Winter 2010: Of Note
The Social Doctor
Sheth Award winner Han Wan-Sang 67PhD still works and hopes for peace in Korea
By Paige P. Parvin 96G
Born in Korea during what he calls “a dark and desperate time,” Han Wan-Sang 67PhD was deeply affected by his country’s evolution from Japanese rule to liberation and division in 1945.
“I have lived through the pain of a divided nation,” said Han, recipient of Emory’s 2009 Sheth Distinguished International Alumni Award, in an address given during his November visit to Emory to accept the award. “I was profoundly influenced by the suffering of my people and wanted to choose a profession that helps relieve suffering. My father wanted me to be a medical doctor and my mother, as a devout Christian, wanted me to be a pastor. But I thought to myself, ‘I want to be the kind of doctor that cures the diseases of not a single person, but of an entire society.’ ”
After serving in the Korean army, Han studied sociology at Seoul National University (SNU) and came to Emory to begin work on his PhD in 1962. He landed in the United States during turbulent times. “I realized then that America, too, was suffering social illnesses,” Han said. “In the height of the transformation, I was in Atlanta, in many ways the center of the transformational vortex. As a doctoral student at Emory, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became my new role model. I saw him as a great social doctor.”
Han later joined the faculty of Georgia State University before accepting an invitation in 1970 to return to SNU as a professor. But Korea remained in the grip of military oppression. “The college campus was not an ivory tower, but rather a cruel battlefield,” he recalls. “My desire to become a social doctor grew even stronger as I saw the suffering and conflict.”
Han became involved in emerging democratic movements and authored two influential books. Viewed as subversive, he lost his professorship and was imprisoned several times during the 1970s and 1980s. He credits Emory President Emeritus James Laney with helping to bring about his release and securing a visiting professorship at Emory.
“I cannot express in words what Emory means to me,” he said.
In 1984, political reform allowed Han to return to Korea, a full professor at SNU and a social doctor who finally could make a difference. He went on to become president of the Korean Sociological Association and, later, deputy prime minister of the National Unification Board and president of the Korea National Red Cross. He also has authored two additional books on megachurches in Korea.
Several of Han’s family members reunited at Emory to see him accept the Sheth Award, an honor established in 2002 by a gift from Madhu and Jagdish Sheth, Charles H. Kellstadt Professor of Marketing, which seeks to recognize international alumni who have distinguished themselves in service to universities, governments, private sector firms, or nongovernmental organizations. Two of Han’s three daughters and his son-in-law attended the University as well.
The event was the latest expression of Emory’s close ties with Korea, which include the University’s first international student, Yun Ch’i-Ho, in 1893, and Laney’s service as U.S. ambassador to Korea nearly a century later.