Ethnic return and labor migration of Korean Chinese
Paper short abstract:
This research examines the migration of Korean Chinese from Northeast China to South Korea. Accepted as temporary migrant workers, rather than as lawful returnees to the ethnic homeland, Korean Chinese migrants call Northeast China, not the Korean Peninsula, the "true" homeland of "true" Koreans.
Paper long abstract:
Since the early 1990s, when the end of the Cold War brought the governments of China and South Korea together to formalize diplomatic relations, a little less than one million ethnic Koreans, mostly former farmers, have migrated from Northeast China to South Korea, the southern half of their ancestral homeland. Accepted as temporary migrant workers, rather than as lawful returnees to the ethnic homeland, most Korean Chinese migrants work in services or construction and earn significantly more as compared to those who stay back. For almost three decades now, their remittances have led to substantial improvements in the socioeconomic status of migrant families in Northeast China's ethnic Korean communities. While acknowledging the benefits of their migration for the family back home, in my personal interviews with Korean Chinese migrants in both host and home places, they have been engaged in a developing narrative in which Northeast China, not the Korean Peninsula, has increasingly become the "true" homeland of "true" Koreans. This research argues that the returnees' narrative of a true Korean homeland in Northeast China reflects their defiant response to being othered by South Korean natives and ability to redefine their relationship with them, as well as the historical and continuing geopolitical tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Their intended re-return to the true homeland sheds light on the shifting meanings of and relationships between homeland, nation and diaspora.
Large-scale migration, remittances and development: historical and contemporary evidence