A cultural war over fermented cabbages between China and South Korea has gone extra spicy after Beijing won global certification for “pao cai,” the Chinese version of kimchi.
The certification, awarded by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), was reportedly described by the state-run Global Times as “an international standard for the kimchi industry led by China.”
Pao cai is a pickled vegetable dish produced mostly in Sichuan province, whose authorities had lobbied for the certification, according to the BBC.
Last week, the application was approved by five ISO members, including India, Iran, Serbia, Turkey and China itself.
The official ISO listing specifically states that “this document does not apply to kimchi.”
For this reason, the fact that the Global Times used “kimchi” did not sit well on Korean social media, prompting users to accuse China of stealing their national dish.
“It’s total nonsense, what a thief stealing our culture!” one wrote on South Korean portal Naver.com, according to Reuters.
Another noted, “I read a media story that China now says kimchi is theirs, and that they are making international standard for it. It’s absurd. I’m worried that they might steal Hanbok and other cultural contents, not just kimchi.”
Some also described China’s effort as a “bid for world domination,” while others put it as a form of “economic coercion.”
Chinese social media users, on the other hand, reportedly claimed kimchi as their own. Some argued that most of South Korea’s kimchi, after all, are made in China.
“Well, if you don’t meet the standard, then you’re not kimchi,” one wrote on Weibo, according to The Guardian.
Another noted, “Even the pronunciation of kimchi originated from Chinese, what else is there to say.”
In a statement on Monday, South Korea’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs pointed out that the certification “has nothing to do with kimchi.”
“We need to understand that pao cai is different from kimchi,” the ministry said, according to Yonhap News.
The ministry added that the industrial standard for kimchi has been recognized since 2001 by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), an organ of the United Nations.
Furthermore, “kimjang,” the process of making kimchi, was designated as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013.
Kimchi has served as a focal point for tension between China and South Korea for years. Japan, another pickle-producing neighbor, has also been caught in the spat.
In 2014, the South Korean government asked China, Hong Kong and Taiwan to retire the word “pao cai,” proposing that they use the term “xin qi.” However, this was rejected by the Chinese, who argued that “xin” usually means “bitter,” “suffering” or “laborious,” while “qi” means “strange,” “odd” or “queer,” according to Slate.
Feature Images via Getty (left), Liu Yishou Food (right; screenshot, cropped and collaged)