Making and Faking Kinship: Marriage and Labor Migration between China and South Korea
In the years leading up to and directly following rapprochement with China in 1992, the South Korean government looked to ethnic Korean (Chosǒnjok) brides and laborers from northeastern China to restore productivity to its industries and countryside. South Korean officials and the media celebrated these overtures not only as a pragmatic solution to population problems but also as a patriotic project of reuniting ethnic Koreans after nearly fifty years of Cold War separation.
As Caren Freeman's fieldwork in China and South Korea shows, the attempt to bridge the geopolitical divide in the name of Korean kinship proved more difficult than any of the parties involved could have imagined. Discriminatory treatment, artificially suppressed wages, clashing gender logics, and the criminalization of so-called runaway brides and undocumented workers tarnished the myth of ethnic homogeneity and exposed the contradictions at the heart of South Korea's transnational kin-making project.
Unlike migrant brides who could acquire citizenship, migrant workers were denied the rights of long-term settlement, and stringent quotas restricted their entry. As a result, many Chosǒnjok migrants arranged paper marriages and fabricated familial ties to South Korean citizens to bypass the state apparatus of border control. Making and Faking Kinship depicts acts of "counterfeit kinship," false documents, and the leaving behind of spouses and children as strategies implemented by disenfranchised people to gain mobility within the region's changing political economy.
agents without losing sight of the broader structures of inequality and gendered nationalist ideologies that frame women’s experiences. Living in Perseverance: Yo˘nghwa Yo˘nghwa had refused many introductions to local Choso˘njok bachelors, pinning her hopes instead on a South Korean husband. For years the women in her village had been marrying to South Korea, and she too yearned for the good life that South Korea was rumored to offer. When her father, after forty years of separation, visited his
relied heavily upon eyewitness accounts from Japanese and Korean American scholars (Park 1996, 185). These reports emphasized the strong ethnic consciousness of the Choso˘njok and triumphantly proclaimed the resilience of Korean ethnic homogeneity behind the “bamboo curtain.”10 Park writes that between 1985 and 1988, South Korean newspapers “exploded” with reports 10. Characterizing the U.S. media’s stance toward the Choso˘njok, Park writes, “The isolated tribe persistently eating dog meat,
the official’s tongue-in-cheek warning that her South Korean husband would almost certainly abuse her and keep her a prisoner in the home. Yuno˘k was amused by these comments and repeated them to her friends in the village at the end of the day, eliciting peals of laughter. I had a more sober reaction. Though the official of course exaggerated, I knew from interviews the previous year with Choso˘njok brides in South Korea that tensions over division of labor were no laughing matter. What is more,
fieldwork. While she had earlier denied any romantic interest in this man, Juju now claimed to have discovered a great deal in common with him, not the least of which was his entrepreneurial spirit. Juju, it seemed, had found a partner in business, if not in romance. She proudly offered me one of her new business cards emblazoned with both their names and a picture of a rare breed of dog that she and her new mate would be exporting to China. Maneuvering across Power Geometries and Gender Logics
Korea. Middleaged people who had been forced into early retirement or laid off without pensions by failing state-owned enterprises claimed that working in South Korea was quite simply a matter of survival (weile shengcun). I now turn to the chronology of events, decisions, and dilemmas that constituted Country Ajumma’s plan to migrate to South Korea as the fictive mother of a bride. Ajumma: “The Important Thing Is That I Be Able to Make Money” Country Ajumma looked at first glance more than a