Koreans in China

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Koreans in China
Total population
2,489,076 (2009)[1]
1,923,842 are ethnic Koreans with Chinese citizenship (2005 statistics); almost all the rest are expatriates from North or South Korea
Regions with significant populations
Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, provinces, Beijing Koreatown and other Chinese cities
Korean, Chinese
Mahayana Buddhism[2] · Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Dialects of the Korean language. Note the extent of Korean speakers living in China.

The population of Koreans in China include millions of descendants of Korean immigrants with citizenship of the People's Republic of China, as well as smaller groups of South and North Korean expatriates, with a total of roughly 2.3 million people as of 2009,[1] making it the largest ethnic Korean population living outside the Korean Peninsula.

Chaoxianzu (Chinese: 朝鲜族) or Chosŏnjok (Chosŏn'gŭl조선족) form one of the 56 ethnicities officially recognized by the Chinese government. Their total population was estimated at 1,923,842 as of 2005[2] and 1,830,929 according to the 2010 Chinese census. High levels of emigration to South Korea, which has conversely reported a large increase in Chosŏnjok, are the likely cause of the drop. Most of them live in Northeast China, especially in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, which had 854,000 ethnic Koreans living there as of 2000.


The South Korean media of the 1990s referred to Koreans in China as jungguk-in (Hangul중국인; hanja中國人, "Chinese people"). Government regulations in 2004 forced the use of the term jaeoe dongpo (Hangul재외동포; hanja在外同胞, "brothers and sisters who live abroad"). Similarly friendly terms include hanguk gye jungguk-in (Hangul한국계 중국인; hanja韓國系中國人; "Chinese people of Korean descent") or jungguk dongpo (Hangul중국동포; hanja中國同胞, brothers and sisters in China). However, the common term in South Korea is joseon-jok (Hangul조선족; hanja朝鲜族), which Koreans from China criticised for being a less friendly term than those for other overseas Koreans like Korean Americans (jaemi gyopo, 在美僑胞 "Brothers and sisters in America") or Koreans in Japan (jaeil gyopo, 在日僑胞 "Brothers and sisters in Japan").[3]


The current Korean population in China is mainly descended from migrants who came between 1860 and 1945. In the 1860s, a series of natural disasters struck Korea, leading to deadly famines. Along with the Qing dynasty's loosening of border controls and acceptance of external migration into Northeast China, this pushed many Koreans to migrate. By 1894, an estimated 34,000 Koreans lived in China, with numbers increasing to 109,500 in 1910.[citation needed] Koreans in Qing territory were forced to wear the queue hairstyle.[4][5]

Korea under Japanese rule

After the annexation of Korea by the Empire of Japan in 1910, many Koreans migrated to China for political reasons.[3] Some migrants joined the Korean independence movement, while others served as pro-Japanese collaborators or as farmers tilling free land promised to them by Japanese occupying authorities in northeast China. Koreans served as tax collectors in China for the Japanese, stimulating ethnic resentment among the disadvantaged Chinese.[3]

By 1936, there were 854,411 Koreans in China. As Japanese rule extended to China. During World War II, many Koreans in China joined the Chinese peoples in fighting against the Japanese invaders. Many also joined on the Communist side and fought against the Chinese Nationalist armies during the Chinese Civil War. After 1949, an estimated 600,000 individuals, or 40% of the Korean population at the time, chose to return to the Korean peninsula. But most Koreans chose to stay in China and took up Chinese citizenship between 1949 (the end of the Chinese Civil War) and 1952.[6]

In China some Korean comfort women stayed behind instead of going back to their native land.[7][8] The Korean comfort women left behind in China married Chinese men.[9]

Since 1949

After the founding of the People's Republic of China, many Chinese of Korean descent joined the People's Volunteer Army on the side of North Korea during the Korean War,[10] for which they were awarded ethnic autonomous regions by the Communist Chinese.[3] Yanbian, where most ethnic Koreans live, was designated as an autonomous county in 1952 and was upgraded to an autonomous prefecture in 1955.[10] A Changbai Korean Autonomous County was designated in Jilin province, as well as several autonomous Korean districts in Heilongjiang, Liaoning, and Inner Mongolia.[11]

From around 1990, the ethnic Korean population of Yanbian began shrinking because of increased emigration. The share of the ethnic Korean population in Yanbian dropped from 60.2% in 1953 to 36.3% in 2000. This process is a result of social changes in the ethnic Korean community. The success of the economic reforms in China brought fast growth. In the past, most ethnic Koreans aspired to become good farmers. Now, success is increasingly associated with a college degree and/or migration to larger cities. Koreans are one of the most educated ethnic groups in China[12] and are regarded as a model minority.[13] They are well represented in college professorships. Korean language publications are encouraged by the state, and most Korean high school graduates take the National Higher Education Entrance Examination in Korean.[14]

A significant proportion of China's ethnic Korean citizens now reside in South Korea; As of 2009, there were 443,566 ethnic Koreans with Chinese citizenship residing in South Korea, making up 71% of all Chinese citizens in the country.[15] However, they receive less favourable treatment from the immigration office than ethnic Koreans from other countries, such as Korean Americans,[16] being typecast as "low-qualified laborers who can engage in simple work for low pay."[3] Huang Youfu, a professor at the Minzu University of China and an ethnic Korean, as well as Scott Snyder of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, note that joseonjok who have worked in South Korea often develop poor feelings towards South Korea, due to the mistreatment they experience; Huang believes their writing about their negative experiences on the internet has been a major factor in the spread of anti-Korean sentiment in China.[17][18]

There were 53,000 Chaoxianzu Koreans in Japan (approximately 33% of them are on student visas) as of 2011.[19]

The majority of mail order brides from China to South Korea consist of ethnic Korean women citizens of China.

Capsule pills filled with human baby flesh in the form of powder were manufactured by ethnic Koreans living in China, who then tried to smuggle them into South Korea and consume the capsules or distribute them to other ethnic Korean citizens of China living in South Korea.[20][21][22]

North Korean soldiers have been killing ethnic Korean citizens of China who live along the border of China with North Korea.[23][24]

Koreans in China have maintained a low fertility rate due to their voluntary participation with the one-child policy.[25]


Most ethnic Koreans in China speak Mandarin Chinese and many also speak fluent Korean as their mother tongue.[2] Most Chinese of Korean descent have ancestral roots and family ties in the Hamgyong region of North Korea and speak the Hamgyŏng dialect of Korean according to North Korean conventions.[11] However, since South Korea has been more prolific in exporting its entertainment culture, more Korean Chinese broadcasters have been using Seoul dialect. The so-called Korean Wave (Hallyu) has influenced fashion styles and increased the popularity of plastic surgery.[3]

Most of the ethnic Koreans in China are Buddhists,[2] but there is also a large proportion following Christianity and saying mass in Korean.[26]

In recent years, there have been cases of "international marriage" between ethnic Koreans from China hailing from the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture marrying South Korean men.[27] This trend has been argued by some as having resulted in an acceleration of the reduction of fertility among the Korean population in China.[27]


Chinese people of Korean descent are comfortable regarding themselves as part of the Chinese nation and see no contradiction between their Korean ethnicity and Chinese nationality.[28] However, this dual identity has come into conflict with the Korean ethnic nationalism of South Koreans. In a 2002 poll of 393 South Korean and Korean Chinese university students by Im Gyesun, 86 percent of Korean Chinese answered that they would reject Korean citizenship and would support China in a soccer game between China and South Korea. South Koreans expressed frustration and confusion at the Chaoxianzu's conception of China, rather than Korea, as their joguk (Hangul조국; hanja祖國, motherland).[3]

Yet Korean cultural identity has been strengthened in China since the 1990s, and the Chaoxianzu are "at the forefront of insisting on the use of their own language in the education system."[29] Despite the Chaoxianzu's strong assertion of their cultural identity in recent years, the Chaoxianzu are relatively free of tensions with the majority Han Chinese and harbor no secessionist aspirations. Reasons that have been put forth for this harmony include the destitution of North Korea, a shared Confucianism, and a lack of a religious cleavage between the Koreans and the Han.[30]

Although Chaoxianzu's intermarriage with other ethnic groups was rare in the past, it is increasing nowadays.[31] Li Dexiu (李德洙), the ethnic Korean head of the Ethnic Affairs Commission, has publicly mused a change of China's official ethnic policy from one that respected differences to one that encouraged assimilation.[32] Despite such a situation, Chaoxianzu people often see a common cultural heritage between them and the Koreans in the Korean Peninsula but view themselves separately as one of the Chinese minorities. Common Korean culture such as Korean food, Korean dance, and Hanbok are often explained as part of the many minority Chinese cultures by the Chaoxianzu.[33]

Furthermore, some Chaoxianzu scholars were involved in advocating a more pro-Chinese view of the Goguryeo controversies over ancient Sino-Korean history, which has been a cause of diplomatic protest between the Chinese and South Korean governments.[34] Aside from that, some Chaoxianzu students studying in Korea were accused of violence towards South Korean demonstrators who were conducting anti-PRC protests at the 2008 Summer Olympics torch relay.[35] In South Korea, Chaoxianzu living as migrant workers are sometimes viewed with distrust and are perceived by South Korean nationals as criminals.[36] Such sentiments were refreshed in 2012 following a murder case in Suwon, Gyeonggi-do.[37][38][39] perpetrated by an ethnic Korean of Chinese origin.[40][41][42][43]

The South Korean government gives some legal acknowledgments to overseas Koreans despite their citizenship.

North Koreans

North Korean defectors often pass through China. Some of them settle there while others continue to South Korea.

China has a large number of North Korean refugees, estimated at anywhere in between 20,000 and 400,000 as of 2006. Some North Korean refugees who are unable to obtain transport to South Korea instead marry chaoxianzu and settle down in China, blending into the community; however, they are still subject to deportation if discovered by the authorities.[44]

As of 2011, there are an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 North Koreans residing as legal resident aliens in China. An increasing number are applying for naturalisation as Chinese citizens; this requires a certificate of loss of North Korean nationality, which North Korean authorities have recently become more reluctant to issue.[45] Major North Korean universities, such as the Kim Il-sung University and the Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies send a few dozen exchange students to Peking University and other top-ranked Chinese universities each year.[46]

In June 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that Beijing and Pyongyang had signed an agreement to grant as many as 40,000 industrial trainee visas to North Koreans to permit them to work in China; the first batch of workers arrived earlier in the year in the city of Tumen in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture.[47]

South Koreans

After the 1992 normalisation of diplomatic relations between China and South Korea, many citizens of South Korea started to settle in China. Large new communities of South Koreans have formed in Beijing, Shanghai, Dalian and Qingdao.[48] The South Korean government officially recognises seven Korean international schools in China (in Yanbian, Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Yantai, Qingdao, and Dalian), all founded between 1997 and 2003.[49] Most of the population of Koreans in Hong Kong consists of South Korea expatriates.[citation needed]

Typically, they come to China as employees of South Korean corporations on short-term international assignments; when their assignments are completed, many prefer to stay on in China, using the contacts they have made to start their own consulting businesses or import/export firms. Other South Koreans moved to China on their own after becoming unemployed during the 1997 financial crisis; they used funds they had saved up for retirement to open small restaurants or shops.[50] The low cost of living compared to Seoul, especially the cheap tuition at international schools teaching English and Chinese, is another pull factor for South Korean migration to Mainland China.[48]

The number of South Koreans in China was estimated to be 300,000 to 400,000 as of 2006; at the 2006 rate of growth, their population had been expected to reach one million by 2008.[48] By 2007, the South Korean Embassy in Beijing stated their population had reached 700,000. However, due to the global economic downturn in 2008 and the depreciation of the Korean won, large numbers of those returned to South Korea. A Bloomberg News article initially stated the proportion as 20% (roughly 140,000 people).[51] Between 2008 and 2009, South Korean government figures show that the number of Koreans in China dropped by 433,000.[1] The Sixth National Population Census of the People's Republic of China reported 120,750 South Koreans in Mainland China, the largest single foreign group.[52]

Notable people

Historical figures

Contemporary Chaoxianzu/Joseonjok

Expatriates of other nationalities and their descendants

  • Timmy Hung, Hong Kong Chinese actor, son of martial arts superstar Sammo Hung
  • Kwon Ki-ok, first female pilot in China
  • Pak Cholsu (박철수), head representative of the North Korean government-run company, Taep'oong International Investment Group of Korea (조선대풍국제투자그룹)[55][56]
  • Eunice Yoon, Korean-American reporter based in Beijing

See also



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  4. On Qing Government's Land Policy towards Chaoxian Reclamation People of Break Probibition
  5. 论清朝对图们江以北朝鲜垦民的“薙发易服”政策
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  7. Tanaka 2002, p. 59.
  8. Tanaka 2003, p. 59.
  9. Teunis 2007, p. 90.
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  56. 연합뉴스 : 바른언론 빠른뉴스


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