Hanfu vs hanbok: Chinese, Koreans dispute costume’s origins after actor’s Weibo selfie goes viral

Ji Siqi, South China Morning Post

Posted at Nov 07 2020 11:34 AM

Characters from mobile game Shining Nikki wear hanbok, which South Korean internet users argue originated in Korea. A Chinese actor’s post in traditional costume described as hanfu set off a clash between Chinese and South Korean internet users over the origins of the costume.

Costumes in a new Chinese drama have sparked fierce exchange of words between Chinese and South Korean internet users, amid rising nationalism and cultural consciousness in both countries.

At the heart of the storm was a photo posted on Weibo, a Twitter-like platform in China, by a Chinese actor named Xu Kai on Wednesday. The selfie shows him wearing traditional costume that resembles Korean hanbok.

Most Chinese audiences are familiar with the hanbok because of the 2003 hit Korean drama Dae Jang Geum. Criticism for the new drama, named Royal Feast, soon flooded in from both Korean and some Chinese internet users, saying that the costume design was stolen from Korean culture.

In response, the drama’s producer Yu Zheng reposted the photo and said: “This is definitely hanfu of the Ming Dynasty, and it cannot be described as ‘hanbok’ by the illiterate just because it was adopted in ‘Goryeo’, which was a vassal state of the Ming Dynasty.” Goryeo was a Korean kingdom founded in 918 which became the Joseon kingdom in 1392, and which was considered a tributary or subordinate state by China.

Chinese actor Xu Kai posted a selfie that shows him wearing a set of traditional costume which resembles Korean traditional costume hanbok.

Hanfu is a general term to describe the traditional Chinese clothing in feudal dynasties ruled by the Han people, the most populous ethnic group in China. The Ming dynasty, which was founded by Zhu Yuanzhang, a Han Chinese, ruled China from 1368 to 1644.

While receiving numerous approving comments on the Chinese side, the Weibo repost was soon brought to the attention of South Korean internet users. Satires and insults directed at the producer and Chinese people flooded into South Korean forum thegogo, saying Yu’s claim was groundless. On Twitter, Korean users also created hashtags such as #hanbok_isnot_hanfu.

The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty is a Chinese television series, and the costumes the characters wear bear a striking resemblance to hanbok – a traditional Korean costume.

“China‘s ‘Culture Takeover’ is a problem that has long been taken seriously. Chinese believe that Korean culture like K-pop or hanbok, etc, is theirs,” says one Twitter user.

On Thursday, Yu posted nine ancient Chinese paintings portraying people of the Ming dynasty on his Instagram account and commented “Korea is China’s vassal state in the Ming Dynasty! Korean costumes are adopted from the Ming Dynasty! Here is the evidence!”