Kim Chi-ha

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Kim Chi-ha
Kim Chi-ha
Kim Chi-ha
BornKim Yeongil
(1941-02-04)4 February 1941
Mokpo, Jeollanam-do, Chōsen, Japan
Died8 May 2022(2022-05-08) (aged 81)[1]
Korean name
Revised RomanizationGim Jiha
McCune–ReischauerKim Chiha

Kim Jiha or Kim Chi-ha (Korean: 김지하; 4 February 1941 – 8 May 2022) was a South Korean poet and playwright.[2]


Kim Jiha was born Kim Yeongil on 4 February 1941 in Mokpo, Jeollanam-do. As a university student, Kim took part in April Revolution demonstrations that toppled the regime of South Korean President Syngman Rhee in April 1960.[3] In March 1963, under the pen name Kim Jiha, he published the poem "Evening Story" (Jeonyeok iyagi) in the journal Mokpo Literature. In 1964, Kim took part in the demonstrations against the normalization treaty establishing diplomatic relations with Japan, for which he was briefly arrested.[4] In 1966, he graduated with a degree in Aesthetics from Seoul National University. He made his official literary debut in 1969.[2]

Kim was a dissident under the Park regime, in fact he took the pen-name Jiha because it is the Korean word for "underground".[5] Kim first came to widespread attention in May 1970 with his poem Five Bandits, which led to him being arrested under the Anti-Communist Law, though the poem says nothing about either communism or North Korea.[6] The title of Five Bandits is a reference to the "Five Traitors" who signed the treaty turning Korea into a Japanese protectorate in 1905.[7] In Five Bandits, Kim described how about "ten years ago" the eponymous bandits came to dominate South Korea, rapaciously devouring everything as they set out to loot the country.[7] The poem was published in May 1970 and General Park came to power in a coup d'etat in May 1961. One of the "five bandits" is described as a general who is a great Japanophile and who began his military career fighting for the Japanese in World War II; the character of the general was clearly supposed to be General Park, who was often expressed his admiration for Japanese militarism and who like the unnamed general fought for Japan in World War II, which is why the poem was promptly banned and Kim arrested.[7]

After accusing the regime of extracting false confessions with the use of torture, he was tried and sentenced to death in 1974, which was commuted to a life sentence and eventual release following a public outcry. When he further accused the government of using torture to get confessions in the 1974 People's Revolutionary Party case, he was once again sent to prison and his life sentence renewed.[8] He was subject to torture himself.[9] As a Catholic, he compared the suffering of the Korean people with the greater suffering of Jesus Christ.[citation needed] His poem “Five Thieves”, critical of the government, was subject to censorship, as the entire issue of Sasangye magazine in which it was printed was pulled from circulation.[9]


From his first collection, The Yellow Earth, to his collection of lyrical poetry, Looking up at a Starry Field, Kim has displayed a broad literary range including both narrative and lyrical poems, ballads, taeseol, drama, and prose. His works also cover the full gamut of religious thought and philosophy, from the Donghak, to the Catholic, Jeungsan, Avatamska, Zen, and Maitraya tradition.[2]

The majority of Kim’s poems also present satirical social critiques. In The Yellow Earth and With a Burning Thirst, the poet offers a scathing invective of society through the medium of lyric poetry. In ballads such as "Five Bandits" (Ojeok) and "Groundless Rumors", he employs a pansori rhythm and occasionally obscure classical Chinese characters to satirize the misdeeds and corruption of those in power. The pansori rhythm is present again in A Rain Cloud in these Days of Drought, a collection of narrative poems that examine the life and death of Choi Jeu. Love Thy Neighbor, when compared to Kim's earlier works, focuses more directly on the notion of romantic love, thus marking a turning point in the poet’s thematic focus. Looking up at a Starry Field and The Agony of the Center reflect this shifting thematic interest in their lyrical content and intent in relating the individual’s interior monologue. These works also reveal a strong undercurrent of Romanticism, in focusing more deliberately on the poet’s desire to connect with nature than on his discontent with society.[2]

In the 1980s Kim's poetry and thought underwent yet another transfiguration. Distancing himself from the struggle of the labor movement then the dominant theme of the era, the poet was able to develop a fresh perspective on life.[2]

In his play The Gold-Crowned Jesus[10] a leper, the most despised outcast class in Korea, encounters the imprisoned Jesus. Jesus tells the leper that he must help liberate Him. By helping the poor, the gold crown of Jesus will be removed and His lips freed to speak.

Awards and honors[edit]

Works in translation[edit]

  • "Aufgehen der Knospe" (German Language)
  • Heart's Agony: Selected Poems of Chiha Kim (1998)
  • Cry of the People and Other Poems (1974)
  • The Middle Hour: Selected Poems (1980)
  • The Gold-Crowned Jesus and Other Writings (1978)
  • Five Thieves (Thai translation by Jiranant Phitpreecha in 1989)


  • The Yellow Earth, With a Burning Thirst, South (Nam)
  • Love Thy Neighbor 1-2 (Aerin 1-2),
  • Black Mountain, White Room (Geomeun san hayan bang),
  • A Rain Cloud in These Days of Drought (I gamun nare bigureum),
  • My Mother (Naui eomeoni),
  • Looking up at a Starry Field (Byeolbateul ureoreumyeo),
  • The Agony of the Center (Jungsimui goeroum),
  • Rice (Bap),
  • Boat Songs of the South Land (Namnyeokttang baennorae), and Livelihood (Sallim).


  1. ^ "Poet and democracy activist Kim Ji-ha dies at 81". 8 May 2022. Retrieved 8 May 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d e f LTI Korea Author Database: Archived 21 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Hwang, Kyung Moon A History of Korea, London: Macmillan, 2010 page 240
  4. ^ Hwang, Kyung Moon A History of Korea, London: Macmillan, 2010 page 240.
  5. ^ "Kim Chi-Ha / 김지하 ( Poet and Playwright )". Retrieved 28 January 2020.
  6. ^ Hwang, Kyung Moon A History of Korea, London: Macmillan, 2010 pages 236-237.
  7. ^ a b c Hwang, Kyung Moon A History of Korea, London: Macmillan, 2010 page 241.
  8. ^ William Shaw, ed. Human Rights in Korea: Historical and Policy Perspectives p. 184-5.
  9. ^ a b "Memories of Dictatorship from Not Long Ago".
  10. ^ Kim, Chi-ha, (1978). The Gold-Crowned Jesus and Other Writings
  11. ^ Arana, R. Victoria (2008). The Facts on File companion to world poetry: 1900 to the present. Infobase Publishing. p. 244. ISBN 978-0-8160-6457-1. Retrieved 25 November 2011.