China, South Korea are engaged in an online battle over the origin of ‘Kimchi’

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Kimchi Image
Kimchi is a traditional dish made from cabbage

The efforts of China to gain an international certification for Pao Cai, a pickled vegetable dish from Sichuan (a Southeast Chinese province), is turning into a social media battle between Chinese and South Korean netizens over the origin of Kimchi, a popular Korean cuisine made of cabbage.

China recently received an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification for Pao Cai, an accomplishment reported by a state-run newspaper as “an international standard for the China-led Kimchi industry.”

The South Korean media quickly disputed such a claim and accused the bigger neighbor of attempting to make Kimchi its own dish. This episode led to an outrage on the South Korean social media.

“Its total nonsense, what a thief stealing our culture!” a South Korean netizen wrote on, a widely popular web portal.

“I read a media story that China now says Kimchi is theirs, and that they are making international standards for it, it’s absurd. I’m worried that they might steal Hanbok (the traditional two piece clothing worn in Korea for formal or semi-formal occasions and events) and other cultural contents, not just Kimchi,” some argue.

Some South Korean media even described the episode as China’s “bid for world domination,” while some social media comments flagged concerns that Beijing was exercising “economic coercion.”

Chinese netizens assert Kimchi as the traditional dish of their country on China’s Twitter-like social networking platform Weibo, as most of the Kimchi consumed in South Korea is made in China.

“Well, if you don’t meet the standard, then you’re not kimchi,” one wrote on Weibo. “Even the pronunciation of kimchi originated from Chinese, what else is there to say,” wrote another.

South Korea’s agriculture ministry recently released a statement saying that the ISO approved standard does not apply to Kimchi.

“Kimchi is not just fermented cabbage but a central part of Korea’s food culture, and the process of making it has already been recognized as a global standard for nearly two decades. It is inappropriate to report (about Pao Cai winning the ISO) without differentiating Kimchi from Pao Cai of China’s Sichuan,” the statement said.

China began the process of standardizing pao chai in 2019, and five ISO members including China, Turkey, India, Iran and Serbia approved categories of pao cai last week, according to the ISO document, which said, “This document does not apply to kimchi.”

The whole process of making kimchi, called “kimjang” which includes washing and salting vegetables, saucing them with garlic, red pepper and salted fish, and burying them underground in breathable clay jars was designated UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013.

In response to the neighboring nation’s attempt to lay claim to Korean traditional food, the South Korean government vowed to step up efforts to promote kimchi at home and abroad by conducting academic research on its health benefits and supporting cultural events to boost related businesses.