Making and Faking Kinship: Marriage and Labor Migration between China and South Korea
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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.
with his future parents-in-law that he scheduled a flight to meet his prospective bride in China. Though many women I spoke with felt more confident using an intimate acquaintance as a go-between, others, both men and women, recognized certain advantages in hiring a professional marriage bureau. As one the parent’s generation, whether a professional matchmaker or relative or friend of the parents. See Lett 1998 (189–91) for a discussion of the different practices and social valuations with
systematic domination of men over women throughout 5,000 years of Korean history. The South Korean scholar structured her historical narrative around a distinction between the “traditional” period, which she traced back 4000 years to the Tang’un origin myth, and the “modern” period, signaled by the imposition of Japanese colonial rule. During the “traditional” period, women were said to be entirely dependent and subjugated to men in accordance with Confucian principles of patriarchal social
asked about her husband, she replied that if it was his wish to follow her, then they would remain together. Mira: Dutiful Housewife Kyo˘ng’u˘n (my research assistant) and I traveled four hours by train, from Seoul to the southern city of Pusan, to meet Mira. We stood in the rain on the corner where Mira had instructed us to wait until a petite woman came rushing up to us with a smile and an umbrella. We followed Mira down a 140 Making and Faking Kinship narrow alleyway and into her
liked my style.” Mira showed us a photograph of herself that day standing beside the other two Choso˘njok women who had been paired with the men from Pusan. “Look,” she said pointing to one of the women in the picture, “she’s a ‘bumpkin.’ ” There were dozens of pictures in Mira’s album chronicling the many places the three couples had visited in the course of their week-long “group date.” Mira spoke nostalgically of their brief, two-part “courtship,” one week together in China to cement their
congratulate her for persevering with her marriage and not running away. “My husband’s friends tell him he has Gender Logics in Conflict 143 a good wife,” she said proudly. “I’m not naive and pure like they thought I would be. They say to my husband, ‘You better watch out. She’s a clever one. She might run away and marry someone better.’ I tell them, ‘I’ll run away with my husband on my back.’ ” The image was meant to be humorous, but I also found it touching, a tribute to how much Mira