[Journalism Internship] Students’ take on recent Beijing Olympics controversy“The Olympics is an event that is meant to bring countries and their people together, to learn about and respect each other — and attempting to claim another country’s culture is bound to be faced with backlash,” says Lani Young, an American national who attends a university in Korea.
Young was talking about the hanbok (Korea’s traditional clothing) controversy from opening ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. She recalled first learning about this issue on social media. It reminded her of the cultural controversies in her own country.
The case goes back to early February, when clothes closely resesmbling hanbok was introduced by China as part of the culture of the Joseonjok — ethnic Koreans living in China, and one of China’s 56 ethnic minorities. The incident immediately sparked opposition from the Korean public, who accused China of “stealing” their culture, amplifying the longstanding cultural war between the two nations.
Song, a 21-year-old Korean student who asked to only reveal their surname, called the incident “diplomatic invasion.” Yoon, 21, another Korean student, said while she does see Joseonjok as a Chinese minority, it would be wrong to call their culture China’s “unique culture.”
Huang, a Chinese national, admit- ted hanbok is traditional Korean clothing, but in the same breath stressed that it’s also part of the Chinese minority’s culture.
Some foreigners in Korea said the issue is like a cultural tug-of-war.
“There was a similar conflict in Indonesia a few years back, when Malaysia claimed one of our cultural dances as their own,” said Muhammad Al Amin Suharwoto from Indonesia.
Suharwoto was referring to the reogponorogo incident, as it was called in Indonesia. Reogponorogo is the name of the dance, commonly known as an Indonesian traditional dance. The incident arose in November 2007, when the dance was introduced in a Malaysian tourism commercial, igniting a backlash from Indonesians of the Ponorogo region.
Young brought up cases of cultural appropriation back home, particularly the increased occurrence of African American and Native American cultures being misrepresented.
“People often do not understand or appreciate other cultures, or they refuse to credit other cultures for their contributions,” said Young.
Young compared this incident to similar examples from Korea and Japan. Hanbok, Korean traditional clothes, and kimono, traditional Japanese clothes, contain the essence of Asian culture and etiquette. However, as interest in Asia has increased significantly in other parts of the world, more and more people think of these clothes as just a fashion costume, she said. African Americans’ dreadlocks or box braids also have a historical background, and she explains that what white people follow as a fashion item is a kind of cultural invasion. Similarly, symbols and costumes used by Native Americans are made into Halloween costumes, far from cultural comprehension.
Kim, a Korean national who wished to only reveal their surname, suggested that any tension between China and Ko- rea regarding cultural issues should be resolved outside hard power channels.
“I think there is a need for national academic support and public attention. However, I believe that culture should not degenerate into a means of interest in the fields of politics and diplomacy,” Kim said.
Wang, a Chinese who also asked to only reveal their surname, said, “It is not up to us, but it’s up to the governments of the two countries to figure out a way to solve this conflict.”
“There should be a conference with experts on history and culture between the two countries to settle the problem, such as the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics issue, once and for all,” said Suharwoto.
BY LEE SI-WON, PARK JOON-HA AND CHOI SO-YUN [firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org]