Korean Diaspora
Korean Diaspora
  • Lee Jung seungji 기자
  • 승인 2008.12.05 19:49
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Those around the world who are separated from Korea believe their own identity to be “Korean.”  Most of them were not born in Korea, have never lived in Korea before, and are not even familiar with the Korean language.  Can you believe this?  Those who live in other countries apart from Korea have been called the “Korean Diaspora.”


The etymology of “Diaspora” in the Oxford English Dictionary traces back to its Greek root and to its appearance in the Old Testament.  The term Diaspora refers to a population sharing common ethnic identity, regardless of whether they were either forced to leave or voluntarily left their settled territory.  Also that includes people who became residents in areas often far removed from the mother country.[1]  However, today the Sookmyung Times will report on the “Korean Diaspora” which was divided by structural force.


History of the Korean Diaspora


The history of the modern Korean Diaspora may be categorized into four different stages. [2]  In the first step, modern Korean emigration started between 1860 and 1869 when the Chosun dynasty began to crumble as a result of intruding Western imperial powers.  The first waves of emigrants found their way to the Russian Far East territory.  Koreans who migrated to Manchuria in and the Maritime province of Russia were considered illegal economic migrants.[3]  The second period was the Japanese colonial years of 1910~1945 when the primary exodus of Koreans took place.  During this period, people whose lands and means of production were deprived by the Japanese left for Manchuria, Hawaii or due to famine, poverty and tyranny.  Some of them were hunted down for forced labor or military sexual slaves.  Especially those who went to Hawaii and suffered from hard labors on farms, such as pineapple fields and factories.  Also, many political refugees, independence activists and even their families went to China, Russia, and the U.S for the independence movement, leading numerous fights for Korean independence.  Meanwhile, enforced a large mass migration of Koreans to Manchuria for the purpose of building Manchukuo in 1932 along with the Manchuria incident of 1931.  Thus, in the late 1930’s, more than five hundred thousand Koreans went to Manchuria and half of the newly-increased population was a result of mass migration.  Besides, a large number of Koreans were forcibly recruited to labor in mines and to fight in the war in 1937 and 1941 in .  The number of Korean residents in reached 2.3 million in August of 1945, and at the end of World War II 180,000 individuals lived in Soviet Central Asia after having been relocated in 1937.  That’s why Stalin (1879~1953), the Russian dictator, exiled and forcibly divided the residents of the Maritime Territory of Russia to Central Asia .  The third period ranges from 1945 to 1962, when the government of first adopted the Emigration Act.  During this time, 5,000 children went to the States as adoptees or as war orphans.  That has continued until now to Europe as well even though the war was ended.  The fourth period began in 1962 and has continued to the present time.  The intrinsic purpose of the migration policy of 1962 was to send out surplus population in order to decrease the population pressure and to earn foreign currency.[4]  To earn foreign funds of U.S. $35 million, the Korean government dispatched coal miners and nurses to .  As a result, a lot of them could never come back, and have lived separated from their motherland.

Next, some groups among the Korean Diaspora will be introduced in terms of their origin and present connection with the motherland.


Korean Residents in Japan



1. A house to protest against 'forced dismantlement'


In March, 2007, there was an issue of a 92-year-old woman donating 2 billion won to Jeju-do, an administrative island in , in order to fund the education of the younger generation in her hometown.[5] Was this an isolated event in contemporary history?


The Karibong area in Guro Digital Complex, a densely-populated district of Chinese compatriots, was originally “Gurogongdan,” a present of a 141,000 pyeong (a unit of land; 466, 117.8m²) industrial complex.  The place had become an advance base of exports to achieve the miracle of the Han River .  On April 1, 1967, Gurogongdan was established as the first Korean export park on the suggestion of Japanese compatriots.  70% of the companies were actually factories built by them; that is to say, there were 18 plants funded by Japanese compatriots, nine domestic factories and one American plant when the industrial complex was first started.  President Jung-Hee Park (1917~1979) at that time presented his expectations through his congratulations; “Japanese compatriots established a lot of factories to contribute to the industrialization of the fatherland under many unfavorable conditions.  My administration has been interested in their new introduction of industrial technology as well.”  Since he came into power by a military coup on May 16, 1961, he had proposed the modernization of Korea.  To attract foreign capital, President Park made several official visits to and in November 1961.  However, his plans did not turn out to be so simple to achieve.  After continuous rejection from and , Japanese compatriots were both the only chance and final stronghold for the government to accomplish external investment.  Through the industrial complex, what Japanese compatriots did was not only play the role of foreign currency warehouse, but also introduced and initiated advanced technology.  Lots of companies in Gurogongdan were electronic industries, synthetic chemistry, iron industries and so on, which needed the support of high-technology.  Their needs for technology were actually fulfilled by Japanese compatriots.  Most of the top-notch engineers who established POSCO and Kia Motors, for example, were Japanese compatriots.  The compatriots had contributed to the economic growth of the Korean countryside as well, investing in the Gumi Industrial Complex and Ansan Banwol Industrial Complex.  From 1965 until 1970, over 200 companies run by Japanese compatriots were investing in Korea.


Can you believe that Japanese compatriots entered the Korean War?  On September 7, 1950, the total of the volunteer army was 78 people, including university and high school students who had never visited before the war.  Song Jeong-won who was a student soldier said at that time, said, “During the Japanese occupation, the Japanese did not treat Koreans as people, and held Koreans so cheaply.  Therefore, I realized how my motherland is priceless without another’s instruction, so I volunteered as a solider in the Korean War.”


Most people in must know the 440, 000-pyeong(1,454,554 m²) Olympic Park in Songpa-gu.  However, almost nobody knows that some of the facilities were built by Japanese compatriots: four stadiums, Olympic Hall and even the rest rooms in the park.  Also, the seats in Jang Chung Gymnasium were established by donations from the compatriots for the Seoul Olympics.  There is an anecdote about this issue.  On November 22, 1981, Bae Sun-Hee, a member of the women’s association of compatriots suggested, “As you already know, Seoul , which is the capital of our fatherland, was chosen as the site of the Summer Olympics in 1988.  Is their any way to support our fatherland?”  One member answered, “What do you think about raising small change daily, just ten yen(Japanese unit of money)?”  Woman compatriots in then started a campaign to collect ten yen each day for seven years.  The total amount of change finally reached 1,640 million won.  After a lot of discussion, they decided to use the donations to remodel the park’s rest rooms, from old-fashioned toilets to flush toilets.  Thanks to women compatriots, could hold the successful Olympics with modernized toilets.


In 1997, the IMF(International Monetary Fund) economic crisis affected .  As they had done in the past, the compatriots began to donate money to send to to help weather the crisis.  The campaign of sending over 100,000 yen for each home in was maintained until January 1999, finally sending U.S. $1.2 billion through the participation of over 48,000 people.


Korean Residents in the old Soviet Union - KAREISKY


From September 21 to November 15, 1937, Koreans in the Maritime Province of Russia were relocated abruptly to central Asia (6,000 km away) by Stalin’s order.  Before being taken by force, 2,500 Korean leaders were shot dead to keep them from concentrating by themselves.  Those who were hauled along to officers never came back to their families.  Without any explanation or even notice of their destination, this all of sudden happened to them.  Because they could not prepare for their emigration and were treated like slaves, moving elsewhere threatened their existence: no toilets, no food, no shelter and so on.  During the enforced train journey of 6,000 km, a lot of people, especially the old and children, died, unable to bear the severely cold weather in Siberia and starvation.  Those who found it impossible to hold funerals kept the stark and stiff bodies for a while, and then buried their family members beside the railroad as soon as the train stopped.  The total population which arrived in and was just 171,781 people.  To make matters worse, the new settlements were located in the wilderness where there were no accommodations for immigrants.  Nevertheless people who had lost their children or parents had to survive for their remaining family.  From the first year of immigration to the next year before starting cultivation, life was purely terrible.  Numerous people died under the extreme environment, including 20% of infants.[6]  They had to live in remodeled caves, barns and warehouses with bare floors, and approved places for Korean were also limited.  They also had to endure group separation for 16 years because of a special identification card.  Of course, national education was put under ban, and education and employment was limited.  As a result, entering social and political circles was effectively blocked.  However, “Kareiskies” were persevering.  They began to cultivate rice without any agricultural equipment, leveling the road with bare hands although they at first failed in what had originally been devastated land.  Yet, they finally succeeded through consistent efforts, and areas where Korean lived came to be major regions of rice farming.  At that time, the Soviet Union periodically elected Kolkhoz (best collective farms) and heroes of labor.  Most of the model Kolkhoz came to be occupied by Koreans.  A greater number of Koreans were selected as heroes than people of any other ethnicity.  One Kareisky witnessed, “Throughout the Soviet Union, Korean labor heroes numbered around 750 people out of 1,200.” 


Against this background, they sent a donation for the national defense fund, and military personnel when the Korea War broke out.  Besides, they remitted 1,000 billion won to when the Korean economic crisis happened in 1997.  Not only in the past, but also in the present, they are still connected with .  Given those numbers of Korean Diaspora, in 1999 ’s (the host country of the largest Korean Diaspora in former Soviet territory – 170,000 people) trade turnover with was a little less than U.S. $1 billion, and Korean trade turnover with was about U.S. $28 million. For direct economic reasons, great importance should be given to the role of the Diaspora in the promotion and popularization of Korean culture in their host countries.  For example, these days in there is a phenomenon called “Korean wave” or the booming of Korean culture.  Although it is cultural phenomenon, it fosters Korean economic development.  Great interest from the domestic population increases sales of Korean DVDs and CDs in the domestic market, attracts Korean investments into the entertainment industry of the country, increases trade volume, and strengthens bilateral political relations in the international arena.[7]  Today, the total population of Kareiskies is 550,000.


Korean Residents in Germany


Probably many of you could remember the Korean soap opera “Fantasy Couple.”  The setting of the drama in Namhae was beautiful, especially around the heroes’ house.  It was a little bit exotic to Koreans because it was constructed for a special reason.  The scenic town was developed for old people who came back to from as a resort, according to the German style. 


President Jung-Hee Park and his administration planed to attract U.S. $35 million in foreign currency by sending laborers to .  Finally, young people left to as coal miners and nurses that German people shirk.  From 1963 until 1977, dispatched miners and nurses numbered 8,000 and 10,000 respectively, and most of the miners were college graduates. Life as a coal miner was a living hell.  Miners recalled the old times underground, 0m~3000m, in over 40 degree heat; “A day ended with soaked underwear being wrung out over five times, and water poured out of rubber boots over ten times.”  Life as a nurse was not much different to a miner’s.  Korean women had to clean and care for dozens of Germans all day.  By overcoming the hardship of labor and the discrimination as Asians in Europe , the total amount or money they sent to occupied 30 % of the entire amount of exports.[8]  They must have had to support not only their family, but also the Korean economy.


Conclusion – How Long Will Korea Make the Korean Diaspora Love Inrequitedly?


A common feature of the abovementioned people was that they were moved by their structural environment, and then they were not treated reasonably by .  They have been lost in the mists of time in .  Someone may say, “That was personal choice.  Despite their miserable conditions, nothing can be done now.”  However, is that right?  The focus of the problem can be explained in terms of two views: global and national.


3. Kareisky children to participate a memorial day


 In the present era of globalization where the world is becoming a closer and smaller place, the interest of overseas Koreans is now at an international and generalized level, not just at a local or regional one.  According to the report of the International Organization for Migration, “Migration and Development: perspective from Asia,” the Diaspora can act as a middleman, enhancing information flow, lowering reputation barriers and enforcing contractual arrangements, resulting in an expansion of capital inflows from foreigners as well as from the Diaspora and of trade links too.  Also, Doctor In-Ho Ha asserts in his book, Soul Management, “The Korean Diaspora has been creating already the miracle in the 21th century, connecting West and East.  They have moved beyond the Jews who have considered what they can do for their mother country.  By combining residents within and outside of , they are connecting East with West and are actively helping world peace as a result.  Koreans are starting to show their energy now through the global Korean networking.  The creative ability of Koreans is beginning to be seen simultaneously around the world.”

Second, there is the national view.  When the borders between countries become blurred, there is an emerging appreciation that “the highly skilled Diaspora may play several important roles in promoting development at home.”  Actually the Diaspora is a bridgehead to the expansion of economic links for the home nation.  For example, Korean-Americans were the bridgeheads for the successful penetration of Korean cars, electronics and white goods manufacturers into the market.  That is to say, the existence of the Korean Diaspora has come to be the fastest-growing field in the Korean export market.  However, there are more fundamental reasons than economic ones concerning this problem, which is why, despite disagreements, they are both victims of Korean history and still Korean as long as their identity is Korean.  Today is relatively peaceful.  Koreans don’t need to go abroad any more to fight others for Korean independence, to survive fundamental starvation, or to be forced by other governments or by a Korean dictator.  Through getting independence, developing economic growth, and achieving democracy, today Korean life has become more reasonable and more stable.  If the Korean Diaspora did not exist, could the characteristics of today’s be possible?  In epoch-making economic growth as well as in independence, it seems to be impossible without the abovementioned sacrifices of each compatriot.  If Korean would share this notion, no one denies that treatment to victims made by nation’ purpose could be different with just like now. Developed countries have considered importantly individual dignity and worth as much as nation’ interests to attract spontaneities to the country, giving conviction that a nation will fulfill the responsibilities to national support. As long as heads toward society with justice and further develops democracy as well, it must not treat imprudently the pains of the ordinary folk.  The opening could start through reconsideration of the victims of history.  That can begin with acknowledging their existence.




Hee-Jin Jung defined “Knowing” in Challenge of Feminism.  “I think that knowing something means getting wounds.  Moreover, knowing history that was left out, because it is definitely important, cannot help hurting us; the shame of our own life protected by ignorance, the indignation over society, the hopelessness about communication.”  On October 27, 2008, the Overseas Koreans Foundation announced again, “Koreans in are officially starting a campaign for inducement of foreign currency against the Korean economic depression.”  Now, are you ready to acknowledge their existence, accept their reality, and then stand together with them despite “getting hurt” in the process?

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaspora

[2][A Study of North Korea’s policy on Korean diaspora], P24-29, Kim Jieun, Korea University ,

[3][Overseas Koreans], P.5, Lee Kwangkyu, Seoul :Jimoondang,2000.

[4] Diaspora politics on the way of globalization : Son Yulia

[5] http://media.daum.net/society/nation/others/view.html

[6] http://koreis.com/main/06_koreis/koreis_05.asp

[7] Diaspora politics on the way of globalization : Korean case / Son Yulia P8-12

[8] http://www.germanvillage.co.kr


Photo Reference

1. http://blog.ohmynews.com/cheguevara/?page=3

2. http://blog.ohmynews.com/netizenbonbu/?page=42

3. http://blog.ohmynews.com/wasteland

4. http://in.segye.com/bodo/3796

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