By Dae Ryeong Kim on September 8, 2012
The Korean immigration into Russian Far East started in 1861 and during the drought in Korea of 1863. The flow continued after that, another famine in northern Korea in 1869-70, producing a surge of something like 15,000. As the first Korean colonists received good treatment, more and more Koreans crossed the border. Eager to settle the Far East, some Russian governors under the last three tsars encouraged the immigrants with land grants, economic subsidies and even Russian citizenship (Gelb 1995, 392). By 1868 four large Korean villages existed in Russian territory. The total number of Koreans in the Ussuri region then exceeded 1,800, whilst the Russian peasant settlers and Cossacks in the same area numbered 6,200 (Kolarz 1969, 32-33).
The following dialogue between Captain Crown, commander of the Russian gunboat Mandjure, and James S, Gale, the American Presbyterian missionary in April 1903, demonstrates that there were many Koreans crossing over the border to come to Vladivostok area in Eastern Siberia. Captain Crown, the Russian commander, asked Dr. Gale, the American missionary, "Are Koreans capable of high attainment? As Gale replied, "We are experimenting; not convinced yet," the Russian commander went on to say:
I have never been in Korea, but know something of Koreans. It came about in this way: In 1870 my father was governor of Eastern Siberia, and on a journey in the winter from Vladivostok to Nikolaievsk, we passed many Koreans who had come north over the border. One evening, on the side of the roadway, we saw some blankets heaped up together and wrapped about something. My mother had one of the Cossack guards dismount and find out. The quilts covered two little Korean girls, who were almost perished. They were taken into the sled, wrapped up warm, and became members of our family. A month later we were called to St. Petersburg, and they went too. They grew up excellent students, both, one remarkably so, as she far outdid me in mathematics and English. After graduation, one went out to Vladivostok as a missionary of the Greek Church to her own people and there died; the other is to-day governess in the home of the Grand Duke of Constantine and has care of his little daughter. She rides out in her fine carriage and has her letter handed to her on a silver tray and is one of the most cultured ladies I know (Gale 1909, 226).A new big party of Korean immigrants which reached Russia in 1871 was directed to a point 217 miles west of Khabarovsk where its members founded the village of Blagoslovennoye (which means ‘the Blessed’).1 The bulk of Korean immigrants who came thereafter settled down near the Korean border in the region of Vladivostok (Kolarz 1969, 33-34) whence they introduced rice culture and limited silk-farming to the Russian Far East. Offshoots of the original immigration established colonies near Omsk and Tobol'sk in Western Siberia, and even Tiumen', in the shadow of the Urals ( Gelb 1995, 392).
Just one year after the first Korean missionary was sent to Siberia,2 there was what one might call the ‘Korean Exodus to Manchuria and Russian Far East.’ After gaining their victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, Japan expelled the Chinese and Russian embassies from the Korean Peninsula, which was followed by annexing Korea to Japan in 1910 to keep the nation under their government rule. From that year on a great number of Korean people began to migrate to Manchuria and Russian Far East. A statistics say that “[t]he number of Koreans in the Russian Pacific coastal areas, which had reached 23,000 in 1898, went up to 46,000, and to 52,000 in 1910” (Kolarz 1969, 34).
By 1925, when nearly all had accepted Soviet citizenship, in the primary areas of settlement 90,000 Koreans composed somewhat under a quarter of the population, in some districts nearly half. From 1923 to 1926 about 30,000 entered the USSR each year, producing an average annual increase of 17 percent: the population grew from 106,000 in 1923 to 168,000 in 1926 and 170,000 in 1927. Immigration tapered off thereafter, all but ceasing by 1931, but natural increase helped bring the population to over 200,000 in 1935 (Gelb 1995, 392-393).
The 1920’s and early 1930s saw the high time of Korean language among Russian Koreans in Far East. In 1926 the central government approved the adoption of Korean as the language of administration in Pos'et Raion (district) of Ussuriiskii Krai, nestled against China and Korea, and in 1927 instructed the Far-Eastern Kraiispolkom to form other district and village soviets which would conduct business in Korean, guaranteeing at the same time that in localities of mixed population the Koreans would have access to government and cooperative services in their own language and on the same legal basis as all other peoples. The government's concession of cultural autonomy during the 1920s and early 1930s made possible half a dozen journals in Korean and even more newspapers. Three hundred and eighty schools and two technical colleges taught students in their native language in the Primorskii and Khabarovsk regions alone, instructors arriving regularly from two teachers' training colleges and the Korean Pedagogical Institute. Numerous Korean clubs, "red corners" and libraries served the adult and juvenile clientele in their native language. In 1932 members of theater groups at several factories and educational institutions formed the Korean State Theater. In Vladivostok, Korean departments functioned in the Far-Eastern State University, the Institute of the East, and the Higher Communist Agricultural School (Gelb 1995, 395-396).
1 Note that under the Soviet regime Blagoslovennoye was later incorporated into the Jewish Autonomous Province.
2 The exact location is uncertain from the record. Possibly, they meant the Maritime Province nearby the East Siberia.
Suggested readings for related topics