MANILA — Overnight and for most of Wednesday, the hashtag #CancelKorea has been atop Twitter trends in the Philippines, with Filipinos expressing disappointment over racist remarks supposedly from Koreans on another social app, TikTok.
The row started last weekend, when TikTok star Bella Poarch, a Hawaii-based Filipino, posted a clip of her dancing, exposing a prominent Rising Sun tattoo on her arm.
The tattoo drew criticisms, apparently from Korean TikTok users. One asked Bella whether she knew the meaning of the Rising Sun symbol.
“I was inspired by Jhene Aiko,” Bella replied, referring to the American singer who once reportedly had the same tattoo, until she covered it with a depiction of a dragon.
In comments on Bella’s video, apparently Korean accounts resorted to name-calling, referring not only to her but Filipinos in general as poor and uneducated, going by now-viral screenshots. Others used “dark” as a derogatory term.
“I’m very sorry if my tattoo offends you. I love Korea. Please forgive me,” Bella wrote in a Wednesday update, adding she intends to have it removed or covered.
“I did not know the history behind this tattoo and I will educate others about it,” she said. “I only found out, when Koreans told me about it on TikTok.”
The centuries-old Rising Sun symbol — a red sunburst with 16 rays — was used by Japan’s military during World War II. At the time, and decades prior starting in 1905, Korea was under Japanese rule.
As recently as September 2019, the government of South Korea demanded Japan to ban any use of the Rising Sun symbol during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the sporting event which has since been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Japan, in response, said it had no plans of prohibiting the banner.
South Korea’s demand stems back to its bitter wartime history with Japan, according to a BBC explainer in January. A portion of it reads:
“The Japanese rule was one of economic exploitation and hundreds of thousands of Koreans were pressed into forced labor to aid the Japanese expansion in other parts of Asia.
“The brutal regime also saw thousands of girls and young women forced to work in military brothels set up for Japanese soldiers before and during World War Two.
“Known euphemistically as ‘comfort women,’ they were forced into sexual slavery. Aside from Korean victims, the Japanese army also forced girls from Taiwan, China and the Philippines into the brothels.
“Many South Koreans associate the rising sun flag with a long list of war crimes and oppression -- and see Japan’s continued use of the symbol as emblematic of Tokyo’s failure to address its past.”
The complicated ties of South Korea and Japan became an educational topic among Filipinos on social media Wednesday, as many wondered why #CancelKorea has been trending.
The predominant sentiment, however, was disappointment with the uncalled-for racist remarks, with many Filipinos bringing up South Korea’s relationship with the Philippines, and achievements of Filipinos internationally.
Some said they were willing to put down their lightsticks — a symbol of support for K-pop acts — and hold up the Philippine flag instead, while others pointed out the supposed hypocrisy of Filipinos who may also have racist behaviors.
Here’s a look at some of the reactions: