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(News Focus) Ethnic Koreans from China grow resentful over discrimination in homeland

All News 14:06 March 22, 2011

SEOUL, March 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korean police have targeted a Korean-Chinese as the prime suspect in a recent murder case at a time when his compatriots are growing increasingly frustrated and angry about the way they are treated in their native land.

Nearly two weeks after the 75-year-old mother of an anti-North Korea activist was found slain in northern Seoul, police officials here said Tuesday they found traces of DNA on the woman's body that matched that of a Korean-Chinese suspect in a robbery case last April.

Reports of crimes committed by ethnic Koreans from China are not uncommon in the local media, but these people's accounts of frustrating and humiliating experiences here suggest that they are not the only ones to blame for their anti-social behavior.

Official data show that nearly 410,000 Korean-Chinese, known as "joseonjok," are living in South Korea, using their Korean language skills to earn jobs as construction site workers, restaurant employees, housekeepers and caregivers, among others.

One joseonjok, asking to be identified by only his surname of Hong, said he came here with his father-in-law to work at a factory. The father-in-law was found dead outside his makeshift lodgings earlier this month, but his Korean employer showed no serious sign of giving compensation or offering support, Hong said.

"The company head came to the funeral home on the day before the coffin was borne out and talked about compensation, but then he suddenly left and hasn't been in touch since," he said. "Even considering that the amount of compensation can be discussed later, (he) should at least provide urgent funeral costs and such. (It's as if) he's looking down on us for being joseonjok."

Hong's ancestors were among the many Koreans who fled turmoil and persecution at the turn of the 19th century and into the early 20th century as Japanese colonial forces extended their grip over the Korean Peninsula. Some settled in China, while others traveled further north into Siberia to face even more life-threatening situations as social outcasts.

Cho, a 42-year-old joseonjok who gained citizenship here after marrying a South Korean, said he often felt ostracized due to his background.

"Many people's attitudes (toward me) change completely when they find out that I'm joseonjok," he said. "At the workplace and in terms of treatment, I often feel that there is a line that the joseonjok can never cross."

Cho teaches Chinese to children born to joseonjok mothers, but the unappreciative manner of Koreans has often made him want to quit, he said.

"There are some people who tell me that I should be grateful that I was able to gain teaching qualifications when even Koreans have a hard time getting certified," he explained. Cho had to earn a separate language teaching license when his teacher qualifications from China were not recognized here.

"I get offended by the way they act like they're doing me a favor, and often want to quit," he said, adding that he would be paid more and treated better teaching Chinese at a private language institute.

"I changed my mind and decided to continue working until the end of the year, taking pride in my responsibilities as a public educator, and in return for the care and encouragement I received in the process of obtaining my license," Cho said.

Such cases of unfair treatment and discrimination have become less common over the past five or so years, thanks in part to the sheer number of Korean-Chinese and also with the growing support of civic groups, according to an official at a labor firm dealing with workplace accidents among the Korean-Chinese.

"But incidents of overdue or unpaid wages at construction sites are still around," the official said on condition of anonymity.

The discrimination is apparently made worse by difficulties in obtaining the same type of visa as Koreans from the United States or Japan. Unlike them, who enter the country on F4 visas with nearly the same privileges as South Korean nationals, most Korean-Chinese are issued "visiting employment" H2 visas.

"When the Chinese economy grows further in five to 10 years' time, everyone will want to work in China, rather than come to Korea to be looked down upon," said an official at a local group for the joseonjok.


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