Thursday, February 4, 2010

LAT on ethnic Koreans in China making a new life in South Korea

The Los Angeles Times has a good article highlighting why Chosŏnjok, ethnic Koreans in China, come to South Korea and what they might face. An excerpt:
At last, Yin arrived here in 1998 lugging not only her belongings but also $80,000 in debts to her friends and family. When her husband followed eight months later, the couple faced the challenge of their lives: They worked for six years to repay what they owed and begin a new life in their chosen homeland.

"For us, going to Korea was like going to heaven, a place where money grew on trees," Yin says. "There is nothing [in China]. Here, if you want to work, you can."

But, like many Korean Chinese, Yin has learned that the life in her newfound utopia comes with sweat, hard labor and low wages that barely allow them to survive in the pricey nation.

Many are limited to jobs in restaurants, factories, construction fields or as domestic workers. They inhabit the very bottom rung of the workforce, but they are more than glad to be here -- for now.

Even a harsh life in South Korea is far better than the one they left behind in China's northeastern provinces of Jilin, Heilongjiang or Liaoning. And with the remittances they send home, the workers help improve the lot of their families.

Korean Chinese "make an economic contribution in sectors most Koreans don't want to work in but need to be covered in society," says Yoon In-jin, sociology professor at Korea University. "Their incorporation as foreign labor is smoother because they speak the language and are considered from the same race."
The last part of the excerpt there points out a big draw for migrating like this: Even a meager wage in a place like the US, South Korea, or Japan can make a tremendous difference to the people back in China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and elsewhere. In some cases, the people who do this for their families back home are regarded as heroes and treated like royalty when they visit.


  1. Wow... it's like how Mexicans and Central Americas operate with Koreans in Los Angeles... doing all the things that Koreans don't wanna do.

  2. Except... that they can speak Korean... although nowadays a lot of Mexicans in Koreatown CAN speak Korean...

  3. Nice article. I've been out with friends who always attribute lousy service or even the hint of a strange accent to these ethnic Koreans. I didn't know just how many there were until recently. I saw quite a few of them at Incheon Airport the other day, speaking and looking like Koreans but holding red Chinese passports.

  4. It's very paradoxical how Korean's have promoted national pride through ethnicity, forging bonds of unity and group mentality, for better and for worse, and using this to become the country they are today, but they still look down upon ethnic Koreans from China or North Korea when they come to Korea.

    I know that's not exactly what this post was about, I just find it interesting. I know there's no real way of proving that South Koreans sometimes look down on ethnic Koreans from other countries, but I'm talking about the sort of thing that Adeel mentioned: needlessly blaming things on Chinese Koreans, and there are also plenty of accounts of North Korean escapees living in Korea who have a very hard time being accepted by the society.

    I think it's reflective of a distorted education when it comes to what Korean ethnicity and South Korean nationality represent and mean.


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