Kimchi wars: Korean live-streamer faces Chinese web users' wrath

South Korean YouTuber Hamzy eats kimchi during a mukbang live-stream on her channel – on which she binge-eats food. She became caught in the crossfire of a cultural clash over whether kimchi, a fermented cabbage dish, is Korean or Chinese.
PHOTO: Screengrab/YouTube/Hamzy

A South Korean internet star who live-streams herself binge-eating various foods – a phenomenon known as mukbang – is in hot water amid an online dispute over whether kimchi is Korean or Chinese.

The YouTuber, who goes by the name Hamzy, found herself caught in the crossfire of this cultural clash when she added a thumbs-up emoji to comments online about China claiming Korean kimchi, a fermented cabbage dish, as its own.

Chinese internet users said she had insulted China by showing her approval for what were seen as anti-China comments.

Shanghai-based company Suxian Advertising, which runs Hamzy’s video accounts and online shop in China, was quoted as saying it planned to terminate its contract with her, shut down her online shop on Taobao, an e-commerce portal, and delete her videos. (Taobao is operated by Alibaba, owner of the South China Morning Post .)

“We are firmly against any action that insults China and do not allow any foreign bloggers we signed contracts with to have any attitude or comments that insult China,” Suxian was quoted as saying in an online notice. The Post has not independently verified the notice.

The criticism of Hamzy followed a social media storm over popular Chinese vlogger Li Ziqi’s use of the hashtags #ChineseFood and #ChineseCuisine in a YouTube video of her preparing a meal that included pickled vegetables made using a method similar to that for kimchi.

Li Ziqi, a Chinese internet celebrity, in a still from a video showing her pickling Chinese cabbage, radish and sausages using a method similar to that used for kimchi.
PHOTO: YouTube/Li Ziqi

Internet users circulated screen grabs of Hamzy’s thumbs-up.

“Chinese are saying kimbap belongs to them too, how infuriating,” wrote one internet user.

Another user hit back, saying: “Hamzy is a representative Korean mukbang, I hope you can speak out more for Korean cuisine.”

PHOTO: Screengrab/YouTube/Hamzy

Hamzy quickly apologised to her followers, saying that she often “liked” numerous comments and videos every day. It had not been her intention to give insult or convey the impression she was showing support for anti-Chinese sentiment online, she wrote.

“I have treated everyone as friends, and felt the passion of Chinese friends. If I offended anyone unintentionally or made you feel unpleasant, I apologise sincerely here,” she wrote.

“I really respect Chinese culinary culture, I hope everybody can sense that.”

PHOTO: Weibo/Hamzy

The diminutive internet celebrity – who has 5.29 million subscribers to her YouTube channel and reportedly earns more than US$200,000 (S$267,000) per month – also apologised in a live-stream on Saturday night.

Still, Chinese fans weren’t happy, with some saying they would no longer watch her videos.

“I feel sorry that I ever liked you,” wrote one user in response to Hamzy’s apology. “Nothing comes before loyalty to my country. I will not call you names, because I did once like you, but this is goodbye.”

Another commentator demanded she apologise on YouTube in Chinese, Korean and English.

“You should say that pickled vegetables are Chinese cuisine,” the internet user wrote.

Korean supporters were quick to rush to Hamzy’s side, with one writing: “I came to visit (your channel) after hearing that you responded firmly to China’s attitude. I will always support you. Fighting!”

Mukbang channels became popular in South Korea in 2010, sparking a worldwide trend of hosts consuming large quantities of food while interacting with their audience. Hamzy, an internet star at home, gained popularity in China when her videos began appearing on Weibo – China’s Twitter – and video-sharing platforms Bilibili and Xigua Video.

Hamzy has not responded to the Post ’s request for comments.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.