South Korea Ministry Stipulates 'Xinqi' as Chinese Word for Kimchi, Reigniting Long-Standing Dispute

The Korean culture ministry said it will use “xinqi” as the official Chinese translation for kimchi.
July 24, 2021 | 08:04
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Kimchi, the famous dish of fermented cabbage, is once again at the centre of a culture war between China and South Korea. Photo: Handout
Kimchi, the famous dish of fermented cabbage, is once again at the centre of a culture war between China and South Korea. Photo: Handout

South Korea’s cultural authorities said that they have given popular dish kimchi its first official Chinese translation, prompting an angry reaction on Chinese social media.

The Korean ministry will use “xinqi” as the official Chinese translation for kimchi, KBS World reported.

The revision took effect on July 22 amid recent controversy over the previous, misleading translation "paocai" which is a representative form of Chinese fermented vegetables.

The revised guidelines have deleted paocai as the Chinese translation. The ministry said it hoped that the changes will help eliminate confusion between Korean kimchi and Chinese paocai.

South China Morning Post said kimchi, a side dish of spicy, fermented cabbage, is usually referred to in Chinese as pao cai. However, this is also the name for a pickled vegetable dish that shares similarities with kimchi but differs in the ingredients and preparation method used.

The confusion has led to disputes between Chinese and Korean people online, with each claiming kimchi as part of their country’s cultural heritage. The intensity of the online vitriol has even prompted official responses from diplomats in Seoul and Beijing.

(World Institute of Kimchi) (World Institute of Kimchi)
Kmchi, a side dish of spicy, fermented cabbage. Photo: World Institute of Kimchi

The new translation is based on a 2013 study carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs. The study analysed 4,000 relevant sounds in Chinese, compared pronunciation between eight different dialects, as well as consulting expert opinions before concluding that xinqi was the most appropriate Chinese translation.

The new directive will be applied to the government and local governments’ websites and promotional materials … The directive will not be forced upon the private sector. The kimchi and food service industry can refer to the directive to translate according to the respective business environment,” the ministry said.

Long-standing dispute

The decision has reignited a long-standing dispute between China and South Korea that has taken on commercial and political implications.

On China’s social media platforms, there was a backlash against Seoul’s translation, with the topic attracting 160 million views on Weibo.

Making kimchi at a Seoul market.Credit: Jean Chung for The New York Times
Making kimchi at a Seoul market.Credit: Jean Chung for The New York Times

Some have focused on the origins of other foods, like the traditional ginseng chicken soup samgyetang, but the culture war has expanded to include disputes over the nationality of poets, the origins of various clothing items, and even the practice of acupuncture. One comment on an article published by the Global Times on messaging service WeChat, received thousands of likes and summarised online sentiment towards the name xinqi in mainland China.

In December 2020, Beijing won certification from the International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) for pao cai, a pickled vegetable dish from Sichuan province in southwestern China, which the Global Times reported as “an international standard for the kimchi industry led by China”.

However, that claim was refuted by the ISO, which clarified that the certification was for pao cai, not kimchi./.

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