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Northeast China's Koreans and the Economic Challenge of the Post-Mao Era Bernard Olivier INTRODUCTION 1 he close to two million Koreans of Northeast China represent the eleventh largest minority ethnic group of the People's Republic. Their experience as a minority nationality is unique because they are not native to China, but are relatively recent immigrants. In spite of their foreign origins, a specific set of geographical, historico-political, and economic factors forged a durable alliance between Koreans and the Chinese Communist party. As a result, the Koreans successfully adapted to the Socialist regime and managed a fairly peaceful cohabitation with the Han Chinese majority while preserving their language and culture. The party's liberal nationality policy of the early 1950s and the establishment of Korean autonomous territories contributed to the development of Korean language and culture. and Socialist state protection allowed the Koreans to exploit their traditional rice cultivation skills and enjoy a relative economic prosperity. Subsequent fluctuations in the party's nationality policy and the decade of chaos of the Cultural Revolution endangered this success, yet without destroying it completely. And the post-Mao era of liberalization benefited the Han Chinese rather than the local Koreans and precipitated instead their economic decline. Finally, 165 166Journal of Korean Studies since the late 1980s, the Chinese leadership appears intent on reestablishing a balanced relationship between Han and Koreans to avoid ethnic tension, and the Koreans seem to be slowly adapting to the new economic order while still striving to preserve their language and culture. The goal of this paper is to examine the impact of the post-Mao economic reforms on the Koreans of Northeast China to better understand why the Koreans have not benefited as much as one would expect, from economic liberalization. It seeks to discern the nature and dimensions of the crisis, but also to evaluate the potential for recovery thanks to the current official aid programs. It is ironic that the new Chinese leadership has to help a former model minority nationality. Before we proceed with these later developments, however, let us briefly consider the sources of China's Koreans' original success under the Socialist system. Poor Korean peasants migrated from the Korean peninsula into Northeast China during the late Qing dynasty in spite of the official prohibition against non-Manchu immigration. The more fertile soils of Northeast China attracted them and the harsh climate did not deter them from engaging in their traditional forte, wet paddy agriculture. Natural calamities and famines that afflicted Korea's northern provinces in the late 1860s, China's contemporaneous, gradual removal of all restrictions on non-Manchu immigration, and the building of railways at the turn of the century combined to encourage large-scale Korean settlement in Northeast China.1 Koreans adapted to local conditions and slowly managed to develop wet rice cultivation in what was in fact a region of dry farming. The Japanese annexation of Korea in 1910 added better educated political refugees to this economically motivated resettlement, and this new small nucleus of immigrants enjoyed prestige among the still poor Korean peasant masses. In the early 1930s, the lapanese-instigated creation of the puppet state of Manzhouguo put the whole region under their domination and the general poverty of the local Koreans proved a fertile ground for Communist proselytizing activities. The Northeast was now separated from the rest of China and the Chinese Communist party faced serious problems of reorganization and mere survival in China proper. Thus, the only Communist guerrillas who could remain somewhat active in 1. The Korean population of Northeast China was over 200,000 by the end of the Qing dynasty, half a million at the turn of the 1920s, and it reached the million mark in the late 1930s. Olivier: Northeast China 's Koreans167 the region were local Koreans.2 Ultimately, Japanese repression decimated all Korean resistance fighting forces, Communist or not, and by 1941, all guerrilla activities had become simply impossible.3 After Japan's capitulation, the Soviet liberation of the Northeast and the Chinese Communist party's decision to turn the region into a strong Communist base put the Koreans in a unique position. Most of them were...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-1665
Print ISSN
0731-1613
Pages
pp. 165-198
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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