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Ethnic Relations in Northeast China

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Ethnic Revival or De-Ethnicisation of the Korean Diaspora?

This article discusses the dynamic changes in ethnic relations that have taken place in the Joseonjok (Chaoxianju) community comprising minority Koreans residing in and around Yanbian, an autonomous prefecture in northeastern China, and discusses the implications of those changes for the region. The main focus is on how the tension between China’s fluctuating ethnicity-related politics and this diaspora group’s continual struggle for a collective identity has been managed and internalised. Contrary to existing studies on the Joseonjok, the paper argues that the group has experienced de-ethnicisation, both as a top-down (government policy) and bottom-up (diaspora’s reaction) process, rather than ethnic revival. The puzzling question is how and why de-ethnicisation occurs despite the commonly accepted conditions of ethnonationalism and, more recently, with trans-nationalism, heavily influenced by their Korean motherlands. Based primarily on ethnographical research and using a multiculturalism approach, this paper argues that the recent policy failure in dealing with multiculturality in China, together with the changing geopolitics of the region, has accelerated the process of de-ethnicisation. Joseonjok society’s particular way of resisting political pressures and coping with ethnic tension in fact reflects a diaspora’s common struggle to achieve integration with mainstream society while ensuring recognition of its own distinctive characteristics.

Affiliations: 1: Lingnan University, Tuen Mun, NT, Hong Kong


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