"Home and Away" and Asian Studies

Notes on the workshop "Home and Away: Transnational Migration, Remittance and Homeland, Korea" and the rise of general Asian Studies.

Last , the Department of Korean Studies at Frankfurt University hosted an international workshop on migration. Even though I was rather busy and could only stay for the two panels - say, I missed the keynote and a final talk on the documentary movie Heart of Snow, Heart of Blood (2014) - I'll give a quick summary and remarks on at least the parts I could attend here.

All in all, there were six talks in English in the panels:

Heike Hermanns (Gyeongsang National University): Guest Workers and Economic Migrants - Migrant Worker Policies in Germany : Heike Hermanns discussed immigration and asylum in Germany and linked those to the situation in South Korea. Especially the latter was highly interesting: there were hints at the sharing of experiences between the German and the South Korean state, and a short discussion of how refugees life in South Korea.

Jong Chol An (Junior Professor, University of Tübingen): From Equal to Unequal Ethnic - Based Citizenship: The Politics of the Korean Overseas Act in Early 2000s : Jun. Prof Jong Chol An gave a quick overview of the adjustments South Korea's immigration law has seen in regard to Ethnic Koreans abroad. A special focus was laid on the situation of Korean Chinese in the north of China.
Coming from Philippine studies, an interesting aspect linked to this would be whether there is a reconfiguration of the concept of Nation from a geographically bound one to one bound by ethnicity as it is increasingly visible in the Philippine case (see e.g. Aguilar 2014). Unfortunately, there was not enough time to explore this thought further.

Mi-Jeong Jo (Research Fellow, Goethe - University) & Yonson Ahn (Professor): Migrant Network and Ethnic Community in 'Homeland' : The Case of Koryo-Saram in Gwangju, South Korea : Mi-Jeong Jo outlined the formation of a new ethnicity-based community in South Korea. Koryo-Saram, Ethnic Koreans from the countries of the former Soviet Union, are coming to Korea as labor migrants. Despite being Ethnic Koreans, many do not speak the Korean language and if they do, they are still markedly different due to accent and culture. Consequently, support networks and a community-specific industry develop - e.g. a center for newly arrived Koryo-Saram or restaurants offering Koryo-Saram cuisine.

Hyun Ok Lee (Assistant Professor, Yonsei University): Employment Brokerage of Marriage Migrants and Changing Labor Market in South Korea : A great talk on care work and labour migration of Korean Chinese. Korean Chinese women migrate to South Korea to work in the care sector.
Again, coming from Philippine Studies, I tend to compare. Some characteristics seem to generalizable: Korean Chinese caretakers oppose increased state regulation of the care sector, while extremely high levels of regulation hinder the movement of Filipina caretakers to Japan (see e.g. the numbers in Ohno 2012. Ohno points out that there is an increase in care-related labour migration, but the numbers are still relatively low, and only few stay for longer because of problems with the accreditation and examination system). Say, even supposedly beneficial regulation easily leads to problems for care-related labour migrants and reduces their willingness to migrate.
Interesting in terms of the discrepancy from what a student of Philippine Studies would usually read is the missing development of a care chain. Looking at migration from developing countries to the First World, labour migrants in the care sector often need to employ caretakers on their own to take care of their family in the homecountry (Nakano Glenn 1992, Parreñas 2000). These may themselves be internal migrants (Aguilar et al. 2008). Given that the average income in Korea relatively closer to that in China (compared e.g. to Italy and the Philippines), a care chain does not seem to develop in this particular case. Instead, care-related labour migration from China to South Korea is declining.

Jerôme de Wit (Junior Professor, University of Tübingen): The City of Yanji as a Liminal Space to Imagine Korean Unification: Focusing on Yi Munyŏl's 'An appointment with his brother' : Jerôme de Wit outlined the portrayal of the relations between North Koreans and South Koreans in Yanji in Yi Munyŏl's novel An appointment with his brother. Korean Chinese are portrayed as a sort of mediator between the two groups, while the author plays with negative stereotypes about them.

Ruixin Wei (Research Fellow , Goethe Univeresity) & Yonson Ahn (Professor): Cultural Capital, Education and Social Mobility: A Case Study of Korean Chinese Children in Transnational Families : Ruixin Wei discussed the largely positive effects of growing up in a Korean Chinese transnational family. Children often grow up with their grandparents, who teach them Korean alongside Chinese. Thanks to affirmative action policies for ethnic minorities in China, they have a relatively good chance to attend good universities. If they aim to Korea however, they in a roughly equal position with other Chinese students - say, they need to apply for international student visa and negative stereotypes about Korean Chinese persist.
A further discussion of affection in Korean Chinese transnational families would surely have been useful, but given the little time left for this talk, this seems to not have been possible.

It was a good workshop with nice talks, and definitely worth attending for a student of Southeast Asian Studies. I previously took a step back from migration studies because it's hard to find peers working on the same issues here. Focusing on aspects of globalization in the widest sense seemed easier and is more relatable for others. But coming back to migration studies for some time felt great.

On a more intellectual level, the workshop, despite focusing very much on the Korean diaspora, also showed how strong interrelationships between different countries in Asia are once again. In Southeast Asian studies we have a bit of an identity problem. Culturally, Southeast Asia is bad category to use. Historically, there are parallels, but many of those are shared with previously colonized countries all over the world. Trade goods from all over Southeast Asia are traded via Singapore and, well, Hongkong. Politically, we now have ASEAN, but its influence is limited. The political systems of the countries differ completely however.

If we are to make sense of just Southeast Asia, taking East Asia into account and just making it Asian Studies is not such a bad idea. Filipino teleseryes make their way around Southeast Asia, but so did Manga/Anime and Japanese Doramas (Iwabuchi 2003) and K-Pop (Heryanto 2014). Considerable investments flow from Japan and China to Southeast Asia. South Korean companies increasingly build factories in Southeast Asia and bring Korean managers and engineers there (think of Samsung producing in Vietnam). Migration flows connect South Korea, Japan, Hongkong and Singapore to the Philippnes and Indonesia. And the list goes on.

Historically, these linkages existed as well. Affiliation with China worked as an important tool to gain prestige as a state in Southeast Asia (think of the rise of Malacca or Sulu's relations with China). Chinese migrants worked all over their Southeast Asia and sizable numbers of Ethnic Chinese can be found in most Southeast Asian States until. Large Ethnic Korean minorities can be found both in China and Japan. On a sad note, Japan conquered most of East and Southeast Asia during the Second World War. Without this, however, the history of Southeast Asia's anti-colonial movements would have been very much different (think of Soekarno's collaboration with the Japanese, but also of the line linking Ricarte with Recto and consequently the student movement and the Communist Party in the Philippines (Joaquin 2005, Ileto 2007)).

In university, we often discuss the move from specialized fields (e.g. Southeast Asian Studies) to general Asian Studies in terms of financial constraints. And that sure is an important aspect of it. But there are also beneficial aspects of general Asian Studies, such as the exploration of such linkages.

Hopefully, the next such workshop will include inter-asian migration beyond the Korean diaspora. Or maybe we can use migration (and/or pop-culture) as topics, to bridge the divide and organize something together as Asian Studies.