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Lee, Yoon slam Beijing Games for 'cultural appropriation'

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A woman dressed in the traditional Korean attire, hanbok, waves during the opening ceremony for the 2022 Winter Olympics at the National Stadium in Beijing, Feb. 4. Yonhap
A woman dressed in the traditional Korean attire, hanbok, waves during the opening ceremony for the 2022 Winter Olympics at the National Stadium in Beijing, Feb. 4. Yonhap

By Nam Hyun-woo

The major presidential candidates criticized Beijing's apparent bid to place its claim on Korean culture, after a woman wearing hanbok, Korea's traditional dress, appeared representing an ethnic minority of China during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics.

The candidates promptly slammed the opening ceremony for reflecting China's apparent claims to Korean culture and history as part of its own. The main opposition party blamed the Moon Jae-in government for keeping silence on China's attempts to appropriate Korean culture.

The opening ceremony scene raised the eyebrows of the Korean public, after a female performer clad in hanbok marched with other ethnic minorities of China as they carried China's national flag.

Ruling Democratic Party of Korea presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung, left, and main opposition People Power Party presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol / Korea Times file
Ruling Democratic Party of Korea presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung, left, and main opposition People Power Party presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol / Korea Times file

When asked about the hanbok-clad performer, main opposition People Power Party (PPP) presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol said Saturday that "Goguryeo and Balhae constitute the shining history of Korea, which does not belong to others."

Goguryeo (37 B.C.―668 A.D.) and Balhae (698-926) are Korean kingdoms that Beijing has been arguing were Chinese since the 1980s, through its campaign called the "Northeast Project," in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

PPP presidential campaign spokesman Hwang Gyu-hwan elaborated on Yoon's remark saying, "It was the clear cultural pillaging of a sovereign country, and a disrespectful practice that undermines the Beijing Games' slogan of 'Together for a Shared Future.'"

"The Korean government was captured by the 'Chinese Dream' and failed to make a proper protest against China's history revision campaign and cultural claims, while keeping a low profile on various diplomatic priorities," Hwang said. "If there had been staunch responses (from the Korean government), an incident like what happened at Friday's opening ceremony would not have happened."

Yoon and the PPP have been calling for the Moon government to stand firm against China's pressure on various issues including diplomacy. As part of his election campaign, Yoon has been calling for deploying an additional U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system on Korean soil, arguing that Seoul should put focus on strengthening its ties with the U.S., which have been weakened amid what Yoon called the Moon government's "submissive diplomacy" toward China.

Ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung also wrote on Facebook, "Don't even try to envy the culture (of Korea)," adding that he opposes "cultural appropriation."

Lee did not specifically mention China in his Facebook post, but his chief campaign spokesman, Park Chan-dae, said in a briefing, "We express our regret over the practice of depicting hanbok as if it were Chinese traditional attire during the opening ceremony, and demand that China stop its cultural claims on Korea."

Lee has been highlighting pragmatism as his diplomatic stance, emphasizing that he will not set a priority among relations with the U.S., China, Japan and North Korea. Some have interpreted this stance as Lee taking a step closer to Beijing in the U.S.-China rivalry, compared to Yoon.

Another DPK campaign spokeswoman, Lee So-young, wrote on Facebook that "young Koreans' anti-China sentiment stems from these cultural and historical claims," adding that "if Koreans' anti-China sentiment continues to grow, it will be a huge setback to diplomatic relations with China in the future, and we should say what we have to say for the sake of pragmatic diplomacy."

Lee Jong-bae, head of the civic group Solidarity for Constitutionalism, enters the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office in Seocho District, Seoul, Sunday. Lee filed a complaint against Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Hwang Hee, for his remark that the Korean government does not need to lodge an official protest against China over its controversial portrayal of Korean traditional dress, hanbok, during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics. Newsis
Lee Jong-bae, head of the civic group Solidarity for Constitutionalism, enters the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office in Seocho District, Seoul, Sunday. Lee filed a complaint against Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Hwang Hee, for his remark that the Korean government does not need to lodge an official protest against China over its controversial portrayal of Korean traditional dress, hanbok, during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics. Newsis

Along with politicians, members of the Korean public have been reacting to the controversial depiction in the opening ceremony. Sungshin Women's University professor Seo Kyoung-duk, who is an activist promoting Korean culture, wrote on Facebook that, "We should not end up expressing rage, but use this event as an opportunity to clarify what is wrong in China's cultural claims and promote the fact that hanbok is Korea's traditional attire."

Culture, Sports and Tourism Minister Hwang Hee watches the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics at the National Stadium in Beijing, Feb. 4, while clad in hanbok, Korea's traditional dress. Courtesy of Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism
Culture, Sports and Tourism Minister Hwang Hee watches the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics at the National Stadium in Beijing, Feb. 4, while clad in hanbok, Korea's traditional dress. Courtesy of Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism
Culture, Sports and Tourism Minister Hwang Hee, who attended the opening ceremony as the leader of Korea's diplomatic delegation to the Beijing Games, told reporters that "Korea is located right next to China and it is one of the top 10 countries in the world, and (such a depiction in the opening ceremony) can cause a misunderstanding about the two countries' good relations."

When asked if he had any intention to lodge an official diplomatic protest with the Chinese government, Hwang said he "does not see it necessary," adding that he may deliver Korea's domestic sentiment to his Chinese counterparts, however.

Hwang's remark triggered further domestic uproar, with a civic group on Sunday filing a complaint with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office against Hwang, claiming that the minister is neglecting his duties.

A foreign ministry official said on condition of anonymity on Sunday that there's no room for debate regarding hanbok, and that it is Korea's traditional attire, which is a fact widely accepted by other countries around the world.



Nam Hyun-woo namhw@koreatimes.co.kr


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