Sharon J. YoonDec 16, 2020
The Cost of Belonging
An Ethnography on Solidarity and Mobility in Beijing's Koreatown
How vulnerable can you be as a researcher? Why, in a commercially successful city like Wangqing, are Chinese Koreans more successful in their businesses than entrepreneurs from Korea who often have prestigious educational degrees?
These are some of the questions Sharon Yoon addresses in her powerful new book, The Cost of Belonging: An Ethnography on Solidarity and Mobility in Beijing’s Koreatown (Oxford University Press, 2020). Through in-depth ethnographic fieldwork in Korean Chinese mum and pop store, underground Korean Chinese church, South Korean megachurch, chaebol (conglomerate) company, and 800 migrant surveys, Yoon shows how hybridity of Korean Chinese people lead to their economic success, but at the emotional cost of belonging in middle-class and longing for gohyang (home). However, Yoon contests the romanticized idea of diasporic homeland by demonstrating how Korean Chinese feel alienated from their homeland (South Korea), while neoliberal restructuring lead to isolation within the ethnic enclaves like Wangqing as people draw ethnic boundaries. She examines how “ethnic boundary-making process" constitute "conflicting notions of class and morality justif[ying] who deserve[s] to belong” in Wangqing between Korean entrepreneurs, expatriates working in chaebol companies, and Korean Chinese (2). Yoon further analyzes how spatial divisions also disempower individuals from breaking the script of distrust and othering. Racialization intersects with gender, as ethnic Others (Korean Chinese)' labor is reduced to feminized and devalued work in chaebol companies. However, their cultural, feminized skills become crucial in the entrepreneurial successes they attain later in their career, which destabilize value embedded in gendered demarcation of labor in the first place. In this well-researched and nuanced monograph, Yoon makes major contributions to East Asian studies, migration studies, and critical race studies through her insights into how globalization is changing the meaning of ethnicity and boundary-making in the context of East Asia.
Sharon J. Yoon is assistant professor of Korean studies in the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame. Her research interests include global and transnational sociology, qualitative methods, and race, ethnicity, and migration.
Da In Ann Choi is a PhD student at UCLA in the Gender Studies department. Her research interests include care labor and migration, reproductive justice, social movement, citizenship theory, and critical empire studies. She can be reached at email@example.com.