RG242: Foreigners in North Korea

There are all sorts of interesting materials in the National Archives collection of Captured North Korean Documents in record group 242 that I introduced in an earlier posting. While I’m looking through files most likely to be of use in my own dissertation research, I can’t help coming across materials that are of little use to me but which might be a great starting point for research on other North Korea related topics.

DSCF0022 For example, if you wanted to do research on issues such as migration to and from North Korea, the captured records collection includes many lists and individual files on many hundreds of foreigners (overwhelmingly Chinese and some Japanese in the files I saw) kept by North Korea’s internal affairs ministry (내무서). The files I looked through last week were mostly dated from the middle of 1947 but there appear to be a lot of files from 1949. These lists of foreigners also come from different counties throughout North Korea. They list foreign residents over the age of 18 but the files also often list family members.

A Chinese Farmer (Named is Blurred to Protect Privacy)I flipped through one pack of these internal ministry files, with perhaps around a hundred individual files in it, all of them of Chinese residents.1 Each file contained a range of information including the resident’s name, citizenship, current address, place of origin, date of entry into Korea, occupation, religion, family members, and how well they are doing (生活狀態 생활상태) with their condition being described with such words as good (良好 양호), not so good (下 하), or suffering difficulties (困難 곤란).

Not so happy Chinese farmerThe files usually had pictures as well, but over time, the pictures that had been glued to their file often became stuck to the next file and/or smudged. Those pictures I could see clearly often showed less than happy faces. The vast majority of the Chinese listed in these 1947 files I looked at were listed as farmers, and almost all of them came from Shandong province, with just a few coming from Hebei. They mostly came to Korea in the 1930s and wartime 1940s, with a smaller cluster of files with entry dates from 1917 and another group who came in during the 1920s.

Anyone interested in doing research on migration to/from Korea in the 20th century, especially those interested in Chinese and Japanese who stayed behind in North Korea, at least for the first few years, can find a great deal of useful information in these files given the considerable quantity of them. Though I have only looked at one of these file packets, there are many of them in SA 2005 all throughout box 9 (remember, this original SA box number does not correspond to any actual box number in the national archives), including items 9/3 (100pp), 9/4 (which I looked at), 9/6 (100pp), 9/13 (684pp), 9/14 (148pp), 9/15 (4pp), 9/16 (640pp), 9/18 (1300pp), 9/24 (8pp), 9/27 (188pp), 9/35 (56pp), 9/39 (278pp), and 9/43 (150pp), all of which include such files of Japanese and Chinese residents in North Korea according to the microfilm index of the collection.

  1. RG242 Captured Korean Documents SA 2009 9/4 (in Box 161)  


  1. Really fascinating stuff Konrad. Did you notice that all these records come from Hyesan Township in Hamgyŏngnamdo (now Ryanggang Province)? Since this is right on the Chinese border it would stand to reason that there would be Chinese living there and presumably it would not be representative of the counties of ‘Pukchosŏn’ in general.

    From a different angle, one approach that would be interesting would be to compare the sort of information recorded in these documents with equivalent or similar documents from the colonial period. I’d be interested to know how much the nascent North Korean state simply took on the bureaucratic/administrative practices of the Japanese colonial state, even perhaps down to copying their census forms. Conversely, how much did they change the categories of information that they recorded due to their different concerns? For example, I notice in the form you have reproduced above that they record the monetary wealth of the foreigner in question and their membership of any party or ‘social group’ (which in this case is recorded as Hwagyo – overseas Chinese).

  2. Thanks Owen. You are right, Hyesan is not a good place to look for a diverse migrant population. It is the only one of these document packs I looked at, however, so I’m not really sure what kind of selection there are in the others. The other ones I listed at the bottom come from all over North Korea, including north and south Hamgyŏng, north and south P’yŏngan, northern Hwanghae, P’yŏngyang city etc.

    You ask an interesting question about copying categories etc. I don’t know about the censor records but I have been snapping pictures of a few examples where the documents use the exact same stationary as the colonial period, complete with hiragana, years labeled “Showa,” and with the Japanese administrative institutional names. More common, however, is the frequent use of the back of Japanese stationary or pages ripped out of books for forms. There seems to have been a major shortage of paper since the official documents of the period (often within a single package of identical forms) come from a hodgepodge of sources.

    The most commonly Japanese form used, however, was the telegraph form, which is found throughout RG242.

    It is a separate question however if the forms were changed slightly while the categories of the colonizer remained the same. I don’t have much to compare with since I’m not familiar with the colonial forms/categories. I can say, however, that there is a Soviet influence everywhere. Even as early as 1946-7 I’m seeing lots of translated Soviet textbooks on legal procedures, and lots of handwritten student notebooks on how to record things.

    The lists of villagers also use very familiar “landowner, rich, middle, poor” peasant distinctions etc., and I might try to post some images of these forms that I came across. Party and religion is on almost every form, at least for the first two years of the postwar.

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