Off the Shelf: Caren Freeman

Caren Freeman, anthropologist, "Making and Faking Kinship: Marriage and Labor Migration Between China and South Korea," Cornell University Press.

June 12, 2012 — In the years leading up to and directly following rapprochement with China in 1992, the South Korean government, concerned with a lagging population, looked to ethnic Korean, or Chosǒnjok, brides and laborers from northeastern China to restore productivity to its industries and countryside. South Korean officials and the media celebrated these overtures not only as a pragmatic solution to population problems, but also as a patriotic project of reuniting ethnic Koreans after nearly 50 years of Cold War separation.

As Freeman's fieldwork in China and South Korea shows, the attempt to bridge the geopolitical divide in the name of Korean kinship proved more difficult than any of the parties involved could have imagined. The Chosǒnjok faced discriminatory treatment, including artificially suppressed wages, clashing gender ideas and the criminalization of so-called runaway brides and undocumented workers, tarnishing the myth of ethnic homogeneity and exposing the contradictions at the heart of South Korea's transnational kin-making project.

Unlike migrant brides, who could acquire citizenship, South Korea denied migrant workers the rights of long-term settlement, and stringent quotas restricted their entry. As a result, many Chosǒnjok migrants arranged paper marriages and fabricated familial ties to South Korean citizens to bypass the state apparatus of border control.

"Making and Faking Kinship" depicts acts of "counterfeit kinship," false documents and the leaving behind of spouses and children in China as strategies implemented by disenfranchised people to gain mobility within the region's changing political economy.

Freeman, who teaches in the College of Arts & Sciences' anthropology department, is special academic programs coordinator in the Summer Session Office. She earned her Ph.D. from U.Va. in 2006.

— By Anne Bromley