Studying abroad in China are now a trend among the South Koreans. They will play a central role in improving relations with China.
Mr. C, an executive of a large corporation, is a China Hand. Although Korean by birth, he went to a high school run by Chinese Koreans and majored in Chinese at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. After graduation, he went to China and thanks to a five year stay, he established many connections there. When he returned to S. Korea, he was employed by a large corporation in charge of exports to China and has had a high-flying career ever since. It seems that he could never be replaced in his company as even the most difficult Chinese deals could be done, as long as he attended the negotiations.
Like Mr. C, all other China Hands currently thriving in S. Korea belong to the first group of students who went to study in China. They went to Beijing following the China Craze, which resulted from the establishment of foreign relations between S. Korea and China in 1992. At the time, there were only around 280 South Korean students in China. They have rapidly established themselves in various areas of Korean society, owing their success to the rarity of their fluent Chinese.
It is particularly remarkable that China Hands can be found in positions of economic importance. The children of the rich who used to go to the US and Japan to study business management have long since turned to China. The reason is that China plays a more diplomatically significant role in tackling the North Korean nuclear issue and future Korean reunification. Economically, S. Korea’s export to China has also surpassed the total of its exports to the US and Japan.
In a country like China where people attach great importance to guanxi (connections), Korean China Hands are becoming increasingly important. A personnel director from a large corporation said that their staff used to avoid being sent to work in China, but business with China has become pivotal and China Hands are now irreplaceable in every company. After retirement, these China Hands can still help small or medium enterprises do business abroad as consultants, thereby guaranteeing their standard of life in old age.
As professionals with Chinese expertise are more and more valued within Korean society, courses covering China issues are becoming more and more popular. The China programme initially offered in 2012 by the Central Officials Training Institute has become a required course for those who want to become a senior public servant. The competition in student places for China related majors, for instance Chinese Language, has set new annual records in every university with a Chinese department. A student from the Chinese department of a university said: “The Department of Chinese Language and Literature is the only humanities department that can guarantee employment after graduation and therefore enjoys tremendous popularity”.
Published in Confucius Institute Magazine.
Number 32. Volume III. May 2014.