Using a hanbok, the standard Korean gown, on the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics has revealed a faultline that runs a lot deeper than garments
On the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic video games, China featured a consultant from all of its 56 official ethnic minorities, clad of their conventional clothes. Amongst the group was a girl from the ethnic minority Korean inhabitants in China’s north-eastern areas, near the peninsula itself, a product of geography and overlap at a time when borders have been much less absolute.
The girl wore a hanbok, the standard Korean gown. Though this was only a illustration of Korean tradition, the show produced an indignant backlash on-line amongst Korean netizens and right-wing politicians, who accused China of “appropriating” their tradition. Beijing later clarified this was not the case and that the hanbok was, certainly, Korean, however this fell on deaf ears.
It isn’t a brand new cost. It’s been a continuous theme of China-South Korea relations in recent times, which has stemmed from a nationalist backlash towards Beijing. Meals rows have damaged out over kimchi, the standard Korean fermented cabbage dish, and when a Korean historic drama used Chinese language dumplings in a scene final yr, it was subjected to a boycott.
Likewise, when a Okay-pop star not too long ago praised a Chinese language athlete for successful a gold medal, they have been topic to assaults. The extent of sensitivity is off the dimensions, and it’s a metaphor for the 2 nation’s totally different sizes, statures, and historic relations.
As somebody who lives in South Korea, I do know that the nation has a wealthy, complete and distinctive tradition that its inhabitants may be very happy with. In a number of domains, Korean tradition has established admiration on a worldwide scale for issues each outdated and new. It boasts nice delicacies, artwork, and traditions, fashionable pop icons akin to BTS, and international hits just like the movie ‘Parasite’ and ‘Squid Recreation’. Korea has a lot to be happy with.
However its troubling historical past and relationship with China creates battle beneath the floor, a product of geography. South Korea has a substantial cultural overlap with its giant neighbor, one thing which fashionable nationalists wrestle to confess.
If you happen to go searching South Korea in the present day, you’ll steadily see Chinese language conventional characters referred to as ‘Hanja’, Chinese language conventional medication, the celebration of the (Chinese language) Lunar Calendar, and a society traditionally constructed on the ideas of the Chinese language thinker Confucius – one sharing many traditions and customs.
On the floor, it might appear an harmless remark to make the assertion that the 2 international locations have a level of mutual cultural overlap. Korea’s Joseon Dynasty, which lasted for greater than 5 hundred years between the 14th and nineteenth centuries, was closely influenced by China’s Ming and Qing Dynasties. But, Seoul’s fashionable nationalism, which seeks to painting id as absolute, rejects these hyperlinks. So what’s Korea’s has all the time been Korea’s, and the concept of China claiming any of it turns into a degree of assault.
Politics is a part of this impressum. The historic dynasties of Korea, earlier than Japanese imperial rule between 1910 and 1945, have been referred to as “tributary states” of the Chinese language Empire. This led to a saying in Korean referred to as ‘sadaejuyi’, which means ‘following the good’, or is usually extra critically termed ‘flunkeyism’ – one thing which twentieth century Korean nationalism started to reject.
This ideology envisions Korea as an unbiased nation, one which additionally strongly rings true throughout the DMZ within the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. That nation’s official philosophy – ‘juche’, roughly translated as ‘self-reliance’ – has as its core that North Korea have to be sovereign and never depending on every other nation for something.
As China has began to rise once more as a cultural and financial energy, South Korea’s inhabitants has began to really feel a creeping cultural insecurity from their highly effective neighbor’s affect and stature. It’s much like how this performs out in America, the place China’s elevated energy has provoked deep-seated issues. With out the hegemonic side of it, South Korea’s insecurities embody related themes, centering round a worry of a perceived lack of standing or displacement.
While China and Korea stay intently affiliated nations in observe, and have a sturdy financial relationship, the notion of how China views Korea has turn into a manifestation of those issues. The Chinese language are comfy saying that points of Korean tradition derive from them, however for the residents of the smaller nation, this turns into delicate – a perceived assault on their id and independence.
South Korea’s alliance with america has solely made this phenomenon worse, akin to when China retaliated towards Seoul for the imposition of the THAAD missile protection system in 2016. This enforced perceptions that Beijing was trying to drive its will on South Korea, and, within the midst of the altering geopolitical setting, raised questions on who Korea should owe allegiance to, and the way it locations itself between the superpowers.
It has led conservative South Korean politicians, such because the main opposition candidate, Yoon Seok-yeol, to actively accuse the administration and celebration of the outgoing president, Moon Jae-in, of “subservience” to Beijing. The shadow of ‘sadaejuyi’ hangs over South Korea’s politics, and tasks insecurity about its personal place on the planet.
For some, the entire blow-up over a Korean nationwide gown at a Beijing Olympics ceremony is tedious. It’s debatable that america has prompted extra hurt and violation of Korean nationwide dignity in observe, than what China has. Whereas Korean netizens bristle at China over kimchi and hanboks, america has exerted appreciable political management over Seoul by means of successfully controlling its northern border, by performing as a roadblock to peace initiatives with Pyongyang and maintaining the peninsula divided, by having the best of operational command over all the South Korean military throughout wartime, and by exerting management over its semiconductor business; the record goes on. Koreans don’t appear to be enraged by any of this, but the goal of their ire, China, has no such political dominion over the nation.
The central query revolves round what occurs because the world geopolitical tectonic plates proceed to shift. Korea didn’t be a part of America’s boycott of the Winter Olympics, nor has it joined in any of Washington’s anti-China initiatives. However Yoon, who stays the frontrunner to turn into president in subsequent month’s election, is urging his nation to “take a facet” – America’s, in fact – one thing that may put Seoul on a collision course with Beijing sooner or later. It could then turn into one thing way more critical, and doubtlessly way more damaging, than a row over attire and pickled cabbage.
We don’t see Italians complaining about Individuals utilizing pizza, or Irish, Scottish, English and Welsh folks all preventing over the definition of an ‘English/Scottish/Irish/Welsh Breakfast’. But, in Asia, cultural battle stands as a projection of political insecurities.
The Korean insistence upon cultural absolutism displays a insecurity, in a continent whose post-war historical past has been fractured by political division and unresolved battle, versus the fostered unity and reconciliation in Europe. South Korea has cast its personal footing on the planet and turn into happy with itself, however finally faces a looming troublesome alternative: will it look to its east, or to the west?
The statements, views and opinions expressed on this column are solely these of the creator and don’t essentially symbolize these of RT.