong and Han as well as group kinship is an integral part of the Korean culture that cannot be taught overnite, you literally must be grown up in it. Almost all the complaints I have heard from foreigners come from misunderstanding of these cultural elements.

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      If that’s true (and I’m not saying it isn’t) then my understanding of jeong and han aren’t accurate, nor is my assumption that we all feel these feelings. What did you think of my interpretation of jeong and han?

    • I think some people perhaps feel a resentment, because they see the prescribed (and vague) definitions for jeong, but in their lonely life as an isolated foreigner in Korea, don’t experience or notice it.

      And I do think that when jeong is explained, there might sometimes be the misunderstanding that jeong is somehow a feeling unique to Koreans, that only Koreans can understand, express and feel – either the people who are being explained to get that impression, or the person explaining gives that impression, but it does not help people find a mutual understanding of what jeong really means and where it is found.

      And if there is a slight resentment for the collective vs individual clash in thinking, then I think it amplifies it.

      Its funny, but I think I can understand the “centrifugal” element to jeong (hence the han) – it has a physics element. Never thought that human emotions could relate to rotational motion/momentum, but there you go…

  4. lim.hyung.sun Says:

    I don’t want to say that there are certain ‘right ways’ to describe han and jeong… they are something even Koreans find difficult to describe… but i am not so sure whether the analogy of the relationship btw the Yankees and the Red Sox shows the intensity of han… I would say han is about much deeper resentment… so it has been traditionally beileved that han could even make the soul of a person to linger on the earth even after his death… a common motive in Korean style horror stories😛

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      I totally hear you. Yes, han is probably even MORE intense than the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry, because afterall, both teams are only playing baseball, and a player on one of the teams might end up on the other team the next year. This is, however the most intense rivalry in professional sports, and I thought it might be useful to attempt to describe the concept. Fans of the Red Sox got the concept instantly, as the Yankees were always a little bit richer, a little bit better, and vastly more succesful. (The Red Sox won the world series in 1918, and didn’t again until 2004. The Yankees in the same period won more than 25. Usually the Yankees were there to deny the Sox entry into the World Series. There was the “curse of Babe Ruth” that fans actually believed in, as Boston’s success ended as soon as they traded him away to the Yankees. Red Sox fans can probably easily name the entire Yankees line up, because by their definition as Red Sox fans, it’s important to know what the Yankees are doing.)

  5. Thank you very much for writing this article. It was an indeed interesting read about the Han and Jeong. I totally understand what you meant by “Jeong” cos sometimes I felt like that too, just like the examples you gave. When I’m passionate about a thing I owned it would be kind of hard to let it go. True, that no words would be able to describe this feeling.
    Thanks for all the explanation! Good Post!🙂

  6. lol should write about how han caused people to haunt other people :S Yes, han is quite intense stuff, haven’t really felt it yet thou lol

  7. My background is Chinese and we too have the words jeong and Han (tho pronounced slightly different of course). in Chinese we rarely use Han towards people other than spouse, lover or oneself (like I “Han” myself). If you use Han towards family, it means you’re ready to cut bloodlines. It is intense. If you use it towards a friend you just sound gay. If you use it towards a nation then you can be labeled a racist.
    I don’t agree that all jeong comes with Han because there are pure jeongs. But I agree that all han must somehow started with
    jeong.

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      Hmm, I guess it’s possible to have jeong without han, but it would require that one or both of the people and/or things be perfect.
      If two people are perfect, then there’s no reason for han. If an imperfect person has a perfect object, then there’s no reason for han.
      If a perfect person has an imperfect object, there’s no reason for han, because he’s perfect, and therefore incapable of resenting anything.
      If it’s between a perfect and non perfect person, then the imperfect person has no reason for han because the other person is perfect, and the perfect person has no reason for han because he’s perfect and incapable of resenting anything.)

      As there are no perfect people other than Jesus Christ, and there aren’t any perfect objects (though I wouldn’t mind a beach house in Maui), there must be at least some han in most relationships between people, people and animals, and people and objects..

  8. But like I said I’m basing my explanation on the Chinese language so perhaps it’s different in Korean. Sorry!

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      I guess that’s the problem with Chinese characters, when one group borrows them, and assigns them to already existing concepts, or that the concept itself diverges from the original Chinese meaning. I’m know for sure that neither of these mean exactly the same thing in Japanese, so I can only assume they don’t mean the same thing in Chinese either.

      It’s interesting to know though, because I’ve yet to learn much about China as I should. Is there any kind of feeling that Chinese people say is uniquely Chinese?

  9. Thanks for sharing this pretty post.

  10. oh………….. quite good posting.. I’m impressived!! you understand the feelings.. Um.. As a person who studied korean.. ‘jeong’ and ‘han’ is ‘love’ and ‘hate’ that can create on ‘deep connection’. If I can say just one word..

  11. Wow!🙂
    As I understand Jeong is a strong attachment or a sensible sentiment you’ve installed with someone or something. Han is “don’t deeply liking” something, someone or an action.
    Mmm… I perfectly understand these feelings because I have felt them before and also right now.
    I agree when you say that there can’t be Jeong without Han. Everyone and everything is perfectible so… even if there is a strong jeong there must be a little han somewhere! (otherwise it would be a sooo boring life haha!🙂 )
    In my opinion, life and even nature are based on an equilibrium between every Jeong and Han, Yin and Yang, Love and Hate, Day and Night, Strength and the Weakness and so on…
    In italian there’s an expression that doesn’t exist in any other language: “Ti voglio bene”. It doesn’t mean “Ti amo” (I love you) but it literally means “I want the best for you” and sometimes it is even more strong than ti amo.
    “Ti voglio bene” is the translation of Jeong but it can be used just toward people or animals.
    Isn’t Han sometimes similar to “rancor”?

  12. Jeong and Han just Korean feelings?…

    Even though the world has many different cultures and cultural norms, one thing that all humans have in common is our range of emotions. Some sources claim that han and jeong are specifically Korean feelings, and for the most part, I agree, but not bec…

  13. Jeff McDonald Says:

    I really appreciate this article. I have lived and loved in Korea for 3 years. The concepts of jeong and han had not really been explained to me like this before. I can also now understand some problems I or some of my other friends had.

    I do also believe that these concepts can be translated, even though there is no word for word exact translation. I do also believe that these are feelings that most people have around the world even if they aren’t serious enough part of a culture to get an precise and exact word to describe them.

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      Glad you like it. I think it’s true that these feelings are felt all over the world, but rarely so by an entire society. Usually at maximum they are felt by one collective group towards each within a society, but seldom has the case ever been that at maximum the whole society feels it at the same time.

    • I know Rob personally but I would say that his idea of what jung is in this case is slightly wrong. But sinceKorean isn’t my native language and I did not grow up here I might also be totally wrong. In my estimation, Jung is a personal feeling one has with another person or object. It makes sense that Jung does not apply between north and south because the people don’t personally know each other anymore.

      But I could be completely wrong.

  14. you’re mystifying the crap out of jeong. it’s really not that big a deal or that special. if you don’t speak korean or you don’t know chinese characters that’s fine but don’t mystify the crap out of it like it’s so impossible hard for westereners or nonkoreans to understand.

    like but I hope that after reading it, we realize that these are universal feelings, and most languages simply don’t have the words to adequately describe them.

    or whenever say oh it’s so hard to explain or when you said but of course, that alone isn’t enough to explain it.

    it reminds me of this entry on ajatt quite honestly
    http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog/stop-mystifying-japanese

    in other words get the hell over it.

    • The purpose of the article was to de-mystify it and suggest that it is a feeling that is universal… but I suppose that you would have actually had to read the article to understand that.

      My post is a complete 180 of what you are accusing me of.

  15. […] these boys for three years and so they had jeong (정) (I can’t translate this, but this site explains it fairly well.) The boys, I guess, were unclear on the boundaries. SJ felt guilty and […]

  16. Reblogged this on truthvoyagers and commented:
    Jeong and Han – Human psyche from a Korean perspective.

  17. […] A brief explanation of two seemingly non-translateable terms, Jeong and Han. Posted on Eugene’s Blog. […]

  18. Li Min Jee Says:

    My first time to hear about 정 and 안 and its about ‘love and hate’. I’ve read a few more articles related to this and I do agree with you that these are universal feelings – like, good and bad, love and hate, like and dislikes, the yin and yang, etc. And all humans experiences that, regardless of race, color and code. Attachment and detachment, I think is the result of ‘Jeong and Han’.. in this context, it is more of a connection or a link or a bind that is hard to cut off or let go or deny for that matter; it would entail a strong desire to be able to detach. And all these is part of the wide range of emotions that humans have. What makes ‘jeong and han’ different, is because of the cultural context that embraces it. Since this term is rooted in Korea, therefore, one has to understand the korean culture and why it has a strongest meaning other than the english language. The same thing that other countries may have the same term but only has a different expression in the context of their culture.

    Humans are made of both good and bad. It is up to us to strike balance all the time. It is also up to us which one do we want to nurture most – love or hate? What we choose to feed is what we will give to others.

    Nevertheless, this post is very informative and has given me a new insight and understanding of language and culture.

    Thank you for the post.

  19. Li Min Jee Says:

    P.S. I forgot to mention, I lived and worked in Korea for about two years – breathed the same air and ate the same food with my korean counterparts. I have embraced the culture in so short a time, even if I don’t speak the language. I am experiencing this 정 and 한 right now, as I feel I am in a certain ‘bind’ or connection, that no matter how much I liked to detach myself, I just couldn’t do it. True, its hard to explain, it’s not even about detachment. It even goes beyond that. So, I’m doing my ritual to acknowledge it, and not resist it anymore. Because wherever I go, whatever I do, there will always, always something to connect me to Korea – either with people I meet or work with; or places I go to, or music I hear. Strange, but I welcome the feeling.

  20. […] Conceptualization of Jeong and Dynamics of Hwabyung Super Special Korean Emotions? Significance of “Jeong” in Korean Culture and Psychotherapy On the uniqueness of ‘Jeong’ and my inability to understand even if I tried really really hard Jeong and Han, a look at the Korean psyche. […]

  21. I now have words to describe my connection with my home and I think this is a part of the U.S. that can strongly relate.
    I’m from New Orleans and we can tell you there is a very strong kinship among us. Add the level of poverty, corruption, and abuses over the years, culminating in events like Katrina and the BP oil spill and we have so much resentment, strong desires of vengeance, and immense passion.
    I’ve only been able to explain it in western imagery. New Orleans has left an imprint on my soul, an imprint which all others are placed upon, at the deepest layer of my being. People here often know this siren song, the calling of home, the persistant longing for it, the deep hurt that we will ineviteably feel if we stay. We not only have such passion and pride, but also the heartbreak that high violent crime, poor education, rampant and blatant corruption, and constant disrespect by those who hold power (oil and gas industry, Hollywood and the tax credits) bring. We have been wronged, we continue to be wronged.
    We feel it together, as a whole. We truly, profoundly, uniquely understand what “do you know what it means to miss New Orleans” truly means: aching. We can’t quite convey it in words; we just know that it’s that ceaseless, aching feeling deep down in our souls, the one we can never ignore and never forget.
    This city is often our first love, the one that all others can never live up to.

    Thanks. Now, when I write my love story, I have the right words, even if very few others know them.

  22. 2 thoughts:
    1. if Han is resentment, anger etc… And Jeong is kinship and bond etc… They are not necessarily opposites as I feel people are portraying them when they use the yin and yang as an example. It’s like love and hate. I’ve heard it said that those two are not opposites. Rather apathy is the opposite of love…. and hate lies somewhere in between love and apathy. As one would need know something about the person or thing to love or hate. But apathy has nothing at all in common with those two.

    2. I think a great example of Han and Jeong is from the book “of mice and men.” George who loves, has kinship and bond to Lenny also resents and is grudge-full at him because of the stuff/struggles Lenny brings upon the duo. In the end George makes a fateful decision out of Han and Jeong, which (and I am reading between the lines here) further causes George to live with that intense feeling of Han and Jeong. Probably for the rest of his life.

    • That’s.. an interesting idea. I think yes, that this relationship has elements of Han and Jeong for sure… but I would say that any and all relationships do once they move past the territory of acquaintance… you know, when people stop being polite and start getting real.

  23. Amazing article. I was looking up the meaning of Han and now I have an entirely new perspective on the world. As an African American I would say we understand Han. The history of slavery is with us as we live among the children of our captors. We have a sort of Han towards America. We love America and its ideals and we believe in America but we also have such a long history of being mistreated by America. This bitterness towards America is part of our identity. We wouldn’t be who we are without it. Yet we love America and would defend her with our lives.

  24. You have described my parents’ relationship perfectly! To the death. And while I had understood Han as part of attachment theory in psychological terms, your explanations are full of insight, and give a great sense of a complex and emotional dynamic. However, you might cover what sometimes seems to be the pathological need to gain satisfaction and domination from imposing suffering on others as though entitled and justified.

  25. Mihee Kiim Says:

    thanks for this good article.
    I’m mihee form korea and I’m looking forward to some information about Jeong and Han in english, and i found this article.
    It’s quite intertesting to describe Jeong and Han in english.
    but I think there are something improper exemples about Han.
    Jeong that you described is correct. you explained perfectly but Han… I don’t think so.
    For exemple, Han is like this.

    I had a child and she was only 7 years old.
    one day after I yelled at her, she just dissappeared and i didn’t know where she is nor if she still alive or not.
    It’s been a long time since I couldn’t find my doughter.
    and now I’m still missing her.
    everytime i think about her, I felt like I should have done well to her, I should have bought some good clothes that she wanted, and I should have treated her very well….and the last day morning when my child dissapeared, I should have said “I love you, honey” to her instead of yelling…
    I reget all of things that I couldn’t do for her..

    So in this case, sad emotion with regret is like “Han” emotion.

    in my opinion as korean, the examples that you said need to be more clear I think.

    and really thanks for this article sincerely

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