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Paper is Thicker than Blood: Chosonjok Migrant “Kin” at the Gates of South Korea

Caren Freeman, University of Virginia
Caren Freeman
Friday, April 5, 2013 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm
Thomson Hall 317

The large-scale influx of Korean Chinese (or Chosǒnjok) migrants from northeastern China into South Korea in the last decades of the twentieth century conjures up images of formerly impassable Cold War borders suddenly rendered passable. Yet opportunities for legally cross-ing the border into South Korea at this historical juncture were highly circum-scribed. Chosǒnjok who desired entry to South Korea responded by becoming experts in ma-nipulating the kinship categories sanctioned by South Korea’s restrictive immigration laws. Faking kinship ironically turned out to be a more expedient means of entering South Korea than relying on real genealogies and the assistance of actual blood relatives. The pre-senter will explore how these tactics of faking kinship point to the tensions between kin-based versus document-based forms ethnic identification in South Korea, and more generally to the difficulties of defining what counts as kinship or ethnicity under contemporary conditions of transnational migration.

Caren Freeman has been teaching in the Anthropology Department as well as coordinating the Summer Language Institute at the University of Virginia since 2007. She received her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of Virginia in 2006, with a research focus on gender, kinship, nation, and cross-border relations between China and South Korea. Caren’s talk is based on her recent book, Making and Faking Kinship: Marriage and Labor Migration between China and South Korea (Cornell 2011). The book explores how the large-scale migration of ethnic Ko-rean brides and workers from China into South Korea unsettles the way kinship, gender, and ethnicity is imagined and practiced on both sides of the migration steam.

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