IN THE Little China of Incheon, fantastic gates and examples of Chinese
classical architecture stand here and there. Original Ja Jang-myun(noodles with
stir-fried bean paste) is the culinary pride of the local Chinese. The first
Chinese immigrants came to Korea in 1882, under the reign of Gojong, the last
king of the Joseon Dynasty. They were merchants who followed the Chinese army.
Since 1882, thousands of Chinese have established themselves in Incheon, Seoul,
and Busan to engage in commerce. Twenty thousand Chinese are currently residing
in Korea, but the alluring scent of Jasmine in Chinatown masks serious
Social Status - Chinese or Korean?
"We are not tourists, exchange students or illegal residents, but
there are so many unfair obstacles we face. We have lived here for most of our
lives and some of us were born in Korea." Written on the Chinese residents'
human right Internet cafe site (http://cafe.naver.com/koreanchinese),
this passage gives a glimpse of the many inconveniences in their lives. The
common anxiety is their social status. Despite the long history they have in
Korea, they are neither Korean nor Chinese. They eagerly want to be Korean but
the price of naturalization is too high. Chinese who want to naturalize must
posses over ￦500 thousand and have a steady job. In addition, they have to gain
Korean sponsorship. Chinese-Koreans cannot have any confidence because of the
long history of exclusion and discrimination that they have faced in Korea.
Chinese-Korean residents have always been oppressed by the Korean
Government. Ex-President Park Jeong-hee enacted the Land Restriction Law for
most foreigners. Foreigners had to be granted permission from the Korean
Government to posses their own land, but it was impossible for most Chinese
residents. Although the Land Restriction Law was revised in 1970, the
restrictions for Chinese still remain. A Chinese family can only possess one
store, and their acreage of land is limited. The only way they can gain land
access is by borrowing a friend's identity. But Chinese have suffered from their
friends' betrayals. Many Chinese residents have lost their land this way.
Day-to-day problems also follow Chinese residents. Ma Sang-yeon (71,
Resident of Chinatown) says, "It's too difficult to apply for cell-phones or
credit-cards. We cannot use all internet services because foreigners'
identification numbers are not recognized." Chinese residents are classified as
foreigners who reside in Korea. For that reason, a foreigners' certificate of
registration is offered to them instead of Korean identification cards. Even
though problems such as use of cell-phones may not seem major, it implies that
Chinese residents cannot be guaranteed the protections of regular citizens.
Identification is a necessity for modern life.
Way of life
|▲ A gloomy
town is hidden behind the fantastic Chinatown gate.|
Most Chinese-Koreans run Chinese restaurants because many jobs are
closed to them. Though running a restaurant is a good job, there are still many
problems. According to a survey by the National Human Rights Commission of
Korea, 77% of 700 Chinese answered they felt discrimination in employment, and
79% felt discrimination in job promotion. Many Chinese-Korean job applicants are
rejected on the basis of written exams and interviews. This is caused by social
prejudice against Chinese-Koreans. This distinction is like Japanese
discrimination against Korean-Japanese. Chinese residents have to pay taxes like
Koreans, but protection for them is too low. Duties and rights are extremely
Because of the difficulties, many Chinese residents in Chinatown have
to give up their restaurants and lives in Korea and immigrate to the USA and
Japan where they have to start life over again. Though the present appearance of
Chinatown is improved, legal and institutional problems such as denizenship,
social status, and education still remain. Futhermore, Chinese residents want
Korean Chinatowns to hold more prestige. Chinatowns in Japan, Singapore, and the
USA are the pride of the Chinese and the core of sightseeing business. Compared
with those towns, Korea's Chinatowns are imperfect.
How to participate in society
Choo Bon-kyung (56, President of Seoul Korean Chinese Union) says, "It
is inconvenient not to have any suffrage. There are a lot of problems to solve,
but there is no way to participate in fixing them." Even though laws giving
suffrage to foreigners have passed, they are too restrictive. Many
Chinese-Koreans do not have a franchise yet. "I want to help my people. For
example, Korean Chinese handicapped people cannot get any protection from
government," Choo points out. Suffrage is the right to live fairly in Korea. To
solve problems such as Chinese handicapped people and lack of educational funds,
Chinese-Koreans must be granted justice.
The need for open nationalism
Korea is a nation of unique nationalism. Through it, we have achieved
great progress, but the present virtue we need is tolerance. In France,
minorities protested greatly because of racial discrimination. Korea is not an
exception to that problem. Korean society already has many minorities such as
Chinese, Korean-Asians, and Muslims. Unless Korea broadens its definition of
nationalism, a more terrible strife may occur. Chinese-Koreans have lived in
Korea for three generations. They have learned the Korean language and life
style. They want to receive rightful recognition. The time for a national policy
of tolerance and openness is now.