Posted by: rbbadger | February 20, 2013

On Chinatown

Both Koreas have long been proud of their unique homogeneity.  While things are changing in the South, North Korea remains a quite ethnically homogenous country.  Nevertheless, there is an ethnic minority here known in Korean as the hwagyo and in Chinese as the huaqiao (華橋).  These ethnic Chinese came from Shandong Province in China over 100 years ago.  I’ve long admired the enterprising spirit of the Chinese people.  One can find Chinese communities just about anywhere.  One can find Chinese-owned businesses in many, many countries as well.  South Korea is no exception.

Incheon is home to one of the largest Chinatowns.  The Incheon Chinatown is home to a dish that is very popular with young and old alike in Korea, namely jjajjang myeonJjajjang myeon is a dish made with noodles and black bean sauce.  It was invented in the Chinese restaurants in Incheon.  When the Republic of Korea came into being in 1948, it was a rather nationalist Republic.  The ethnic Chinese here may not be too enthusiastic about the new president, mostly because it was under her father that some really onerous restrictions were placed on the ethnic Chinese.  They were limited in the types of businesses they could own.  There was a real fear that the ethnic Chinese would end up dominating all the business.  Basically, they were forced into the restaurant business, where much like Chinese in America who adapted their cuisine to suit American palates, the local Chinese adapted their cuisine to Korean palates.  They also couldn’t adopt Republic of Korea citizenship.  Most of the hwagyo have (or at least had) Republic of China (Taiwan) citizenship.  In Busan, there is a large Chinese school which has the large blue sky and white sun emblem of the Kuomintang.  These Chinese schools use the same curriculum that is used in Taiwan today.  Nowadays, you don’t have to be of Korean ethnicity to get Korean citizenship, but it certainly helps!

So, here’s the third gate leading into Incheon’s Chinatown.



Here’s the Chinatown community centre in Incheon.  I love the colours!

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Here’s the first gate.  This gate leads into Jayu or Freedom Park.

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Now, Jayu Park has something which irritates many Korean leftists, namely a huge statue of General MacArthur.  MacArthur is viewed differently by different people.  I have a book of great American speeches, which includes General MacArthur’s farewell speech in the U.S. Congress in English and Korean.  It’s an old enough Korean book to where it has many Chinese characters.

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Incheon has something else which should appeal to all fans of colonial-period architecture.  The Japanese were quite skilled at Western-style architecture back then.  Here’s an old bank.  This is now a museum, with many painstakingly crafted models of the Incheon port.


There was also a Japanese concession right next to Chinatown. On one side of this street, there are stone lanterns in a Chinese style marking the Chinese neighbourhood.  Those in a Japanese style mark the boundaries of the Japanese concession.


Finally, it is fitting to end with a photo of a statue of Confucius, whose thought played such an important role in the cultures of China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan.  I still think that perhaps he had the greatest impact on Korea, given that the Koreans implemented the strictest possible form of Chinese Neo-Confucianism.  Confucianism still plays a part with the language here.  I’m told that in China,  the differences between the polite and informal forms of the second personal pronoun are disappearing.  Not so in Korea where there are four levels of honourific speech!



These photos were from a while ago, but I realized I hadn’t posted them up here.  Incheon is more than just the port and the airport.  There are parts to Incheon Metropolitan City very much worth visiting.  I hope you’ve enjoyed these photos.



  1. Thanks, Robert, for the informative post! I was not aware of the pan-Asian contribution of Confucius. Also, you mention that the Chinese restaurateurs had to alter their food to suit the Koreans as they do for Americans. I wonder what the differences are between “Chinese food” and what Chinese are actually inclined to eat (spices, etc.).

    • Koreans often complain that Chinese food is too greasy. Also, in some parts of China, there is a tendency towards exotic meats that wouldn’t be eaten here except perhaps in times of severe famine. Given the Korean predelicition for spicy foods, I’m sort of surprised that Hunanese cooking hasn’t made more headway here. Hunan Province, which is the home province of Chairman Mao, is renowned for its very spicy cooking (and very hotheaded people). The Chinese food that is served here is sweet and sour pork, jjajjangmyeon (noodles in a black bean sauce), and jjambong, a very spicy seafood stew that is more Korean than Chinese. Confucius’ teachings came to Korea long ago, but were most rigidly implemented and enforced during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Confucianism also influenced the Japanese and Vietnamese as well, though perhaps the influence is a bit less than here.

      During the Joseon Dynasty, Korea was a tributary state of China. Four times a year, envoys from Seoul went bearing gifts for the Emperor in Beijing. He would also send gifts back with the envoys. All Korean kings were invested by representatives of the Chinese Emperor as well. Back then, most Koreans who were literate read and wrote classical Chinese. It was on one of these trips that Korean nobles came across the writings of Matteo Ricci, S.J. in which he explained the Catholic Faith using Confucian terminology and in classical Chinese. They converted to Catholicism and soon asked for priests to serve them. Among the earliest was the Chinese priest Father James Zhou Wen-mo, who is currently being considered for beatification as a martyr.

  2. I did enjoy your photos! And your blog! It has been so long since you updated! Did you do anything fun for Chinese New Year?

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