I’ve been preoccupied with other matters lately and slacked off blogging a bit, but I meant to excerpt a few passages from an interesting portrait of ethnic Koreans in Yanbian, China, that appeared recently in Japan Focus.
The current Korean population in China is of rather recent origin. A wave of migration from the Korean Peninsula began in the 17th century. However, most of the migrants arrived during the tumultuous decades between the middle of the 19th century and the end of the Second World War. Northeast China was first a refuge for poor peasants and later a base for Korean nationalists, who fought against the Japanese colonial rulers in the period 1910–45. After Japan annexed Northeast China in 1931, hundreds of thousands of Koreans migrated to the new Japanese-dominated state of Manzhouguo, including many forcibly sent to work in factories and mines. However, the vast majority of migrants from Korea came allured by the promise of land.
When Japan was defeated in 1945, there were 1.7 million Koreans in Northeast China. When the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949, some 600,000 Koreans returned to the Korean Peninsula, while 1.1 million remained in China. China’s ethnic Korean minority presently totals roughly two million people. Most live in Northeast China, with a dense Korean population in Yanbian on the North Korean border. The number of ethnic Koreans in Yanbian is about 200,000, 38 percent of the prefecture’s population. An estimated 80 percent of the Yanbian Koreans have their roots in contemporary North Korea, and 20 percent have their roots in South Korea….
A closer look at certain elements of Koreanness that Yanbian wished to rely on reflects the complexity of ethnic ties as a resource for promoting economic cooperation. Ethnic background or family ties do not automatically generate business. When the Yanbian Koreans won the opportunity to visit South Korea, they were surprised at not receiving a warmer welcome there. Indeed, South Koreans tended to look down on them. For political and cultural reasons, North Koreans were held in even lower esteem in South Korea. As Korean-Chinese were often mistaken for North Koreans when visiting South Korea, due to similar dialect and appearance, they often met rather harsh treatment.
As contacts between Korean-Chinese and South Koreans intensified, the differences in their habits and values also became quite clear. Korean-Chinese and South Koreans had drifted apart during forty years of separation. The resulting differences led to conflicts over values and other misunderstandings between the two groups….
Some Chinese government officials also wanted to avoid the problems which contacts with South Koreans might create. This, especially, seems to have hindered cadres of Korean origin. Due to the strong South Korean connection with Yanbian, and the pan-nationalistic activities aimed at creating a united Great Korea, including Yanbian, Yanbian was classified as one of the four sensitive regions in China where the Central Government fears separatism. The fear is that pan-nationalistic South Koreans might infiltrate Yanbian in the guise of economic cooperation. Some officials, who wished to render their career secure by avoiding all trouble, chose to block cooperation with South Koreans and other foreigners….
In addition to political ideas, religious activities spread through transnational ties. Christianity was not only perceived by the Chinese leadership as a threat to the “Chineseness” of the Yanbian Korean culture, but Christian congregations were considered to be a disguise for political infiltrators who aimed to disintegrate the country through peaceful means. South Korean missionaries worked not only among Korean-Chinese but also among North Korean migrants and refugees. While in South Korea, many Korean-Chinese encountered Christianity. Until the 1980s, the role of religion had been limited among Korean-Chinese, while in South Korea, one-third of the population were Christians. One contact assumed that the Korean-Chinese migrants were initially attracted to Christianity when they got support from South Korean believers while working under adverse social and economic conditions: Christian organisations provided practical help, like free medical treatment, as well as social and political support. Christian organisations also won support by backing Korean-Chinese demands that South Korean authorities guarantee humane treatment.
Korean churches worked among Korean-Chinese actively not only in South Korea but also in China. They sent both money and personnel to local churches and ran welfare projects. Some churches had established congregations in Yanbian and other areas of China. Many returning migrants joined a local Christian congregation. By the year 1996, the Christian community in Yanbian had grown to include nearly 10 percent of the ethnic Korean population. In addition to return migrants, these congregations also appealed to locals who looked for support in the midst of deteriorating socio-economic conditions.
In order to counteract foreign political and religious infiltrators, three measures were taken in Yanbian in the late 1990s. Firstly, education emphasizing patriotism, socialism and religious policy was intensified. Secondly, leadership was strengthened. Thirdly, control of foreign religious activities was intensified.
via Frog in a Well