Making use of Chinese Foreign Ministry archives and provincial and municipal archives, this article traces the history of cross-border migration of ethnic Koreans from 1950 to 1962, especially the illegal migration of ethnic Koreans to North Korea (DPRK) in 1961. A historical examination of Koreans in northeast China demonstrates that the Chinese Communist Party attempted to achieve a workable policy toward Korean border crossers as well as a disposition to accommodate the DPRK's concerns and imperatives in defining nationality, handling cases of Sino-Korean marriages and exit procedures for ethnic Koreans, receiving Korean nationals to visit China, and dealing with cases of illegal border crossings. To this end, the Chinese authorities were pursuing larger Cold War interests, specifically the desire to keep the DPRK aligned with China during the Sino-Soviet split.

International crises and the broader nature of the international system can be affected by the migration and distribution of nationalities and ethnicities divided across national borders. Recent examples include the Balkans (the Bosnia War and the Kosovo War in the 1990s), the Caucasus (conflicts between Russia and Georgia and between Armenia and Azerbaijan), Kurdish regions spanning several West Asian countries (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey), and eastern Ukraine in 2014, all involving geopolitical instability and national security challenges. This article examines the migration of ethnic Koreans from China to North Korea, focusing on the 1950s and 1960s.

The better-known migration of poverty-stricken refugees from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea) to China is a relatively recent phenomenon. Prior to the 1990s, however, migration between China and North Korea was mainly in the opposite direction. Ethnic Koreans of Chinese nationality headed south toward the DPRK “to escape famine, poverty, and racial discrimination.”1 Koreans, considered a minority nationality in China, numbered around 1.83 million people, a tiny fraction of the total Chinese population.2

Chinese scholars have conducted systematic research and published important studies on the two-way cross-border migration of Koreans and their social and economic life in China. But these studies have brought the story only up to the late 1940s.3 Making use of Chinese Foreign Ministry archives and provincial and municipal archives, this article traces the history of cross-border migration of ethnic Koreans from 1950 to 1962, especially the illegal migration of ethnic Koreans to North Korea in 1961. The article explores issues of nationalities (guoji), ethnic consciousness (zuqun yishi), and migration, along with the principles and policies that guided the Chinese government's handling of this problem in the context of overall Chinese-DPRK relations.

When confronting the United States during the Cold War, the People's Republic of China (PRC) felt it had to support North Korea. To prevent Pyongyang from moving too close to Moscow after the Sino-Soviet split emerged in the early 1960s, Beijing had to tolerate and make concessions to Pyongyang's demands on the issue of ethnic Koreans migrating to North Korea. Kim Il-Sung's diplomatic skills and doggedness were part of the reason for the Chinese approach, but the key thing was the international backdrop of the Cold War in Northeast Asia. Korea was at the nexus of Chinese, U.S., and Soviet security interests in Northeast Asia. In the confrontation between the two blocs from 1950 to 1959, China and the Soviet Union had to take into consideration the interests and demands of North Korea—the gateway of socialism in the Far East.

In the Sino-Soviet competition for leadership of the Communist world from 1960 to 1965, both sides extended flattery and favors to North Korea to win its support. The article demonstrates that the PRC had no nationality policy toward the ethnic Koreans on Chinese territory. Specific measures toward ethnic Koreans were carried out merely to promote Chinese interests in better relations with the DPRK. This approach served China's overall foreign policy interests well in 1961. A year later, China's pattern of coordinating nationality policy with foreign policy interests was again in play, albeit in a negative way, when Beijing had to deal with the mass exodus of ethnic minorities (mainly Kazakhs and Uighurs) from Xinjiang to the Soviet Union.4

Overview of the Korean Nationality Issue

When handling a cross-border ethnic group, state leaders must discern or identify the group's nationality. Ethnic Koreans residing in China had to be identified as either Korean national residents in China (zhongguo de chaoxianzu qiaomin) or Korean-Chinese (zhongguoji chaoxianzu jumin).

The Manchu rulers of the Qing Dynasty considered the area north of the Great Wall, especially what is now the Yanbian area of Jilin Province, their sacred ancestral homeland and prohibited Han and other non-Manchu peoples from migrating to the region from Inner China (i.e., from south of the Great Wall). Before 1881, only a very small number of Koreans lived in the Yanbian region, many of whom were seasonal or even illegal migrants. After the Opium War (1839–1842), the Manchu Empire was gradually pried open by foreign powers. Tsarist Russia and Japan rapidly expanded their influence into what is now China's northeast. To counter the rising influence of Russia and Japan, the Qing government opened the northeast to settlement by outsiders, including poor Chinese farmers from Shandong and Koreans from Hamgyong and Pyongan Provinces. Nevertheless, in 1881, no more than 10,000 Koreans were living in Yanbian. By 1910, the number of Koreans in all of northeast China had increased to about 109,000.5

In the late Qing period, the Manchu government enacted a nationality law. The Republic of China, after its founding in 1912, also issued a nationality law. Both were intended to ease the naturalization process for cross-border foreign nationals seeking Chinese citizenship. However, although some Koreans in China gained Chinese citizenship, the number was not large. To curb Japanese ambitions in northeast China, the Nationalist (Nanjing) government eliminated restrictions on dual citizenship in 1929. But fewer than 10 percent of Korean residents in northeast China at the time held Chinese citizenship. The majority of Korean residents had no nationality.6 As Francis Jones notes: “From 1927 until September 1931 a political and economic campaign of increasing harshness was waged against the Koreans in Manchuria. This in turn aroused anti-Chinese feeling among the Koreans and so played into the hands of the Japanese.”7

After the Manchurian incident of 1931, the Japanese played the ethnic minorities of Manchuria (both Koreans and Mongols) against the Han Chinese majority and “used Koreans as a convenient vehicle for expanding their influence in Manchuria.”8 The Japanese forced the migration of tens of thousands of Koreans to China.9 A large percentage of Koreans resided in the Yanbian area.10 According to local chronicles, some 89,000 Koreans lived in Yanbian in 1908. The number of Koreans in Yanbian reached 388,000 in 1930 and 635,000 in 1945 on the eve of the Japanese surrender.11 By that time, the number of Koreans in northeast China had reached 2.163 million. The voluntary participation of numerous Korean businessmen from Korea proper in Japanese-sponsored economic ventures in Manchukuo “gave Koreans the opportunity to engage in the same kind of economic exploitation of the Chinese that Koreans had been suffering under the Japanese.”12

In the “Min-sheng-Tuan Incident of 1933–1936,” a witch hunt among the Communist ranks in Manchuria, Chinese leaders of the Manchurian Provincial Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) systematically eliminated all Korean Communists from positions of leadership. The resulting conflicts between ethnic Koreans and the Chinese resistance movement seriously affected the Korean members of the CCP. “It not only resulted in the elimination of a great number of dedicated veteran Korean Communists from the movement, but also caused an even greater number of other Koreans of lesser importance to desert the communist ranks.”13 The harsh treatment of the Korean Communists also had negative effects on the Korean population in northeast China and for the Communist movement in Manchuria.

From 1945 to 1949

After the end of World War II, as many as two-thirds of the Korean residents of northeast China returned to Korea. By 1947, the number of Koreans in northeast China was about 1.4 million.14 Most of the remaining Koreans resided in Yanbian and were farmers. Only a small number of them had Chinese citizenship. The majority were Korean nationals (chaoxian qiaomin).15 To reassure them, the Nationalist government stipulated that “the Korean nationals in Yanji of East Jilin province should be treated as Chinese citizens and accorded with Chinese citizenship. Northeast Field Headquarters should draft basic rules and submit them for approval.” On 18 August 1947, Northeast Field Headquarters promulgated “Procedures for Issuing Residence Permits to Korean Nationals in Northeast China.” But by the end of October, in the eleven counties and municipalities controlled by the Nationalist government, only 34,713 out of more than one million Koreans had sought residence permits.16

In the CCP-controlled area (mainly Yanbian), the situation was similar. After the Japanese occupation of northeast China in 1931, the CCP Manchuria Provincial Committee regarded Koreans in the northeast as as a national minority and organized a united front for the war of resistance against Japan. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, the issue of whether Korean residents in the northeast should be treated as a Chinese national minority or as foreign nationals came up again. The pre-1945 Japanese regulations that treated Koreans as Japanese citizens were no longer valid, and in the early post-WWII years, there was no internationally recognized Korean state to grant Korean citizenship. In late September 1945, the CCP Northeast Bureau started to pay attention to the status of Korean nationals, stating that all Korean residents in northeast China, except the Korean volunteers who had participated in northern China's war of resistance, should be regarded as national minorities in China.17 On 1 January 1946, CCP official Dong Kunyi, deputy administrator of the Yanbian Administrative Agency, announced, “Koreans willing to obtain Chinese citizenship should do so; they would become Chinese citizens; thus Koreans in China would be a minority nationality of China.”18 That is, Koreans in China could become naturalized Chinese citizens on a voluntary basis.

Although Koreans in China did not all share the same political orientation or make the same choices, most expected to return to the Korean peninsula. In September 1946 in Harbin, the third plenum of the Northern Manchuria Korean Democratic League, a CCP front organization, adopted “the Program of the Korean People's Democratic League.”19 The program stipulated that the league's task was “to support the democratic movement in Korea, to win complete independence for Korea, and to contribute to the construction of a new democratic Korea.” At the time, the majority of Koreans in northeast China believed that “Korea is my motherland.”20 Immediately after the end of World War II, the CCP encouraged Korean residents in China to return to Korea to help establish a revolutionary regime. CCP leaders believed this would also benefit the Chinese revolution. But once the CCP had established local governments, it became uneasy when Korean nationals frequently crossed the border. In an August 1948 document, the Yanbian CCP committee noted,

Due to historical, political and cultural reasons, the relationship between Han Chinese and Korean residents is antagonistic. Since Koreans first came to China, the Japanese and local Chinese warlords exploited and oppressed them. Although many of them have lived in China for three generations, they still think that Korea is their motherland.

Even many of the Korean CCP cadres in Yanbian hoped to return to Korea.21 The Koreans’ identity as a cross-border ethnicity inhibited them from applying for Chinese citizenship. But a large number of foreign nationals and residents with no nationality posed a threat to the stability of northeast China. Although the CCP had not yet established a national government, it attempted, within the scope of its power, to resolve the nationality issue of Korean residents in China.

To take account of the ideas and sentiments of Korean residents in Yanbian and to intensify the struggle against the Nationalist government, the CCP adopted a flexible nationality policy. On 9 December 1948, Liu Junxiu, secretary of the Yanbian CCP committee discussed nationality policies. Liu proposed: “Those who live in Yanbian and who registered with the local democratic government during land reform are Chinese citizens. Those who have not registered residence with the local government or who are newly arrived from Korea are Korean nationals … . Thus, Koreans who registered with the local government are Chinese citizens, not Korean nationals in China.” He then noted that Korean nationals had their own national tradition and a history of long revolutionary struggle, and because of the long border between China and Korea, “[we] must acknowledge that Koreans in China have their own motherland—the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.” Should their motherland be invaded, Koreans in China would have the responsibility of defending it.22 This was tantamount to acknowledging the dual citizenship of Korean residents in northeast China. They could fight in China's civil war and could also return to Korea to defend their motherland. This policy mobilized ethnic Koreans to participate in fighting against the Chinese Nationalist government and thus played an important role in consolidating the CCP's base in northeast China.23

PRC Policy toward Ethnic Koreans in the Early 1950s

When the PRC was founded in 1949, the number of Koreans in northeast China was 707,700. Of these, 519,000 resided in Yanbian.24 During the Korean War, the migration of Korean nationals became very complicated, contributing to the difficulties in defining their nationalities. Those who migrated from China to North Korea included 37,000–40,000 Korean soldiers and officers in the Fourth Field Army of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, as well as cadres, physicians, and drivers who were recruited by local Chinese governments. As the tide changed on the battlefield, the tide of migration also reversed, with more Koreans going from North Korea to China than from China to the DPRK. After the Korean armistice, some of the Koreans who had come back to China returned to North Korea. Of those who had remained in the DPRK during the war, some stayed on and others returned to China.25 Units of the Korean People's Army came from North Korea to Jilin for rest and relaxation. Others, including Korean cadres and their families, were evacuated to northeast China. Still others became Korean refugees fleeing the fighting. Many of them stayed in China after the war.26

All of this movement complicated the task of distinguishing Korean nationals from ethnic Koreans with Chinese citizenship. In November 1950, the Northeast People's government stipulated basic conditions for Korean nationals to become naturalized Chinese citizens: those Korean residents who had been in the northeast prior to 15 August 1945 (the day the Japanese emperor announced the Japanese surrender); ethnic Koreans who had made trips to North Korea after 15 August but returned to northeast China and owned a house, land, or business or had lineal relatives there; and those who had been assigned land or a house and had engaged in agricultural work after 15 August.27

Earlier, when the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference was convened in September 1949 shortly before the formal establishment of the PRC, delegates of the Korean communities in the northeast attended as minority nationality representatives.28 The Common Program of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference established regional national autonomy as the basic policy for resolving nationality issues in China. In August 1952, the general program for the implementation of regional national autonomy was promulgated by the PRC government. The Yanbian Korean Autonomous Region was established on 3 September 1952, but the nationality issue of Korean residents in China was far from being resolved. In April 1953, the CCP Northeast Bureau reported to the party center in Beijing:

In view of the forthcoming local election, it is important to conduct census and registration of voters. It is an urgent matter to resolve the nationality issue of a large number of Koreans in China. But Yanbian in Northeast China and Korea are separated only by a river. The people on both sides “come and go very frequently. It is a very complicated situation.” It makes it very difficult to distinguish between Korean nationals in China and ethnic Koreans with Chinese citizenship. Korea is presently at war and many Koreans hope to acquire Chinese citizenship. If we handle this on the basis of voluntary participation, it might arouse misunderstanding from friendly [North] Korea.29

The Northeast Bureau further proposed that “those who lived and worked in northeast China prior to October 1949 should be regarded as a minority nationality of China; [however], they should also be allowed to remain as Korean nationals if they prefer. Those who arrived after the Korean War should be treated as Korean nationals.”30 The CCP government was considerate of North Korea's interest in handling the nationality issue of Korean residents in China because the DPRK was siding with the PRC in the Cold War confrontation.

On 17 August 1953 the CCP Central Committee approved the basic principle embodied in the Northeast Bureau's request, using 1 October 1949 as the dividing line to assess the nationalities of the Koreans in China. The CCP Central Committee's instructions went to great lengths in specifying concrete rules and regulations for handling a variety of cases.31 These instructions served as the legal basis for governments at different levels to settle the nationality issue of Koreans in China, again underscoring the PRC's support of the DPRK.32 On 23 January 1954 the PRC Central Nationalities Affairs Commission informed the North Korean Foreign Ministry that many Korean residents in Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin who had registered as Korean nationals had been asked to settle their nationality status. The DPRK embassy in Beijing replied that North Korea “cannot solve the problem. It should be left to the Chinese government to settle in accordance with the method the Northeast Bureau has been using.”33

An August 1956 document from the PRC Foreign Ministry reiterated the CCP Central Committee instructions of 17 August 1953 in identifying the nationality of Korean residents in China but added a section on how to handle applications from Chinese in Korea or Koreans with Chinese citizenship who wanted to return to China. The document stated that the PRC would approve applications from old, weak, sick, and disabled people; from those who planned to get married in China; and from people who had financial difficulty and could not find jobs. By contrast, anyone who was capable of physical labor and potentially could find jobs in Korea would not be approved.34 The policy was designed to be advantageous to the North Korean government, thus supporting the DPRK in the Cold War and strengthening Sino-DPRK solidarity. For ethnic Koreans with Chinese citizenship the policy would dampen feelings of being part of the Chinese nation and would strengthen the ethnic consciousness and local nationalism of cross-border ethnicities.35 The principle of voluntary naturalization was viable only when combined with concrete implementation in order to stabilize the situation for frontier residents. To modify or make temporary regulations on the issue of nationality in compliance with neighboring countries would only encourage frontier peoples to change nationality and migrate out of China.36

Thus, at the start of the post-1949 period, the Chinese government had no explicit nationality policy toward Koreans in China, instead choosing to subordinate the issue of Korean citizenship to the more pressing issue of Chinese–North Korean relations. The CCP's concessions were at least partly reciprocated by the leadership of the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP). From 1949 on, the North Korean authorities granted various minority rights to local ethnic Chinese, and in periods of close PRC-DPRK cooperation, the latter enjoyed privileges that were denied to the Korean majority.37 Thus the CCP's minority policies were also shaped by a process of mutual, rather than unilateral, concessions in the early 1950s.

“Homeland” or “Motherland”?

At the nationality affairs conference in Yanji (the capital city of the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture) organized by the Jilin provincial CCP committee in late May 1957, remarks given by Korean residents in northeast China reflected their nationalistic sentiments. They noted that the Koreans in Korea and Koreans in Yanbian shared the same language, culture, customs, psychology, and national origin. Thus, China might be regarded as their “homeland” (zuguo), and Korea was regarded as their “ethnic homeland” (minzu zuguo) or “motherland” (muguo). The conference lasted four days, focusing on patriotism. No one complained about concepts such as “nationality,” “homeland,” or “motherland.” Zhu Dehai (Chu Tok-hae), the first secretary of the Yanbian autonomous prefectural CCP committee later summed up: “Among the Korean residents in Northeast, very few would say that China is not their homeland. But from their inner feelings, the majority of Koreans do not regard China as their motherland, especially in times of crisis and difficulties.”38

Although local nationalism was severely criticized during the anti-rightist campaign in late 1957, it remained strong in Yanbian. Many in the region wanted to upgrade the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture to an autonomous region or even separate it from China, negating the PRC as the “motherland.” These people bore allegiance to the KWP, not the CCP, and opposed the leadership of Han cadres, whom they saw as backward. They pushed for the advancement of Korean nationals and denounced the central position and advancement of the Han Chinese. They also emphasized national characteristics and differences. So strong were these sentiments that the Yanbian autonomous prefectural CCP committee had to launch a new round of the “nationality rectification campaign” to criticize local nationalism and to arm the masses with socialism, Communism, and patriotism.39 Such sentiments later played a role in fostering the large-scale migration of Korean residents in northeast China to North Korea.

China's Policies and Countermeasures toward the Border Crossings

The massive and frequent migration of cross-border ethnicities can create instability for a multinational state in its border regions. Problems similar to those involving Korean residents in northeast China also occurred in Xinjiang.40 In May 1962 more than 60,000 Xinjiang ethnic minorities (mainly Kazakhs and Uyghurs) fled to the Soviet Union in the so-called Ita Incident. The Chinese government soon strengthened border administration, and illegal border crossing along the Chinese-Soviet border abated quickly.41 Illegal border crossing into the DPRK was more complicated, although similar to the case in Xinjiang. But because of the different nature of Sino–North Korean relations and Sino-Soviet relations, the Chinese government adopted widely divergent policies toward the cross-border ethnic groups.

Because many Korean families lived on both sides of the Sino-Korean border, both China and North Korea were slack in border administration. In the early 1950s, Chinese and North Koreans could come and go between northeast China and North Korea without passports and visas. Chinese citizens needed only travel documents from provincial or municipal public security organs in order to travel to North Korea.42 In July 1953, China and the DPRK signed “Regulations on Chinese and Korean Border Transit.” Residents wishing to cross the border could use travel documents issued by county or municipal public security bureaus. The Public Security Department of Northeast China stipulated that all citizens 18 years old or over could apply for travel documents to go to North Korea to visit relatives and friends, attend schools, see doctors, and attend weddings or funerals. In March 1955, China and the DPRK agreed to implement a new transit system on 1 July, thereby strengthening entry and exit management.43 Aside from Korean residents and nationals in the border area and certain government workers, everyone else would need a passport and visa to travel. But these travel permits were issued by several provincial- and municipal-level organs (such as Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, Lüshun, and Dalian) and at many entry/exit points (including Andong, Changdian, Hekuo, Ji’an, Linjiang, Tumen, Kaishantuan, Sanhechun, and Nanping).44 The procedure was much simpler for North Korean citizens to apply for travel documents to visit relatives in China or for long-term residence.45 Under such conditions, it was hardly possible to implement effective management over people along the border. For example, Changbai Korean Autonomous County had 9,791 Korean residents in 1957, but 4,896 of them migrated to North Korea.46

Applying for travel documents to visit the DPRK for a short period and resettling in North Korea were two different matters, though the former had some influence on the latter. The core issue was that North Korea needed more labor for reconstruction after the Korean War, especially workers with special skills. To a great extent the Chinese authorities were willing to satisfy the DPRK's demand for labor by accepting a greater outflow.

After the ceasefire in Korea, the North Korean government immediately started economic recovery and reconstruction. From 1953 to 1961, China provided substantive aid and played a very important role in the DPRK's reconstruction.47 To alleviate the shortage of skilled labor, Pyongyang in 1953–1954 began to mobilize officials to do physical work.48 In 1957, when North Korea entered its first Five-Year Plan period, “the shortage of skilled labor proved an insuperable obstacle.”49 To alleviate this problem, a large percentage of women and children joined agricultural and industrial labor forces. The regime also advocated mass “voluntary work” whereby citizens had to complete four to five hours of unpaid work every day in addition to their regular eight-hour workday.50

The DPRK's strategy of encouraging ethnic Koreans residing abroad to move to North Korea focused on the large numbers of Koreans in the Soviet Union.51 In April and May 1958, the North Korean authorities raised the question of Koreans with dual citizenship who resided in North Korea, expressing hope to Soviet officials that these people could stay in the DPRK permanently. The North Korean authorities also requested that all Koreans working in the Soviet Far East return to the DPRK as soon as possible, and they also expressed interest in Koreans without citizenship who resided in Sakhalin. The Soviet government consented to Pyongyang's request.52 The DPRK also actively mobilized Koreans in Japan to return to North Korea. In August 1954, North Korean Foreign Minister Nam Il appealed to Koreans in Japan to return to the DPRK. The pro-DPRK General Association of Koreans in Japan (Chosen Soren), actively coordinated this endeavor. In 1957 the North Korean government sent more than 120 million Japanese yen to Chosen Soren for educational support. On the tenth anniversary of the founding of the DPRK on 8 September 1958, Kim Il-Sung instructed that overseas Koreans who had returned be given a warm welcome. In 1959, 2,942 Koreans returned from Japan, and by 1962 the number had grown to 74,335.53

Pyongyang's focus on Korean residents in China is understandable. The number of Korean residents in China was much larger than in the Soviet Union, and Korean residents in China could return to the DPRK far more easily than could those in Japan. Chinese documents reveal that in May 1954, soon after the Korean armistice, some Koreans with Chinese citizenship and Korean nationals in northeast China and Mongolia applied to return to the DPRK. The Chinese government immediately approved their requests.54 In August 1955, the DPRK government asked the Chinese government to approve the return of 62 Korean technical personnel to North Korea, and the PRC gave its consent.55 To ensure that the Chinese leader Mao Zedong would continue to permit ethnic Koreans to move to the DPRK, Kim Il-Sung told him in May 1960 that 200,000 of the 600,000 Koreans in Japan would return to North Korea by the end of the year.56

In the first year of the DPRK's first Five-Year Plan, North Korean officials started to mobilize Koreans in China to migrate to North Korea. In January 1957, the North Korean embassy in Beijing notified the Chinese government that a large number of Koreans in China had applied to return to North Korea. The DPRK government had also approved 265 applications from people living in China proper (inside the Great Wall excluding northeast China). In March, the North Korean embassy in Beijing informed the Chinese government that 253 Korean nationals in China would be repatriated to North Korea and asked the Chinese to release their personal dossiers.57 On 12 and 16 April, the PRC Foreign Ministry informed the relevant Chinese provinces and cities about the North Korean overtures, stating, “We will not prevent [the ethnic Koreans] from returning to their country. If this creates difficulties for our work, we will overcome these difficulties by ourselves.” The PRC also agreed to provide the North Korean side with dossiers on the repatriated Koreans.58

Ethnic Koreans in China as Part of PRC Aid to the DPRK

Although China's relations with North Korea plummeted after the crisis of August 1956, Mao's attitude toward the DPRK began to change in the second half of 1957.59 To improve Sino–North Korean relations, Mao met with Kim Il-Sung twice during the Moscow Conference in November 1957, apologizing to him for interfering in the internal affairs of the KWP in September 1956. China then greatly increased its aid to the DPRK as the Chinese–North Korean relationship grew more cordial. The transfer of ethnic Koreans to North Korea became part of the PRC's aid package to the DPRK and a key element of Mao's policy toward North Korea.60

By the end of 1957, more than 50,000 Koreans in China had migrated to North Korea. However, more than 40,000 ethnic Koreans soon returned to China because of undesirable conditions in the DPRK.61 When visiting China in November 1958, Kim Il-Sung asked the Chinese government to transfer some Korean nationals in northeast China to the DPRK. The Chinese government responded favorably and agreed to send 40,000 Korean nationals back to North Korea before March 1959 so that they could participate in the spring plowing. To bolster the North Korean labor force, the Chinese embassy in Pyongyang surveyed 13,000 Chinese nationals in the DPRK and asked them whether they were interested in acquiring Korean citizenship. A few were interested, but the large majority wanted to retain their Chinese citizenship.62 Regarding marriage between a Korean woman and a Chinese man, PRC policy was much more favorable to the North Korean side. A Chinese Interior Ministry document from October 1958 explained:

Because of the shortage of labor, the DPRK government maintains tight control over the issue of a Korean woman marrying a Chinese man. We should play a supporting role … . If a Korean woman wants to marry a Chinese man, we should make it difficult; we should dissuade a Chinese man from marrying a Korean woman. If we cannot prevent such a marriage, we should encourage the Chinese man to move to North Korea to start a family.63

The Chinese government also encouraged Koreans with Chinese citizenship to take Korean citizenship and move to North Korea. On 18 January 1959, the State Council instructed officials in Jilin, Heilongjiang, Liaoning, and Inner Mongolia to persuade Korean nationals with Chinese citizenship in these provinces to move to the DPRK.64 Because Korean residents in northeast China had little sense of Chinese citizenship and were indifferent to the concept of “homeland,” this hurried, organized migration encouraged Koreans to leave China and give up their Chinese citizenship.65 According to incomplete statistics, from January 1958 to March 1962, 7,086 Korean residents in Heilongjiang received visas to North Korea, and 6,700 of them stayed for many years.66

Illegal Border Crossings and China's Reactions

Because of the border situation along the Yalu and Tumen Rivers and the presence of Koreans on both sides of the border, illegal crossings occurred frequently. According to Chinese statistics, from the end of the Korean War to September 1957, 296 people (including eleven Han Chinese) illegally crossed the border to North Korea. By 1959, the annual number of people crossing illegally into North Korea had risen to 357 in just the Yanbian area alone.67 The main reason that Koreans in northeast China were moving to North Korea was a desire for a better life. The DPRK enjoyed a good grain harvest in 1956–1957, and per-capita grain production was much higher in North Korea than in China. Meanwhile, the DPRK government gave ethnic Koreans with Chinese citizenship preferential treatment. Once ethnic Koreans entered North Korea from China, they could immediately obtain Korean citizenship. With a North Korean citizenship certificate, they could more easily find jobs, send children to school, and enjoy rationed grain, which was otherwise expensive on the black market. Secondary factors were also in play. Some migrants were profiteers, who crossed the border to do business. Others opposed the People's Commune movement in China and were unwilling to work in the Chinese countryside.68

Earlier on, China and North Korea had reached an agreement on how to handle illegal border crossers. According to the minutes of a joint conference between the PRC Ministry of Public Security and the DPRK Internal Affairs Ministry on 8 June 1955, those who crossed illegally but were captured should be transferred back if they had crossed without criminal intent. Those who intended to engage in criminal acts should be handled in accordance with the law of the state or should be transferred back.69 However, these principles were never strictly enforced.

On 5 December 1957, the PRC Foreign Ministry, Public Security Ministry, and Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission held a special meeting to discuss illegal border-crossings. The main issue was North Korea's reluctance to carry out the June 1955 agreement because of the country's continued labor shortage. The DPRK Foreign Ministry proposed to the Chinese embassy in Pyongyang that North Korea could assist China in carrying out the agreement. However, Pyongyang was unwilling to repatriate those who wished to stay in North Korea. The DPRK hoped that China would allow these people to reside in North Korea, and the Chinese decided to accept this position.70

Mass Exodus, 1961–1962

In the spring of 1961, a large number of Koreans in northeast China illegally crossed the Sino-Korean border to North Korea. Allegedly, the North Korean government had provoked the incident. According to the PRC Ministry of Public Security, from January 1961 to March 1962 more than 38,590 people attempted to cross illegally from Liaoning and Jilin Provinces into the DPRK, and 29,133 people succeeded. By May 1962, 55,000 out of the 71,000 people who attempted to cross the border illegally had been successful.71

According to investigations by local authorities in northeast China, the mass exodus of Koreans from China to the DPRK stemmed from several factors. First, China was in a period of economic hardship after the disastrous Great Leap Forward policy of 1958 and subsequent three-year famine, and the standard of living for residents had declined dramatically. The Yanbian region started grain rationing in November 1960, and residents complained that they could not get enough to eat. They heard rumors that “life is much better in North Korea. Grain supply is sufficient. You can make a home there and find jobs.” Thus, many found excuses to move to North Korea with their families. Second, many Chinese of Korean ethnicity living near the Chinese–North Korean border area were discontented with the reduced opportunities to live in urban areas for factory work and schools. Among the 116 staff members and workers in the Andong (Dandong) area who fled to North Korea, 104 had already been laid off from their jobs. According to statistics from Yanbian, two-thirds of the area's graduates (more than 10,000 people) would not be able to enter higher education.

A third factor spurring the illegal migration was that local governments in the PRC paid little attention to the national characteristics and customs of Korean residents. Ethnic Koreans’ favorite consumer goods and foods, such as kelp, rubber overshoes, and silk clothes, were in short supply. Korean radios, newspapers, books, and recreational and sports activities were suspended or cancelled. The teaching of Chinese was popularized in Korean schools, which burdened students and teachers. Fourth, local organizations made it very difficult and complicated for people to apply to visit or move to North Korea legally. Fifth, North Korea declined to transfer illegal border-crossers to Chinese custody and instead actually helped them settle in the DPRK. The DPRK established reception stations along the exodus routes. Those who came with their families were assigned to agricultural cooperatives. Each able-bodied person was given 40 won as a settling-in allowance. These practices encouraged ethnic Koreans living along the border to flee to North Korea. In short, many Koreans believed rumors that life was much better in North Korea than in China, and they were more inclined to regard North Korea as their motherland.72

Rationales for Chinese Policy

Why did the Chinese government not take steps to curb the exodus? The deterioration of Chinese-Soviet relations was the most important contributing factor. Sino-Soviet relations started to deteriorate in the second half of 1958 after the PRC's bombardment of Jinmen in August 1958 and the launching of the Great Leap Forward and the People's Communes Movement, also in 1958. At the June 1960 Bucharest Conference, where Moscow lined up its East European allies to attack the CCP, Chinese leaders were eager to maintain friendly relations with East Asian Communist allies (North Korea and North Vietnam).73 From late 1958 to early 1960, China and North Korea signed a series of protocols and border trade agreements, including one for joint use of the Shuifeng Reservoir (for fish breeding) and one pertaining to shipping along the joint riparian boundary.74 When the illegal crossings started to gain momentum, the Chinese authorities refrained from adopting effective countermeasures and deferred to North Korea's position. When the issue became urgent, the Chinese government avoided dealing with it in order not to upset the North Korean government. On 10 May, the PRC Ministry of Public Security reported the situation in northeast China to the CCP Central Committee and the PRC State Council.75 On 24 May the PRC Ministry of Public Security and Ministry of Foreign Affairs proposed consulting with North Korea to resolve the issue in accordance with existing agreements. The two ministries instructed Chinese Ambassador Qiao Xiaoguang to raise the issue with the North Korean Foreign Ministry.76 Whether the CCP Central Committee and the PRC State Council discussed the issue is unclear. But the Foreign Ministry's instruction to Ambassador Qiao was quite different from the suggestion made on 24 May:

The Foreign Ministry will respond in detail on the issue of ethnic Koreans illegally crossing the border to [North] Korea. But the overall principle is that we will not resort to diplomatic channels. We should try to reassure Koreans in China by working with them. It is all right for [North] Korea to set up reception stations. Recently, the Chinese–[North] Korean relationship is in very good shape. Don't overreact to ethnic Koreans illegally crossing the border [to North Korea]. So you don't have to go to Jilin on a fact-finding mission.77

After Moscow withdrew Soviet experts from China in the summer of 1960, Beijing openly competed with Moscow for leadership of the international Communist movement.78 To maintain a good relationship with Pyongyang and to counter the Soviet Union, Beijing tolerated Pyongyang's violation of the Sino-Korean agreement on illegal border-crossings. Additionally, the Chinese government wanted to avoid an embarrassing situation during Kim Il-Sung's upcoming visit to the PRC in July 1961. In their conversation on 11 July, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai broached the exodus of Koreans from Northeast China with Kim. Zhou said, “Many people in Yanbian fled to (your country). It is all right for able-bodied people to go because they can work. It would give you trouble for elder people to go. How many are young people?” When Kim told him that more than 10,000 young and 10,000 older Koreans had migrated, Zhou continued, “It is a combination of the young and old. It is difficult to demarcate the boundary between our two countries. We adopt an open door policy toward you. We will give you whatever number of people you want.” Kim explained the difficulty of persuading those people to return to China. The DPRK had welcomed Koreans back from Japan and therefore could not really reject those from China. Zhou told Kim that sending them back was unnecessary.79 In view of Zhou's attitude, the Foreign Ministry instructed the Chinese embassy in the DPRK on how to handle the exodus issue: “Don't resort to diplomatic measures and don't take up the matter with the Korean side.”80

North Korea's Responses

The mass exodus of Koreans from northeast China to the DPRK created trouble for North Korea as well. Many of those who arrived in the DPRK were very disappointed with the working and living conditions. According to a December 1961 report from the Chinese embassy in Pyongyang, more than 1,500 ethnic Koreans from China became unsettled internal migrants in the DPRK or wanted to return to China. Some were involved in smuggling, speculation, and profiteering, and others were spreading infectious diseases. North Korean officials were increasingly concerned.81

The Chinese government was soon confronted with the issue of those who had fled illegally to North Korea but wanted to return. In 1961, 7,528 of those who had absconded from China to North Korea (58.5 percent) returned to the PRC.82 The Chinese embassy in Pyongyang was not entirely sure how to deal with the applications of those who were seeking to return. The embassy staff knew that the DPRK only “allows people to come, but gives no permission for them to leave.”83 In view of the information conveyed by Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai to Kim Il-Sung on 11 July, the PRC Foreign Ministry sent the following instruction to its embassy in Pyongyang:

For those Koreans who crossed the border and now want to get back, the embassy should not accept and hear their cases. They should ask the [North] Korean side for assistance … . For the Han Chinese, if the [North] Korean side has helped them settle down, we should not bother about them. If the [North] Korean side proposes to send someone back, please ask the [North] Korean side to repatriate the person in accordance with mutually agreed regulations; If such person comes to the embassy, you may issue entry permit.84

For those who had already crossed the border and returned to China, the CCP's Jilin Provincial Committee stipulated: “You should resolutely persuade them to return to [North] Korea. Otherwise, it might cause a mass exodus of Korean citizens to China. This might arouse misunderstanding and even undermine friendly relations between our two countries.”85 In handling the ethnic Korean issue, the Chinese authorities yielded to North Korean interests for the sake of larger Cold War objectives—to ensure that Pyongyang would stay closer to Beijing than to Moscow.

In receiving émigrés, North Korea was interested mainly in able-bodied people, particularly specialists and those with technical skills. Soon, the DPRK took steps to prevent a mass exodus. In March 1962, North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Seong Cheol accused China of “not strictly observing the agreement on people-to-people exchanges” and thus sparking the exodus into the DPRK. Pak further claimed that “the number of people who illegally crossed the border has increased day by day. Some have died. It has created negative political implications and has disturbed social order.” He hoped that the two governments would negotiate to make it convenient for Koreans to come and go. After learning about Pak's complaint, Zhou Enlai gave oral instructions: “We should admit our mistakes and apologize to the Korean side.”86 The PRC Foreign Ministry and Public Security Ministry instructed Chinese Ambassador Hao Deqing to make an appointment with Pak to let him know Beijing's position:

The migration of ethnic Koreans in China to the DPRK in multitude has created difficulties and troubles for your side. Your side has taken action to find jobs for them. We are grateful for your help. There are numerous causes of this situation. Aside from historical and customary reasons, the direct cause is the difficulty in our country. We will need more time to resolve our own problems. Please forgive us!87

From then on, the Chinese government gave greater attention to ethnic Korean residents in China. In principle, the PRC was willing to permit ethnic Koreans to return to North Korea. The Chinese authorities established a joint office of personnel from the public security bureau, civil administration, customs, and nationality affairs commission to dissuade anyone from making illegal border crossings.88 North Korea, for its part, adopted measures to strengthen border administration.89 By the second half of 1962, the mass exodus of Korean residents from northeast China had abated.


The migration of ethnic Koreans between northeast China and North Korea was a complicated issue. Chinese leaders cared not so much about the issue itself as about the fact that the outflow from China toward an ethnic “homeland” might inspire other ethnic minorities in the PRC.90 A historical examination of Koreans in northeast China demonstrates that the PRC attempted to achieve a workable policy that also accommodated the DPRK's concerns and imperatives in defining nationality, handling cases of Sino-Korean marriages and exit procedures for ethnic Koreans, receiving Korean nationals who wished to visit China, and dealing with illegal border-crossing cases.

At the same time, the PRC also catered to the DPRK's wishes in settling border disputes.91 The CCP's policies and actions were motivated by two main factors. First, North Korea was one of China's few remaining partners in international politics by the early 1960s.92 A CCP Central Committee document in August 1963 highlighted this point:

At present, when international revisionists collude with imperialists and reactionaries of all countries to oppose the Chinese and world people, the Korean Workers’ Party has stood closely by our side and is our faithful comrade-in-arm. China and the DPRK are on very good terms and support each other. We should be cautious in handling every issue with [North] Korea. We must do a good job but cannot afford to handle [relations with North Korea] unsatisfactorily.93

Second, China had a huge population and thus could afford to let Koreans go. Mao once told Kim Il-Sung: “There are more than one million Koreans in northeast China, who belong to both you and us. You may recruit soldiers among them if necessary. If they want to return to [Korea], let them go. In any case, we have a very large population.”94

The PRC served its own national interests well and avoided large-scale instability or conflict. The Chinese managed to keep the DPRK as an ally in the era of the Sino-Soviet split in the first half of the 1960s and also managed to keep the Koreans in northeast China from doing anything to challenge PRC rule there. Kim Il-Sung was much closer to Beijing than to Moscow in the initial phase of the Sino-Soviet split (from 1958 to 1965).95 It is thus no small accomplishment that China managed to keep the Koreans in northeast China and the DPRK more or less under control. Despite various manifestations of CCP flexibility toward ethnic Koreans in the 1950s and early 1960s, the latter were subjected to severe persecution in 1966–1969 during China's Cultural Revolution and the simultaneous Sino-DPRK border conflicts. Zhu Dehai, the first administrator of the Yanbian Autonomous Prefecture was one of the prominent victims.

Although Mao's policy toward ethnic Korean migration may have served the PRC's foreign policy goals in the 1960s, the drawback of such a policy gradually emerged in the post–Cold War era when the PRC was attempting to shift from Sino–North Korean party-to-party relations to a normal state-to-state relationship. Although ethnic Korean migration to North Korea produced many “hollow villages” in northeast China in the 1960s, the reverse illegal border crossing of Koreans to China in the 1990s created instability along the Sino-Korean border. Thus, Korean cross-border migration is likely to remain a key issue on the Korean peninsula.96


The authors thank Chuck Kraus for comments and suggestions, Neil Silver and Miriam Wishnick for editorial assistance, and the five anonymous JCWS reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions.



Some of the documents obtained by the authors and used in this article have now been translated into English. See Hazel Smith, “Explaining North Korean Migration to China,” NKIDP e-Dossier No. 11, p. 1, http://www.wilsoncenter.org/nkidp; and Hazel Smith, “North Koreans in China: Defining the Problems and Offering Some Solutions,” in Tsuneo Akaha and Anna Vassilieva, eds., Crossing National Borders: Human Migration Issues in Northeast Asia (Tokyo: United Nations Press, 2005), pp. 165–190.


This number is from the PRC's Sixth National Census, conducted in 2010.


The most important work on the topic is Sun Chunri, Zhongguo Chaoxianzu yiminshi [A History of Migration of the Koreans in China] (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 2009). Other titles include: Piao Changlie, Zhongguo Chaoxianzu lishi yanjiu [A Historical Study of the Ethnic Koreans in China] (Yanji, China: Yanbian Daxue Chubanshe, 1995), pp. 1–39; Jin Yuanshi, “On the Migration History of the Koreans to China,” Yanbian daxue xuebao [Journal of Yanbian University], No. 3 (1996), pp. 93–100; Che Zhejiu, “The Formation and Changes of Koreans in China,” Yanbian daxue xuebao, No. 3 (1998), pp. 137–142; and Sun Chunri and Shen Yingshu, “On the Historical Process of How the Koreans in China Joined the Big Family of the Chinese Nation,” Dongjiang xuekan [Journal of the Eastern Frontier], No. 4 (2006), pp. 54–60.


More than 60,000 members of ethnic minorities (mainly Kazakh and Uighur) living in the Ili Region, Xinjiang, fled to the Soviet Union in the spring of 1962. The exodus is known as the Ita Incident. Because Sino-Soviet relations had sharply deteriorated by then, Chinese leaders believed that the Ita Incident was instigated by the Soviet Union. “This perception was a major factor causing Mao and his colleagues to view Sino-Soviet relations as ‘contradictions between ourselves and the enemy’ and to push for a complete break.” For an elaboration of the subject, see Danhui Li and Yafeng Xia, “Jockeying for Leadership: Mao and the Sino-Soviet Split, October 1961–July 1964,” Journal of Cold War Studies, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Winter 2014), esp. pp. 34–37.


Chae-Jin Lee, China's Korean Minority: The Politics of Ethnic Education (Boulder: Westview Press, 1986), pp. 15–16; Yang Shaoquan, ZhongChao guanxi shi lunwenji [Collected Papers on the History of Sino-North Korean Relations] (Beijing: Shijie Zhishi Chubanshe, 1988), p. 305; and Sun, Zhongguo Chaoxianzu yiminshi, pp. 61–75, 106–137.


Sun Chunri and Shen Yingshu, “On the Historical Process of How the Koreans in China Joined the Big Family of the Chinese Nation,” Dongjiang xuekan, No. 4 (2006), pp. 54–60.


Francis C. Jones, Manchuria since 1931 (London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1949), p. 72.


Ibid., pp. 72–76; and Lee, China's Korean Minority, pp. 19–27.


Lee, China's Korean Minority, pp. 15–17.


Yanbian borders Russia and the DPRK and is part of the Changbai Mountains area, a major tourist attraction for Chinese and South Koreans. As of the mid-1990s, around 867,000 ethnic Koreans lived in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture.


An Longzhen, Yanbian Chaoxianzu zizhizhou zhouzhi [Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture Gazetteer] (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1996), pp. 254–256, 277.


Carter J. Eckert, Offspring of Empire: The Koch’ang Kims and the Origins of Korean Capitalism (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991), pp. 170–171.


Chong-Sik Lee, “Witch Hunt among the Guerrillas: The Min-Sheng-T’uan Incident,” The China Quarterly, No. 26 (April–June 1966), esp. pp. 113–114.


Sun, Zhongguo Chaoxianzu yiminshi, pp. 635–636.


Zhou Baozhong, “On Korean Nationals in Yanbian,” December 1946, in Yanbian Chaoxianzu zizhizhou dang’anju, ed., Zhonggong Yanbian Jidong Jidun diwei Yanbian zhuanshu zhongyao wenjian huibian [Collection of Important Documents of Yanbian Prefectural Commissioner's Office, CCP Yanbian Jidong and Jidun Prefecture], No. 1 (typescript, 1985), pp. 332–333.


See Sun, Zhongguo Chaoxianzu yiminshi, pp. 688–690.


Zhou, “On Korean Nationals in Yanbian,” p. 327.


Dong Kunyi, “New Year Message,” 1 January 1946, in Zhonggong Yanbian Jidong Jidun diwei Yanbian zhuanshu zhongyao wenjian huibian, Vol. 1, p. 8.


The Northern Manchuria Korean Democratic League, consisting of all ethnic Korean civic groups and community organizations in Northern Manchuria, was formed on 22 July 1946 in Harbin and ceased to exist after August 1947. The league carried out the CCP's policy of land reform, supported the Communists during the Chinese Civil War, and developed ethnic Korean cultural education programs. See Xu Mingxun, “Ethnic Korean Revolutionary Masses Formed Northern Manchuria Korean Democratic League,” Heilongjiang minzu congkan [Heilongjiang National Series], October 1988, pp. 64–68.


Xu Mingxun et al., “Korean People Democratic League in Northern Manchuria,” in Zhongguo Chaoxianzu lishi zuji bianji weiyuanhui, ed., Shengli: Zhongguo Chaoxianzu lishi zuji congshu [Victory: Historical Footprints of Korean Nationals in China], Vol. 5 [in Korean] (Beijing: Minzu Chubanshe, 1992), p. 135; and Sun, Zhongguo Chaoxianzu yiminshi, pp. 721–724.


Yanbian diwei, “On Nationality Issue in Yanbian,” 15 August 1948, in Zhonggong Yanbian Jidong Jidun diwei Yanbian zhuanshu zhongyao wenjian huibian, Vol. 1, pp. 383–386.


Liu Junxiu, “Several Issues in Nationality Policy” (draft), 9 February 1948, in Zhonggong Yanbian Jidong Jidun diwei Yanbian zhuanshu zhongyao wenjian huibian, Vol. 1, p. 392.


Yao Zuoqi, “A Survey of the People in Yanbian Joining the Army and Fighting the War during the Liberation War,” Yanbian lishi yanjiu [Studies on the History of Yanbian], No. 3 (1988), pp. 210–216; and Han Junguang and Yao Zuoqi, Jiefang zhanzheng shiqi de Dongman genjudi [East Manchuria Base Area during the Liberation War] (Yanji, China: Yanbian Renmin Chubanshe, 1991).


An, Yanbian Chaoxianzu zizhizhou zhouzhi, p. 276.


Zhonggongzhongyang wenxian yanjiushi and Zhongyang dang’anguan, eds., Jianguo yilai Zhou Enlai wengao [Zhou Enlai's Manuscripts since the Founding of the PRC] (Beijing: Zhongyang Wenxian Chubanshe, 2008), Vol. 3, pp. 345, 381; “Cable from Peng Dehuai and Gao Gang to Mao Zedong,” 9 October 1950, Dangshi wenxian [Party Historical Documents], No. 5 (2000), p. 4; and Kim Donggil, “A New Study on the Issue of the Return of PLA Korean Divisions,” Lishi yanjiu [Historical Research], No. 6 (2006), pp. 103–114.


“Cable from Stalin and Zhou Enlai to Mao Zedong,” 11 October 1950, in RGASPI (Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History), Fond (F.) 558, Opis’ (Op.) 11, Delo (D.) 334, Listy (Ll.) 134–135; “Report from Northeast Administrative Committee to the Government Administration Council, 23 March 1953,” in Chinese Foreign Ministry Archives (CFMA), No. 118-00175-01, pp. 1–3; Report from Asian Department to Zhang Hanfu, 21 November 1951, in CFMA, no. 106-00026-03, pp. 23–29; and An, Yanbian Chaoxianzu zizhizhou zhouzhi, p. 503.


Han Zheshi, ed., Changbai Chaoxian zizhixian zhi [Changbai Korean Autonomous County Gazetteer] (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1993), p. 287.


See the records of the session in Renmin ribao [People's Daily], 6 September 1950, p. 3.


“Northeast Bureau's Request for Instruction to the Party Center,” 24 April 1953, in CFMA, No. 118-00018-01, pp. 1–7.




“CCP Central Committee Instruction,” 17 August 1953, in CFMA, No. 108-00018-02, pp. 13–15.


“Interior Ministry Instruction on Settling Nationality Issue,” 15 April 1954, in CFMA, No. 118-00506-02, pp. 3–16.


No. 1 Section, Asian Department, “Case Briefing,” 9 February 1954, in CFMA, No. 118-00249–15, pp. 104–107.


“Interim Procedures for Identifying Nationality and Handling Applications from Chinese Nationals in Korea or Koreans with Chinese Citizenship Who Wish to Return to China,” 1 August 1956, in CFMA, No. 118-00671-08, pp. 97–98.


Local nationalism or parochial nationalism is a kind of isolated, conservative xenophobic nationalism, often manifested in caring only about temporary and partial interests of one's own ethnic nationality. According to the CCP lexicon, the Chinese government has called for combating local ethnic nationalism since the 1950s.


The PRC did not promulgate its nationality law until 1980. The lengthy delay reflected a general desire to ignore nationality issues and a lack of confidence in the country's legal system.


Wang Hailong, “The Social Changes of Chinese Residents in North Korea,” Shijie zhishi [World Knowledge], No. 7 (2012), pp. 26–27.


Xinhua News Agency ed., Neibu cankao [Internal Reference], No. 2233 (18 June 1957), pp. 34–35.


Neibu cankao, No. 2758 (24 April 1959), pp. 15–16.


The few studies have been conducted on the migration of frontier people in southwest China show that similar events occurred there. See Lu Gang, “Cross-border Migration along Chinese-Burmese Border Area,” Yunnan minzu daxue xuebao [Journal of Yunnan University of Nationalities], No. 6 (2006), pp. 5–10; and Huang Xingqiu, “Differentiation and Special Features of Cross-border Ethnicities along the Sino-Laotian Border,” Guangxi minzu xueyuan xuebao [Journal of Guangxi College of Nationalities], No. 3 (2006), pp. 85–88.


For details, see Li Danhui, “An Historical Investigation into 1962 Xinjiang Yita Incident,” Zhonggong dangshi ziliao [Materials for CCP History Research], No. 4 (1999), pp. 1–8 and No. 5 (1999), pp. 1–22.


“State Council Instructions on Travel Rules between China and North Korea,” 27 March 1955, in Dalian Municipal Archives, No. 2-2-794, p. 26.


Han, Changbai Chaoxian zizhixian zhi, p. 302; and An, Yanbian Chaoxianzu zizhizhou zhouzhi, p. 545.


“State Council Instruction on Transit System between China and North Korea,” 27 March 1955, in Dalian Municipal Archives, No. 2-2-794, pp. 25–27.


“Cable, Chinese Embassy in North Korea to Foreign Ministry's Consular Department,” 16 February 1959, in CFMA, No. 118-00806-03, pp. 69–70; and “Foreign Ministry's Consular Department to Chinese Embassy in North Korea,” 14 November 1960, in CFMA, No. 118-01159-20, p. 27.


Han, Changbai Chaoxian zizhixian zhi, pp. 46, 302–303.


For details, see Zhihua Shen and Yafeng Xia, “China and the Post-War Reconstruction of North Korea, 1953–1961,” North Korea International Documentation Project Working Paper No. 4 (Washington DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, May 2012).


“Hungarian Embassy to the DPRK,” Report, 16 May 1955, in Hungarian Foreign Ministry Archive (KTS), 5, doboz, 5/c, 006050/1955, quoted in Balázs Szalontai, “‘You Have No Political Line of Your Own:’ Kim Il Sung and the Soviets, 1953–1964,” CWIHP Bulletin, Nos. 14/15 (Winter 2003–Spring 2004), p. 96. Also see Balázs Szalontai, Kim Il Sung in the Khrushchev Era: Soviet-DPRK Relations and the Roots of North Korean Despotism, 1953–1964 (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2006), pp. 121–124.


Szalontai, “You Have No Political Line of Your Own,” p. 93. According to the DPRK State Planning Commission, 1.078 million workers and staff registered in 1958. But to accomplish the 1959 plan, 1.517 million workers were needed. See Soviet Ambassador A. M. Puzanov's notes from 6 November to 7 December 1959, in Archive of Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation (AVPRF), F. 0102, Op. 14, D. 6, Ll. 258–292.


Hungarian Embassy to the DPRK, Annual Report, 24 February 1959, in KTS 4, Doboz 5/a, 002242/1959; and Hungarian Embassy to the DPRK, Report, 4 June 1959, in KTS 11, Doboz 24/b, 004529/1959, cited in Szalontai, “You Have No Political Line of Your Own,” p. 93.


The number of Koreans in the Russian Far East reached 44,000 in 1915. See Wang Xiaoju, Eguo dongbu yiming kaifa wenti yanjiu [Studies on Immigration and Development in Russia's Far East] (Beijing: Zhongguo Shehui Kexue Chubanshe, 2003), p. 138. Roughly 182,300 Koreans lived in Russian Siberia in 1939. See Che Zhejiu, “The Formation and Changes of Koreans in China,” Yanbian daxue xuebao, No. 3 (1998), pp. 137–138.


A. M. Puzanov's notes from 9 to 28 April 1958, in AVPRF, F. 0102, Op. 14, D. 6; and Minutes of Conversation between M. C. Kapitsa and Counselor of North Korean Embassy in the Soviet Union, 17 June 1958, in AVPRF, F. 0102, Op. 14, D. 5.


Zheng Xinzhe, Zai Ri Chaoxianren lishi jiqi xianzhuang yanjiu [Studies on the History and Current Situation of the Koreans in Japan] (Beijing: Zhongguo Fangzheng Chubanshe, 2007), pp. 132–135. DPRK propaganda brought many overseas Koreans to North Korea. But after 1963, when the actual situation in North Korea became clear, the number of returnees dropped dramatically. In her 2007 book, Tessa Morris-Suzuki recounts the tragic tale of the 90,000 Koreans who returned to North Korea. See Tessa Morris-Suzuki, Exodus to North Korea: Shadow from Japan's Cold War (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007).


“Request for Instruction and Approval, Yan Baohang to Xi Zhongxun,”12 May 1954, in CFMA, No. 118-00027-03, pp. 4–5.


“On Assisting 62 Korean Technical Personnel to Return to Korea,” 5–13 August 1955, in CFMA, No. 118-00301-01, pp. 1–20. Contemporaneous regulations meant that foreign nationals with technical skills experienced greater difficulty when they tried to migrate to their countries of origin.


“Minutes of Mao's Conversation with Kim Il Sung,” 21 May 1960, transcript on file with Zhihua Shen and Yafeng Xia.


“Minutes of Conversation between Chen Li and Second Secretary of North Korean Embassy,” 16 January 1957, 11 March 1957, in CFMA, No. 118-00691-03, p. 16; and “Foreign Ministry to Ministry of Public Security,” 16 March 1957, in CFMA, No. 118-00691-04, pp. 22–23.


“Foreign Ministry Letter Regarding Remitting Personal Dossiers of Koreans in China,” 12 April 1957, in CFMA, No. 118-00691-03; and “Letter, Consular Department of Foreign Ministry Regarding Personal Dossiers of the Koreans in China,” 16 April 1957, in CFMA, No. 118-00691-02, pp. 6–8.


The August 1956 crisis arose at a plenary session of the KWP Central Committee when Kim Il-Sung purged long-time challengers of his development strategy, many of whom were the Yan’an faction cadres. Several fled to China and reported their plight to Chinese Defense Minister Peng Dehuai. In September 1956, after consultations, the CCP and the CPSU sent Peng Dehuai and Soviet Vice Premier Anastas Mikoyan to Pyongyang, where he obtained the revocation of the August 1956 resolution adopted by the KWP Central Committee. See Shen and Xia, “China and the Post-War Reconstruction of North Korea,” p. 13.


Ibid., pp. 11–22.


“On Illegal Migration of the Koreans in China and Chinese Nationals (Meeting Records),” 5 December 1957, in CFMA, No. 118-01026-01, pp. 13–20.


A. M. Puzanov's diary entries from 21 January to 24 March 1959, in AVPRF, f. 0102, op. 14, p. 6, d. 26–64.


“Interior Ministry's Internal Views on the Issue of a Chinese Man Marrying a Korean Woman,” 8 October 1958, in Hubei Provincial Archives, SZ67-01-0540-003.


“Foreign Ministry's Comprehensive Report on Organizing Koreans of Chinese Citizenship and Persuading Korean Nationals in China to Move to North Korea in Order to Participate in Reconstruction,” 10 December 1959, in CFMA, No.118-00777-01, pp. 43–48.


“On Illegal Migration of the Koreans in China and Chinese Nationals (Meeting Records),” pp. 13–20.


“Basic Information on Korean Residents in Heilongjiang,” 29 April 1962, in CFMA, No. 118-01028-03, pp. 30–37.


“On Illegal Migration of the Koreans in China and Chinese Nationals (Meeting Records),” pp. 13–20; and An, Yanbian Chaoxianzu zizhizhou zhouzhi, p. 548.


Chinese Foreign Ministry's Consular Department, “On Illegal Border Crossings of Korean Residents in China,” December 1957, in CFMA, No. 118-01026-01, pp. 3–4; “On Illegal Migration of the Koreans in China and Chinese Nationals (Meeting Records),” pp. 13–20; and “First Bureau of Ministry of Public Security to Foreign Ministry's Consular Department,” 6 July 1959, in CFMA, No. 118-01026-01, pp. 26–27.


Zhonghua renmin gongheguo waijiaobu tiaoyu falvsi bian, Zhonghua renmin gongheguo bianjie shiwu tiaoyu ji [Collection of Boundary Affairs of the People's Republic of China], [volume on China and North Korea] (Beijing: Shijie Zhishi Chubanshe, 2004), pp. 66–67.


“On Illegal Migration of the Koreans in China and Chinese Nationals (Meeting Records),” pp. 13–20.


“Request for Instruction from Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Public Security Regarding Korean Residents Illegally Crossing the Border,” 23 March 1962, in CFMA, No. 118-011025-02, pp. 1–3.


“Public Security Division's Investigation Report on the Exodus of Frontier People in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture,” 12 March 1961; “Outline of Gao Shikun's Report on Illegal Border-Crossings of Korean Residents to North Korean,” 10 May 1962, in CFMA, No. 118-01028-04, pp. 58–63, 76–85; “Report, Foreign Ministry and Public Security Ministry, on Korean Residents Border-Crossings to North Korea,” 9–10 May 1961, in CFMA, No. 118-01026-03, pp. 74–75, 69–70; “Cable, Foreign Ministry and Public Security Ministry to Chinese Embassy in North Korea,” 24 March 1962; “Report of the People's Bank Jilin Branch, on Exodus of Korean Residents in Yanbian Area,” 28 April 1962, in CFMA, No. 118-01027-02, pp. 4–6, 9–13; and Qingkuang fanying [Information Reporting], No. 6, in CFMA, No. 118-01028-01, pp. 98–100.


See Danhui Li and Yafeng Xia, “Competing for Leadership: Split or Détente in the Sino-Soviet Bloc,” The International History Review, Vol. 30, No. 3 (September 2008), pp. 545, 564–568.


Zhonghua renmin gongheguo bianjie shiwu tiaoyu ji, pp. 169–186, 195–257.


“Party Committee of Ministry of Public Security's Report on Koreans in China Illegally Crossing to [North] Korea,” 10 May 1961, in CFMA, No. 118-01026-03, pp. 69–70.


“Report of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Public Security on Koreans in China Illegally Crossing to [North] Korea,” 24 May 1961, in CFMA, No. 118-01026-05, pp. 131–132.


“Written Instructions, Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Qiao Xiaoguang,” 6 June 1961, in CFMA, No. 118-01026-06, p. 104.


For a study on Sino-Soviet relations in the early 1960s, see Li and Xia, “Competing for Leadership,” pp. 545–574.


“Minutes of Zhou Enlai's Conversation with Kim Il-Sung,” 11 July 1961, in CFMA, No. 204-0145-01, pp. 1–12.


“Report, Chinese Embassy in North Korea to Foreign Ministry's Consular Department,” 24 July 1961, in CFMA, No. 118-01026-07, pp. 112–115.


“Report, Chinese Embassy in North Korea to Foreign Ministry's Consular Department and Ministry of Public Security,” 2 December 1961, in CFMA, No. 118-01026-07, pp. 125–128.


“Request for Instruction from Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Public Security on the Issue of Illegal Border-Crossing of the Koreans,” 23 March 1962, in CFMA, No. 118-01025-02, pp. 1–3.


“Report, Chinese Embassy in North Korea to Foreign Ministry's Consular Department,” 24 July 1961, in CFMA, No. 118-01026-07, pp. 112–115.


“Letter, the Second Asian Department to Consular Department, Foreign Ministry,” 3 August 1961, in CFMA, No. 118-01026-07, p. 116; and “Cable, Consular Department of Foreign Ministry to the Chinese Embassy in North Korea,” 9 August 1961, in CFMA, No. 118-01026-07, pp. 118–119.


“Cable, Jilin Provincial CCP Committee to Tonghua Prefectural CCP Committee and Copied to the Foreign Ministry,” 25 November 1961, in CFMA, No. 118-00948-02, pp. 7–9.


“Request for Instruction, Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Public Security on Illegal Border-crossing of the Koreans in China,” 23 March 1962, in CFMA, No. 118-01025-02, pp. 1–3; “Outline of Gao Shikun's Report on Illegal Border-Crossings of Korean Residents to North Korean,” 10 May 1962, in CFMA, No. 118-01028-04, pp. 76–85.


“Cable, Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Public Security to Chinese Embassy in the DPRK,” 24 March 1962, in CFMA, No. 118-01025-02, pp. 4–6.


Qingkuang fanyin, No. 6, in CFMA, No. 118-01028-01, pp. 98–100; and “Instruction, CCP Central Committee on Handling the Migration of Koreans in Northeast to [North] Korea,” 8 August 1963, in CFMA, No. 118-01784-01, pp. 8–9.


“Chaoxian zhengqing” [North Korea's political situation], in CFMA, No. 106-01128-01, pp. 1–10.


“Telegram from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Public Security to the Chinese Embassy in North Korea on Illegal Border Crossing among Ethnic Koreans,” May 1961, in CFMA, No. 118-01026, pp. 82–83.


For a detail study of the Sino-Korean border issue during this period, see Zhihua Shen and Yafeng Xia, “Contested Border: A Historical Investigation into the Sino-Korean Border Issue, 1950–1964,” Asian Perspective, Vol. 37, No. 1 (January–March 2013), pp. 1–30.


Despite seeking friendly relations with developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, China had few allies by the early 1960s. Only after the Sino-Soviet split did China set as its diplomatic priority to organize a revolutionary camp among the Third World countries. See Jovan Cavoski, “Fomenting Discord among Afro-Asian Countries: The Sino-Soviet Alliance and Tito's Trip to Asian and African Countries, 1958–1959,” in Shen Zhihua and Douglas Stiffler, eds., Cuiruo de Tongmen: Lengzhan yu ZhongSu guanxi [Fragile Alliance: The Cold War and Sino-Soviet Relations] (Beijing: Zhongguo Shehui Kexue Chubanshe, 2010), pp. 206–209.


“Instruction, CCP Central Committee on Handling the Migration of Koreans in Northeast China to [North] Korea,” 8 August 1963, in CFMA, No. 118-01784-01, pp. 8–9.


“Records of Conversations between Mao Zedong and Nodong Sinmun delegation of North Korea,” 26 April 1963, on file with Zhihua Shen and Yafeng Xia.


The Chinese embassy in the DPRK reported Kim Il-Sung's attitude toward the Sino-Soviet split. See “Telegram from the Chinese Embassy to the DPRK to the Foreign Ministry,” 27 March 1962, in CFMA, No. 106-01129-09, pp. 93–96; and “Telegram from Hao Deqing to the CCP Central Committee and the Foreign Ministry,” 19 February 1963, in CFMA, No. 106-00718-01, pp. 39–44.


This has attracted the attention of many scholars in recent years. See Zheng Xinzhe, “Population Movements and the Social Development of Ethnic Koreans,” Heiliongjiang minzu xuekan [Heilongjiang National Series], No. 3 (1998), pp. 18–20; “Important Impact of and Countermeasure toward Population Movements of China's Ethnic Koreans,” Yanbian daxue xuebao, No. 3 (1999), pp. 66–73; “The Impact of the Situation on the Korean Peninsula on the Development and Stability of Ethnic Korean Area,” Zhong-Nan minzu daxue xuebao [Journal of South-Central University for Nationalities], No. 1 (2007), pp. 5–12; Piao Guangxin, “Cross-border Labor Migration and the Global Social Network of China's Ethnic Koreans,” Zhongyang minzu daxue xuebao [Journal of the Central University for Nationalities], No. 5 (2009), pp. 18–24; and Sun Chunri, “Population Loss in China's Border Area and Its Countermeasures: A Case Study of Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture,” Beifang minzu daxue xuebao [Journal of Beifang University of Nationalities], No. 3 (2010), pp. 46–50.