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China blasted for 'cultural appropriation' at Olympics

February 5, 2022

Politicians in Seoul were angered by the display of a traditional Korean dress at the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. One lawmaker accused China of showing off Korean culture "as if it were its own."

A woman wears the traditional hanbok dress at the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony
A performer at the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony wore the pink and white hanbok dress to highlight the country's ethnic minoritiesImage: Lim Hwa-young/AP Photo/picture alliance

A performer at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics drew condemnation in South Korea on Saturday for wearing a traditional Korean dress known as hanbok.

The young woman wearing the pink-and-white dress was carrying a Chinese flag as part of a group of other performers representing the country's various ethnic groups.

China is home to one of the world's largest populations of Koreans living abroad. The two countries share deep cultural links.

But the appearance of the hanbok sparked anger online in South Korea, with many accusing Beijing of "cultural appropriation" and of "stealing" the country's culture.

"We deeply regret that hanbok appeared among the costumes of Chinese minorities at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics," South Korean ruling party lawmaker Lee So-young wrote on her Facebook page on Saturday

"This is not the first time China has introduced Korean culture as if it were its own. ... If the anti-China sentiment of the Korean people becomes stronger by leaving this issue as is, it will be a big obstacle when conducting diplomacy with China in the future," Lee said.

Korean presidential candidates call out Beijing

The faux pas is not the first time that there has been strife between the countries over cultural issues. South Koreans have expressed ire in the past over recent Chinese claims that kimchi, a Korean side dish made with fermented cabbage, is of Chinese origin.

South Korean culture minister Hwang Hee attended Friday's opening ceremony in Beijing. He said his government had no plans to officially complain to Beijing over the costume, but he added that the issue "may create misunderstandings" between the two countries.

Two rival electoral candidates for Korea's presidency blasted China. Leading candidate Lee Jae-myung called Beijing out for "cultural appropriation," while his main opponent, conservative Yoon Suk-yeol, also accused China of being "disrespectful."    

jcg/dj (Reuters AFP)