By Jeongnam Kim
(Former Senior Presidential Secretary for Education·Culture·Society, World Korean News advisor)
Even these days people believe that we are a homogeneous people of the same blood ever since the birth of our nation. They take pride with the fact that we are a nation of one blood.
This is particularly true with the people were educated during the Japanese colonial rule and shortly after the nation was liberated. Thanks to the highly elevated nationalism and spirit that swept across the country after the Liberation from the Japanese rule, the theory of our homogeneous nation was accepted all the more. And education since then was based on this theory and has been handed down ever since.
Have we really been a homogeneous nation from the beginning and been kept intact as a single-blood people ever since? Recently we began to realized that we are not a homogeneous nation. The recent transition and the reality of the present multicultural society of our nation might better serve as a base on which we no longer insist on our single-blood nation theory.
It is quite natural and good for us to think it over now and reconsider if we should continue to call for pure blood all the time, and remain closed as a society.
As of 2010, approximately 1.3 million foreign-born people, or immigrants – 2.7 percent of our population – are living in our country. This is far less than the 8 percent in Denmark, 11 percent in Norway, and 18 percent in Sweden, but it is more than apparent that the trend of increasing immigrants in our country will continue.
According to Jung Su-il, an eminent scholar of a civilization exchange science, our country consisted of 15 percent immigrantsin the early days of Goryeo Dynasty. In light of this fact, the recent trend is nothing to be afraid of, nor should it come as a surprise.
Jeong Su-il asks why we are making such a fuss about this immigrant problem when 40 percent of this 2.7 percent foreign blood is that of Korean descendants in China. Of the 200-odd Korean last names, almost half belong to foreigners who have become naturalized Koreans. Looking at the "pure blood theory" through this prism, no countries are as varied in blood as is Korea.
There are hordes of relics and cultural remains that make us deduce that we not only made population exchanges with Arab countries, but also some Arabs had become naturalized citizens in as early as the Silla age. There are some stone statues standing before antique tombs which are images of people from Western countries. And in some of the tombs, burial accessories, such as glass products made in countries as far away as Egypt, have been found.
According to the records of King Kongmin of Koyeo, there was a region in the present-day South Hamkyong Province where Mongols collectively resided. They were known to have been highly skilled in the method of laying and using Ondol, typical of our warmed-up floor. Yi Ji-ran, a great contributor to the establishment of the Koyeo Dynasty, was a Jurchen. He helped Yi Seong-gye in the fights against the Japanese invaders and stood by him in later years for his political activities.
He was naturalized as a citizen of Goryeo and was bestowed the surname of the Yi, the Cheonghae as his place of origin. According to Kukjo Bogam, in the annalsof the Yi Dynasty, Yi Sung-gye, after assuming his throne, gathered the Jurchens and helped them settle down in the northern region. He also "had them marry Korean people, engage in the military service and pay taxes just like the Korean people and had their settlement incorporated."
The Han people of China classified our nation as Tongyi, or an Eastern people, and Tongho, or an Eastern backyard. This classification included not only our people but also Yurchens, Mongols, Sukshin, and Sunbi tribes. Even today, in the depth of Baekdu Mountains, we can find some of the relics and legends which make us realize all these people used to live together, praising the Mountain Baekdu as their sacred mountain.
There is a King's pond in the Seopa area of Mountain Baekdu, which has a legend of the founding king of Ching China. Perhaps we were not a homogeneous people from the beginning of our nation's founding. The Dan-gun Mythology itself suggests it.