‘Kimchi War’ the sequel: People in China dismiss South Korea’s push for new Chinese name for kimchi

kimchi vs xinqi

It appears the culinary battle over kimchi is far from over.

When South Korea gave its iconic dish its official Chinese translation in July, it reignited a fiery social media discussion about the origin of kimchi, CNN reported. 

Renaming a dish

In its amendment of the official guidelines on “the appropriate foreign language,” or pronunciation, for some Korean foods, South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism declared that the official Chinese name for kimchi would thereafter be “xinqi” (辛奇). In Chinese, “xin” means spicy, while “qi” means unique or curious.

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Before the South Korean Ministry of Agriculture settled on xinqi, it reportedly considered 4,000 Chinese characters to find the best pronunciation of kimchi. In China, it has generally been referred to as “pao cai” (泡菜), which means salted fermented vegetables in Mandarin.

South Korean cultural authorities reportedly want the Chinese to use “xinqi” to clearly distinguish between Korean kimchi and traditional Chinese pickled vegetables from the Sichuan province, which is also called “pao cai,” albeit with different ingredients and preparation methods.

The notice stated: “With the use of the word ‘xinqi’ for Kimchi in Chinese, the ministry expects Korean kimchi and Chinese ‘pao cai’ are differentiated clearly and the awareness of South Korea’s traditional dish, kimchi, will be raised in China.” 

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Kimchi’s updated Chinese name, and the rest of the guideline amendments, are now a mandate for the South Korean government and its affiliates but are simply a recommendation for private companies. South Korean importers and Chinese media that need a Chinese translation for kimchi can still deviate from the notice.

Regardless, the move further stoked the flames of the two countries’ ongoing cultural feud, as indicated by the heated social media discussions that followed. 

Chinese social media users have mostly responded negatively to the new name as some believe that kimchi was influenced by “pao cai.” Others go as far as claiming that kimchi is China’s own traditional dish.

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Meanwhile, some of those who agree on the difference refuse to be told how to translate the dish in their own language.

Many Koreans are also upset about the new Chinese name, arguing that the dish’s name is already well known and should be called “kimchi” no matter the language.

Not the first time

South Korea first attempted to make “xinqi” the official Chinese name for kimchi back in 2013 to fight against the growing number of China-produced kimchi products in overseas markets, including South Korea’s domestic market. However, the renaming was so ill-received because, in China, “xin” usually was used to mean “bitter, suffering, laborious” while “qi” means “strange, odd, queer” to the Chinese people, according to Slate. So, the translation reverted to “pao cai” immediately afterward.

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The kimchi war continues

Kimchi’s Chinese name similarly sparked online arguments last year when China obtained an international certificate for Sichuan “pao cai” in November, NextShark previously reported.

Chinese state-run media Global Times called the certification, awarded by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), “an international standard for the kimchi industry led by China.” The piece further claimed that the “so-called ‘Kimchi (Pao Cai) Sovereign State’ has long existed in name only.”

Many social media users in South Korea viewed the report as China’s attempt to claim the iconic dish, sparking calls to “cancel Chinese culture in South Korea.”

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According to Reuters, some South Korean media platforms have described the issue as China’s “bid for world domination.”

In a statement, South Korea’s agriculture ministry said it was “inappropriate to report (about Pao Cai winning the ISO) without differentiating Kimchi from Pao Cai of China’s Sichuan.” It further iterated that the ISO-approved standard does not apply to kimchi.

Featured Image via Republic of Korea (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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