5+ Shocking Facts About Korean Ethnic Groups

KOREA! Korean People! What crosses your mind when you hear these words? Also after the drama, “Crash Landing on You”, you might be fascinated by the strict North Korean Government, North Korean’s aggressive dialect, and the lives of North Koreans there. Have you ever noticed, that in K-dramas, 99 percent of the cast are Korean, and rare are the chances you find any foreigner in Korean Dramas? Do you ever wonder about the Korean ethnic groups? In this blog, we will walk you through all the important things which you need to know about Korea and Korean ethnic groups. So let’s get started!

Korean ethnic groups

Korean Peninsula, native to Korea and southern Manchuria, is the most homogeneous country in Northeast Asia. Korean people are the world’s fifteenth-most populous ethnic group and Korea is an officially recognized ethnic minority state in Asia.

North Korea and South Korea are the two main Korean states. They speak the Altaic language and people are called; [South Korean/ Hanguk Saram / 한국사람 (Han nation people), North Korean/ Jeoson Saram / 조선사람 (Jeoson nation people).

Many countries attacked and ruled the Korean nation, and have left genetic imprints. In addition, while a wide range of Asian people has come to the Korean Peninsula over the centuries, only a small number of them have stayed permanently, including Westerners, Chinese, and Japanese. Koreans, on the other hand, have preserved their genetic purity and have survived as a nation with an amusing cultural legacy, religion, intellectual traditions, and shared linguistics until the present day.

Koreans tend to relate nationality with a homogeneity or “race,” and are referred to as minjok in Korean. Essential aspects of Korean identity are Common language and culture. As a result, many Koreans find multiracial or multi-ethnic nations strange. That’s why the partition of the Korean Peninsula is considered to be an unfortunate tragedy for both states.

Korean Peninsula’s brief history

Under the Kingdom of Goryeo (918-1392), the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1897), and the Korean Empire, Korea was a single kingdom (1897-1910).

The invasion of Japan and its occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945, the result of decolonization efforts following WWII nations, and the Korean War from 1950 to 1953 where the United Nations shows its effective strength cost the Korean Peninsula being divided into two

Korean Population-Present

Korean habitats in the current time are:

  • Total Koreans in the world-85.5 Million
  • Koreans in South Korea-51 Million
  • Koreans in North Korea-25 Million
  • Overseas ethnic Koreans-7.5 Million


There are several religions in South Korea, however, the Majority of the population is Irreligious aka No Religion – 종교 없음 (Jong-yo Eops-eum). Minority religions are Christianity, Korean Confucianism, Korean Buddhism, Cheondoism, Korean Shamanism, and other religions.

North Korea Vs South Korea

Korean Ethnic Groups

North Korea is a very isolationist country. Ethnic diversity, on the other hand, is still present. North Korea or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, with 24 million people, is a buffer zone, which means you won’t be able to enter without an invitation.

North Korea has virtually minimal immigration as a result of its history, sanctions, isolation, and rigid government, such as measures taken by the North Korean government to persuade its residents that they are one unified people.

This maintains the country homogeneous and has little contact with foreign immigrants. As a result of these factors, almost 99 percent of the population is ethnically Korean. Unlike North Korea, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) is a popular tourist destination and the 25th most populous country noted for its unique mix of invention and modern technology.

However, it’s worth noting that South Korea claims to have nearly the same ethnically Korean people as North Korea. Over 99% of South Koreans consider themselves to be ethnically Korean. As a result, the Koreans consider Korea to be their home. 

Immigration and Ethnic Minorities in North Korea

North Korea is racially and linguistically homogeneous, despite this, other ethnic minorities do exist there.

Chinese-North Koreans Community

The only other important ethnic group in Korea is the Huaqiao, a small community of Chinese that live in the northern part of the country.

With the cooperation of the CPC (Communist Party of China) and the North Korean government, new schools and rebuilt Chinese-language education were built, helping to sustain and grow Chinese education.

In the late 1950s, Chinese ethnic communities rounded up to 15,000, but they shrank during the next 20 years. North Korea terminated connections with China in the late 1970s, and when the USSR fell apart in 1991, Chinese communities lost more aid.

North Korea’s biggest business partner, China, has only recently re-established relations with the North. The Chinese population in North Korea is 4,000 -10,000. Regions with significant population; Chongjin, Pyongyang, Sinuiju.

Japanese-North Koreans Community

The Japanese ethnic group in North Korea originates from many backgrounds. Spouses of Zainichi Koreans who migrated from Japan to North Korea as part of a repatriation push in the late 1950s and 1960s are the majority of ethnic Japanese in North Korea.

When news of the severe conditions in North Korea reached Japan, the repatriation campaign was quickly halted. The remaining Japanese immigrants in North Korea are either Japanese people who have been kidnapped by the North Korean Government or Japanese Red Army defectors.

Russians-North Koreans Community

During Japanese colonialism of Korea, a tiny number of Russian-Korean repatriates, less than 10,000 people from the Russian island of Sakhalin, located north of Japan, went to North Korea.

Following the removal of the Japanese, some of these Russian-Koreans returned to North Korea in the late 1950s and early 1960s due to a labor shortage in the Soviet Union; they were blended into society and no longer form a separate ethnic group in current North Korea.

American/Indian-North Koreans Community

North Korea also has a small population of Americans and Indians. In the country, there are religious communities such as Buddhists, Chondoists and Christians.

North Korea features a few foreign defectors, like James Joseph Dresnok, one amongst six American troops suspected of switching sides after the Korean War. North Korea has 200 Western residents and 5,000 foreign visitors each year.

Ethnic Groups and immigrants of South Korea

Korean Ethnic Groups

Just like North Korea, South Korea, is also the most ethnically homogeneous country, having a small fraction of foreign immigration. In Korea, there are 1,741,919 foreign immigrants (est., 2015), accounting for 3.4 percent of the population.

Immigrants primarily come from China (CPC), Thailand, the United States, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Most Koreans exclusively engage with other Koreans on a routine basis, and Westerners frequently feel out of place. This varies depending on the city and whether you reside in the rural areas or urban areas.

Chinese-South Koreans Community

The Chinese make up the largest group of foreigners in Korea, but their numbers have declined since the 1960s as emigration has increased. A new wave of Chinese migrants entered Southern Korea after CPC and South Korea mended their ties in 1992.

A trade agreement in the early 1990s permitted Chinese traders to incorporate a business in South Korea. According to the most recent estimates, Chinese immigrants account for 50% of all migrants to the country. Chinese-Korean, undocumented Han Chinese immigrants and/or legal residents, account for more than 1,000,000 Chinese in Korea.

In Seoul’s Daerim neighborhood, there is a substantial and well-established Chinese community in Seongnam. Ordinary Koreans are distrusted by that Chinese-Korean group, which the Koreans refer to as Hwagyo (화교). They tend to avoid people who are foreign to them. Regions with a significant Chinese population in South Korea are; Seoul, Busan, and Incheon due to their quiet, pleasant, clean environment and education.

Approximately 140,000 international students study in South Korea each year. In this fast-paced metropolis, there are almost 40 Korean universities, including popular international schools like Yonsei University and Seoul National University.

American-South Koreans Community

Foreigners from the United States make up the third-largest group in South Korea, having 117,000 legal residents ( except the American troops that are stationed there).

Korean Americans who have returned to their country make up a large portion of the population. In addition, there are about 20,000 Canadians living in South Korea. The majority of Americans visit South Korea as business travelers or tourists. The majority are English tutors here.

Vietnamese-S. Koreans Community

Vietnamese-South Korean relations extend to when Ly Duong was forced to flee to Goryeo (1200) in Korea due to a series of power struggles. However, Lee Yong-sang (이용상), prince of the LY Dynasty and a Korean general, has its roots in one branch of the Lee (or Rhee) family in Southern Korea today.

After the split of Korea in 1945, the Vietnamese maintained relations with both Koreas. Many Vietnamese immigrants nowadays are manual laborers, marriage immigrants, or Vietnamese cuisine cooks.

Filipinos-South Koreans Community

The Philippines and South Korea have had a bilateral relationship since the Korean War ended in 1950. Engineers and professionals from the Philippines were crucial in the reconstruction of the country following the war.

South Korea had a fast economic expansion in the 1990s, which was accompanied by falling birth rates, necessitating more labor. As a result, many people moved to fill these roles.

There are 55,000 Filipinos residing in South Korea (est. 2019).

Loss of Population in rural areas resulted in a lack of young people, particularly young ladies, prompting many Koreans to marry Filipino wives.

Other Foreigners In South Korea

Korean Ethnic Groups

In the major cities, particularly Seoul, migrant workers from Malaysia and the Philippines work and reside here. Foreigners involved in business and education make up a small but growing group of foreign people.

Korean Diaspora

Migration from Korea started in earnest in 1904 and lasted until World War II ended. The majority of people left for economic reasons. That is how the Korean diaspora was created.

Following Southern Korea’s rapid economic growth, a growing number of its residents are working as technical employees, company executives, construction workers, and foreign students in other countries on a temporary basis.

When the country substantially improved its economic situation, a considerable number of South Koreans returned home since they faced many challenges adjusting to life overseas. However, there is no exact record regarding whether expatriate North Koreans have returned home or not.

Korean Americans

Ethnic Koreans living in America are called Hangukgye-Migukin (Korean: 한국계 미국인).

  • 6% Buddhism
  • 10% Roman Catholicism
  • 23% Unaffiliated
  • 61% Protestantism

Although Korean emigration to the United States began in 1903, the Korean-American community couldn’t expand to a considerable number until 1965, when the INC (Immigration and Nationality Act) was passed.

To U.S. Census-2017, 1.85 million Korean immigrants are living in the United States in 2017. Los Angeles and New York in the US have the largest population of ethnic Koreans and make up a modest percentage of the USA economy and are influenced positively.

Korean Chinese

In China, Ethnic Koreans are known as Chaoxianzu (Chinese: 朝鲜族), which literally means “Joseon ethnic group.”

  • Taoism
  • Buddhism
  • I-Kuan Tao
  • Christianity
  • Chinese folk religions.

They are primarily found in Jilin Province, northeastern China, and speak a Korean dialect of the Altaic language family.

Koreans are mostly engaged in agriculture and are well-known for planting white, oily, and nutritious paddy rice in the freezing north.

They like sports, with seesaws and swings being traditional women’s sports and wrestling and soccer being traditional men’s sports, for which it is known as “the home of soccer,” and they are also known for singing and numerous dances.

Their traditional meals are popular among people of many nationalities and are available in all of China’s major cities. New Year’s cake, cold noodles, “Kimchi,” and soups are just a few examples.

Korean Japanese

Ethnic Koreans in Japan are called Zainichi Chosenjin, Chousenjin (Japanese: 在日朝鮮人, 朝鮮人) if they have legal permission to live in Japan or have become the citizen of Japan citizens, or they migrated to Japan before the 1945 or if heirs of those immigrants.

  • Atheist
  • Buddhism
  • Christianity
  • Shinto/Korean Shamanism

After Chinese immigrants, they are currently Japan’s 2nd largest ethnic minority community. In 2019, Japan had a population of over 824,977 ethnic Koreans. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, 416,389 S-Koreans and 26,792 Koreans (who might not be North Koreans) are residing in Japan.

Restaurants/bars, Pachinko parlors, and labor are reported to be the major businesses of Zainichi Koreans. Discrimination in hiring forced Zainichi Koreans into the “3Ds” (dirty, dangerous, and humiliating) sectors.

Since the 1970s, progress has been made in the field of Zainichi Korean workers’ rights. Foreigners, particularly Japanese-Koreans, were not permitted to practice law in Japan. But now, in Japan, there are around 100 Zainichi Korean lawyers as of 2018.

Russian And Central Asian Koreans

The term Koryo-saram (Korean: 고려 사람; Cyrillic: Корё сарам) is used by ethnic minorities of Korean people living in Former USSR. There are about 500,000 ethnic Koreans that live there.

  • Orthodox Christianity
  • Buddhism
  • Protestantism
  • Catholicism
  • Islam

Uzbekistan (174,200), Russia (153,156), Kazakhstan (108,300), Ukraine (49,817), Kyrgyzstan (17,094), Turkmenistan (2,500), and Tajikistan (634) are the countries with the largest populations

The Koryo-saram rapidly built a manner of life distinct from that of neighboring peoples after arriving in Central Asia and Russia.

They established irrigation systems and became known as rice farmers. They valued education and adopted Western-style attire rather than the clothing worn by Central Asians. The first birthday and sixty-fifth-anniversary rites have been kept in their original form.

Wrapping Up

Korean Ethnic Groups

That’s it for this blog post. By now, you must have a detailed account of information about the Ethnic Korean groups both living inside South Korea and in the Korean diaspora. Did someone tell you how convenient it is to learn the Korean language on Ling App? On Ling App by  Simya Solutions, we bring you the best platform to learn the Korean language. We walk you through each part, step by step. We make sure that you are learning each aspect of a language and are not being bombarded with a load of information as a result. You can get access to countless unique and useful lessons while learning the language in a fun way.

Happy Learning!

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