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The Cost of Belonging

An Ethnography on Solidarity and Mobility in Beijing's Koreatown

Sharon J. Yoon

Publication Date - 02 November 2020

ISBN: 9780197517901

208 pages
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches

In Stock

This accessible and engaging ethnography investigates how the rise of transnationalism has impacted the social and economic lives of South Koreans searching for wealth and stability in China


In the past ten years, China has rapidly emerged as South Korea's most important economic partner. With the surge of goods and resources between the two countries, large waves of Korean migrants have opened small ethnic firms in Beijing's Koreatown, turning a once barren wasteland into the largest Korean enclave in the world. The Cost of Belonging: An Ethnography of Solidarity and Mobility in Beijing's Koreatown fills a critical gap in East Asian and migration studies through an investigation of how the rise of transnationalism has impacted the social and economic lives of South Koreans searching for wealth and stability in China. Based off in-depth ethnographic fieldwork, this book studies the tensions, relationships, and perceptions in the ethnic enclave of Wangjing between Korean Chinese cultural brokers and South Koreans starting out as entrepreneurs.

Expanding upon classic anthropological theories of community and space, Yoon broadens our understanding of the migrant middle class in the era of global capitalism and neoliberal markets. The transnational enclave was once an incubator of the middle class dream, but does it continue to provide its inhabitants with the emotional resources to achieve both wealth and community? The Cost of Belonging challenges theoretical assumptions that transnationalism leads to a renaissance of ethnic identity and greater opportunities for migrants, unpacking how these entrepreneurs and dreamers coexist and evolve, both emotionally and financially, in the era of globalization.

The Cost of Belonging is a volume in the series ISSUES OF GLOBALIZATION: CASE STUDIES IN CONTEMPORARY ANTHROPOLOGY, which examines the experiences of individual communities in our contemporary world. Each volume offers a brief and engaging exploration of a particular issue arising from globalization and its cultural, political, and economic effects on certain peoples or groups.

About the Author(s)

Sharon J. Yoon is Assistant Professor of Korean Studies at the Keough School for Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame.


"Powerful and well worth reading." -- Sandra Fahy, Carleton University, Ottawa, Pacific Affairs

"These are stories of longing, betrayal, and ambition. Because we can all relate to these stories, ethnographic work such as this book makes the complex interplay of identity and class understandable to readers new to the context." -- Erik Mobrand, Journal of Contemporary Asia

"Yoon's masterful ethnographic study of Beijing's Korean enclave reveals both the possibilities and limits of ethnic solidarity for those seeking to advance in today's globalized economy. Her elucidation of the costs as well as the benefits of belonging, and their unequal distribution among Koreans divided by class, gender, birthplace, and religion, lay bare the human struggles that underlie contemporary transnational networks of trade, investment, and production. The Cost of Belonging equally enriches the fields of economic sociology, international migration, cultural sociology, stratification, ethnic relations, and East Asian studies."--Douglas S. Massey, Princeton University

"The Cost of Belonging is a path-breaking study of a twenty-first century transnational ethnic enclave. By immersing herself in the everyday tensions, hierarchies, and opportunities of Beijing's Koreatown, Sharon Yoon upends conventional wisdom about the strength of ethnic ties and human capital in securing upward mobility for immigrants. Meticulously researched and beautifully written, Yoon reveals the social and emotional costs of instrumentalizing culture and commodifying ethnicity in an economically vibrant yet highly stratified ethnic enclave. This superb book is a must-read not only for specialists interested in Asian diasporas and migrations, but for anyone concerned about the dilemmas of ethnicity and belonging in an increasingly unequal and unjust world."--Jennifer Jihye Chun, University of California Los Angeles

"What happens when South Koreans, Korean Chinese, and Han Chinese mix together in a single community which becomes an engine of aggregate economic growth? The tensions come to life in Sharon Yoon's tapestry of co-ethnic animosity and stratified spaces. She gains extraordinary access to Beijing's Koreatown through participation in multiple forms of community life, survey research, and sympathetic listening to personal stories. What emerges are accounts of distrust and alienation, driven by stereotypes of ethnicity, class, and gender. Readers will discover surprising lessons in identity resilience, where individual skills prove secondary to stereotypes. In this behind-the-scenes ethnography one sees Koreanness and China in an unprecedented light."--Gilbert Rozman, Princeton University

"The Cost of Belonging offers an ethnographically rich portrait of the unknown history of Koreans in China through a thorough political, economic, and social analysis of various waves of Korean migration into China. Yoon uncovers the unknown history of Korean-Chinese and the intra-ethnic conflict and tensions with Korean chaebol employees and Korean entrepreneurs. She examines the transnational hierarchies of power through business and churches and the agency of Korean-Chinese as cultural brokers in the Korean ethnic enclave known as Wangjing."--Sue-Je Lee Gage, Ithaca College

"The Cost of Belonging introduces readers to life in Wangjing, a dynamic transnational enclave comprised of individuals who, in many respects, are in search of a sense of identity and belonging. Grounded in a mixed-methods approach, this rich exploration from the ethnographer's perspective is read through relatable informants at a time when 'home' is not necessarily rooted in tangible locales and in places where people must learn to do more than just get along with their neighbor."--Mark Anthony Arceño, The Ohio State University

"The Cost of Belonging is an ethnographically rich, compelling, accessible, and fresh take on the topic of migration and ethnicity within the unique ethnic enclave of Wangjing. It highlights how the intersection of economic precarity, flows of capital, ideas of 'Koreanness,' and generations of varied mobility form complex and surprising forms of upward and downward economic mobility and intra-ethnic prejudices."--Adam Dunstan, University of North Texas

Table of Contents

    Note to the Reader

    Chapter 1. Introduction
    Diasporic return
    Neo-liberal restructuring and the makings of global inequality
    The transnational enclave
    Getting in
    Vulnerable ethnography as a methodological approach
    The journey ahead

    Chapter 2. Mourning the loss of gohyang, a place of belonging
    "Cultural islands" and gohyang as a place of belonging
    Ghost villages
    For love or money? Gendered morality and the decision to leave
    Morality and the media
    From heroes to thieves

    Chapter 3. Everyday life in Wangjing: Between appearance and reality
    The rise of Wangjing
    Chinese people who can speak Korean
    The limits of good intentions
    Questioning perceptions of reality

    Chapter 4. The feminization of Korean Chinese workers in the chaebol
    A bowl of instant noodles
    "We are like family"
    "A woman must play the part of a woman"
    The significance of working overtime
    Turning limitations into opportunities
    Gendered perceptions of competence

    Chapter 5. Are we in this together? Cultivating solidarity in the church
    Divisions in the Korean Christian community in Beijing
    Mobilizing feelings of alienation to cultivate solidarity
    Investing in relationships
    The church as a safe haven
    Anomie at Antioch
    Overcoming differences at First Presbyterian
    Creating an environment of vulnerability

    Chapter 6. Building small businesses in the transnational enclave
    Communication barriers with local workers
    Under the facade of power
    Rumors of Korean Chinese con-men
    "Guanxi" and gatekeepers
    Cultural brokerage and transnational entrepreneurship
    A cultural ambassador
    The double-edged sword of transnational enclaves

    Chapter 7. The lost youth


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