09-03-2008 16:11
Anti-Korean Sentiment in China Evolutionary

Huang You-fu, Chinese expert on Korean affairs

By Sunny Lee
Korea Times Correspondent

BEIJING °™ For the Chinese expert on Korean affairs Huang You-fu, the anti-Korean sentiment in China is evolution, not revolution. It was a gradual development and not something that suddenly erupted during the Olympics in a shocking manifestation in which some Chinese fans cheered against the Korean Olympic team, while ironically siding with China's traditional archenemy, Japan. Secondly, according to Huang, the climax of the evolution was the Sichuan earthquake when some Korean bloggers claimed "The earthquake was God's punishment to China." That greatly spurred the anti-Korean resentment in China to spread wider than ever. Thirdly, on the solution side, Huang noted that the Korean media's negative portrayal of China is the root cause that had shaped the Korean public's negative perception of China over time that was subsequently reflected in their belittling comments on China on the Internet, triggering Chinese resentment. Huang called for the Korean media to rethink its practice of reporting on China.

In a three-hour interview with The Korea Times, Huang talked about the anti-Korean sentiment and what went wrong from the Chinese perspective.

Korea Times: Who's creating the anti-Korean sentiment in China?

Huang: It's not the Chinese government. It's Chinese netizens. It was a view that started to show up in surveys from about two or three years go. It's not something that suddenly burst out, but a reflection of China-Korea issues that have accumulated since the establishment of the bilateral relationship 16 years ago.

KT: Some observers pointed out that the Chinese government has the ability to contain unwanted Internet content.

Huang: There are so many Internet sites and it's difficult for the Chinese authorities to view all the Internet postings. Besides, if the Chinese government moves to contain the anti-Korean sentiment, it will be criticized by the West for suppressing freedom of speech.

KT: Many Chinese people say Korea's successful bidding of the Dano festival (Duanwujie in Chinese; Dragon Boat Festival in English) as the "beginning" of it all.

Huang: Yes. And there was some misunderstanding from the beginning. At that time, the Korean academic community contacted a Chinese scholar, named Ou Bingan, to brief him about its plan to register Dano with UNESCO. Actually, Korea didn't register the Dano festival per se. What it registered with UNESCO was the local traditional practice in Korea's eastern Kangneung province on the day of Dano.

It was miscommunicated as if Koreans were taking an initiative to list what is originally a Chinese tradition with UNESCO. The Chinese are very proud of their ancient civilization. Ou shared this "news" with Chinese reporters. The Chinese reporters were very upset and it was reported all over China. Since I knew where the misunderstanding had happened, I explained the situation to people whenever I had the chance. But I think the people who know the truth are still in the minority. The majority of people only knew what was reported in the newspapers.

Then came the Korean claim that acupuncture originated from Korea. Chinese people started to think that Koreans were stealing their traditions one by one.

KT: In terms of disputes and debates on the Internet, Chinese and Japanese are not on good terms either.

Huang: Actually, clashes between Chinese and Japanese bloggers were more severe than those between Chinese and Koreans. But Japanese bloggers behaved more logically than Koreans. When the Japanese bloggers disagreed with what the Chinese said, they did it by pointing out where they disagreed item by item, such as 'firstly, secondly, thirdly°≠.' Korean bloggers were quick to respond with name-calling, rather than with logical arguments.

Then came the Sichuan earthquake. When it happened, Japanese bloggers put aside their verbal attacks on China and expressed condolences. Japan is a country that often suffers from earthquakes. So, it understood what the Chinese were going through. Korea also offered help such as dispatching a rescue squad to Sichuan. But some Korean netizens' provocative comments really angered Chinese people.

KT: These days, Korean media outlets are also paying a great deal of attention to the matter. But most are focusing on what caused the anti-Korean sentiment. We want to hear how we can work out the problem.

Huang: At the heart of the whole issue is the Korean media's attitude of reporting on China. Any news about China in Korea carries a negative connotation that looks down on China. For example, 'China is a country that sells fake products.' Media shapes the way Korean people perceive China.

There are some ideological components to it too. China is virtually the only remaining Communist country in the world that is also doing very well economically. So, it has become a target of Western democratic countries' criticism. Korean media often blindly follows the Western media's view. China didn't negatively portray Korea.

Korean journalists should also stop trying to draw the readers' attention by pursuing a negative or divisive angle in their China stories. A young "Joseonjok" (a Chinese national with ethnic Korean heritage) came to me the other day. He was very upset because a Korean reporter asked him if Korea and China were to compete in the same game, which side he would cheer for. That's an old question used many times before. Let's not ask such questions any more. Korean journalists should upgrade themselves.

KT: It's not just Korea that upset China. But there were also occasions when China made Korea furious, such as China's push for the Northeast Project that ignited an anti-China firestorm in Korea. Also, during the Seoul leg of the Olympic torch relay in May, some Chinese students' violence created quite a commotion in Korea. From the Chinese perspective, was there anything untold in the Korean media reports surrounding the incident at that time?

Huang: The Korean media said the Chinese students' violence reflected their arrogance and misperceived sense of national pride, looking down on Koreans. In fact, it was the opposite. Many Chinese students live under enormous stress in Korea where they feel discrimination from the Korean people who look down on them. The media in Korea also always portray China in a negative light. You can see it when you turn on the TV. Chinese students in Korea have a low morale. The Olympic torch relay was an occasion where their pent-up anger erupted. That's how I view it.

There are also 380,000 Chinese in Korea who are ethnically Korean. Do you know that 90 percent of them return to China, harboring deep anti-Korean sentiment? It's because of the mistreatment they experience in Korea. They are fluent in both Chinese and Korean, contributing to the Internet resentment against Korea.

KT: Do you think anti-Korean sentiment among Chinese people will hurt Korean business operations in China?

Huang: No. There are some movements boycotting Japanese goods in China. But not Korean goods.

KT: Where do we go from here? The future of China and Korea?

Huang: Before the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992, China and Korea were enemy states. After 1992, things became very different. China wanted to develop its industry. But the Western developed countries were too far away and too advanced in terms of technology for China to accept. Korea was close and had intermediate technology that China could benchmark and adopt in a relatively short period of time. So, China turned to Korea. Korea was also eager to expand its overseas market. So, many Korean companies came to China. Both Korea and China should engage in an effort to understand each other better in political, social and cultural aspects, building on the already good economic relationship.

On the political side, President Lee Myung-bak did something that was not part of the original schedule in his recent visit to China. He visited the earthquake-ravaged Sichuan region. That really moved many Chinese leaders. It also allayed their concern of Lee's apparent policy of leaning toward the United States. I think some misunderstandings of Lee have now been resolved. Chinese President Hu Jintao responded to Lee's visit to China, by coming to Korea right after the Olympics. These kinds of vigorous exchanges at all levels are helpful and should be encouraged.


Who Is Huang You-fu?

Professor Huang You-fu, a Chinese expert on Korean affairs for more than 40 years, is a sought-after figure. In the last two months, he has visited Korea four times. He is one of the most well known scholars in China on Korean affairs, advising the Chinese government on its dealings of historical issues with Korea.

Born in 1943 to an ethnic Korean family in Jilin province bordering North Korea, Huang majored in history at the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing and has since been teaching there. He was a visiting professor at Harvard University from 1987 to 1988, and lectured at dozens of overseas universities in Canada, Russia, Korea, the U.S. and Mongolia.

He is an author of some 30 books and 90 academic papers, including "The History of Migration of Koreans into China." Huang is currently director of the Institute of Korean Studies at the University. He is faculty advisor to 18 doctoral students. Half of them are from Korea.