[VIEWPOINT]Improve the world: Marry a foreignerZhou Enlai (1898-1976) was the longest-serving premier of the People’s Republic of China, and Chinese people respect him as much as they admire Mao Zedong, if not more. Educated in France, he had international manners and spent his whole life fighting against narrow-minded chauvinism.
He had chided the nationalistic Chinese scholars for their distortion of history and acknowledged that Gojoseon, Goguryeo and Balhae belonged to Korea’s history. He even apologized to North Korea for the territorial expansion policy of the Qing Dynasty. If he were still alive, he would have fiercely scolded those Chinese scholars supporting the Northeast Asia Project, which is designed to absorb Korea’s ancient history as if it were a part of China’s history.
In order to enlighten the Chinese people carried away by Sinocentrism, Mr. Zhou advocated international marriages. He said, “Chinese women are said to avoid marrying foreigners. If it weren’t for international marriages, how else could we contribute to the mankind? How can we realize globalization of communism? We need to develop a new spirit.”
Imagine a world where people get married regardless of race, religion and nationality. Of course, there might still be discord among families, but the tragedies of shedding blood would certainly decrease.
No matter what ideology you have, you can contribute to world peace and the advancement of mankind by marrying a foreigner.
Koreans are reconsidering the idea of international marriage, not as a means of realizing the ideals suggested by Zhou but for a very realistic reason.
Today, one out of eight couples getting married is a union between a Korean and a foreigner.
By 2020, men will outnumber women by 125 to 100, and one in five men will have to welcome a foreign bride.
It means that Korea is already turning into a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society. In some villages in rural areas, every farmer has a foreign wife, and a blue-eyed daughter-in-law struggling to fit into a conservative Korean family became the subject of comedy shows.
International marriages are not limited to single men in rural areas. About 75 percent of the Korean-foreigner couples live in cities. Some 80 percent of them are concentrated in the Seoul metropolitan area and its vicinity, mostly forming the urban poor. More than half of them earn less than the minimum cost of living, as defined by the government.
The Korean men who are relatively less educated, less well-off and older tend to marry foreign brides if they fail to find a Korean wife. That is why these couples are not always enjoying happy lives, as featured in TV sitcoms.
What make their lives harder are the unnecessarily prevalent one-race myth and the tradition of championing pure blood in Korean society. Some Koreans show cultural contempt and racial discrimination to foreigners who married Korean citizens and immigrated from Third World countries that are economically less prosperous than Korea. Some international marriage consulting agencies fan the discrimination with distasteful ad campaigns, suggesting that foreign brides can be bought cheap.
It is not hard to imagine that the social discrimination and exclusion faced by immigrants based on marriage will also lead to the suffering of their biracial children, at schools and in society.
This is no time to look on with our arms folded. The birth rate will certainly not double suddenly, so the situation is not likely to change.
The problem needs to be solved through education. While some social organizations are offering Korean language classes to foreigners who married Korean citizens, their efforts are not nearly enough. The central and local governments need to join forces together. By offering vocational training as well as Korean classes, the foreign spouses should be given a chance to participate in and contribute to Korean society by developing their talents and improving their status. In a long run, such education programs will reduce social costs. However, we should not force foreign spouses to assimilate to Korea unilaterally. There should be a two-way cultural exchange. When the foreign wives have self-respect, the second generation will become socially healthy. In the end, it will reinforce Korea’s national competitiveness and make a harmonious multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society.
I started this discussion of international marriage with the lengthy example about Zhou Enlai because I would like to end this column with Zhou’s relationship with his wife, Deng Yingchao. The two were revolutionary comrades, and instead of having an elaborate wedding ceremony, they announced eight principles of marriage. They promised “to love, to respect, to help, to encourage, and to console each other, to have consideration for each other, to have confidence and mutual understanding.” These are what a marriage is all about. Even if it is between two people with different ethnic backgrounds and languages, there are no exceptions.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hoon-beom