Chinese people in Korea

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Chinese people in Korea
Regions with significant populations
North Korea: Sinuiju, Pyongyang, Chongjin[1]
South Korea: Seoul, Incheon, Busan
 South Korea1,070,566 (2018)[2]
 North Korea10,000 (2009)[1]
Chinese (Shanghainese, Mandarin), Korean
Chinese folk religion, Taoism, Buddhism, I-Kuan Tao, and Christianity[3]

There has existed a recognizable community of Chinese people in Korea since the 1880s. Most early migrants came from Shandong province on the east coast of China. However, after the People's Republic of China (PRC)'s "reform and opening up" and subsequent normalization of People's Republic of China – South Korea relations, a new wave of Chinese migration to South Korea has occurred.[4] In 2009, more than half of the South Korea's 1.1 million foreign residents were PRC citizens; 71% of those are Joseonjok, PRC citizens of Korean ethnicity.[5] There is also a small community of PRC citizens in North Korea.[6]

On July 15, 2020, a museum dedicated to the history of Chinese people in Korea (韓華歷史博物館) opened in Seoul. Situated on the campus of the Seoul Overseas Chinese High School in Seodaemun-gu, it showcases many artifacts documenting the history of Chinese people in Korea, dating back 150 years. These were mostly donated by the Korean Chinese and their descendents in South Korea. They tell the difficulties Chinese people face in Korea and their struggle to overcome and prosper.


Chinese people in Korea
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese韓國華僑, 旅韓華僑
Simplified Chinese韩国华侨, 旅韩华侨
Korean name
한국화교, 여한화교
韓國華僑, 旅韓華僑

When writing in English, scholars use a number of different terms to refer to Chinese people in Korea, often derived from Sino-Korean vocabulary. One common one is yeohan hwagyo (Korean) or lühan huaqiao (Mandarin), meaning "Chinese staying in Korea".[7] The Korean reading is often shortened to hwagyo (also spelled huakyo),[8] which simply means "overseas Chinese" but in English literature typically refers specifically to the overseas Chinese of Korea. Other authors call them huaqiao, but this term might be used to refer to overseas Chinese in any country, not just Korea, so sometimes a qualifier is added, for example "Korean-Huaqiao".[9][10] The terms "Chinese Korean" and "Korean Chinese" are also seen.[9][11] However, this usage may be confused with Koreans in China, who are also referred to by both such names.

Early history[edit]

Jizi came to Korea during the Shang dynasty and established Gija Joseon and Wiman of Gojoseon came from Han dynasty China and established Wiman Joseon.

Chinese colonists settled in the Four Commanderies of Han after the Han dynasty conquered Wiman Joseon, especially in Lelang Commandery. Ethnic Han colonies peasants were set up at Lelang.[12]

Other minority ethnicities from China such as the Xianbei, Khitan, and Jurchen also migrated into the Korean peninsula.

Fleeing from the Mongols, in 1216 the Khitans invaded Goryeo and defeated the Korean armies multiple times, even reaching the gates of the capital and raiding deep into the south, but were defeated by Korean General Kim Chwi-ryeo who pushed them back north to Pyongan,[13][14] where the remaining Khitans were finished off by allied Mongol-Goryeo forces in 1219.[15][16] These Khitans are possibly the origin of the Baekjeong.

Xianbei descendants among the Korean population carry surnames such as Mo (Korean; Chinese: [a]), Seok Sŏk Sek (; [b]), Won Wŏn (; [c]), Dokgo (Chinese: 獨孤[d]).[17][18][19][20][21][22][23]

One of Mencius' descendants moved to Korea and founded the Sinchang Maeng clan. A Chinese descended from a student of Confucius founded the Muncheon Gong clan and Gimpo Gong clan in Korea.

During the Yuan dynasty, one of Confucius' descendants, who was one of the sons of Duke Yansheng Kong Huan [zh], named Kong Shao (孔紹), moved from China to Goryeo era Korea and established a branch of the family there called the Gong clan of Qufu after marrying a Korean woman, the daughter of Jo Jin-gyeong (曹晉慶) during Toghon Temür's rule. This branch of the family received aristocratic rank in Joseon era Korea.[24][25][26][27][28] 曲阜孔氏 (朝鲜半岛) 곡부 공씨

Two Japanese families, a Vietnamese family, an Arab family, a Uighur family, four Manchuria originated families, three Mongol families, and 83 Chinese families migrated into Korea during Goryeo.[29]

Goryeo era Korea accepted Lý Dynasty royals refugees.[30] The Lý were of Chinese ethnicity.[31] Fujian province, Jinjiang village was the origin of Lý Thái Tổ (李公蘊), the ancestor of the Lý dynasty ruling family.[32][33][34][35] China, Fujian was the home of Lý Công Uẩn. The ethnic Chinese background of Lý Công Uẩn has been accepted by Vietnamese historian Trần Quốc Vượng.[36]

Chen Li went to Korea. The Chinese Ming Xia emperor Ming Yuzhen's son Ming Sheng was given the noble title Marquis of Guiyi by the Ming dynasty emperor Zhu Yuanzhang after his surrender. Ming Sheng was then exiled to Korea and Zhu Yuanzhang asked the Korean king to treat him as a foreign noble by giving his descendants and family corvée and taxation exemptions. These were granted by a patent from the Korean king which lasted until the invading soldiers in the Qing invasion of Joseon destroyed the Ming family's patents. The Korean official Yun Hui-chong's daughter married Ming Sheng in March 1373. Ming Sheng was 17 and Chen Li was 21 when they were sent to Korea in 1372 by the Ming dynasty.[37][38][39][40][41] The Chinese Ming family exists as the Korean clans, Yeonan Myeong clan, Seochok Myeong clan and Namwon Seung clan.[42][43]

Individual Chinese are recorded on the Korean peninsula as early as the 13th century, with some going on to found Korean clans.[44] However, there was little recognisable community until July 1882, when the Qing Dynasty sent Admiral Wu Changqing [zh] and 3,000 troops at the request of the Korean government to aid in quelling a rebellion. Accompanying the troops were some 40 Chinese merchants and other civilians.[4][45] In August that same year, Qing Superintendent for Trade for the Northern Ports Li Hongzhang lifted restrictions on coastal trade and signed the Regulations for Maritime and Overland Trade Between Chinese and Korean Subjects, and two further agreements the following year, which granted Chinese merchants permission to trade in Korea.[46]

Unlike in other Asian countries, 90% of the early overseas Chinese in Korea came from Shandong, rather than the southern coastal provinces of Guangdong and Fujian.[47] During the late 19th and early 20th century Shandong was hard hit by famine, drought, and banditry especially in its northwest, and caused many to migrate to other parts of Shandong, China, and Korea.[48] See Shandong people. Chinese merchants did well in competition with the Japanese due to their superior access to credit.[49] They were not confined to port cities, and many did business in inland parts of Korea. Generally speaking, Japanese traders were more interested in quick profits, while the Chinese established relationships with customers.[50] The earliest Chinese school in Korea, the Joseon Hwagyo Primary School, was established in 1902 in Incheon.[51]

Under Japanese rule[edit]

The gate of the Overseas Chinese Primary School in Myeongdong.Seoul

By 1910, when Korea formally came under Japanese rule, the number of Chinese in Korea had risen to 12,000.[52] Chinese migrants established schools in Seoul in 1910, Busan in 1912, Sinuiju in 1915, Nampho in 1919, and Wonsan in 1923.[53]

The number of Chinese in Korea would expand to 82,661 by 1942, but contracted sharply to 12,648 by 1945 due to economic hardships faced during World War II.[54]

Division of Korea[edit]

South Korea[edit]

The gate of Busan's Chinatown, located in Choryang-dong, Dong-gu

Prior to and during the Korean War, many Chinese residing in the northern half of the Korean peninsula migrated to the southern half.[54] After the division of Korea, the Chinese population in South Korea would remain stable for some time; however, when Park Chung Hee took power in a coup on May 16, 1961, he began to implement currency reforms and property restrictions which severely harmed the interests of the Chinese community, spurring an exodus.[47] Incheon once had the largest Chinese population in Korea, but as the pace of emigration increased, the number diminished. It is estimated that only 26,700 of the old Chinese community now remain in South Korea; they largely hold Republic of China nationality.[4]

However, in recent years, immigration from mainland China has increased; 696,861 persons of PRC nationality have immigrated to South Korea, making them 55.1% of the total 1,139,283 foreign citizens living in South Korea. Among them are 488,100 of Korean descent (70% of PRC citizens in South Korea, and 40% of the total number of foreign citizens), and 208,761 of other ethnicities. Most of these new residents live in Seoul and its surroundings.[5]

There is a Chinese-language primary school in Myeongdong, as well as a high school in Seodaemun.[55]

North Korea[edit]

After the surrender of Japan and the liberation of Korea from Japanese rule, Chinese living in the northern half of Korea quickly established new schools and rebuilt Chinese-language education, with aid from the Communist Party of China (CPC). In April 1949, the CPC's Northeast Administrative Committee formally handed control of these schools over to the North Korean government, which began some efforts to integrate them into the national educational system.[56] Early financial assistance from the North Korean government actually helped to maintain and expand Chinese education; the schools continued operation even during the Korean War, and the era after the cessation of hostilities up to around 1966 was described as a "golden era" for the schools. After that time, the North Korean government began to pursue a policy of reform and indigenisation towards the schools.[57] However, as of the late 1990s, there were still four Chinese middle schools which followed the PRC curriculum.[6] Some of their graduates go on to PRC universities; for example, Jinan University in Guangzhou had over 100 overseas Chinese students from North Korea as of 2002.[58] Yanbian University in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture of China also began offering training programmes for teachers in overseas Chinese schools in North Korea beginning in 2002; 38 students from their first class graduated in 2005.[59]

Being foreign citizens, North Korea's Chinese people were not eligible to join the ruling Korean Workers Party or advance in the military or the civil bureaucracy. On the other hand, they were allowed somewhat greater freedoms, such as the right to own a radio that was not sealed to only allow being tuned to North Korean stations (as long they did not listen to foreign stations in the presence of North Koreans). More importantly, since around 1980 they were allowed to travel abroad, and participate in the important and profitable export-import business.[6] After the PRC government came out in support of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874 in June 2009, which imposed sanctions in North Korea, it was reported that North Korean surveillance and repression of Chinese residents had increased, and many had chosen to avoid making trips out of the country to avoid scrutiny. One Chinese resident was allegedly charged with espionage.[1]

The population of PRC citizens in North Korea was estimated as 14,351 persons (in 3,778 households) in 1958, shrinking to a mere 6,000 by 1980, as they had been encouraged by the North Korean government to leave for China in the 1960s and 70s.[6] Recent estimates of their population vary. China's official Xinhua News Agency published a figure of 4,000 overseas Chinese and 100 international students in 2008.[60] The Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper, gave a higher estimate of 10,000 people in 2009.[1] They live mostly in Pyongyang and in the areas near the Chinese border.[6]

Secondary migration[edit]

Due to the South Korean regulations in the 1960s which limited foreign property ownership, many Chinese in South Korea left the country.[61] During the 1970s, 15,000 are estimated to have moved to the United States, and another 10,000 to Taiwan. Further outmigration occurred during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.[62] Others went to the PRC after its reform and opening up, to pursue commercial opportunities or simply to return to their ancestral hometowns.[61] For example, in Rizhao, Shandong alone, there are 8,200 returned overseas Chinese.[63]

Many Chinese from Korea who migrated to the U.S. have settled in areas with large Korean American communities, such as Los Angeles, and have tended to integrate into the Korean American rather than Chinese American community.[62] Yet, some who went to the United States or Taiwan found they could not adapt to life there either due to linguistic and cultural barriers, and ended up returning to South Korea, in a form of circular migration.[61]

History of Overseas Chinese in Korea[edit]

Overseas Chinese are persons born in China who subsequently settled in and work in other countries. The origin of overseas Chinese in Korea can be found in the Im-O Military Revolt in 1882.[64] At that time, the Chinese military leader Wu Changqing [zh] came to fetch the Chinese military 4000 people in order to rectify the Im-O Military Revolt in Korea and the settlement of Overseas Chinese began from the Qing Dynasty merchants that came along to procure munitions.[64] As the Qing Dynasty concession was set to near Incheon Jemulpo Port in 1884, in earnest, the Overseas Chinese came to Korea and was nationally spread.[65] But overseas Chinese society was atrophied because of various institutional limits and discrimination of the government.[65][66] Since then, Korea conducted favorable policy for foreigners. In 1998, overseas Chinese have become increasingly stable as 22,917 people In 2001.[67] And the rise of China and the 21st century global era, especially, Since the 1997 IMF crisis, as importance of foreign capital was emphasized, Overseas Chinese in Korea has arranged the foundation of a new leap forward.[68][69]


It has been documented that most Chinese in South Korea are followers of Chinese folk religion, Buddhism and Taoism. Chinese have established some folk temples dedicated to various gods, which provide networks linking back to mainland China or Taiwan. Otherwise, there are no formal Chinese Buddhist and Taoist temples in Korea. Chinese Buddhist attend temples of Korean Buddhism. Many Chinese belong to I-Kuan Tao, a religious movement originating from Chinese folk religion. Since the 1990s, Christianity has made some inroads among the Chinese of Korea, with at least one Chinese-language church established by a pastor from Taiwan. Chinese Catholics attend Korean Catholic churches.[3]


There are multiple ROC Chinese international schools in South Korea:

  • Seoul Chinese Primary School
  • Seoul Overseas Chinese High School
  • Yeongdeugpou Korea Chinese Primary School (Chinese: 永登浦華僑小學; Korean한국영등포화교소학교)
  • Overseas Chinese Elementary School Busan (韓國釜山華僑小學; 부산화교소학교)
  • Overseas Chinese Middle and High School Busan (韓國釜山華僑中學)
  • Overseas Chinese Elementary School Daegu (한국대구화교초등학교) (韓國大邱華僑小學)
  • Overseas Chinese Middle and High School Daegu (韓國大邱華僑中學)
  • Overseas Chinese School Incheon (인천화교소·중산중고등학교) (仁川華僑中山中學)
  • Suwon Zhongzheng Chinese Elementary School (水原華僑中正小學; 수원화교중정소학교)
  • Overseas Chinese Elementary School Uijongbu (議政府華僑小學; 의정부화교소학교)
  • Wonju Chinese Elementary School (原州華僑小學校; 원주화교소학교)
  • Chungju Chinese Elementary School (忠州華僑小學校; 충주화교소학교)
  • Onyang Chinese Elementary School (溫陽華僑小學校; 온양화교소학교)
  • Kunsan Chinese Elementary School (群山華僑小學; 군산화교소학교)

Notable people[edit]


Solo entertainers[edit]

Band members[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ pinyin: ; Wade–Giles: mu, shortened from Murong
  2. ^ pinyin: shí; Wade–Giles: shih, shortened from Wushilan (Chinese: 烏石蘭)
  3. ^ pinyin: yuán; Wade–Giles: yüan. This is the adopted Chinese surname of the Tuoba
  4. ^ pinyin: Dúgū; Wade–Giles: Tuku, from the Chinese Dugu


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Further reading[edit]

  • Park, Heh-rahn (1996), Narratives of Migration: From the Formation of Korean Chinese Nationality in the PRC to the Emergence of Korean Chinese Migrants in South Korea, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Washington, hdl:1773/6450, OCLC 36173120
  • Yang, Pil-seung; Yi, Jeong-hui (2004), ko:차이나타운없는나라 : 한국화교경제의어제와오늘 [A Country without a Chinatown: Yesterday and Today in the Overseas Chinese Economy of Korea], Seoul: Samseong Gyeongje Yeonguso, ISBN 978-89-7633-242-4, OCLC 58047117
    • Also published in Chinese as Liang, Bicheng (梁必承); Li, Zhengxi (李正熙) (2006), 韩国, 沒有中国城的国家 : 21世纪型中国城的出现背景 (in Chinese), translated by Quan, Min (全敏), Beijing: Tsinghua University, ISBN 978-7-302-12742-0, OCLC 273498122
  • Lu, Yilong (陆益龙) (2006), 嵌入性适应模式:韩国华侨文化与生活方式的变迁 [A Model of Embedded Adaptability: The Evolution of Society and Lifestyle Among Overseas Chinese in Korea] (in Chinese), Beijing: China Social Sciences Press, ISBN 978-7-5004-5921-7, OCLC 173283674
  • Wang, Mun-yong (2007), 한국 화교 의 생활 과 정체성 [Life and Identity of Overseas Chinese in Korea], 구술사료선집 [Materials of Oral History Series], Gwancheon, Gyeonggi-do: National Institute of Korean History, ISBN 978-89-8236-390-0, OCLC 262402436
  • Choi, Sheena (2008), "Politics, Commerce, and Construction of Chinese 'Otherness' in Korea: Open Port Period (1876-1910)", in Kuah-Pearce, Khun Eng; Davidson, Andrew P. (eds.), At home in the Chinese diaspora: memories, identities and belongings, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 128–145, ISBN 978-0-230-50698-5