For many South Koreans, the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony was marred by the sight of a woman in traditional Korean dress accompanying the Chinese flag into the National Stadium. She was part of a group representing China's 56 ethnicities. South Korean critics, including both major presidential candidates, interpreted this as an attempt to present something from their culture as belonging to China.

The Chinese performer was wearing a hanbok, the traditional Korean garment worn by both women and men, Korean English-language news outlets noted.

One of those viewing the woman in a light pink and white hanbok had been South Korean Culture Minister Hwang Hee, who had attended the ceremony dressed in a red hanbok, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

No official protest

The Korea Herald quoted Hwang as saying there were no plans to lodge an official protest. The paper also quoted an unnamed official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as saying that the hanbok was an "indisputable" symbol of Korean culture and the government would remind the Chinese of the need to acknowledge one another's cultural traditions.

Park Byeong-seug, the Speaker of the South Korean National Assembly, also had attended the Opening Ceremony, the Korea Herald said. The paper quoted Park as saying he had conveyed Korean concerns about "the controversy" to Li Zhanshu, a leader of China's National People's Congress, who would inform "the relevant authorities" of the South Korean reaction.

South Korea had declined to join U.S. President Joe Biden in his diplomatic boycott of the Beijing games, the paper and other outlets have noted.

Presidential candidates respond

The two major candidates for the March 9 presidential election had been quick to respond to China's use of the hanbok, Yonhap noted. Lee Jae-myung, the candidate of the governing Democratic party, had expressed his opposition to China's "cultural appropriation" on social media, the news agency said.

The Korea Herald quoted Park Chan-dae, a member of Lee's campaign staff, as saying cultural appropriation had become an "extremely significant issue."

Yoon Suk-yeol, candidate of the main opposition People Power Party, had voiced similar opinions, recalling "our proud and glorious history," the paper said. A campaign aide was quoted by the paper as saying the use of hanbok had "tarnished" the ceremony.

Professor Seo Kyoung-duk, of Sungshin Women's University, was quoted by Yonhap as saying South Koreans needed "to stand up to China's cultural appropriation."

China has two million ethnic Koreans

There are about two million ethnic Koreans in China, with roughly fifty percent living in Jilin Province on the border with North Korea, according to The Diplomat. In 2020, China began phasing out the use of the Korean language at schools in the area, according to Radio Free Asia.