Ink in the Han River

One remarkable fact about South Korea: the foreign population of South Korea has been shooting up. From a mere 200,000 in 2001 it reached 1,400,000 in 2011 (that is 2.8% out of 50 million).*

Formerly, South Koreans espoused ethnic nationalism. It is still espoused by North Korea. In a 2006 meeting, North Korea complained about the growing number of foreigners saying “Not even one drop of ink must be allowed to fall in the Han River.”

Why this remarkable shift from ethnic nationalism to multiculturalism?

Mostly, it is due to marriage. About 10% of weddings involve a foreign partner. Korean women avoid marrying relatively poor rural men, hoping to catch an urban husband. So, farmers seek overseas brides. The result: an influx of Vietnamese, Filipina, and Chinese women.

Partly, it is due to overseas study. Many South Koreans study abroad in English-speaking countries, where they encounter the dominant multicultural ideology.

Partly too it due to government policy. Government adverts adorn the Seoul Metro showing happy multi-ethnic families.

And part of it is due to a general opening up of South Korea. Imported goods have become ubiquitous and prestigious.

It’s hard to say what the effects will be. The degree or level of multiculturalism appears to be less than in the West. Half the foreigners are Chinese. Most of the rest are from Southeast Asia. Because many are women coming specifically to marry Korean men, they will not form a closed-off endogamous group as some immigrants in the West have done. The half that are Chinese will not become a new underclass. Chinese overseas generally prosper – in contrast to the new underclasses of migrants in the West. So, with some luck, South Korea should be able to avoid two of the worse problems of multiculturalism in the West: new underclasses, and closed-off endogamous groups.

Another fact: the fertility rate is just 1.2.

*Source: Daniel Tudor, Korea: The Impossible Country (Tuttle Publishing, 2012) chap. 25.


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