South Korean culture has taken the world by storm.
The whole planet has been swept away by popular Korean culture, be it dramas, movies (Parasite), KPOP (BTS) or the nation’s cuisine.
This surge of Korean culture throughout the world is also known as the ‘Korean Wave’ or, by the Chinese term, ‘Hallyu’.
South Korea long ago decided to be a top international exporter of popular culture and has managed to gain ‘soft power’ through influencing people by way of its image instead of wielding force.
The Government of the Republic of Korea has leveraged this soft power quite well by getting directly involved with officials making sure to include the celebrity influence in administrative and diplomatic events and thereby harnessing the ‘Hallyu’.
The result is that South Korea is now seen globally as a country with a rich culture and traditions offering welcoming conditions. Since the Republic of Korea has such an attractive image and reputation, it’s quite understandable why South Koreans take it personally when there is an attack on any cultural aspect of their country.
This is probably why the citizens of ROK showed such huge dissension when the authorities of the nation came out with their plan to build a ‘Chinatown’ in the Gangwon province of South Korea.
A petition was made online on the Cheong Wa De (Blue House) website against this move which garnered the support of over four million signatories.
Such huge numbers of the Korean population opposing the construction of a Chinatown and they see it as beyond reason as to why people of their nation should have or even want a ‘Chinese experience’.
There was also opposition to the building of Legoland on Hajung Island in Chuncheon which will have a Hotel solely to cater to Chinese tourists.
People in the ROK do not want that such China centric businesses to be constructed. In response China has commented that South Koreans are being overly sensitive and threatened by Chinese culture.
Koreans are concerned that such moves will result in the erosion and loss of their own culture. They are especially wary of including the Chinese mix in their country in the light of booming cultural disputes between the two nations.
It was not long ago that China made a claim on ‘Kimchi’ and portrayed it as a Chinese dish.
Thereafter, a huge backlash followed online as Kimchi is considered a synonym of Korea and is recognized internationally as a part of Korea’s culinary culture.
Citizens of South Korea accused China of stealing their culture.
There was also the matter of an incorrect encyclopedia record by a Chinese multinational corporation, Baidu, about a famous Korean poet, Yun Dong-Ju, who was also an independence activist under the Japanese Empire.
It became an issue with South Korean citizens which resulted in a fallout with China.
Koreans are of the view that China has time and again made efforts to borrow or steal South Korean culture. As for some, even China’s May Fourth Movement is heavily influenced by the March First Movement in Korea.
In recent times, there have been disputes between China and South Korea over the interpretation of culture and historical exchanges in both countries.
Koreans are very passionate about their rich history and take it as a matter of pride.
Any threat to their culture and history is interpreted as a challenge to their national sovereignty.
As China keeps making unfounded claims over things that are strictly Korean, people in Korea naturally feel unpleasant about Chinese interactions and opposition of the Chinatown also stems from this.
They view China as a nation that copies, but never admits it has done so.
South Korea is home to a huge Chinese immigrant population and there are many permanent Chinese settlers in Korea.
But lately, the sentiments of the Koreans are not in favor of China, especially when the latter is rapidly gaining military and economic superiority.
They fear having an authoritarian ruler right on their doorstep. They believe that China acts like South Korea is under its control.
Under Xi Jinping, China has treated South Korea unfairly because of the country’s allegiance with the US, which is on the other side of the trade war with China.
In the era of the Internet and global economic homogenization, integration and cultural exchange between nations is necessary and inexorable to create holistic international relations, but among few nations, this interplay of cultural singularity has become a determinant factor of diplomatic relations between the countries.