Twenty years ago, North Korean mothers began slipping into China, and many left behind half-Chinese, half-North Korean children in China when they managed to gain entrance to South Korea.
Even when in South Korea, such children often face crises in identity. They’re often confused about whether they’re Chinese, South Korean or North Korean refugees. Because neither parent is originally from South Korea, they don’t have help assimilating into the country’s brutally competitive and fast-paced society.
Now, with such children reaching adulthood, their plight could soon become a bigger social issue in South Korea. According to the South Korean Education Ministry, about 1,550 half-Chinese, half-North Korean children were enrolled in primary, middle and high schools in South Korea as of April this year, along with about 980 North Korea-born students, though the true numbers are likely higher.
In recent years, the government has tried to help by providing $3,390 to each of their families as well as dispatching more bilingual instructors to schools. Shim Yang-sup, principal of the Seoul-based alternative South-North Love School, said the children should be supported because they represent an untapped resource, with the ability to often speak two languages and navigate both Korean and Chinese cultures. However, in May, an opposition lawmaker proposed providing China-born North Korean children with the same assistance given to North Korea-born refugees.
Kim Hyun-seung, 20, from Tianjin, China, arrived in South Korea three years ago to reunite with his mother, who came six years earlier. Tall and slim, Kim said he wouldn’t mind serving in the South Korean military and dreams of being a chef in a French restaurant. But he doesn’t want a serious girlfriend out of fear they’d “become a couple like my father and mother that gives pain to their child, fails to live together and worries about many things.”