- A Chinese performer wore a traditional South Korean hanbok during Beijing’s opening ceremony.
- Hanboks are known as South Korea’s national dress, but China says that because of its sizeable Korean population, it’s part of their culture, too.
- In the weeks since the opening ceremony, a conflict has brewed between Chinese social media users and South Korean celebs over the garment.
Several South Korean celebrities have found themselves in the middle of an online firestorm and facing a deluge of nationalistic comments from Chinese social media users over a traditional form of clothing — the hanbok.
The conflict kicked off when a Chinese performer wore a hanbok — an outfit with a long-sleeved jacket and a voluminous, high-waisted skirt widely recognized as Korea’s national dress — during the Beijing Winter Olympics’ opening ceremony on February 4.
The Chinese embassy said that the donning of a hanbok by a Chinese woman was fair game because of the two nation’s shared historical origins. South Korean politicians, however, objected strongly to the wearing of the traditional garb, with some lawmakers accusing China of using the Olympic stage to lay claim to Korean culture.
—Raphael Rashid (@koryodynasty) February 5, 2022
In the days since the Beijing Opening Ceremony, tensions around the hanbok and who gets to wear it have ratcheted up, with Chinese social media users criticizing South Korean personalities who shared pictures of themselves in the garment. It’s unclear that these stars were explicitly commenting on the Olympic’s hanbok controversy. Nevertheless, Weibo users attacked South Korean celebs — including BTS’s Min Yoongi and Korean actress Park Shin Hye — for wearing the garment.
Hanbok-related harassment and calls to be ‘canceled’
The hanbok dates back to Korea’s Three Kingdoms period (57BC-668AD), during which the kingdoms occupied the entire Korean Peninsula and a large portion of Manchuria, the latter of which is now located in modern China. While the attire bears some resemblance to the Chinese hanfu — traditionally worn by China’s Han ethnic group — there has been heated debate over whether the two garment styles influenced one another.
Many South Koreans saw the inclusion of the hanbok in the Olympics Opening Ceremony as a form of cultural appropriation, viewing it as an attempt by China to claim vital parts of Korean culture as its own.
Responding to the outcry, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Seoul said in a statement on February 8 that the hanbok belongs to ethnic Koreans everywhere, including those who live in China.
“It is not only their wish but also their right for representatives of all ethnic groups in China to wear national costumes to attend the Beijing Winter Olympics,” said the spokesperson. “The Korean people in China and the north and south of the Korean Peninsula share the same origin and have a common traditional culture including clothing.”
Around two million ethnic Koreans live in China, where they receive official protection as a minority group.
On February 8, BTS rapper Min Yoongi — better known as Suga — posted an old picture of himself on Instagram in the gonryongpo, a type of hanbok traditionally worn by Korean kings. In response, some users on Weibo called for BTS to be “canceled.”
“This is unforgivable. This man’s fans shouldn’t even stay in China. Are you even Chinese?” read one Weibo comment calling out Min and the Chinese fans who were defending him.
But r Chinese fans were quick to jump to Min’s defense.
“He’s Korean. What’s wrong with putting up a photo of himself in hanbok? I guess they can’t post pictures with clothes and should just upload nudes then,” wrote one Weibo user.
Two other Korean pop singers also received a deluge of negative comments for posting pictures of themselves in traditional attire.
Girls’ Generation’s Hyoyeon Kim, who shared a picture of herself on Instagram in a black hanbok dress, disabled her account’s comments section after receiving a wave of hateful comments. Meanwhile, Weibo users slammed K-pop singer Chung Ha for calling the hanbok “Korean traditional attire” during a live stream.
South Korean actress Park Shin Hye posted an image of herself in the hanbok on Instagram with the hashtag #koreantraditionalclothes. As of press time, Park’s Instagram post had accumulated close to 60,000 comments — many of them negative. Some commenters accused her of stealing Chinese culture and cursed her unborn child.
“In case you didn’t learn history, South Korea used to be one of our Chinese vassal states. You are actually Chinese people,” read another comment from an Instagram user named Mang Guo Ai Cao Mei.
“Vomit. I hope your child won’t be like you and might have some morals,” wrote another Instagram user with the ID Lanlanlan.
The anger towards Park also spilled over into Weibo. “Get lost. I don’t care even if I liked you before. You did this to yourself. Get out, bitch,” read one comment.
The drama surrounding the hanbok is the latest social media controversy to erupt during the Beijing Games. Last week, Chinese social media users attacked BTS leader RM for voicing his apparent support for a South Korean speed skater and slammed American-born skater Zhu Yi after she fell during her Olympics debut.
A cultural rivalry between South Korea and China also emerged during last year’s “kimchi wars,” in which social media users from both countries engaged in heated exchanges over the origins of the pickled vegetable dish.