National controversy over ‘historical distortion’ . . .
The consortium behind the C$35.6-million Korean TV series, “Joseon Exorcist,” has announced its cancellation after airing just two episodes. The highly-anticipated historical drama featuring zombies was already 80 per cent complete, and SBS, the national South Korean broadcasting company, had already paid for the broadcast rights. The negative portrayal of certain historical figures and the use of Chinese-style props drew nationwide criticism, which eventually led to major sponsors pulling out and the complete scrapping of the show.
Drama over culture . . .
The drama hit a nerve with South Korea viewers infuriated with attempts at cultural appropriation by China in recent years. Beijing has long attempted to solidify the narrative of China as a multi-ethnic state that has always included the 56 minority groups living within its modern borders, including the Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Koreans. South Korean culture watchers charge that Chinese media and commentators have been claiming aspects of Korean cultural heritage (e.g. kimchi and hanbok) and celebrated national figures (e.g. Yuna Kim and Heung-min Son), labelling them Chaoxianzu (the Chinese word for Korean Chinese), as opposed to Hanguo (South Korean).
Reflection of Greater Anti-Chinese Sentiment . . .
The unprecedented cancellation of the high-budget drama underscores the existence of rising anti-China sentiment in South Korea, which have been building up since Beijing’s economic retaliation for the installation of THAAD in 2016 and exacerbated during the pandemic due to its negative associations with China. The percentage of South Koreans with unfavourable views of China has skyrocketed from 31 per cent in 2002 to 75 per cent in 2020. Despite this mounting anti-Chinese sentiment, Seoul continues to strive for friendly relations with Beijing, hopeful for a visit from President Xi Jinping in the spring. This mismatch between public opinion and policy will likely turn China into a wedge issue in South Korea’s coming elections.