Women Are Driving Force in Korea's Chinatowns

  • By Kwon Seon-mi

    May 08, 2019 12:03

    Women are often the driving force in the burgeoning businesses of Chinatowns that are expanding beyond Seoul to the satellite towns of Suwon and Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province.

    According to realtors, it is mostly ethnic Korean women from China who run the thriving restaurants, nail parlors, hair salons and other businesses there. They often end up owning several restaurants and also invest in standalone supermarkets and wedding halls.

    Korean-Chinese women started coming to Korea in the late 1990s, when the Chinese market opened.

    One of them is Kim sook-ja (64), who comes from the Chinese border region of Yanbian. She arrived in Korea in 1997 and started working in a restaurant, which she eventually bought with the help of her family in China. Now Kim owns six restaurants as well as a wedding hall in Guro and Gwangjin districts in Seoul.

    "I want to do something to help other ethnic Koreans from China adjust to life here," she says.

    Moon Ok-hwa (59) was an elementary school teacher in Yanbian before she followed her public servant husband to Korea in 1995. They first opened a small restaurant in Seoul's Dongdaemun.

    "We were working day and night." She recalls. Now she owns two noodle restaurants and two wedding halls in Daerim-dong.

    Kim Soon-hee poses in front of her restaurant near Konkuk University in Seoul on May 1.

    Kim Soon-hee (44) opened a beauty shop in Daerim-dong in 2007, but three years later she closed it down and was able to open a hot pot restaurant near Konkuk University instead. Business boomed and Kim now owns three more stores.

    She has been serving as the head of a merchants' association of her neighborhood. "Out of around 60 members in our group, 45 are women," Kim says.

    Near Suwon station south of Seoul, some 80 stores are run by Korean Chinese along a 900-m street. They have also set up stores in traditional open-air markets. "People are saying that these women are practically keeping the regional economy alive," a realtor said.

    Now they are moving into commercial real estate. One ethnic Korean woman bought three small flats in Mullae-dong for W140 million each (US$1=W1,169). That means realtors are increasingly targeting ethnic Korean Chinese women who got rich by their tireless industry. 

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