[KS] KSR 2002-03: _Gender, Ethnicity, Market Forces, and College Choices: Observations of Ethnic Chinese in Korea_, by Sheena Choi

Stephen Epstein Stephen.Epstein at vuw.ac.nz
Wed Mar 6 15:31:42 EST 2002

_Gender, Ethnicity, Market Forces, and College Choices: Observations of
Ethnic Chinese in Korea_, by Sheena Choi.  New York: Routledge.  2001. 148
pages.  ISBN 0-8153-4030-3.

Reviewed by Hyaeweol Choi
Arizona State University

[This review first appeared in _Acta Koreana_, 5.1 (2002): 102-06.  _Acta
Koreana_ is published by Academia Koreana of Keimyung University.]

Korea has often been described as one of the most homogeneous societies in
terms of its racial, linguistic and cultural background. Modern discourse
on _tanil minjok_ (one nation) or _uri minjok_ (our nation) as a
pureblooded people has indeed perpetuated Koreans' belief in one pure race
that originated from Tan'gun, the mythological founder of the Korean
nation. In the face of Western and Japanese imperialism at the turn of the
20th century, nationalist discourse was constructed to promote the unity of
the nation. After independence in 1945, a series of oppressive political
regimes justified their dictatorship in the name of national prosperity and
solidarity, using rhetoric that called for unity, discipline, and cohesion.
Advocating national unity from a different ideological standpoint,
anti-government movements also heavily relied on the idea of one
pureblooded nation with a uniquely Korean culture and tradition. However,
as recent studies demonstrate, racial purity was not always an integral
part of Korean national identity in Korean history (Duncan 2000; Moon 1998;
Pai and Tangherlini, 1998). The claim of racial purity is now further
challenged as South Korea has experienced an influx of foreign workers in
the 1990s and must face the issues of ethnic minorities for the first time
in modern history. Thus, a set of critical questions needs to be posed,
including what constitutes Korean national identity, what exactly
"Koreanness" is, and how the seemingly homogeneous society would deal with
issues related to the increasing population of ethnic minorities in Korea
in this rapidly globalizing world.

While there is a body of literature on Koreans as a minority in other
countries, very few studies have focused on ethnic minorities within Korea.
The book, _Gender, Ethnicity, Market Forces, and College Choices:
Observations of Ethnic Chinese in Korea_ by Sheena Choi is, therefore,
timely since it examines the ethnic Chinese population known as Huaqiaos,
who constitute 0.5 percent of the South Korean population as of 1996 (xv;
4). Choi characterizes "Korean Huaqiaos" as a group of ethnic Chinese
living in Korea who mostly have Taiwanese citizenship and maintain a strong
political and educational affiliation with Taiwan (39-41). The central
focus of the present book is a shift in educational choice among the ethnic
Chinese students in Korea from a predominant preference for Taiwanese
universities in the past to a current preference for Korean universities
(xv). In order to explain why this shift in university preference occurred,
beginning in the early 1990s, Choi considers the effect of the Huaqiaos'
precarious citizenship status in Korea, the changing economic and political
reality of Korean society, the ethnic identity of Chinese students and
gender effects on college choice.

According to Choi, the first Huaqiao school was founded in Inchon in 1902
(on another page, however, she says it was founded in 1912. See 83). Inchon
was a logical place to open the first school for Chinese children because
of its geographical proximity to Shantung, which is the place of origin for
93.4 percent of Huaqiao students, according to a 1997 survey (51). At
present, there are 28 elementary schools and four high schools for Huaqiao
students (52; 75). Choi describes Huaqiao education in Korea as
"ill-defined and laissez faire" because Huaqiao schools exist "outside the
parameter of Korean educational law but they still function as schools"
(74). Huaqiao schools are not considered regular schools but rather private
organizations operated by the Chinese ethnic community with funding largely
from Taiwan. It is interesting that, despite the lack of legal status for
these schools, the degrees conferred by them are recognized, and when
graduates from Huaqiao high schools enter Korean universities, they are
given the status of "study abroad" (78). The author suggests that the
Huaqiao community chose to keep their schools separate from the Korean
educational system in order to avoid any interference from the Korean
government and to provide their students with ethnic knowledge and culture.

This isolated existence of Huaqiao schools began to change in the late
1980s (5). In 1992, Seoul Overseas Chinese High School (SOCHS), the
institution that is the main focus of this study and the author's alma
mater, created two academic tracks-one for Taiwanese universities and the
other for Korean universities-and began to hire teachers trained at Korean
universities to prepare students for both Taiwanese and Korean
universities. Prior to 1992, SOCHS had a single track, focused only on
Taiwanese universities. Her survey shows that there has been steady growth
in the number of Huaqiao students who study in the Korean university track.
Since 1993, the number of students who are in the Korean university track
has outnumbered those in the Taiwanese university track. Choi identifies
several major factors that resulted in this shift of preference. The
booming Korean economy, especially after the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games,
broadened the Huaqiaos' employment opportunities. In the past, Huaqiaos'
occupations were concentrated in the restaurant business (77% in 1972, 65);
however, their opportunities have expanded in recent times into diverse
occupational choices including white-collar jobs. These broadened
opportunities have gotten even better since the normalization of diplomatic
relations between Korea and China in 1992. Korean society has had an
increasing need for Chinese speakers and experts in Chinese culture because
of the new diplomatic ties with China. The changed political and cultural
milieu is now seen among Huaqiaos in Korea as providing new and greater
opportunities for them. As a result, a Korean university education is
perceived as more appropriate because it will prepare them for entrance
into mainstream Korean society. Choi also emphasizes generational change as
an important factor in the shift of preference. She claims that Chinese
ethnic identity has eroded in the third and fourth generations, who
identify more with Koreans than Chinese/Taiwanese. In addition, there has
been greater intermarriage between Huaqiaos and Koreans. Many young
Huaqiaos have Korean mothers, who tend to raise their children in Korean
culture rather than Chinese.

The author uses interview data to bring out the "voices" of the Huaqiaos,
who are invisible in Korean society (9). These voices help us understand
Chinese perceptions of Korean society and culture and their ethnic identity
in an "extremely homogeneous and monocultural" Korean society (128). The
interviewees often speak about the extreme difficulties in getting Korean
citizenship, the discriminatory legal practices of the Korean government,
and the very limited job opportunities for the ethnic Chinese in Korea.
Choi also points out that the Huaqiaos take pride in their origin in the
"middle kingdom." She suggests that this ethnocentric attitude contributed
to the maladjustment of Huaqiao children to the larger Korean society.
Another interesting finding in the book is that the majority of female
Chinese students tends to choose Taiwanese universities, while the majority
of male students chooses Korean universities. For female students, the main
reason for their choice is to find suitable marriage partners in Taiwan
because male Huaqiaos in Korea are perceived as being poor prospects for
social and occupational mobility in Korea. In addition, female students
think a "female's status in Taiwan is better than in Korea," and "Taiwanese
men are gentle, most couples work together, and there is no obligation to
in-laws as in Korea" (108).  Despite the major shift in preference in the
choice of universities, the author concludes that female students have
remained unchanged in their preference for Taiwanese universities, largely
due to their view of a proper future spouse.

Having said that the book is timely and offers interesting insights about
the ethnic Chinese community in Korea, I feel obligated to mention some
problems as well. The book is obviously based on the author's dissertation,
and judging from the format, it is clear that the author did not revise it
thoroughly for publication as a book. But the most serious problem is
extremely frequent errors in references and inaccurate or inconsistent
information throughout the book. These frequent errors distract the reader,
and it leaves the impression that the author and/or the editor at
Routledge, the book's publisher, gave little attention to editing the
manuscript. For example, in "Problem Statement" (1-7), the author draws
extensively from two books but fails to include them in the references at
the end of the book. On page 103, the author refers to Sorensen's work, but
no information is provided in the bibliography. Further, the date provided
in the text for the Sorensen reference is 1986, but Clark Sorensen's
article on South Korean education was published in 1994. This pattern of
mistakes is repeated frequently throughout the book.

Regarding methodology, Choi combines a survey method with a semi-structured
interview method, but the way she uses her data is inconsistent and
insubstantial. It is not clear what kind of questions Choi asked in the
survey except the questions related to ethnic identity, i.e. "How do you
best describe yourself?" and "Why do you feel that way?" (99). A reader
might have expected to see more detailed information about the 176
respondents to the survey in terms of the length of stay in Korea, language
skills, or family background.  For the data coming from the 37 interviews,
the author often says, "according to an interviewee," and occasionally
refers to "Mr. Z" or "Mr. R" but without providing background information
as to who they are. Choi's interviewees include not only students but also
parents, teachers, community leaders, and alumni, and thus it is crucial to
identify whose voice she is representing. The use of pseudonyms is very
common to preserve confidentiality when interview data are used. If
necessary, the category of each interviewee is also indicated. The author
of this book fails to follow this basic convention and uses her interview
data in a random and journalistic way.

The title of the book, _Gender, Ethnicity, Market Forces, and College
Choices_, is greatly misleading. The book devotes only seven pages out of
147 to explain "gender effects." Even within this limited space, she simply
lists segments of interview data without any solid analysis. Not a single
book or article that focuses on gender relations in China, Taiwan, or Korea
is referred to. When the author quotes her interviewees' perception about
Korean and Taiwanese men, there is no attempt to either support or
challenge the interview data through reference to previous research. I also
think that, since the book mainly focuses on ethnicity, it would have been
interesting if it had analyzed the issues of the ethnic Chinese population
in Korea in relation to other ethnic minorities, mainly recently arrived
foreign workers. The case of Huaqiaos, who have lived in Korea for
generations, could provide significant insights into the Korean
government's policies toward growing minority populations and the organized
activities of these populations to protect their human rights and economic
opportunities in Korea.

In sum, the book raises important issues and includes some significant
data. However, the analysis offered in the book remains shallow and is
sometimes inconsistent. Furthermore, the carelessness in editing and
problems in citing references diminish its contributions. Information that
should be present is often missing. And therefore, the book's ability to
function as a resource is undermined. Given the significance of the topic,
a major revision of the book would be useful.

Duncan, John, "Hyanghwain: Migration and Assimilation in Chos™n Korea,"
_Acta Koreana_, vol. 3 (2000), 99-113.
Moon, Seungsook, "Begetting the Nation: The Androcentric Discourse of
National History and Tradition in South Korea," in _Dangerous Women: Gender
and Korean Nationalism_, edited by Elaine H. Kim and Chungmoo Choi (New
York: Routledge, 1998), 33-66.
Pai, Hyung Il and Timothy R. Tangherlini, eds., _Nationalism and the
Construction of Korean Identity_ (Instititute of East Asian Studies,
University of California, Berkeley, 1998).
Sorensen, Clark, "Success and Education in South Korea," _Comparative
Education Review_, vol. 38, no. 1 (1994), 10-35.

Choi, Hyaeweol 2002
Review of _Gender, Ethnicity, Market Forces, and College Choices:
Observations of Ethnic Chinese in Korea _, by Sheena Choi (2001)
Korean Studies Review_ 2002, no. 3
Electronic file: http://www.koreaweb.ws/ks/ksr/ksr02-03.htm

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