26 March 2005

Oranckay on the Chinese Minority in South Korea

South Korea-based blogger Oranckay has a long, rambling post on the history of the Chinese minority in South Korea.
South Korea had around 120,000 Chinese in the early seventies, now there are 22,000. There are many reasons as to why they've left though one of them is that most are from families that originate on mainland, whereas because of history (being in SK at the height of anti-Communism) they are all Taiwanese citizens, with the exception of the relatively few who managed too obtain Korean citizenship. Problem with Taiwanese citizenship is that you couldn't go to the mainland all those years and if you obtain Korean citizenship you have to give up your previous citizenship and still would not be able to go to the mainland all those years (things have changed). So, a good option was emigrating to the US; you can obtain US citizenship without renouncing Taiwanese citizenship while still being able to travel to the family hometown on the mainland on your US passport.

(In major Californian cities [like Honolulu!] it is not difficult to find a Chinese restaurant with gimchi and jajangmyeon (Chinese food particular to Korea, like fortune cookies were developed by Chinese in California) or video stores with Chinese movies that have Korean subtitles, run by Chinese who have gone to the States and still do business with Koreans. Just last week in Seoul I met a Chinese man who introduced himself as being an American from Walnut Creek, California, "back" here to acquire more videos and see his old friends. We conversed in Korean, though probably because he already saw me speaking it with someone and I've no reason to doubt his English as an "American." He said he'd been in the US 20+ years. His Korean was perfect and I wouldn't have known about him had he not told me.)...

Perhaps because he was a protégé of the Japanese, the dictator Park Chung Hee was very harsh with the Chinese as well. Chinese who served in the ROK army during the war as interrogators of PRC POWs were denied their benefits. Park limited the Chinese to mostly running restaurants, and then - get this - enacted price limits on how much you could charge for jajangmyeon! For a long time they were not allowed to own their own land and businesses, and many lost everything when Korean friends who acted as proxy property owners turned around and claimed assets as their own....

(A friend from Busan who married a Canadian man and has never come back says she doesn't know anyone from her Chinese high school in Busan who still lives in Korea. All the fellow Chinese she grew up with are gone, gone to immigrant countries like the US, Canada, and Australia as well as Chinese enclaves such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and of course Taiwan. Her 1st generation father wanted to go to the mainland so much he renounced his Taiwanese citizenship and defected to the PRC, even though her Korean mother renounced Korean citizenship and acquired Taiwanese citizenship when they married and has lived as an alien in her own land. Not uncommon in Busan it seems, that sense of just being here temporarily.)

I've seen relatively reasonable Koreans actually tell me that Park did a good thing by making Seoul virtually the only capital in the world without a full fledged Chinatown, "otherwise the Chinese would've taken over the Korean economy like they did in Southeast Asia" or something similar, believe it or not. Dictatorship has its advantages when someone else suffers, eh?...

So now Korea wants to bulldoze a whole neighborhood and build a Chinatown to attract investment and tourism, a "development project" largely initiated by Koreans? Maybe the idea looks impressive to Chinese investors from other countries but for those who've always been here it looks to me like something close to an insult and it comes way too late. Some Chinese might come and they might call it a "Chinatown" ('차이나타운,' [cha-i-na-ta-un] the loan word from English, like they do now for the one in Incheon) but that's not what it will be in the traditional sense of the word in English as it will lack culture and history, and because Korea will only take "investors" and not the "immigrants" that would create a community in the area. But what kind of developer really wants that anyway?
via the Marmot

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