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Making and Faking Kinship: Marriage and Labor Migration Between China and South Korea
Making and Faking Kinship: Marriage and Labor Migration Between China and South Korea
By Caren Freeman
Cornell University Press, 2011, 280 pp
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The flow of women from poorer parts of the world to fill gaps in the marriage markets of richer countries is one of the less examined features of globalization. A “Korean wind” swept northeastern China in the late 1990s as ethnic Korean female residents of that region left seeking to marry rural bachelors in South Korea. Seoul promoted the import of ethnic Korean brides from China instead of Vietnamese women or Filipinas because it believed Korean national identity would be threatened by racial mixing. This sensitive, revealing ethnographic study explores how matches hastily arranged during “marriage tours” to China came under strain when the brides arrived in their new homes. The husbands wanted their wives to adhere to traditional female norms that were no longer in vogue in China; the wives expected prosperity but found themselves laboring in the fields or in seafood-processing plants and caring for their new in-laws. In trying to maintain “racial purity” without inviting a flood of outside Koreans, the South Korean government created bureaucratic barriers to the very flow of brides it was trying to promote, which led to the forged claims of kinship alluded to in the book’s title and other attempts to game the system.