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Joseonjok and China`s autonomous Korean prefecture

Posted September. 04, 2012 08:46,   


"Yang rou chuan (羊肉串)," or skewered mutton in Chinese, is a popular dish among residents in northern China. The food has also grown familiar in Korea as more Korean Chinese have moved to Korea. It is hard to pronounce the word "chuan (串)" in Korean. The term is often used for skewered food in Chinese but not in Korean. The Chinese character can be pronounced "gwan," "goht" and "chan" in Korean but is read "chuan" for a skewered dish. 羊肉串 should not be read in Korean as "yang yuk gwan" or "yang yuk goht," but as "yang yuk chan."

Unlike ethnic Koreans living in the U.S. or Japan, those in China are often called “Joseonjok,” with "jok" meaning "tribe" in Korean. Ethnic Koreans in Russia and neighboring countries are called “Goryeoin (Kareisky). Joseonjok and Goryeoin are the descendants of Koreans who were forced to move to China and Russia at the end of the Joseon Dynasty (1910) and under Japanese colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula before the establishment of the Republic of Korea in 1948. As Korea cut ties with China and the Soviet Union, Koreans called them Joseonjok and Goryeoin from a distance. The two groups of ethnic Koreans, however, should be called ethnic Koreans in China and Russia.

Joseonjok live in the northeastern Chinese provinces of Jilin, Heilongjiang and Liaoning, particularly in Jilin, which has the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture. The prefecture is one of five autonomous prefectures and 30 autonomous counties for minorities and the only one in northeastern China`s three provinces. In the past, many Manchurians lived in the region but there is no Manchurian autonomous prefecture. The region near Yanbian used to be ruled by horse-riding ancestors from the ancient Korean kingdom of Goguryeo. It has Mount Baekdu (Chanbai in Chinese), Korean’s spiritual hometown. The area also has many traces left by Koreans who fought for liberation against Japanese colonial rule.

Tuesday marks the 60th anniversary of the Chinese government`s designation of the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture. The share of Joseonjok in the population sharply fell from 70.5 percent in 1953 to 36.7 percent in 2010. Han Chinese represent more than half of the prefecture`s residents, so the term "autonomous prefecture" seems meaningless. After Seoul and Beijing formed official ties in 1992, Korean companies rushed to China and hired many Joseonjok who were scattered there. In addition, many Joseonjok came to Korea in pursuit of the "Korean dream." Korea must care for Joseonjok to prevent their diaspora from leading to the lifting of the autonomous prefecture designation.

Editorial Writer Song Pyeong-in (pisong@donga.com)