Modern migrations from the Korean peninsula to the Manchurian province of China have occurred during three periods, each period of which is marked by a particular geopolitical reason for migration. In the mid-1800’s, the farmers in the northern parts of the Korean peninsula migrated north as a way to escape the droughts afflicting the region. In 1881 the Qing Dynasty lifted their ban on outside immigration as a way to counter the pressures being put on China by Czarist Russia and the Imperial Japanese, roughly tripling the population of the Ethnic Koreans by 1910, when the Japanese Annexed the Korean Peninsula. In response to the economic hardship that the Japanese put on them, many peasant farmers relocated to Manchuria to start again. Shortly following this emigration, the Imperial Japanese forced more Koreans into the region to suit their goals. By the end of WWII, and maintaining a similar population until 2000, more than two million Koreans were living in Manchuria.
The short story I propose would be focused on a household of ethnic Koreans living in the small farming town of Zhong’an. Two generations live in the small brick house, and the grandchildren have come to visit. Most of the details concerning the characterization of the different members of the family will come from Wong-Bae Kim’s “Nostalgia, Anxiety and Hope: Migration and Ethnic Identity of Chosonjok in China” and “Invisible China A Journey Through Ethnic Borderlands” by Colin Legerton and Jacob Rawson.
For example, in Kim’s writing, the oldest living generation of Koreans in Manchuria were likely either born there or brought over as young children and raised in ethnic Korean households. If they were fortunate enough to receive an education, then they were taught Korean and possibly Japanese during the colonial period. This would contrast with the youngest generation of ethnic Koreans who are fluent in Mandarin and Korean, possibly leading to some tension between the oldest and youngest generations, who could hold conversations in front of their relatives without letting the others know what they are saying.
Another source of tension in the story could arise from the primarily patriarchal opinions of the older generations clashing with the youngest generation’s more or less equal educational experience between men and women. Perhaps the very traditional Korean-centric way of life of the grandparents butts against the industrious attitudes present in the parent generation and the wider perspective held by the child generation.
Regardless of secondary and tertiary conflicts, I intend for the main problem within this short story to be centered around a grandchild’s desire to immigrate into South Korea. This will run counter to the parent generation’s beliefs about the Southern half of the Korean peninsula, that the state is infested with American capitalism and that North Korea is ancestral home of the Chosonjok. While the grandchildren can point to booming economic development as a counterpoint, the grandparents will want them to stay in the area, improving the lives of the entire family over the possibility of individual success in a different country that has strayed from the traditions that they so value.
In addition to the situation of wanting to immigrate to South Korea, the issue of expanding the family will be brought up by the parents and grandparents. While the youngest generation is more concerned with pursuing a comfortable life and economic stability by immigrating to South Korea, the older generations will be concerned with continuing the family, harping on the youngest to find spouses and settle down nearby. The parents will also be, as is characteristic of that generation according to Kim, adamant that the child generation marry other ethnic Koreans.
Ultimately, I anticipate this short story taking course over a single night, with the majority of the conflict within the family occurring during and right after dinner. The attitudes of the family members towards the other generations within the family will, with the help of plenty of alcohol, start conservative but become more apparent and worsen over the course of the meal, culminating in an argument after which the youngest members of the family stand up and walk out. The next morning the members of the child generation will return to apologize, the parents will grudgingly accept the apology and say they are welcome back even if they don’t share their opinions of South Korea. The grandparents will act as if nothing went wrong and tease the children about getting some hardworking spouses by the time they come to visit the next time.
The dinner that the family eats, the way the family dresses, and the house in which that the short story takes place will be based on descriptions in “Invisible China”.