Accusations of “stealing” the hanbok and “why don’t you wear your own clothes? “does she want to be Korean?” are just some of the comments thrown at Chinese actress Zhang Jianing when she was spotted wearing traditional Korean attire. As a Jilin province native, the 34-year-old actress was taking photos and videos to promote tourism and culture for Yanbian when her outfit inadvertently sparked a controversy online.
As a quick aside for some of us who are in need of a quick geography refresher, Yanbian is located in the eastern part of Jilin province. More importantly, it’s also designated as the Yanbian Korean autonomous prefecture largely due to the number of Chaoxianzu (朝鲜族)- ethnic Koreans with Chinese nationality, living there. Hence probably why the costume. But as you know, the discourse between hanfu versus hanbok has oft been a heated one. So whilst Zhang Jianing looked a pretty picture, her photos unsurprisingly triggered a firestorm of comments from Korean Netizens who accused her of “plundering” Korean culture.
“Is she doing Cosplay?” someone commented. “It’s starting again. When foreigners see this, they will think it’s just propaganda. Chinese people wearing hanbok, foreigners seeing it will think hanbok is so pretty. Then Chinese people will say it’s theirs which doesn’t help either.” Others even accused her of being a little thief. “Is hanbok yours?”
In a parallel scenario at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, a woman wearing traditional Korean dress at the opening ceremony previously stirred a cultural appropriation dispute. This sparked tension between China and South Korea, as accusations of claiming parts of Korean culture emerged. The incident highlighted the complexities of cultural representation on the global stage.
Meanwhile, state broadcaster CCTV issued an official statement in support of the actress through its Culture and Tourism arm. “Korean Netizens recently commented on Zhang Jianing wearing traditional chaoxianzhu costume causing heated debate. Traditional chaoxianzhu costumes are part of China’s intangible cultural heritage.” they stressed. As for Zhang Jianing, the actress just updated her profile photo to an avatar of herself wearing what else but the costume that sparked all the drama.