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The Chinese diaspora – or ‘huaqiao’ – in South Korea has dwindled to less than 20,000, prompting warnings that the community faces ‘extinction’

中国侨民 - 或者说“华侨” - 已经减少到不到2万人,这引发了中国社区面临“消失”的警钟。

Many blame lingering legal restrictions and prejudices that date back to the 1960s


A recipe for success: Ma Jian-xian inside the restaurant that made him a multi-millionaire. Photo: Park Chan-kyong

成功的秘诀:马建贤靠开餐馆成为了一个亿万富翁。照片:Park Chan-kyong

When Ma Jian-xian and his wife converted a cattle shed in a suburb of Seoul into a modest restaurant specialising in pork bone soup in 1989, they had just one customer on their first day of business.


But within a few weeks hundreds of people were queuing up to taste the couple’s speciality dish, known locally as “pyeo haejang guk”. Today, nearly 30 years later, the success of that dish has served the couple well. Ma, now 68, owns assets worth more than US$10 million.

但是几个星期之后,数百人就排队来品尝这对夫妇的特色菜,当地人称之为“pyeo haejang guk(解酲汤”)。经过30年直到今天,这道菜的成功使这对夫妇获益匪浅。现年68岁的马先生拥有价值超过1000万美元的资产。

(译注: haejang guk:解酲汤(朝鲜语:해장국/解酲국),一般又称解酒汤,是韩国料理中有解酒功效的汤。解酲汤有多种款式,一般是用牛血、牛骨肉、大白菜干等熬成的浓汤,但也有使用猪肉代替牛肉。)

“You may call it a successful China-Korea joint venture,” says Ma as he explains that his Korean wife had adapted a recipe used by his Chinese mother.


Family fortune: Ma Jian-xian’s famous pig bone soup. Photo: Park Chan-kyong

家庭财富:马建贤著名的猪骨汤。照片:Park Chan-kyong

It’s the sort of rags-to-riches tale that has inspired countless entrepreneurs among
South Korea’s Chinese diaspora – or huaqiao – over the years, but success stories such as Ma’s are becoming far less common. In recent decades the huaqiao population has dwindled from 40,000 people in 1970 to just 18,000 as of last year (a figure that does not include the estimated one million short-term contract workers from mainland China who are employed at places such as restaurants, factories and construction sites).


Ma Jian-xian outside his home, one of various properties he and his wife now own. Photo: Park Chan-kyong

马建贤在他的家外,这是他和妻子现在拥有的各种财产之一。照片:Park Chan-kyong

Ma spread the word by handing out coupons giving 50 per cent discounts to taxi drivers, who then told their passengers and the restaurant’s success snowballed. Today, the Wondanghun restaurant in Goyang City is a patented brand and Ma and his wife have built a large real estate portfolio.



糟糕的日子 :

Restrictions and prejudices against the huaqiao intensified under the authoritarian rule of presidents Syngman Rhee in the 1950s and Park Chung-hee in the 1960s and the 1970s. In 1950, Rhee’s government barred foreigners from using warehouses at ports as part of a campaign to curb imports of foreign goods and encourage domestically produced goods。This measure hit the huaqiao hard as many were merchants and traders. Many went bankrupt, while others sought refuge in the restaurant business.


A classroom at a school for the Chinese diaspora in Seoul. Photo: Park Chan-kyong

在首尔的华人学校的教室。照片:Park Chan-kyong

A further blow came in 1962 when Park Chung-hee, who had seized power through a military coup the previous year, banned the ownership of land by foreigners, forcing many Chinese to sell at dirt cheap prices and give up farming entirely. In 1970, the restriction was eased and foreigners were allowed to own up to 165 square metres of land per person for business and 661 square metres for a house.

1962年,由于前一年通过军事政变夺取政权的朴正熙禁止外国人拥有土地,迫使许多人受到进一步的打击。 迫使许多华人不得不放弃土地耕种,以极其低廉的价格出售了土地。1970年,限制措施得到了缓解,允许外国人拥有每人165平方米的土地和661平方米的房屋。

Even so, as Kuo of the Chinese Residents’ Association, notes: “This was barely enough to open a Chinese restaurant with four or five tables.”


According to Kuo, the Park government had “feared the huaqiao would expand their economic power and emerge as a potent economic force, as in Southeast Asia”.


“This is particularly problematic when our children employed by companies need to travel abroad for business purposes,” says Kuo. “In reality, it is next to impossible for our children hired by companies here to live without acquiring South Korean citizenship.”


Even Ma, who has both Korean citizenship and a Taiwanese passport, has encountered problems. When he travelled to Taiwan two years ago, immigration automatically granted his wife a 90-day visa on the grounds that she was Korean, but kept him behind to fill out more forms.


There are signs things are getting better. In South Korea, prior to 2002, huaqiao had to renew their residence permits every three years. Now the permits last up to 10 years.


Even so, many Chinese in the country say that even with stable jobs and incomes they are unable to borrow from banks and are blocked from accessing the low-interest housing loans so popular with Koreans.




Problems such as these have encouraged many huaqiao to leave the country, a trend that is highlighted in schools.


A Chinese school in Seoul. Photo: Park Chan-kyong

首尔的一所中文学校。照片:Park Chan-kyong

Woo Sik-sung, who heads a Chinese school in Seoul, said there were now just 400 pupils, down from a peak of 2,900 in 1970.

在首尔的一所中国学校负责人吴锡光(Woo Sik-sung)说,现在只有400名学生,低于1970年的2900名。

“We actively invite students from mainland China to make up the shortfalls. One third of my students are currently from mainland China,” he says.


“Aside from free textbooks provided by the Taiwanese government, we have to rely entirely on tuition fees [the school charges US$3,990 per year per student] and private donations to keep afloat.”


There are bright spots – last year a benefactor donated US$800,000 that meant the school could undergo long-overdue renovation works – but many see the overall climate facing huaqiao as stifling and oppressive.

有一些亮点 - 去年一位捐赠者捐赠了80万美元,这意味着学校可能会进行早该进行的翻新工程 ——但很多人认为华侨面临的整体气愤令人窒息和压抑。

Woo Sik-sung, who heads a Chinese school in Seoul. Photo: Park Chan-kyong

Woo Sik-sung是首尔一所中文学校的负责人。照片:Park Chan-kyong

“There is nothing like the huaqiao in South Korea. We are not taken care of by either [mainland] China or Taiwan or the host country,” says Kuo of the Chinese Residents’ Association.


“But I am proud of my roots as a Chinese and I still feel like a Chinese, even if I was born and raised here.”