Intepreting Wangjing: Ordinary foreigners in a globalizing town

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Recently, over a hundred thousand South Koreans, mainly of lower middle class backgrounds, migrated to a suburban town in Beijing, Wangjing. In terms of size and migrant population density, Wangjing is emerging as one of the largest oversea Korean communities in the world. Conventional theories of migration, however, do not have appropriate tools to categorize Koreans in Beijing. Majority of them are not entirely up-rooted from South Korea, as many of them still have properties and personal/business connections in Korea. Having middle-class backgrounds, they are not transnational capitalists. Neither are they one of skilled or unskilled migrant workers waiting to be recognized as a citizen by their host country, China. Their life style is fluid and flexible, though not being very rich. The difficulty of using conventional theoretical frameworks to understand Korean middle class' move to Beijing stems from a very simple reason; studies of migration do not imagine migration of a middle class family from a developed country to a developing country. The town is not a kind of migrant ethnic enclaves in which the sense of insecurity is compensated by cohesion of migrants. Neither is Wangjing a foreign concession in a developing world where laws and citizenship of global capital supercede local claims of sovereignty. Overall, the nature of the new Koreatown in Beijing is radically different from other foreigners' communities in Beijing and from Korean communities in other countries as it pertains a deep sense of ambivalence in their relations with identity, citizenship, sovereignty and rights. This essay is an engagement with this deep ambivalence through a close look at the emergence of a Korean middle-class town in globalizing Beijing. By delineating key driving forces such as Chinese socialist state's urban reorganization and crisis of South Korean middle class in the age of neoliberalism, I will interrogate with the natures of trans-migrant middle class in East Asia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)469-500
Number of pages32
JournalKorea Observer
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2007 Sept

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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