Beijing Olympics Controversies Stoke Tension with China

Charges of cultural appropriation and poor sportsmanship threw gas on the simmering anti-China sentiment.

Beijing Olympics Controversies Stoke Tension with China

Credit: Public domain.

Koreans’ annoyance at China has been simmering for the past few years; with the Winter Games, these emotions are approaching a boiling point. First came the charge of cultural appropriation, when the Opening Ceremony featured an actress wearing a Korean traditional dress. (See previous coverage, “Kimchi is Chinese?”) That charge was overblown; China is a multiethnic nation, and it regularly features the Korean Chinese in international events.

More legitimate was the anger from the semifinal race for men’s 1000m short track skating, a sport which South Korea has dominated for decades. Although Korean skaters Hwang Dae-heon 황대헌 and Lee Jun-seo 이준서 came first and second of their group, they were disqualified based on a dubious foul call, resulting in a  Chinese gold medal for the event.

Emotions ran high in Korea. A small band of conservative civic groups held a protest in front of the Chinese embassy in Seoul, tearing off the Chinese flag. Both major presidential candidates issued a statement in protest. Democratic Party’s Lee Jae-myung 이재명 민주당 후보 said “the Olympics is the stage for global harmony, but it’s turning into China’s house party.” People Power Party’s Yun Seok-yeol 윤석열 국민의힘 후보 said he empathized with the public outrage, adding “sportsmanship is the foundation of liberal democracy.”

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