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Making and Faking Kinship

Making and Faking Kinship: Marriage and Labor Migration between China and South Korea

Caren Freeman
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Making and Faking Kinship
    Book Description:

    In the years leading up to and directly following rapprochement with China in 1992, the South Korean government looked to ethnic Korean (Chosonjok) brides and laborers from northeastern China to restore productivity to its industries and countryside. South Korean officials and the media celebrated these overtures not only as a pragmatic solution to population problems but also as a patriotic project of reuniting ethnic Koreans after nearly fifty years of Cold War separation.

    As Caren Freeman's fieldwork in China and South Korea shows, the attempt to bridge the geopolitical divide in the name of Korean kinship proved more difficult than any of the parties involved could have imagined. Discriminatory treatment, artificially suppressed wages, clashing gender logics, and the criminalization of so-called runaway brides and undocumented workers tarnished the myth of ethnic homogeneity and exposed the contradictions at the heart of South Korea's transnational kin-making project.

    Unlike migrant brides who could acquire citizenship, migrant workers were denied the rights of long-term settlement, and stringent quotas restricted their entry. As a result, many Chosonjok migrants arranged paper marriages and fabricated familial ties to South Korean citizens to bypass the state apparatus of border control. Making and Faking Kinship depicts acts of "counterfeit kinship," false documents, and the leaving behind of spouses and children as strategies implemented by disenfranchised people to gain mobility within the region's changing political economy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6281-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Notes on Language and Translations
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    I first learned about transnational marriages between Chosŏnjok women and South Korean men in 1995 while reading the Korea Times one morning on the subway in Seoul. I had been casting about for some time for a research topic that would allow me to draw upon my decade-long acquaintance with China, further explore a newfound interest in South Korea, and build on theoretical interests in kinship, gender, and transnationalism I had been cultivating. The editorial I read that morning struck me as a winning lottery ticket, the prize being a project ideally suited to this particular combination of personal and...

  7. Part I. Migrant Brides and the Pact of Gender, Kinship, Nation

    • 1 Chosŏnjok Maidens and Farmer Bachelors
      (pp. 31-68)

      It was nearly dark by the time my research assistant, Chiyŏng, and I reached our destination: the home of Kisŏn, a pineapple farmer in a far-flung region of South Kyŏngsang Province. In March 1991, Kisŏn had been selected by a local government office to participate in one of South Korea’s first “marriage tours” to northeastern China. Following a lead from the organization in Seoul that sponsored the tour, Chiyŏng had phoned him the week before to arrange an interview. “Are you the ones who phoned?” growled a voice as we exited the taxi. There was no one in sight but...

    • 2 Brides and Brokers under Suspicion
      (pp. 69-108)

      I first made the acquaintance of Mr. Na, director of the Research Association for the Welfare of Korean Farm and Fishing Villages, during an interview in his office in the fall of 1998. A series of identical-looking Photographs hung on the wall next to his desk. In each of them, a long row of serious South Korean men in black suits stood behind their Chosŏnjok brides who wore equally grave expressions and were uniformly clad in wedding white. These photographs commemorated the chain of mass wedding ceremonies Mr. Na’s office had helped bring to fruition. Displayed in such a collection,...

    • 3 Gender Logics in Conflict
      (pp. 109-150)

      While living at my rural host mother’s house in China’s Heilongjiang Province during the still-frigid springtime of 2000, I found the monotony of village life indoors eased by the regular, unannounced visits from a coterie of neighbors and relatives. I began to recognize names and faces after only a day or two in Creek Road Village. These spontaneous drop-in visits would occur at all hours of the day and evening, bringing a continuous stream of ethnographic encounters to my doorstep. Uninvited guests would slip wordlessly through the door and settle onto the kang (fire-heated platform) in our one-room house, with...

  8. Part II. Migrant Workers, Counterfeit Kinship, and Split Families

    • 4 Faking Kinship
      (pp. 153-192)

      For the first part of this book I conducted fieldwork on the move. I roved the length and breadth of South Korea following leads to transnationally married couples and their families from various walks of life and regions of the country. While some conversations evolved into ongoing relationships, many were fleeting encounters that lasted but a few days or in some cases a few hours, always directed by the pointed and probing questions of my research agenda. By contrast, my fieldwork in China, which informs the second part of this book, was more localized, composed of relatively sedentary day-to-day observations...

    • 5 Flexible Families, Fragile Marriages
      (pp. 193-226)

      When Imo realized she would need to return for a second five-year stint of hard labor in South Korea to finance her children’s education back home in China, she gave serious consideration to arranging a fake marriage. Many of her already-married friends and relatives had contracted paper marriages with South Korean men, and she envied the freedom of mobility and unfettered access to the South Korean labor market that their marriage-visas-turned-citizenship-rights afforded. But in the face of strong objections from her husband and two teenage children, Imo reluctantly gave up pursuing the matter.

      As Imo would later discover from other...

    • 6 A Failed National Experiment?
      (pp. 227-244)

      At the beginning of the 1990s, South Korea provided a source of dreams about life in a wealthy, developed nation, fostered new feelings of panethnic pride, and held out the promise of recovering a lost sense of ethnic homogeneity through exchanges of kin and labor. Yet making kinship across the national divide, whether in the literal form of marriages and family reunions or the metaphorical sense of fostering ethnic solidarity through an idiom of blood, proved more complicated than any of the parties had imagined. Discriminatory treatment, artificially suppressed wages, clashing gender logics, and the criminalization of so-called runaway brides...

  9. References
    (pp. 245-256)
  10. Index
    (pp. 257-264)