South Korea has traditionally valued ethnic homogeneity. While that mentality remains, the emergence of a demographic shift is challenging the way South Koreans view national identity, or “Koreanness.” The immigration influx in South Korea is reported to have surpassed 3.1 percent of the total population in 2013 and has been increasing for the past ten years.
As a new demographic composition emerges, we can cautiously predict that this phenomenon will have an influence on public understanding of Koreanness. For example, this new attitude toward national identity can be expected to influence perspectives on immigrants living in South Korea, fostering tolerance toward the presence of other ethnic groups and their acceptance as Koreans. Of course, the increased number of foreign workers and immigrants may induce more antagonistic feelings against them. A transformation in national identity appears unavoidable. On the one hand, the Korean people may cultivate a more ethnically oriented national identity in resistance to “outsiders.” On the other, “civic” national identity may overshadow the ethnic element. The change in national identity is anticipated to be followed by other important consequences, one of which is how people view unification with North Korea, which is closely associated with strong ethnic identity. Will the strengthened multiethnic character of society increase civic identity? Will the shift in national identity make people less supportive of unification? These are the guiding questions in this chapter.