Skip to main content Skip to main navigation menu Skip to site footer

The Work of Waiting: Love and Money in Korean Chinese Transnational Migration

By June Hee Kwon

Cite As:
Kwon, June Hee. 2015. “The Work of Waiting: Love and Money in Korean Chinese Transnational Migration”. Cultural Anthropology 30 (3):477-500.


During the past two decades, Yanbian, the Korean Chinese Autonomous Prefecture on the border with North Korea, has been dominated by the so-called Korean Wind, a massive Korean Chinese transnational labor migration to South Korea. Korean Chinese have undertaken this migration as a response to the onset of privatization in China. In so doing, they have built an economy and culture based on remittances sent back by family members working in South Korea. The ethnographic focus in this essay is on those who are waiting for remittances or the return of their loved ones, processes that are conditioned by visa constraints and economic needs. I argue that waiting, for love or money, is unwaged affective work that generates not only a financial safety net but also a binding force between the separated parties. I also argue that waiting as an act of love is eventually transformed into a form of labor that requires managing flows of money, and thereby remakes the expectations and realities of spousal relationships. My ethnography of waiting, which describes betrayals as well as appreciative partners, elaborates on the experiences of those who do not actually migrate but who nonetheless function as key agents sustaining one pole of migration. The work of waiting enables mobility and provides a foundation to migratory circulations.


affect; gift; love; money; postsocialist China; remittance; transnational migration; waiting; work