[FOUNTAIN]Barbwire: bleak reminderWhen the Shunzhi Emperor of the Qing Dynasty pushed out the Ming Dynasty and conquered China, he made a palisade out of willows to define the boundary in Northeast China. The purpose of the fence was to prevent the Han Chinese from moving to Manchuria. The hedge-building project continued to the reign of his son, the Kangxi Emperor.
The hedge was a little taller than an adult and was constructed of woven willows. A trench was dug in front of the hedge to keep people from getting near it. The fence is called the Willow Palisade or the Willow Fortress.
The first palisade linked Shanhaigun and today’s Dandong, and the second palisade continued to traverse Manchuria to Jilin. The Willow Palisade is the largest territorial mark in Manchuria. According to Chinese records, there were 21 gates installed along the palisade, and each gate was guarded by dozens of soldiers.
In the early days of the Qing Dynasty, that wooden fence served its purpose to some extent. However, as time went by, a considerable number of the Han Chinese crossed over the fence. In Joseon, more than a few people frequented the restricted area of the Qing along the palisade and the Yalu River.
In the sense that people could travel relatively easily, the area was considered a frontier district, rather than a border, where people were restricted from crossing and needed proper permission to enter. Therefore, many North Korean defectors have been crossing the Yalu and the Duman Rivers to fill their empty stomachs. In the late 1950s, the failure of the Great Leap Forward of China resulted in a great famine, and many Chinese crossed the rivers into North Korea in search of food.
Lately, 20-kilometer long and 2.5-meter-tall wire entanglements have been put up in the Dandong region. They are unsightly. It is part of the border establishment project Beijing has been promoting in the frontier districts with North Korea in the 2000s. Beijing is pushing away the existing frontier district and building a clear national border. It is presumed that the barbwire entanglement is being built in order to prevent a mass defection of North Koreans in case of emergency. Moreover, it is considered to be a physical boundary in preparation for a possible territorial dispute with the Korean Peninsula regarding the history of Gojoseon and Goguryeo.
Nevertheless, it is rather heartbreaking that the concept of a frontier is fading. We are reminded of the expansionist nationalism of China as well as North Korea’s provocation, which brings political dark clouds over Northeast Asia.
by Yoo Kwang-jong
The writer is the Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.