Politics of Race in East Asia: The Case of Korea and the Chinese community in South Korea

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Hyun Jin Kim


The influx of Chinese into Korea has a long history. The earlier migrants were rapidly absorbed into mainstream Korean society and quickly assimilated. However, the Chinese migrants who arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the huaqiao, chose to maintain their separate, non-Korean identity. This later led to open discrimination towards the huaqiao in post-independence Korea. The adoption of modern nationalism and racial theories in Korea also facilitated the disenfranchisement of the huaqiao, whose loyalty to the Korean national state was suspected and whose economic and social rights were appropriated. The recent revival of Chinese power has led to the mellowing of Korean attitudes towards China and the Chinese. The left-aligned political parties in Korea are especially in favour of cultivating closer ties with China. The composition of the Chinese community in Korea has also been altered by the influx of new migrants from mainland China. This has led to the renaissance of the once moribund Chinese communities in Incheon and Busan, both of which now boast sizable Chinatowns. Yet the huaqiao still face problems with integrating fully into Korean society and being openly huaqiao can still lead to unwelcome attention and prejudice from native Koreans. The integration of the Chinese community in Korea remains a challenge for Korea that still holds firmly to the old nationalist ideology of the 20th century.

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Author Biography

Hyun Jin Kim, University of Sydney

Hyun Jin Kim took his D. Phil. from the University of Oxford. He is currently the Australian Research Council DECRA fellow at the University of Sydney, Department of Classics and Ancient History. His main areas of expertise are Ancient Greco-Roman history and ethnography and comparative literature on Greece and China. He is the author of the book Ethnicity and Foreigners in Ancient Greece and China (London, Duckworth: 2009). He has also recently completed a second book with Cambridge University Press titled The Huns, Rome and the Birth of Europe, which will appear in 2013. He is at present working on a new project titled Transfer of Hegemony: Geopolitical Revolutions in World History.