Internet rumors roil China-Korea ties
By Sunny Lee
BEIJING - In the aftermath of Chinese student protests in the Seoul leg of the
Olympic torch relay, a Korean reporter covering China affairs received an
urgent late-night call from a Chinese reporter working for the Beijing-based
The Chinese reporter called to confirm an alleged "news" story shown on the
Chinese Internet in which some of the Chinese students arrested for the
violence had received a heavy 10-year prison term in Korea.
The Chinese Internet report cited the source as the English edition of the
Korean newspaper where the Korean journalist was
working. Chinese web forums, chat rooms and blogs were all enraged, the Chinese
The Korean journalist was alarmed. He asked around the office in the hopes that
one of the paper's 300 or so reporters would know about the story. He was also
worried: it would be embarrassing to learn of the piece because he was in
charge of China coverage.
In the end his search discovered no such article.
"Some irresponsible Chinese bloggers are hurting the Korea-China relationship,"
he recalled in an e-mail at the time.
The incident is one of many episodes illustrating just how volatile the
relationship between the neighboring countries can be.
And that's not the end of it. This week, when all China's attention is supposed
to be focused on the opening of the Beijing Summer Olympics, the Chinese
Internet has been flooded with rage against Koreans. In this instance a website
had been posting claims that Koreans believe that certain Chinese historical
figures, such as Confucius, were actually Koreans.
The website's claims coincided with another widely circulated Internet rumor -
which was also printed in some newspapers - that a Korean professor was telling
his students that Confucius was Korean. Some Chinese Internet sites and other
media have alleged that Koreans even claim former leaders Sun Yat-sen and Mao
Zedong as Korean.
Chinese anger over South Korean's alleged revisions of history started when
Korea successfully registered the "Dan-O" festival with the United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a Korean
tradition. Chinese, which believe it is China's tradition, call the festival duanwu
jie or Dragon Boat Festival.
Chinese media also reported that South Korea is planning to officially change
the name "Traditional Chinese Medicine" to "Korean medicine" and use this term
in the international medical community. South Korea allegedly plans to apply
for a UNESCO designation for Korean medicine as well.
South Korea also upset China in the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake in May.
A student at Peking University, who is from the earthquake-ravaged province,
said she saw news reports in which South Koreans said "the earthquake was God's
punishment to China".
The latest "Korean provocation" against China came from a reporter with South
Korean broadcaster SBS who snuck into rehearsals for the Olympic's opening
ceremony and leaked a video onto the Internet. Although SBS subsequently
offered an apology, the incident has continued to draw a battery of flak in
Chinese radio talk shows, newspaper commentaries, Internet blogs and gossip on
Chen Lillian, a graduate of China Foreign Affairs University, said she had read
an article which reported that some South Koreans claimed that Chinese
traditional calligraphy was also invented by a Korean.
"I think some of them are inaccurate," Chen said. "I think that in the old days
the concept of 'national territory' was more loosely defined in the minds of
people in East Asia as people traveled more freely between the regions which
are now the two countries. Today, as people have come to have a strong national
identity, some of the historical heritage that both China and South Korea had
shared together before, have become a source of dispute."
The issue is also raising temperatures in Taiwan. South Korean newspaper Chosun
Daily pointed out that unfounded stories were being printed in an effort to
create a negative public view of South Korea.
"The local Taiwanese media even falsely quoted Chosun Daily as the source to
dress up their article as convincing," the newspaper's editors wrote in
response. "All the misunderstanding would not have happened if the Chinese
local media did a quick check on our articles on the Internet first before
going to write a story based on what they gleaned from the Internet forums and
Meanwhile, South Koreans have their own share of grievances against China and
what they perceive as Chinese attempts to "steal" history".
Chief among such complaints is China's alleged effort to incorporate the
ancient Korean Kingdom, Koguryo (37 BC-668 AD), as part of Chinese history.
Koguryo was located in the northern and central parts of the Korean Peninsula,
southern Manchuria and southern Russia, and Korea firmly believes it is
integral to Korean cultural identity.
China also angered South Korea this week when it was reported in the South
Korean media that the Chinese government had been quietly making an effort to
claim the disputed E-oh Island as part of its territory. The island is
currently controlled by South Korea.
"The problem in all of this is that South Koreans are discussing the issues
among themselves on the Korean Internet, while the Chinese are discussing the
issues among themselves on Chinese Internet," said Chen. "They should talk to
each other to solve these problems."
"Even though ... people visit each other's country frequently, I think there
are many things the two countries still don't know about each other," Chen
Sunny Lee has lived in China for the last six years. A native of Seoul,
Lee is a graduate of Harvard University and Beijing Foreign Studies University.
(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please
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sales, syndication and
republishing.) "Koreans are stealing Chinese history," said Yu Tianyi,
a third-year student at the University of International Relations in Beijing,
adding that she also heard that Koreans are claiming that the great Chinese
poet Qu Yuan (340 BC - 278 BC, estimated), who is considered in China as "the
Father of Chinese poetry" as Korean. "This is not the first time I heard this,"
the law-major student said.