Forging kinship across borders : paradoxes of gender, kinship and nation between China and South Korea

Freeman, Caren Wendy, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Shepherd, John R., Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
McKinnon, Susan, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Damon, Frederick, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

This multi-sited ethnography documents and describes the new types of transnational family configurations that have arisen in both China and South Korea in response to opportunities for travel between the two countries. The first half of the dissertation examines South Korea's government-endorsed marriage program, designed to redress the bride shortage crisis in the Korean countryside by matching farmer bachelors with Chosǒnjok (ethnic Korean) brides from China. I describe the oscillating and contradictory state-level discourses surrounding these marriages which at first celebrate Chosǒnjok brides in terms of restoring ethnic homogeneity to the divided Korean nation and later condemn them as ruthless opportunists who take advantage of the nation's poor farmers. I also explore the business of matchmaking and trace the evolution of transnational marriages from a government strategy to money-making marriage tours offered by licensed matchmakers and unlicensed brokers. Finally, I look at the social dynamics inside the households of transnational couples and the altered concepts of kinship, gender and nation that emerge from their cross-cultural encounters.

The second half of the dissertation explores the ways in which the exodus of brides from northeastern China affects families and communities left behind. When I arrived in China I discovered that in addition to Chosǒnjok brides, large numbers of migrant mothers and fathers were also leaving the region to make money in South Korea, forming "split transnational families." I look at the ways in which labor migrants manipulate kinship categories to bypass South Korea's restrictive immigration laws and the challenges these strategies pose to both Chosǒnjok and South Korean understandings of kinship and national belonging.

Most of the existing literature on transnational families tends to emphasize the resilience of cross-border relationships despite the strain of long-term separation. Rather than celebrate transnational family a largely stable and harmonious stretching of kinship relations across borders to form larger transnational communities, I stress the dynamic and often conflict-ridden processes involved in making, unmaking, and remaking of families across and within the borders of the nation-state.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-03-14 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:35:34.

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