Ethnic enclaves can help immigrants use ethnic solidarity to become upwardly mobile. Such upward mobility trends are especially likely if an enclave is socioeconomically diverse, which itself often results from successive immigration waves. However, enclaves can also experience internal conflicts and factionalism, which can hinder working-class co-ethnics from effectively mobilizing resources and becoming upwardly mobile.

This project focuses on the Korean enclave in Beijing as a case in point to examine the conditions under which co-ethnic immigrants manage to mobilize resources and pursue upward mobility under adverse conditions, i.e, where the enclave experiences strained solidarity. By strained solidarity, we mean significant levels of distrust manifested at the community level that impair smooth interactions among co-ethnics. The Korean enclave in Beijing is split (both socially and institutionally) between fourth-generation Korean Chinese rural migrants and recent South Korean immigrants. Nonetheless, the enclave has evolved into a flourishing residential and commercial district in which even lower-status Korean Chinese minorities have become increasingly upwardly mobile. The PIs examine the degree to which these mobility trends are related to various forms of cultural capital (linguistic, knowledge-based) and hypothesize that relying on transnational resources plays an important role in this context. Specifically, ties with both the recently arrived South Korean entrepreneurial class and resources available via their country of origin, South Korea. The study employs an original survey, interviews, and ethnographic field work involving Koreans in Beijing to test theoretically grounded hypotheses.

Broader Impacts This study helps us understand the changing nature of upward mobility in an increasingly inter-connected world. It may advance our understanding of how historically disadvantaged minority groups can employ bilingual and bicultural abilities and other assets (innovations in communication and travel) to improve their mobility chances in ways that would not have been possible even a few decades ago. Findings from this study may be of interest to urban planners as well as policy makers and economists. In addition, this case study contributes to the sociological literature by examining whether classical notions of group solidarity as a mechanism for upward mobility apply to contemporary transnational enclaves.

Project Report

Since the 1990s, increasing numbers of South Korean immigrants have traveled to China in search of entrepreneurial opportunities. By and large, these South Korean immigrants have relied on the help of third- and fourth-generation Korean Chinese ethnic minorities to help ease the linguistic and cultural barriers they face in the PRC. Much of the secondary literature on this topic indicates that despite the fact that the South Korean entrepreneurs have access to the help of these Korean Chinese cultural intermediaries and also come with high levels of human capital, many face downward mobility. In contrast, the Korean Chinese ethnic minorities, despite their humble roots as members of agricultural communes in the rural northeastern part of China, have attracted much scholarly attention for their rapid rates of upward mobility through entrepreneurship in the enclave. My dissertation uses ethnographic and survey data on the Korean ethnic enclave in Beijing to examine what might account for these contrastive outcomes. I used funds from the NSF DDRF to conduct a mass survey of about 800 ethnic Koreans who live in Beijing. I also used the funds to conduct and then transcribe interviews of over 100 individuals including South Korean, Korean Chinese and Han Chinese people who live and work in the enclave. Through my dissertation research, I find that the enclave entraps the South Korean immigrants from acquiring the necessary cultural and linguistic skills to successfully run their businesses, while at the same time, providing the Korean Chinese ethnic minorities with access to a lucrative set of resources that they can effectively monopolize due to their culturally hybrid background.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Saylor Breckenridge
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Princeton University
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