Kimchi wars: New China vs South Korea row sparked by internet star Li Ziqi's vegetable pickling video

Internet vlogger Li Ziqi posted a video of vegetable pickling using the hashtags ChineseCuisine and ChineseFood – but Koreans say what she’s making is kimchi.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Chinese internet culinary sensation Li Ziqi has sparked a renewed cultural clash between China and South Korea over kimchi.

The Chinese vlogger found herself embroiled in an international social media storm after posting a video on Jan 9, in which she makes pickled vegetables, using the hashtags #ChineseCuisine and #ChineseFood.

The 19-minute video prompted a backlash online, with some of her critics accusing Li of stealing from Korean culture by claiming kimchi is Chinese, and reignited a long-standing cultural clash between the two countries.

Some viewers said the video – which was part of a series Li began last year – was an insult to Korean culture, and there were demands it be removed from the internet.

In Li’s newest video, she shows how to pickle cabbage with bok choy, radish and sausages.
PHOTO: Screengrab/YouTube/Li Ziqi

“Do you have a kimchi refrigerator in your house? I have one in my Korean home,” one commentator wrote in Korean.

“It is true to some extent that kimchi was derived from the Chinese dish … however, it is important to acknowledge the fact that these are two distinct dishes,” another wrote in English.

“It’s from Korea. She should delete this video,” another commented.

The 30-year-old internet star – who has 14 million followers on YouTube and a combined social media following of 58 million – shot to fame when she began posting ethereal, dreamy videos three years ago that give glimpses of traditional Chinese culture through food.

In the offending video, titled, “The Life of a White Radish”, Li takes viewers through the vegetable pickling process step by step, from plucking the cabbage from the ground to pickling it along with bok choy , radish and sausages, and applying a spicy seasoning. She then uses the fermented vegetables to make a soup.

Li uses the fermented vegetables to make a soup.
PHOTO: Screengrab/YouTube/Li Ziqi

It’s not the first time Chinese and Korean internet users have clashed over kimchi on social media.

Beijing recently won certification from the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) for pao cai , a pickled vegetable dish from Sichuan in southwest China, an achievement Global Times , a tabloid affiliated with Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily , reported as “an international standard for the kimchi industry led by China”.

That claim was refuted by the ISO, which clarified that the certification was for pao cai , not kimchi. Pao cai is a typical Chinese pickled vegetable dish, but differs from kimchi in its preparation method and the ingredients used.

The 30-year-old internet star has 14 million followers on YouTube and a combined social media following of 58 million.
PHOTO: Screengrab/YouTube/Li Ziqi

Critics said the method Li showed for pickling vegetables was very similar to that used in making kimchi.

“It’s total nonsense, what a thief stealing our culture!” a South Korean internet user wrote on, a popular online site. But Li is not short of supportive followers. They have come to her aid online, quoting historical documents to show Chinese have been pickling vegetables for thousands of years.

Some mocked Koreans for “fighting over such petty matters”.

Cultural clashes between China and Korea aren’t only food-focused. They have argued about the origins of various clothing items, the practice of acupuncture, and even traditional holidays.

In November, Chinese comic-book artist Old Xian came under fire after she posted a drawing on Weibo, China’s Twitter, of four characters in traditional Chinese dress, known as hanfu.

South Korean internet users took to social media to protest that the clothing was not Chinese, but Korean hanbok , and accused the artist of attempting to steal their culture.

Chinese internet users responded by claiming that the Korean traditional dress had in fact evolved from Chinese culture, with various items – including hats – having first been worn during China’s Ming dynasty (1368-1644).

Li did not respond to the Post ’s request for comment.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.