Jong Chol An, Who Are the First Koreans? The First Nationality Law (1948) and Its Limits

Jong Chol An, ‘Who Are the First Koreans? The First Nationality Law (1948) and Its Limits,’ Papers of the British Association for Korean Studies, Vol. 16 (2015): 24-44. 

Abstract:  This article deals with the First Korean Nationality Act which was spurred by the US Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) and enacted by the first Korean Congress. Although there seemed to be a debate on the Nationality Act before Korea was colonized by Japan, the boundary of “Korean” citizenship was cultural and self-evident. The family registry (hojk) was a critical criteria to determine who was a Korean, though not identical with a Korean nationality. The colonial government accepted this definition, so the fact that the first Nationality Act inherited this tradition is not so surprising. However, ambiguity over the bestowing of nationality upon descendants became problematic when the post-Cold War ethnic Koreans returned, especially those from China returning to Korea. The Korean government tried to deal with this issue with nationality reinstallation. Later, Korean-Chinese in toto became foreigners, according to Korean Court decisions, because they became Chinese citizens after the People’s Republic of China was established in October 1949. Thus, the first Nationality Act reveals the complex issue of the boundaries of Korean nationality, as well as the need for a new approach to this thorny issue by scholars and policy makers.