Korean choreographer’s work called ‘Chinese dance’ by Hong Kong troupe as ‘kimchi wars’ extend to the stage

By Park Ji-won

HONG KONG ― The Hong Kong Dance Company (HKDC) has discovered to its cost that the “kimchi wars” can extend to dance, as it defends its latest program against South Korean claims of Chinese cultural imperialism.

On Wednesday, one of the choreographers behind the company’s “Myth of the Dancing Durumi” program, which runs until Sept. 18, demanded that the troupe remove the Chinese term “chaoxian” from the description of her work “The Moon,” a new commission rooted in Korean traditional dance, Korean shamanism and folklore.

Korean choreographer Han Hyo-lim, based in Seoul, told the Post she was surprised that the program notes claimed her work embodies “Chaoxian sentiments,” which to her is a specific reference to ethnic Korean culture in China and not a description that applies to her work.

Descriptions of the troupe’s outreach programs also use chaoxian dance and #ChineseDance to introduce the performance, using the term to describe traditional cultures from Korea as well as the Korean diaspora in China and Russia.

“I didn’t know they translated it that way. [The Moon] is a Korean dance. I will ask the company to eliminate the term chaoxian from the program,” said Han.

HKDC said on Friday that it had removed the term from the description of Han’s work and replaced it with “Korean,” blaming “a mistranslation from the original Korean text.”

The show also includes a work called “Of Sun, Rain, and Our Land” by Jin Yinghua, deputy dean of the College of Arts at Yanbian University, which is in China’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture on the border with North Korea. According to HKDC, Jin uses the term chaoxianju, which literally means chaoxian ethnicity, to describe the folk dance elements in her work.

The term “chaoxian” is understood differently in mainland China and Korea. In China, chaoxianju refers to the Korean ethnic minority in the country. In South Korea, chaoxian ― or rather, the hanja (Korean characters that are based on Chinese characters) that correspond to the term ― means the age of Joseon, a Korean kingdom from 1392-1910.

In Chinese,chaoxian is also the shorthand for North Korea, whose full name in Chinese is the “Chaoxian”
Democratic People’s Republic.

HKDC was also taken to task by Korean internet users for using the term?chaoxian?and the hashtag #ChineseDance to promote the show.

In a widely circulated post in one of the largest online Korean communities in Hong Kong, a person who saw the advertisement for the performance wrote: “I cannot see any Chinese words in the promotional book that show the dance is actually Korean dance […] I am afraid that China insists that Kimchi, Hanbok, and the Korean language are theirs just because ethnic Koreans in China use them.”

“#Chinesedance is a hashtag we always use in our social media content. This is because our company presents and promotes Chinese dance in general,” the HKDC said.

There has been a growing backlash among South Koreans against what they perceive as Chinese cultural imperialism regarding kimchi ― traditional Korean pickled cabbage ― and hanbok, Korean traditional dress.

In 2020, China received certification from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for pao cai, a pickled vegetable dish from Sichuan province in southwest China, which prompted Chinese Communist Party-affiliated tabloid newspaper Global Times to claim that the recognition set “an international standard for the kimchi industry led by China.”

Similarly, there have been Chinese claims that Korean traditional dress is derived from hanfu, traditional Chinese clothing, since it is a cultural symbol for ethnic Koreans in China.

A South Korean cultural expert working in Hong Kong said on condition of anonymity: “Korean people can get angry with the terminology and misunderstand the concept. I think the descriptions ‘Chinese dance’ and ‘chaoxian [dance] language’ should be changed to ‘Korean traditional dance’ and ‘Korean [dance] language.”

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