Adopting the Children

From the very beginning of the war the service men and women fell in love with the lost, homeless, hungry, ill and traumatized children and, in many cases, tried to adopt them and take them home with them to America. Here are stories of "informal adoption" and attempts at "formal adoption". Our stories are for the period up until the end of 1954.

It has been reported in official reports that by mid-1954 somewhere between 200 and, at most, 1000 children of the more than 50,000 in "official" orphanages, were "mixed blood". This means that 98 or 99 percent of all children in orphanages or still on the streets were children of two Korean parents. Consequently most of these early adoptions were children of two Korean parents.

Mascots. Service men in military units throughout Korea were picking up lost children along the roadsides and giving them shelter. When possible these children would then be placed in an orphanage or the unit would give a “mamasan” some money to take care of the child. Many of them stayed with the unit, though, and became a “mascot”, a type of informal adoption. The Air Force, especially, frowned on this practice and ordered the units to place their mascots in orphanages. On the other hand many young children grew up in these military units with the servicemen serving as surrogate parents for the child. Often such children could no longer speak Korean, only English, and later would be a misfit in their own country.


Mascots- Photos and stories.


Adoption through 1954. The bond between many GIs and their “mascots” or “houseboys” became so strong that they sought to formally adopt the child. In the beginning this necessitated an act of congress for the child to be admitted to the US but many servicemen persevered and were able to bring the child home to the United States. Often, since the serviceman was a bachelor, his mother and father would do the legal adoption with the understanding that the child would live with the serviceman when he returned home. Very few of these early adoptions were of “mixed blood” children as less than 2% of all orphans by the end of the war were children of Korean women and UN forces.


Adoption through 1954 photos and stories.


Adoption after 1954. Adoption after 1954 is beyond the parameters of this research on the relations of the GIs and the children of Korea during the war years. Yet, at the same time, the research undertaken for this project turned up a lot of material on later adoption practices. We felt it was important to include that material here as an addendum so those interested in adoptions during that period of time can have access to this information.

Adoption after 1954 photos and stories.

Culture Conflict and Orphans
George F. Drake, Ph.D.
On December 2, 2005, Tobias Hübinette will defend his Ph.D. dissertation in Korean Studies Comforting an Orphaned Nation: Representations of International Adoption and Adopted Koreans in Korean Popular Culture at the Department of Oriental Languages, Stockholm University, Sweden
Supervisors: Professor Staffan Rosén, Department of Oriental Languages, Stockholm University, and Dr. Lars Lindström, Department of Political Science, Stockholm University
External examiner: Dr. Koen De Ceuster, Centre for Korean Studies, Leiden University
Examining committee members: Professor Raoul Granqvist, Department of Modern Languages, Umeå University, Professor Tiina Rosenberg, Center for Gender Studies, Stockholm University, and Professor Johanna Schiratzki, Department of Law, Stockholm University
The dissertation can be read and downloaded at the Swedish Digital Scientific Archive:
The dissertation has also been accepted for publication by the Korean Jimoondang Publishing Company ( as monograph No. 7 in the Korean Studies Dissertation Series.
International adoption from Korea constitutes the background to this study. The forced migration of Korean children has by now continued for over half a century, resulting in a population of 156,000 overseas adopted Koreans dispersed among 15 main host countries on the continents of Europe, North America and Australia. Both the demographic scope, the time span and the geographic spread are absolutely unique from a comparative child migratory perspective, and still over 2,000 children leave Korea annually for international adoption. This massive intercontinental trafficking of Korean children was for many years silently taking place in the shadow of Korea's rapid transformation from a war-torn and poverty-stricken country to a formidable success story in the postcolonial world. Even if the subject of international adoption and adopted Koreans turned up now and then in the political debate throughout the years, it was not until the end of the 1980s that a comprehensive discussion started. Ever since then the adoption issue has been haunting Korea, from the mid-1950s and up to the mid-1990s the leading global exporter of children and by far the country in the world having sent away the highest number of its own citizens for international adoption in modern history.
This is a study of representations of adopted Koreans in Korean popular culture. The study is carried out by examining how adopted Koreans are represented in four feature films and four popular songs. After having given the cultural background to adoption in Korean tradition, the history of international adoption from Korea, an account of the development of the adoption issue in the political discourse and the appearance of adopted Koreans in Korean popular culture, the first reading takes up the gendering of the colonised nation and the maternalisation of roots in Chang Kil-su's film Susanne Brink's Arirang (1991) and Sinawe's song Motherland (1997), drawing on theories of nationalism as a gendered discourse. The second reading examines the issue of hybridity and the relationship between Koreanness and Whiteness in Kim Ki-duk's film Wild Animals (1997) and Moon Hee Jun's song Alone (2001), including its album cover, related to the notions of third space, mimicry and passing. Linked to studies of national division, reunification and family separation, the third reading looks at the adopted Koreans as symbols of a fractured and fragmented nation in Park Kwang-su's film Berlin Report (1991) and Clon's song Abandoned Child (1999). The fourth and last reading focuses on the emergence of a global Korean community in Lee Jang-soo's film Love (1999) and Sky's song Eternity (1999), including its music video, with regards to theories of globalisation, diasporas and transnationalism. At the end, the study argues that the Korean adoption issue can be interpreted as a national trauma threatening to disrupt the unity and homogeneity of the Korean nation and to question the country's political independence and economic success story that is so valorised in the master narrative of the nation.
Keywords: Korean studies, international adoption, adopted Koreans, postcolonial studies, cultural studies, nationalism, diaspora, representation, popular culture, reconciliation

Tobias Hübinette a.k.a. Lee Sam-dol
Ph.D. candidate in Korean Studies
Department of Oriental Languages
Stockholm University
SE-106 91 Stockholm
Tel: 46-8-16 15 88
Fax: 46-8-15 54 64