Foreigners in Korea

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Foreigners in Korea have never been a large portion of the population. Following the partition of Korea in the aftermath of the Korean War, the percent of foreigners in South Korea has risen to 2% of the total population, while North Korea largely remains racially homogeneous with a small Chinese expatriate community and a few Japanese migrants.[1]


King Gojong called foreigners "uneducated louts," motivated by "lechery and sensuality."[2] The Joseon Dynasty was widely referred to as a "hermit kingdom" for sealing itself off from foreign influence. Joseon diplomacy mainly involved the Sadae ("serving the great") policy toward Imperial China. Concurrently maintained (and jointly referred to as "serving the great and relations with neighbor policy" Hangul: 사대교린 정책 Hanja: 事大交隣政策) was the Gyorin policy of amicable relations with neighbouring countries; however this did not result in significant influx of foreign persons but rather sporadic trade delegations and diplomatic missions: envoys form the Ryūkyū Kingdom were received by Taejo of Joseon in 1392, 1394 and 1397. Siam sent an envoy to Taejo's court in 1393.[3]

The Joseon kingdom made every effort to maintain a friendly bilateral relationship with China for reasons having to do with both realpolitik and a more idealist Confucian worldview wherein China was seen as the center of a Confucian moral universe.[4] In the fifth through tenth centuries, Arabs sailed the Indian Ocean, and Arab merchants and sailors eventually landed in Korea during the Silla dynasty.[5] These contacts eventually broke off starting in the 15th century, resulting in the Arabs' eventual assimilation into the Korean population.

North Korea[edit]

The foreign relations of North Korea are often tense and unpredictable. Since the Korean Armistice Agreement ended the Korean War in 1953, the North Korean government has been largely isolationist, becoming one of the world's most authoritarian societies. While no formal peace treaty exists between North and South Korea, both diplomatic discussions and clashes have occurred between the two. North Korea has maintained close relations with China and often limited ones with other nations. They have banned all media from other countries (such as video games, newspapers, and goods), especially South Korea and the United States, and smuggling these products is illegal. The number of foreign residents is correspondingly very small, and is essentially limited to Japanese spouses of "repatriating" Zainichi Koreans, expatriates from the People's Republic of China, foreign diplomats, and a few defectors such as James Joseph Dresnok and Joseph T. White.

South Korea[edit]

South Korea is among the world's most ethnically homogeneous nations.[6] Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, South Korea has been far more open to foreign, especially American, influence than North Korea. South Korea is a homogeneous society with absolute majority of the population of Korean ethnicity. In 1970, an estimated 120,000 Chinese resided in South Korea. However, due to economic restrictions by the South Korean government, the number may have fallen to as low as 21,000.[citation needed] In the 10-year period starting in the late 1990s, the number of Chinese in Korea exploded. It is estimated that there are at least 300,000[7] and possibly more than 1,000,000[8] Chinese citizens living in South Korea as permanent residents or illegal immigrants, including Joseonjok (Hangul: 조선족 Hanja: , Chinese citizens of Korean descent) and Han Chinese. There is a large Chinese community in Seoul's southwestern area (Daerim/Namguro) and a smaller but established community in Seongnam. Ethnic Chinese in Korea are known as Hwagyo (Hangul: 화교 Hanja: 華僑) by the Koreans.

There are migrant workers from Southeast Asia and increasingly from Central Asia (notably Uzbekistan, mostly ethnic Koreans from there, and Mongolians), and in the main cities, particularly Seoul, there is a small but growing number of foreigners related to business and education. The number of marriages between Koreans and foreigners has risen steadily in the past few years. In 2005, 14% of all marriages in South Korea were marriages to foreigners (about 26,000 marriages); most were rural Korean men marrying other Asian women from poor backgrounds. Korean men in age brackets up to their 40s outnumber slightly younger Korean women, both due to a high sex ratio and the drop in the birth rate since the 1960s, leading to a huge demand for wives. Many Korean agencies encourage 'international' marriages to Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipina, Indonesian, and Thai women, adding a new degree of complexity to the issue of ethnicity.[9]

The number of expatriate English teachers hailing from English-speaking nations has increased from less than 1,000 in 1988 to over 20,000 in 2002,[10] and stands at more than 22,000.[11]

There are 28,500 United States military personnel and civilian employees throughout the country,[12] an increasing number of whom are also accompanied by family members.

There were 1,576,034 total foreign residents[13] in South Korea as of Dec. 31st, 2013, including migrant workers, English teachers, and imported brides.

Most Koreans still believe that their population is of a single racial bloodline,[11] and Korean media sometimes create the impression that foreigners are dangerous,[14] including requiring HIV/AIDS tests for non-ethnic Korean foreigners who work in South Korea.[2]


Half-Korean, half-African American Hines Ward who suffered slurs and discrimination from African Americans growing up in the US because of his Korean ancestry[15] is an advocate for acceptance of mixed race children in Korean culture.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ CIA World Factbook North Korea
  2. ^ a b Rauhala, Emily (Dec 24, 2010). "South Korea: Should Foreign Teachers Be Tested for HIV?". Time Magazine. 
  3. ^ Goodrich, L. Carrington et al. (1976). Dictionary of Ming biography, 1368-1644 (明代名人傳), Vol. II, p. 1601.
  4. ^ Mansourov, Alexandre Y. "Will Flowers Bloom without Fragrance? Korean-Chinese Relations," Harvard Asia Quarterly (Spring 2009).
  5. ^ "Muslim society in Korea is developing and growing". Pravda.Ru. 06.11.2002. Retrieved 2010.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  6. ^ "Korea's ethnic nationalism is a source of both pride and prejudice, according to Gi-Wook Shin". The Korea Herald. August 2, 2006.
  7. ^ Yonhap News Kim Hyung Jin (August 29, 2006) No 'real' Chinatown in S. Korea, the result of xenophobic attitudes
  8. ^ Tsinghua University
  9. ^ Onishi, Norimitsu. February 21, 2007. International Herald Tribune. Marriage brokers in Vietnam cater to S. Korean bachelors
  10. ^ Seoul government
  11. ^ a b Lee, Jiyeon (February 3, 2010). "Animosity against English teachers in Seoul". GlobalPost. Retrieved December 2010. 
  12. ^ "Briefing by Defense Secretary Gates and ROK Minister Lee: U.S. troop levels in South Korea will remain at 28,500". U.S. Department of State. 17 October 2008. Retrieved 2010. 
  13. ^ "2013 Immigration Statistics Annual Report". Korea Immigration Service. Foreigner Policy Division. Retrieved 16 February 2015. 
  14. ^ Glionna, John M. (February 24, 2009). "Trying to teach South Korea about discrimination". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010. 
  15. ^ "The Long Way Home:Steelers receiver Hines Ward grew up a hurt, confused child"