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South Koreans

South Koreans

PRONUNCIATION: sowth kaw-REE-uns

LOCATION: Republic of Korea (South Korea)

POPULATION: 40 million


RELIGION: Mahayana Buddhism; Christianity (Protestantism and Roman Catholicism); Ch'ondogyo (combination of Christianity and native pre-Christian beliefs)


The Korean peninsula is located between China, Japan, and Russia. It has been subject to foreign invasions throughout recorded history. Korea was ruled by the Chinese for several hundred years in the early centuries ad. During this time, China established a lasting influence on Korean culture, especially through its language.

In 1876 the Kanghwa Treaty opened Korea to Japan and to the West. After many wars, Korea was taken over by Japan, which brutally ruled it from 1910 to 1945. During this period, Koreans were treated terribly by the Japanese. Women were kidnapped and used as sex slaves, and many innocent people were horribly murdered. Many Koreans still mistrust the Japanese because of this.

After World War II (193945), the peninsula was divided by the Soviets and the Americans. The thirty-eighth parallel became the line separating the zones. Eventually, the line separated two distinct countries: North Korea and South Korea. They have fought one war (195053) and have been preparing for another ever since. The border is one of the most heavily armed borders in the world. The United States has maintained troops in South Korea for about fifty years in case of an attack by North Korea. The two countries are still technically at war with each other. South Korea's government has an elected legislature and a strong executive branch.


South Korea is one of the most densely populated countries both in Asia and in the world. The population is over forty million people, roughly twice that of North Korea. Over ten million peoplenearly a quarter of the total populationlive in Seoul, the capital and South Korea's largest city.

The Korean people are one of the world's most ethnically homogeneous nationalities. This means that almost all the people in the country are of the same ethnicity. They are almost exclusively descendents of the Han, a people believed to be related to the Mongols of Central Asia. There are no numerically significant ethnic minorities in South Korea.


Korean is generally thought to belong to the Altaic language family, along with Turkish, Mongolian, Japanese, and other languages. Until the fifteenth century, Korean was written using Chinese characters. Then, in 1446, a Korean alphabet, called Han'gul, was developed. It has been used ever since.

Some common Korean words and expressions are:

English Korean
how are you? anahasiyo?
hello yoboseyo
goodbye aniyong ikeseyo
yes ye
no anio
thank you kamsa kamnida
English Korean
one il
two ee
three sam
four sa
five o
six yuk
seven chill
eight pal
nine ku
ten sip
one hundred paek
one thousand chon


Korean folklore celebrates human longevity and the survival of the Korean people. A number of folktales involve either animals or heavenly beings who either become human or want to do so. Others celebrate the figure of the wise hermit living a simple, secluded existence on a mountaintop. One tale tells how the locust, ant and kingfisher came to have their unique physical characteristics. The three got together to have a picnic. For lunch, the locust and kingfisher were to supply some fish and the ant was to provide the rice. The ant got the rice by biting a woman carrying a basket of rice on her head. When she dropped the basket, the ant carried it off. The locust sat on a leaf floating in the pond, and soon a fish came along and gobbled both the locust and leaf right up. The kingfisher swooped down and caught the fish and carried it back to the picnic site. The locust popped out of the fish's mouth and began congratulating himself on catching the fish. The kingfisher flew into a great fury, arguing that HE had caught the fish. The ant laughed so hard that his middle became quite thin, just as it is today. The locust grabbed the kingfisher's bill and wouldn't let go, so that the kingfisher's bill grew long, just as it is today. And the kingfisher crunched his long bill down onto the locust's head, forever giving it the flattened shape that it has today.

Koreans have traditionally used special drawings called pujok as charms in and around their houses to bring them luck and ward off evil.


There is a great deal of diversity in South Korean religious life. Koreans have traditionally combined elements from different belief systems, such as Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. Today, the majority of South Korea's religious population are either Buddhist (over 11 million followers) or Christian (more than 6 million Protestants and almost 2 million Roman Catholics).

The South Koreans also have many newer religions that combine Christianity with native pre-Christian beliefs. The most widespread is Ch'ondogyo (the Heavenly Way), founded in 1860.


The New Year is one of South Korea's most important holidays. Three days are set aside for family celebrations. These include honoring parents and grandparents, shooting off firecrackers to frighten away evil spirits, and eating holiday foods. Although New Year's Day legally occurs on January 1, many Koreans still celebrate the traditional lunar New Year, which usually occurs in February.

The birthday of the Buddha (usually early in May) is an important holiday for Korean Buddhists. They hang lanterns in the courtyards of Buddhist temples throughout the country. These lanterns are then carried through the streets in nighttime processions.

Tano, held in early June, is a major holiday in rural areas. It is the traditional time to pray for a good harvest. It is celebrated with a variety of games and competitions, including wrestling matches for men and swinging contests for women. The holiday is also called Swing Day.

Other national holidays include Independence Movement Day (March 1), Arbor Day (April 5), Children's Day (May 5), Memorial Day (June 6), Constitution Day (July 17), Liberation Day (August 15), National Foundation Day (October 3), and Christmas (December 25).


Traditionally, Korean marriages were arranged, especially among the rich and powerful. Today, however, the popularity of arranged marriages, particularly in urban areas, has declined, although many Koreans still follow the practice in a modified form. Parents and other relatives locate prospective marriage partners, but the young people have the final say in approving their choices. Among the urban upper classes, the services of highly paid semiprofessional matchmakers are also becoming increasingly popular.

Ancestor worship plays a prominent role in Korean folk belief. This system regards death as a rite of passage to a new state rather than an ending. Christian, Buddhist, and Confucian concepts also affect Korean attitudes toward death.


Respect for parents, and for elders in general, is a central value for Koreans. There are detailed and elaborate rules governing one's speech and actions in the presence of older persons. These rules, however, are less rigidly observed now than in the past.

Even when not in the presence of their elders, Koreans are generally very courteous and emotionally reserved. Proper etiquette forbids strong displays of either happiness, distress, or anger.

When at home, Koreans traditionally sit on the floor, although today chairs are common. The most formal and polite posture when seated on the floor is to kneel with one's back kept straight and one's weight on the balls of both feet.


Most South Koreans in urban areas live in high-rise, multistory dwellings. Most homes are built of concrete. Houses are generally built low, with small rooms. In order to keep out the cold, there are few doors and windows.

The Koreans have a unique heating system called ondal. Heat is carried through pipes installed beneath the floors. This is geared toward the traditional Korean custom of sitting and sleeping on mats or cushions on the floor.

Health care in Korea has improved substantially since the 1950s. Average life expectancy has risen from fifty-three to seventy-one years. Traditional causes of death, such as tuberculosis and pneumonia, have been replaced by conditions more typical of industrialized societies, such as cancer, heart disease, and stroke.


The typical South Korean household consists of a nuclear family with two children. Young children are nurtured and indulged. Respect for one's parentsand one's elders, generallyis a central value in Korean life. Fathers in particular exercise a great degree of authority over their sons. Although divorce was not tolerated in the past, today it has become quite common.


The majority of South Koreans wear modern Western-style clothing most of the time. Historically, people wore clothes in colors that reflected their social class. Kings and other royalty wore yellow, but common people indicated their modesty by wearing mainly white.

The traditional costume or hanbok is a two-piece outfit for both men and women. Women wore a chogori, or short top, with long, rectangular sleeves. This was accompanied by a ch'ima, or wrap skirt, made from a large, rectangular piece of fabric with long sashes attached to the skirt to form a waistband. The skirt was traditionally tied high around the chest, just under the arms. Women would carry babies and small children in a cho'ne, a large rectangle of quilted fabric with two long sashes. The ch'one is wrapped around the baby on the mother's back and the sashes are tied securely around the mother's body.

The traditional costume for Korean men was a chogori top similar to the one worn by women. Loose-fitting pants, known as paji, accompany the chogori. Men who rode horses for hunting preferred paji with narrow legs, but looser paji were preferred for sitting on the floor at home.



Kimchi must ferment for at least two days to develop its full flavor.


  • 1 cup coarsely chopped cabbage
  • 1 cup finely sliced carrots
  • 1 cup cauliflower florets, separated
  • 2 Tablespoons salt
  • 2 green onions, finely sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped, or 1 teaspoon garlic granules
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger or ½ teaspoon ground ginger


  1. Combine cabbage, carrots, and cauliflower in colander and sprinkle with salt. Toss lightly and set in sink for about one hour and allow to drain.
  2. Rinse with cold water, drain well, and place in a medium-sized bowl.
  3. Add onions, garlic, red pepper, and ginger. Mix thoroughly.
  4. Cover and refrigerate for at least two days, stirring frequently.

Yields about four cups.

On their first birthday, Korean children are dressed in bright clothing. Their outfit often includes quilted socks with bright red pompons on the toes.


The Korean national dish is kimchi, a spicy, fermented pickled vegetable mixture whose primary ingredient is cabbage. It is prepared in large quantities in the fall by families throughout Korea and left to ferment for several weeks in large jars buried in the ground.

A typical Korean meal includes soup, rice served with grains or beans, and kimchi served as a side dish. (A recipe for kimchi follows.) Other common dishes include bulgogi (strips of marinated beef), kalbi (marinated beef short ribs), and sinsollo (a meal of meat, fish, vegetables, eggs, nuts, and bean curd cooked together in broth).

Koreans eat with chopsticks and a spoon, often at small, collapsible tables that can be moved to any room of the house.


Koreans have a great reverence for education and 90 percent of South Koreans are literate. Education is free and required between the ages of six and twelve. The great majority of students go on to six more years of middle school and high school. Discipline is strict, and children attend school five-and-a-half days per week.

South Korea has over 200 institutions of higher education, including both two-and four-year colleges and universities. Ewha University is one of the world's largest women's universities. The leading public university in South Korea is Seoul National University.


Chinese art, Confucianism, and Buddhism have all had a major influence on the arts in Korea. About 80,000 art objects are collected in the National Museum. Outstanding examples of Korean architecture can be seen in historic palaces and Buddhist temples and pagodas.

The National Classic Music Institute trains its graduates in traditional Korean music. Korean folk painting (min'hwa) is still popular. Western art forms have been very influential in South Korea. The Korean National Symphony Orchestra and the Seoul Symphony Orchestra perform in Seoul and Pusan. Western-style drama, dance, and motion pictures have also become very popular among South Koreans.


About 15 percent of South Korea's labor force are employed in agriculture, forestry, and fishing, and 25 percent in manufacturing. Various types of government employment supply most of the nation's remaining jobs.

South Koreans have traditionally expected to have jobs for life. In 1997, however, the economy suffered a drastic collapse. For the first time in a generation workers are facing massive layoffs.


Koreans enjoy a variety of internationally popular sports, including baseball, volleyball, soccer, basketball, tennis, skating, golf, skiing, boxing, and swimming. Baseball is especially popular. South Korea has a professional baseball league. Its games are broadcast on television, as are competitions at the college and high school levels.

The best-known traditional Korean sport is the martial art of tae kwon do, taught by Koreans to people throughout the world as a popular form of self-defense.

The 1988 Summer Olympic Games were held in Seoul.


Both traditional Korean forms of recreation and modern Western pastimes are enjoyed in South Korea. Age-old games and ceremonial dances are still performed at festivals and other special occasions. These include mask dances (Kanggangsuwollae) and the Chajon Nori (juggernaut) game, in which participants ride in wooden vehicles. Also popular are mass tug-of-war games involving as many as a hundred people.

Make a Shield Kite


  • five 2-foot bamboo sticks
  • butcher paper or other strong paper at least 18 inches wide
  • kite string
  • strong packing tape
  • crepe paper or plastic grocery bags for streamers


  1. Cross two of the bamboo sticks at the center to make an X and tie with string.
  2. Connect two sides of the X with two more of the sticks and tie the four corners. (Shape will resemble an hourglass.)
  3. Tie the fifth stick across the top of the shield and fasten at the corners.
  4. Cut a piece of paper at least 2 inches larger than the frame. (Two pieces may be required to cover the frame completely.)
  5. Mark a circle in the center of the paper to allow the air to pass through. The circle must be one-half the total width of the kite. (Twelve-inch circle for a 24-inch wide kite, for example.) Cut the circle out.
  6. Decorate the kite paper with your name, birth date, and a good-luck wish.
  7. Attach the paper to the frame by wrapping the paper neatly around the frame and fastening it securely. Strong packing tape works best.
  8. Cut streamers of crepe paper or plastic grocery bags and attach to the lower edge of the kite using tape or glue.
  9. The kite may be launched or hung on the wall. (To prepare for launching, cut four 18-inch lengths of string. Tie one to each corner of the kit. Tie the four ends together, and attach them to the flying string.)

Children and adults enjoy kite-flying. On the first full moon of the year, home-made kites were launched to bring good luck for the new year. Each kite-maker would write his or her name, birthdate, and good luck wishes on his or her kite, and launch it into the air.

Among modern forms of entertainment, television is enjoyed throughout the country. Outside the home, South Koreans enjoy gathering in the country's numerous coffeehouses and bars.

A traditional Korean instrument, the kayagum, is played by a musician sitting on the floor. The strings are made of twisted silk, and pass through the bridges on the body of the instrument. Modern Koreans enjoy Western musicespecially classical musicand their country has produced many fine performers. They are especially fond of singing. It is common for Koreans to sing for each other at dinners and other social occasions.


Fine Korean furniture is valued by collectors worldwide. Korean craftspeople are also known for their celadon ceramics, a term that refers to a type of greenish glaze that originated in China.


The most pressing social concern today is the collapse of the South Korean economy that occurred in 1997. It is expected that the huge companies that dominate the economy will have to lay off hundreds of thousands of workers.

In the 1980s, growing numbers of Koreans began to use the illegal substance crystalline methamphetamine, known as "speed" in the United States. By the end of the decade there were thought to be as many as 300,000 using the drug. This included many ordinary working people attempting to cope with high-pressure jobs and long work hours.


Faurot, Jeannette, ed. Asian Pacific Folktales and Legends. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Gall, Timothy, and Susan Gall, eds. Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1995.

Hoare, James. Korea: An Introduction. New York: Kegan Paul International, 1988.

McNair, Sylvia. Korea. Chicago, Ill.: Children's Press, 1994.

Oliver, Robert Tarbell. A History of the Korean People in Modern Times: 1800 to the Present. Newark, N.J.: University of Delaware Press, 1993.


Embassy of Korea, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available, 1998.

Samsung SDS Co., Ltd. Korean Insights Kidsight. [Online] Available, 1998.

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Identification. Koreans living in the former Soviet Union have traditionally identified themselves either as Koryo Saram (people who came during the Koryo dynasty, a.d. 932-1392) or as Chosun Saram (people from Chosun, an ancient name for Korea meaning "Land of the Morning Calm"). But the name "Sovetskii Koreets" (a Soviet Korean) has become widely used since the 1960s. This identification allows for a distinction to be made between the Koreans of the czarist and Soviet eras.

Location. Worldwide, approximately five million Koreans live outside Korea today. The largest number, 1,800,000, live in China; 700,000 live in Japan; 1,000,000 in the United States, and 500,000 in the former Soviet Union. Unlike Koreans in China, however, the Koreans in the Soviet Union never formed an autonomous regional political unit. Two-thirds of Soviet Koreans are settled in Kazakhstan and the other Central Asian republics of Turkemenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, and Kyrgyzstan. The whole area stretches north to south from the Aral-Irtysh watershed to the Soviet-Iranian and Soviet-Afghan borders, and west to east, from the Caspian Sea to the Sino-Soviet frontier. The largest numbers of Koreans are concentrated in Uzbekistan, living on kolkhozy and sovkhozy with other nationalities. The climate of Central Asia is characterized by extremely hot summers and freezing winters but is pleasant during spring and fall.

Demography. In the 1989 Soviet census Koreans are listed as one of nine ethnic groups numbering more than 400,000. The Soviet Koreans numbered 439,000, ranking 28th in population of the 130 enumerated ethnic minorities of the USSR. In 1959 Koreans in Central Asia numbered 213,000 and in 1970 the numbers had increased to 250,568.

Linguistic Affiliation. Soviet Koreans speak the Korean language. Its affiliation with other languages is a subject of linguistic dispute. The 1989 census data show that 49.4 percent listed the Korean language as their native language. Nearly half of the total Korean population in the former USSR speaks Russian as their second language.

History and Cultural Relations

The history of the Korean immigrants can be divided into two distinct periods involving two very different locales: Koreans in the Far East Region (South Ussuri Maritime Province) from the 1860s until the time of the mass relocation, and Koreans in Kazakhstan and Central Asia from 1937 to the present.

In 1860, during the czarist era, the Russian Empire acquired the virtually uninhabited lands of the Far East Region910,000 square kilometers of territory with only about 15,000 inhabitantsfrom China under the terms of the Treaty of Peking. The newly secured boundary placed Russia at the back door of Korea. Koreans provided cheap labor for this sparsely inhabited land, working as tenants, lessees, and farm laborers. Those without any means of support were sent by the local Russian administration to various parts of the region. The first large Korean village, Blagoslovennoe, was formed in 1872 as a result of such relocation.

In 1888 Russia made an agreement with Korea that gave Russian citizenship to Koreans who had crossed the border before 25 June 1884. This accounted for about 20 to 30 percent of all Koreans in Russia, most of whom later became merchants or contractors. In 1893 the regional governor general, Dukhovskoi, began accepting Koreans as citizens, allocating some land for them in order to colonise sparsely settled areas. After the annexation of Korea by Japan in 1910 and the unsuccessful uprising of 1 March 1919, Koreans fled to Russia for political reasons. The last major wave of immigration occurred between 1917 and 1923, with the majority of these new arrivals settling in the Maritime Province. The 1923 census counted 34,559 Koreans as Russian subjects and 72,258 as noncitizen residents.

Acceptance of Russian Orthodox Christianity was a prerequisite for naturalization, and citizenship was required to gain the right to receive an allotment of land. But this attempt to assimilate Koreans into the Russian social order did not succeed. Instead, the continuing flow of Koreans and the clustering of new arrivals brought about the formation of Korean villages, as those who came first paved the way for relatives and friends. This growth served to reinforce Korean culture and values within the Korean Community.

The October Revolution was welcomed by many landless Koreans as an opportunity to make progress on or settle the land question. In 1900 Korean workers had joined Russians in a strike in the Amur region and later participated in the Revolution of 1905-1907. In October 1917 Korean peasants formed Red Army detachments and actively participated in partisan activities, fighting alongside Russian units. The Revolution did not immediately improve their lot, however. It was only after 1923 that the new Soviet regime began to regulate the distribution of land among the peasants. By 1926, in Vladivostok alone, 10,007 Korean families had acquired property, whereas before the Revolution the number of households with land had totaled only 2,290. In fact, by 1926 a majority of the Koreans who had settled in the Soviet Far East had received Soviet citizenship. The hard work and effort by the early Korean settlers went unrewarded, however, when in 1937, under Joseph Stalin, all 182,000 Koreans in the area were ordered to relocate to Central Asia. Stalin reportedly did not trust the Koreans living near the border area and believed they would be used as agents for espionage by the Japanese after Japan's invasion of Manchuria.

It took three months, from September to December 1937, to relocate Korean families on freight trains from the Far East to Central Asia. Thousands perished on the way, but some survived the ordeal of being forcibly transplanted thousands of miles from their original homeland to a territory totally alien to them. They became the pioneers of this virgin land and once again had to begin cultivating undeveloped territory. A number of exemplary collective and state farms were organized and run by Koreans. Many of them also participated in and perished during World War II in the defense against Nazi Germany.

Today's Soviet Koreans, many of whom are doctors, professors, lawyers, agronomists, and other professionals, are the descendants of these "punished, silent" people who have survived.


The first thirteen Korean families came to the South Ussuri region in 1863 and settled along the Tizinkhe River in search of work. In 1869 the first mass immigration took place as 4,500 Koreans moved into the region as a result of a poor harvest and the famine that followed in Korea's northern province of Ham Kyung. Korean immigration to the Soviet Union is characterized by the multiplication pattern that produces "chain settlements."

Those who survived the mass relocation lived in compact groups in an enclosed boundary for nearly two decades, mostly in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. In addition, there are a substantial number of Korean residents in the Caucasus and Ukraine. They organized collective farms: in the Tashkent region, Politotdel under Kim Suk Bon (1890-1969); Poliarnaia Zvezda under Kim Byung Wha (1905-1974); Pravda and Leninskii Put' in the Kzyl-Orda region; the IIIrd International and Avangard, headed by Choi Kwon Hak, in the Tselinograd region; and 18 let Kazakhstana under Kang Tae Han. In 1957 the first state farm, Raushan, was established in the Kungradsk region of Uzbekistan. It was modeled on the Korean collective farms. Only since the time of Khrushchev have Koreans enjoyed freedom of mobility and been able to leave the area of forced settlement. In 1959 more than 70 percent of the Koreans in Soviet Central Asia lived in rural areas, but by 1970 the census data show that 59.5 percent lived in cities. In 1970, 58 percent of the Koreans in Uzbekistan lived in cities, in contrast to 20 percent in 1959. City dwellers accounted for 64 percent in Kirghizia, 89 percent in Tajikistan, and 71 percent in Turkmenia.


The Soviet Koreans have managed to establish themselves economically in spite of the obstacles they have encountered. Initially, Korean immigrants consisted mostly of peasants and laborers who performed cheap farm labor. Koreans in the Far East region engaged in various types of hard labor including cultivating different kinds of crops, fishing, silkworm breeding, and mining. Rice was sown for the first time in 1917 in the Maritime Province by Koreans who had brought the seeds from Korea. Koreans were successful rice growers and rice production grew rapidly. A sizable settlement of Koreans in the 1930s made an important contribution to agricultural development in the Russian Far East Region (Ussuri-Khanka plain) by struggling on lands previously thought to be unsuitable for farming.

Koreans victimized by Stalin had to rebuild their lives with their bare hands once again. They transformed the virgin soil into tsvetusushchii gorodok (a blossoming city), and many were awarded the title Hero of Socialist Labor, including Kim Byung Wha and Kim Man Sam, for their efficiency and productivity on collective farms. On these collective farms Koreans engaged in cultivating rice on previously barren land as well as growing cotton, maize, sugar beets, vegetables, and fiber crops. They also acquired a knowledge of animal husbandry from the local inhabitants.

In Uzbekistan there are more than 100 ethnic Korean farmers who have been honored as heroes of Socialist labor. The hard labor of Koreans systematically increased the income for the collective fund, which made possible the establishment of schools, hospitals, restaurants, libraries, sport teams, and cultural activities within their community.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

The Koreans living in the villages rarely marry non-Koreans; in the cities mixed marriages among the educated younger generation occur more frequently. Most often, a Korean man marries a Russian woman. The Koreans living in the villages are still endogamous, and the Korean custom of prohibiting marriage between two persons from the same clan is also strictly observed. Marriage is monogamous; couples traditionally had numerous children, usually three to nine, although recently the younger Soviet Koreans limit their offspring to one or two.

As in Korea, family names often precede given names, and many women keep their maiden names even after marriage. Third-and fourth-generation Koreans, however, now follow the Russian practice of taking the father's name as a middle name.

The Confucian worldview, emphasizing respect for the hierarchal order determined by patriarchy, is maintained at home, especially among the older generation.

Sociopolitical Organization

As members of the Soviet republic, Koreans chose to join the Pioneer group, Komsomol (the Young Community party), and the party organization to gain access into the Soviet society. The Soviet Korean intellectuals were active participants in the Communist party apparatus. A higher level of education, fluency in the Russian language, and greater representation in nonagricultural occupations allowed Soviet Koreans to become eligible for party membership. It was reported that nearly 30 percent of Koreans living in the Tashkent region belonged to the party. The high ratio of party membership is indicative of their efforts to participate in the Soviet political system. Yet actual political representation for Koreans was relatively low compared with other ethnic minorities. Only one ethnic Korean served on the Supreme Soviet and two as people's deputies.

The sweeping changes of perestroika and glasnost influenced all aspects of life in the Soviet Union. Korean cultural centers have been newly established in various cities where Koreans live in large numbers: Tashkent and Samarkand in Uzbekistan, Kharkov in Ukraine, Nalchigo in Georgia, and Chimkent and Alma-Ata in Kazakhstan. In May 1990 the National Korean Cultural Association of Soviet Koreans was formed with attendance of 300 Soviet Koreans from all parts of the USSR. Its newly elected chair, Professor Mikhail Pak of Moscow State University, considers the revival of Korean culture to be its highest-priority task.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefe and Practices. Koreans who settled in the Soviet Far East and were later deported to Central Asia came at the end of the Cho-Sun dynasty, with a 500-year history guided by Confucianism. During the czarist period a number of Koreans accepted Orthodox Christianity. The majority of "landless" Koreans, on the other hand, hailed the October Revolution, denouncing Orthodoxy. Most Koreans in Central Asia are atheists.

Korean shamanism is mixed with Confucian and Buddhist beliefs; superstitions are common in rural areas. Among elderly people some elements of shamanism and Confucian traditions of ancestor worship still remain. In celebration of Hwan-Gap, one's 60th birthday, young people bow to their parents, wishing them long life. On Han-Sik day, rites for the ancestors are observedthe whole family visits the tombs of its ancestors to pay them respect. Funeral services were traditionally performed with complex rituals, but now they have been simplified and have lost any religious significance except for respect for the elders. There is an old custom in celebration of a child's first birthday, called dol. At the party the child is seated before a table, on which are displayed objects such as a book, a pair of scissors, thread, or money. The child's fate will be determined by what she or he picks. For example, the child who picks up a book will become a scholar. On the table at a wedding ceremony is placed a cock cooked with a red pepper inserted in its beak as a token of love and decorated with blue or red threads as symbols of long life. Korean cultural traditions and customs are being preserved through the efforts of older Soviet Korean intellectuals, who are concerned about their gradual disappearance in the course of urbanization and modernization.

Arts. Lenin Kichi (the Banner of Lenin), a newspaper in Korean published in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, is the most important source of information on the changing aspects of Soviet Korean cultural life. The historic Korean Theater, which was formed in Vladivostok in 1932, is being operated in Alma-Ata with performances of such Korean classical plays as Chun Hyang Jun and Shim Chyng Jyn. The founding of the Korean Theater contributed to the wide use of the Korean literary language and to the promotion of Korean traditional culture. Korean-language radio broadcasts are aired three times a week in Alma-Ata. About fifty Soviet Korean writers and poets, some of whom are members of the Soviet Writers' Union, write in Korean and are being printed in Tashkent, Alma-Ata, Kzyl-Orda, and Sakhalin. The Zhazushy publishing house in Alma-Ata published annually one book in Korean: Haibaragy (The Sunflower, 1982), Hangboky Norai (The Song of Happiness, 1983 by Yon Song-Yong), Soom (The Breath, 1985 by Kim Joom), Ssak (The Sprout, 1986 by Kim Kwang Hyun), and a novel by Kim Chul. Many Soviet Korean writers manage to publish their work in the literary section of Lenin Kichi. Anatoly Kim, a third-generation Soviet Korean and the popular author of the novel Squirrel and other works, writes in Russian. He can be characterized as a symbolic representative of successful Soviet Korean descendants after half a century of suffering and endurance as he strives in search of an image of a future human being, an embodiment of human goodness.


Kho, Songmoo (1989). Koreans in Soviet OCentral Asia. Helsinki: Finnish Oriental Society.

Suh, D. S. (1987). Koreans in the Soviet Union. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Volodina, L. M. (1981). Bibliografiia Korei, 1917-1970 (Korean bibliography, 1917-1970). Moscow: Institut Vostokovedeniia.


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Korean emigration to Russia began in 1864 and continued until the late 1920s, when the Communist authorities managed to close the border. This migration was driven largely by the abundance of arable land in the Russian Maritime Province, as well as by political reasons. By 1917 there were some 100,000 ethnic Koreans residing in the Russian far east.

During the Russian Civil War, Koreans actively supported the Reds. However, in 1937 all Soviet Koreans in the far east were forcefully relocated to Central Asia, allegedly to undermine the Japanese espionage networks within their ranks. Until the late 1950s, Soviet Koreans largely engaged in farming, but after Stalin's death they began to move to the cities. By the 1980s Koreans had become one of the best-educated ethnic groups in the USSR.

In 1945 the USSR acquired southern Sakhalin from Japan. The area included a number of Korean workers who had been moved there by the Japanese colonial administration. Most of these workers came from the southern provinces of Korea. Until the 1970s they were not allowed to become citizens of the USSR, and held either North Korean citizenship or no citizenship at all. Within the Soviet Korean community, these Sakhalin Koreans have formed quite a distinct group.

Most of the Korean migrants initially spoke the Hamgyong (northwestern) dialect, which is quite different from standard Korean, although the Soviet Korean schools taught the standard Seoul dialect. From the late 1950s young Soviet Koreans switched to the exclusive use of Russian. Most Korean schools were closed in the late 1930s, but two Korean-language newspapers and a Korean theater survived. Korean was also taught as a second language in some schools in Korean villages. In Sakhalin secondary education in Korean was available until 1966 and a part of the Korean community still uses Korean.

After the collapse of the USSR, most Koreans remained in Uzbekistan (some 200,000) and Kazakhstan (100,000). The Russian Federation has an estimated 140,000 ethnic Koreans. Their numbers are rapidly increasing due to migration from Central Asia, where Koreans are often discriminated against. There is almost no return migration to South Korea.

See also: central asia; far eastern region; korea, relations with; nationalities policies, soviet; nationalities policies, tsarist


Kho, Songmu. (1987). Koreans in Soviet Central Asia. Helsinki: Finnish Oriental Society.

Andrei Lankov

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