The main character in the South Korean anime series Super Wings is a plucky red and white plane called Jett who delivers parcels to children around the world. He is unfailingly cheerful but often a little inept.
For Chinese viewers Jett’s latest transgression was a sackable offence, however. What was the error? Relying on maps that do not clearly mark out territory that they regard as China’s sovereign soil.
Parts of Tibet, claimed by India, were missing, as were areas of northeastern mountains historically claimed by Korea.
Viewers also pointed out that in non-Chinese versions of the cartoon series – Super Wings is shown in 70 countries – the islands of Hainan and Taiwan are omitted from maps of China (or are obscured by a cartoon character, so they are not visible).
In addition, many in the audience felt that an episode about the Mid-Autumn Festival wrongly insinuated that the celebration originated in Korea. As a result, Super Wings has been removed from Chinese streaming platforms and is being “closely examined” by the authorities, the cartoon’s Chinese co-producer acknowledged in a statement.
Maps and territorial nomenclature can be deeply sensitive subjects in China. Three years ago, the central government forced international airlines to remove all references to Taiwan when listing flights to Taipei. And in 2019 it extended domestic regulations on map printing to products for export, meaning that any factory fulfilling overseas orders for maps or globes must depict international borders in line with Chinese stipulations (see WiC441).
On top of that a longstanding culture war between China and South Korea has opened up a series of new fronts in recent months with both sides claiming the other is trying to appropriate people or items that originated in their own cultures.
In one case in November, the Global Times claimed that China was setting new global standards for kimchi – a dish more typically seen as Korean in origin – after the Swiss-based International Organisation for Standardisation posted new regulations for the making of pao cai, a similarly pickled vegetable dish from Sichuan in China. In January this year Li Ziqi, a popular food vlogger, also uploaded a video of herself making pickled vegetables on YouTube, reigniting the controversy over who has the strongest claim to kimchi.
In February another feud erupted over Yoon Dong-Joo (or Yin Dongzhu), a Korean-speaking poet born in Jilin in 1917, when it was still part of the Japanese empire. China’s largest search engine Baidu refers to him as Chinese because Jilin is part of present-day China. But South Koreans feel that he should be described as Korean, as his mother tongue was Korean and every poem he wrote was in the Korean language.
The Global Times batted away the accusations by saying that artists with “transnational backgrounds like Yin should be honoured by both China and South Korea”.
More recently still a South Korean company that makes skateboard shoes has stopped selling in China due to an argument over the origins of the Hanbok – traditional Korean dress that bears some similarity to outfits worn in China during the Ming Dynasty.
Although relations between Beijing and Seoul have improved at governmental level since the crisis over a missile defence system in 2016 (see WiC316), flare-ups between netizens of the two nations are a common theme. These arguments tend to be easy to stir up because there is a lot of historical overlap between the two cultures.
Larger numbers of South Koreans can now speak Chinese, or use Chinese social media, which means that the two sides can exchange barbs with relative ease.
“You might have invented kimchi but we invented you,” was one of the much-liked comments by one Chinese weibo user at the height of the pickled cabbage debate.
“You guys did as much as you could to destroy your traditions but now you are claiming ownership of others’,” retorted a South Korean rival, referencing the Cultural Revolution that raged across China in the 10 years after 1966.
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