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Are Koreans Really Homogeneous?Debunking the Theory of the “Pure Korean” Blood

Last month, the two Koreas held a historical event where the two Korean leaders, Chairman Kim Jongun and President Moon Jae-in, met and made a joint statement of peace and unity. Kim stated that the Koreas are “linked by blood as a family and compatriots who cannot live separately.” Both North and South Korea are indeed ethnically the same people. Blood actually has often been used in previous political events to bring the people together. What Kim may not have been aware of, however, is that South Korea is now home to 2 million foreigners. So how genuine would the homogeneousness which Korea has been often emphasizing be? Hence, this article will explore the “pure blood” claim in Korea and how it has come to be what it is today.

Are Korean People Really Homogeneous?

Upon first considering the question, “Are Korean people really homogeneous?” some might come to the conclusion with a resounding yes. There seems to be no question that the Koreans have remained relatively closed to the outside world and homogeneous for its stated 4,000-year history. Koreans are very proud not only of their unique language, history, and culture as they should be, but also of their homogeneousness which they proclaim with the phrase “pure blood,” expressing that they are the cleanest and purest race as descendants of a single ancestor named Dangun. However, one cannot just simply believe what the norms of the people claim to be true. There are mainly two points that can be made to refute the “pure blood” perception of Korea: the myth of the foundation of Korea and the founding in DNA.

Evidence for the Diverse Origin

The Myth of Dangun and Gija

Tracking down the origin of this norm, one comes to the myths related to the foundation of Korea. The myth of the founding of Korea as a kingdom stems from the legendary figure Dangun, the founder of Gojoseon which is the first kingdom of Korea. Dangun is said to be the offspring of a heavenly prince and a bearwoman, and that he founded the kingdom of Gojoseon in 2333 B.C. While the story is indeed a myth, some claim the founding story involved the coming together of two ancient tribes: the bear totem tribe and tiger totem tribe. Dangun may have been the founder of a kingdom, but he would be far from being an ethnic founder of a Korean race.
Perhaps what is most puzzling would be the fact that when Dangun was claimed to be the father of the first kingdom, there was also another mythical king named Gija. King Gija was said to have migrated to Korea from China and brought Korea a higher order of culture that made it on par with the Chinese civilization. Professor Kim Soo-ja of Ewha Womans University has remarked that Gija was always mentioned alongside Dangun, but Korean ancient history with the emphasis of only Dangun has become a historical fact since the 17th and 18th centuries. During this time, there was the invasion from Japan, the Manchu War, and much criticism arose concerning the Qing Dynasty. Maybe the Korean nationalists were afraid to mention the fact there was once a great king from outside of the Korean family of Dangun.

The myth of Gija has significances in the debate of whether Koreans are truly homogeneous. If it does have legitimate historic reference, it would mean that Korea has had an honourable king who was not from the family of Dangun, which debunks the “pure blood” theory.

Footprints in the DNA

Another argument that may be added to the historical reference to Korea’s past and mingling with other ethnic groups, is the footprint that Koreans hold in their DNA. Today, we live in a world where we can trace our ancestry through the type of genes that we have in our DNA. One does not need to actually take the test to see the surprising result that Korean genes can tell, as many people have already taken their DNA tests and uploaded their results on YouTube.
There are currently two services in the United States (US), 23andMe and AncestryDNA, that offer DNA testing to see where in the world one’s DNA came from. The results show that most Koreans are indeed more homogeneous in comparison to other ethnicities, as they mostly share similar genes from the Korean region. Surprisingly, however, many Koreans have seen results that show genes from areas that include other neighbouring countries such as Japan, Manchuria, Mongolia and China. This DNA test is a nod to the historical interactions of people in the East Asian region and a solid proof that debunks the theory of the “pure blood.”

Heterogeneous Korea Today

Today Korea is hurdled with a number of challenges including an aging population, a low fertility rate, the challenge of peace in the Korean peninsula, and an increasing flow of migrants to the country. Korea is already home to over 2 million migrants and the face of Korea is rapidly changing to that of a multicultural nation. These migrants include migrant workers, international students, partners of international marriages, English teachers and people who simply love to live here and have made it their home.
Not only are there many non-Koreans living in Korea, but there are an increasing number of mixed raced children born and raised in Korea. Claire Seungeun Lee addressed this concern in her article “Narratives of ‘mixed race’ youth in South Korea: racial order and in-betweenness”. One essay Lee looked into states, “I often heard kids shouting at me, like, ‘Wow, he is like yeontan (coal), so black, hahaha.’ Or, they said, ‘He doesn’t have to wash his face.”
Despite the strong perceptions that Koreans are homogeneous it is true that Korea is becoming more heterogeneous today. Therefore, it will be necessary to think of the effective ways to make a harmonious society that is inclusive of all those who live in Korea.


Possibly, Koreans are, as they have claimed to be, the most homogeneous people in the world. However, they are far from being 100% pure. Furthermore, South Korea today is rapidly becoming a popular destination for migrants from all corners of the world. Koreans need to continue to cater for the migrants who have made Korea their home and become a more inclusive society that will call the migrants their own and jointly hold hands as Koreans. To be Korean should not be based on how much Korean blood one has, but on their choice to make Korea their loving home and obtain citizenship. Dangun was a king that brought together two tribes and form the first Korean kingdom; he may even be said to be a king that practiced the policy of inclusiveness. Finally, Kora must rewrite the emphasis on the historical myth of Dangun and the “pure blood” nationalism and replace it with inclusiveness. Korea should be proud of the fact that it has become a destination for many who wish to live here, as well as a place in which to over 2 million individuals call it home.

Kevin Huh  jhuh@skku.edu

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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