I woke up to the news -not front page, just on a site for expats in China- that anti-Korean sentiment was spreading through China. This sounded like typical expat online overreaction, so I sought alternate sources. A brief CNN article confirmed that Korean products and broadcasting had been banned by the Chinese government (although no official word on any rampant Korea hate.) My response -both then and later that day when my dad sent panicked messages warning me not to tell anyone that I’m Korean- was to shrug and continue with my day.
I wasn’t worried, and I’m still not.
The 10 kuai shops are still selling K beauty product dupes. The convenience stores still have bottles of iced pomelo tea with pretty Big Bang stars on the label. Apparently they haven’t gotten the screw-Korea memo. The government’s beef is with Lotte, but there were always Orion Pies from the start,with nary a Choco Pie in sight.
I’ve had 100s of conversations with my local coworkers about Korea and Korean culture. One coworker only just got back from a trip to Seoul and Busan. Another says “saelanghaeyo” to me since that’s all the Korean she knows. All the TAs are studying Korean for fun or have studied abroad in Korea. Other coworkers talk to me about their favorite K-pop boy bands and K dramas.
They aren’t going to stop listening to G-Dragon overnight because Beijing says. A snap decision by the government doesn’t mean that every single citizen is going to blindly fall in line overnight. A collectivist culture is still made up of individuals.
My dad read the news and immediately assumed that I was in danger, when my actual setting didn’t match the headline at all. When I read the American news, it’s easy to believe that the country is going up in flames, although to the best of my knowledge everyone I know is technically physically fine. Not every single person in China is going to burn all their K-drama DVDs, the same way not every single person in America is desecrating Jewish cemeteries and sending bomb threats to mosques and temples.
Back in the states, a woman I met who had lived in China for 10 years warned me that there can sometimes be periods where a sense of Chinese nationalism pervades and other countries like Korea is looked down on. I made some snide comment about how it would feel just like the US, but it did still sound a bit frightening to me. But that was before, when “China” was a foreign entity and “people in China” was a formless mass. Now, China is home and people in China are connected to names and faces who are my friends and colleagues. If this should turn into a boo-Korea tidal wave, I will know that it’s not the whole entire country.