[Editorial] A Country Without A Chinatown

      September 15, 1999 20:47




      Most countries and large cities have a Chinatown but such places no longer exist in Korea, despite flourishing in the past. Districts such as Sunrin-dong in Inchon and Sogong-dong in Seoul still remain as places of a nostalgia for Koreans in their middle-age and above. However, numerous regulations on Chinese people living in Korea and the clannish discrimination of Koreans caused the number of Chinese residents in Korea to fall drastically since the 1960's and Chinatown disappeared without trace. In 1945, right after Korea's liberation from the Japanese, there were about 100,000 ethnic Chinese living in Korea. Now the number is about 21,000, a fall to one fifth of the original in just half a century.


      In comparison, some two million ethnic Koreans live in the three north eastern provinces of China. In Jilin Province, there is a separate area called the Chosun People's Autonomous State for people with Korean origins. There, our people use
      the Korean language, keep traditional customs, and conduct a liberal life. Not only do they have Korean elementary, middle, and high schools but there is even a university. It is a drastic difference to what Koreans are allowing ethnic Chinese living in Korea.


      Although it may be unreasonable to compare compatriots in China with Chinese residents in Korea, the fact that these people cannot settle in Korea because of extreme narrow-mindedness, an inability to tolerate others and discriminatory policies cannot be neglected. It is not something Koreans should be doing as people living in an era of the Global Village.


      Recently, the government removed some regulations on foreigners living in Korea, including the Chinese. Thankfully, there are moves to build a 21st Century Chinatown in Yonhee-dong and Tooksom in Seoul, and in Songdo, Inchon. It will also help the Korean economy if the Chinese residents in Korea manage to bring in capital from abroad to run businesses.


      But this is all still a far-fetched dream. Numerous restrictions on Chinese residents should be lifted so that they can get equal treatment like Koreans. They should be allowed to found their own schools. There are still visible restrictions and glass-ceilings for Chinese residents from paperwork to get permits and approvals, to paying taxes. The government has lifted some regulations regarding the building of various types of ethnic Chinese schools in Korea, but many things are still lacking and much more needs to be done. These schools should be allowed to develop into formal schools. If we cannot do this for the ethnic Chinese, we do not have any right to criticize the Americans or Japanese as being racists.


      (September 16, 1999)


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