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The Concept of Model Minority and the Culture of the Korean Minority

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“Model Minority” is the term given to the Korean minority, also known as Chaoxianz, in China. For the last 50 years the Korean minority has had little to no confrontation with the state and has been a model for their academic success (Yu, 2017). About two million Koreans are living in China, most are near the Korean border. Many Koreans came to China during the 17th century (Hays, 2015). Many would think that a “model minority” would assimilate into the mainland’s culture really fast, but since the group is not spread out over the country very much they can keep to their cultures and traditions more easily. To see if the Korean minorities have adopted some of the Chinese culture one needs to take a look at each of their language, religions, food, education, and overall culture.

According to Jeffrey Hays, “Most ethnic Koreans in China speak Mandarin Chinese and many also speak fluent Korean as their mother tongue” (Hays, 2015). Koreans speak differently when it comes to people of different ages. Koreans use different words when talking to people older than them and when talking to someone who is younger. They use the alphabet Hangul, which is one of the most easiest and distinctive languages (Hays, 2015). The Chinese language is the oldest written language in the world. The most spoken language in China is Mandarin-Chinese (“Chinese Language”). It is essential that the Koreans living in China know mandarin so they are able to communicate easily.

Religion does not play a strong role in ethnic Korean life. Most of them are atheist, but some follow Buddhism or Christianity (“Chaoxian”). In the past, Korean people in China practiced ancestestorial worship and totemism — belief that humans have a relationship with a spirit, such as an animal or plant (“Ethnic Minorities”). They practiced shamanism which connects people with nature in the practice of sacred ceremonies, singing, chanting and dancing, and connecting between the living and the dead (“Ethnic Minorities”). In 2015, a poll stated that 90% of China are atheists. The top religions among the Han are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and Christianity (C., 2017).

Respecting elders is highly important in Chinese Korean culture. There are many rules that one has to follow to make sure they are showing respect to their elders and people who are of high status (Hays, 2015). Food must always be served to the elders first. Drinking should not be done in front of elders unless it is a must. If one does drink they should not have their back to their elders. The elder is the one who starts a meal. Anyone who is younger than the oldest person at the table must wait until the elder has picked up their chopsticks to start eating (Hays, 2015). Similarly to the ethnic Koreans, the Han take respecting their elders to much of the same degree. Leaving a parent in a retirement home is dishonorable and disrespectful. There are little to no retirement home in rural areas of China because it is expected that one takes care of their parents until death (Sung, 2000).

When many people think of Korean food they think of kimchi, Korean BBQ, bibimbap, and of course the drink known as Korean “water”, soju. Many of these dishes are popular in China and around the world. In places like Koreatown in Los Angeles one could get authentic Korean dishes that are delicious. The ethnic Koreans in China have their own ideas of food too. Kimchi (Pickled vegetables) is as popular around the world as it is with Koreans in China (Hays, 2015). Soup is also made for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The most popular is called catsup (ketchup) soup. It is made from catsup, vegetables, seaweed, onions, garlic, and water. Both Koreans and Chinese have enjoyed eating dog meat soup. Eating dog meat soup can prevent heat exhaustion and build up the immune system. Unfortunately, for all the dog meat lovers there are taboos associated with eating dog meat. One should never kill dogs, never eat dog meat at festivals, weddings, or funerals (Hays, 2015). They will just have to find another way to get their fix of dog.

Ethnic Koreans have put a priority on education. It could be the influence of the Han’s intense educational system which made the Korean minority group strive for better. It is well known that the word “Tiger Mom” refers to a strict mother who pushes her children academically which may have intense punishments. According to the Chinese government,

As a result of the fairly high cultural qualities of the Korean nationality, the number of people who are engaged in brainwork such as science, culture and so on is far more than that of the average national level, and numbers of scientific and technological as well as cultural and arts talents are constantly emerging (qtd. Hays, 2015).

The Korean minority is doing much better than many of the other minority groups in China. Schools are rigorous in China and the Chinese Koreans are keeping up with their academics to compete with the Han. The largest concentrations of Koreans is in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in easter Jilin Province (“The Korean”, 2005). In this area they have opened many schools which cut down on the illiteracy rates in the ethnic minority. The Yanbian University was established in 1958 and many more after that have been made (Hays, 2015).

Celebrations are similar to the Han people. They celebrate the lunar year, the Spring festival, the Pure Brightness festival, etc (“Chaoxian”). There are some unique celebrations that Chinese Koreans celebrate that is their own. There is a large event for someone who turns 60 years old. Turning 60 years old is not the end of the road, but the beginning according to the Koreans. There is a large banquet that is held for the birthday person and a time for younger ones to honor that person (“Chaoxian”).

With the rapid growing influence of South Korean culture around the world, the Chinese Koreans may be conforming to the new cultural ideals. Many have already been influenced by the Han, but have kept their cultural identity throughout the years. They have adopted Mandarin, but are still able to speak Korean. If one has a religion they share some of the main religions with the Han like Christianity and Buddhism. Korean food has become widespread across the world, but some of the ethnic dishes like dog meat have not. Lastly, if the ethnic Koreans keep up the hard work with their education they will most likely always be called the “Model Minority”.

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