Dissertation Abstracts

Nation In Action: Making Chinese In The Rural Borderland Between China And North Korea

Author: Shiwei Chen, schen021@e.ntu.edu.sg
Department: Sociology
University: Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Supervisor: Shirley Sun
Year of completion: 2019
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Nationalism and ethnicity , Asian migration , social welfare , institutions of China
Areas of Research: Migration , Poverty, Social Welfare and Social Policy , Racism, Nationalism and Ethnic Relations


This dissertation examines everyday nationhood, ethnicity and migration in the Korean ethnic minority borderland regions in Northeast China. The population under study are the rural residents of Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in Jilin Province, the region with the highest concentration of ethnic Koreans. Data collection is based on multi-sited fieldwork over the span of three years, utilizing participant observation and in-depth interviews. Two rounds of long-term fieldwork were conducted – one in a borderland village in Yanbian, China, and the other in Gyeonggi Province, South Korea. Long-term fieldwork was supplemented by several short-term visits, usually around two weeks per visit, to Yanbian, South Korea, and North Korea. Official documents collected in archival bureaus in China and South Korea were also used for analysis. The dissertation is organized into two parts. Part I includes three chapters, a historical overview of ethnogenesis and ethnic classification in China from top-down perspectives (Chapter 1), a review on the sociological studies of ethnicity and nationalism in everyday life (Chapter 2), methodology and a description of the main fieldsite, a village about 10 km from the North Korean-Chinese border (Chapter 3). Part II includes three empirical chapters that examine three aspects of everyday nationhood and ethnicity in the ethnic Korean village: the uses of a stone monument that commemorates the Korean War as part of nation-building (Chapter 4), economic development policy implementation and the uses of ethnic and national framing related to their implementation (Chapter 5), and the governance of emigration and the utilizations of ethnic capital and its impact on social relationship in both the sending and receiving societies (Chapter 6). The dissertation contributes to three fields of sociological inquiry in ethnicity and nationalism studies. First, I have re-examined the relationship between historic sites and nation-building and argue that such sites could be conceptualized as representations of state-sponsored narratives, objects participating in everyday life and rituals, as well as multitude of designed and emerging action possibilities. Second, I presented that economic development policies are intertwined with nationalization in the ethnic minority regions. Therefore, beyond actual economic benefits, they are also (symbolic) “gestures”, which have to be conceptualized as ethnic and national frames among the residents that emerge as part of local manifestation of the state. I also argue that nation- building is facilitated by the communist party-building. Nationhood is constructed to embrace different ethnic groups through fostering recognition of the party. Third, ethnicity can be perceived as a form of capital to facilitate (re)migration, and different political organizations define (and sometimes contest) the value of this form of capital, which ultimately influence everyday grouping practices. It is also important to distinguish family-based network from ethnic grouping. In summary, this study of everyday nationhood and ethnicity of rural Yanbian residents shows that nationalization is highly politicalized and ethnicization is facilitated economically, which provides a new understanding of the “dual identities” of ethnic minority Koreans beyond the dichotomous division between politics and culture.