▪ This article is based on the final project for Professor Chen Haohan’s course "Global Information War". Our research topic is the cultural appropriation between China and South Korea. Specifically, we investigated why "Lunar New Year" became more often-mentioned than "Chinese New Year" on social media.
▪ We use Information Tracer as a starting point to identify social media platforms and accounts that facilitate the spread of "Lunar New Year".
▪ We find that activists and celebrities have the most influence over cultural appropriation in South Korea out of four prominent categories – Key opinion leader(KOL), Celebrity, Activist and International Commercials.
There have been multiple cultural disputes or even confrontations between China and South Korea in recent years. For example, many Chinese netizens and South Korean netizens are debating whether Hanfu/Hanbok, Paocai/Kimchi, or some traditional festivals are from China or South Korea. Given today's Internet on which falsehood spreads faster than truth, people might mistake some Chinese culture as originated in Korea.
In this project, we select Chinese New Year / Lunar New Year as our focus and investigate why the spread of "Lunar New Year" is more successful than "Chinese New Year" on the Internet in recent years (2022-2023). We also reveal what are efficient ways to convey messages to a global audience.
We used both quantitative and qualitative methods to examine this cultural appropriation event. For the quantitative method, we used Information Tracer to collect, investigate and provide context for how information is spread across different social media platforms. We designed a three-phase approach. First, we used Information Tracer to search for posts with "Chinese New Year" or "Lunar New Year". We then downloaded data as CSV files and analyzed further in R Studio. Figure 1 outlines the full process.
For qualitative research, we categorized social media accounts into four groups to test which one is more influential – Key opinion leader (KOL), Celebrity, Activist and International Commercials. We focused on how the Pro-Korean side promoted "Lunar New Year" and did a close examination of their posts and comments. We also interviewed our classmates who are neither Chinese nor Korean. We asked about their views on using "Chinese New Year" or "Lunar New Year".
Results and findings
Overall trend: "Lunar New Year" taking over "Chinese New Year" on Twitter
From 2021 to 2023, usage of both "Chinese New Year" and "Lunar New Year" on Twitter are much higher than previous years (2012-2020). This is potentially due to people interacting more through social network platforms during the COVID-19.
Starting from 2021, the number of posts mentioning "Lunar New Year" suddenly increased, and surpassed "China New Year" in 2022. Later we will show how campaigns launched by Korean individuals and organizations facilitated this change.
We also notice that the number of posts that mention both "Chinese New Year" and "Lunar New Year" increased in 2023. This may be due to two reasons – (1) more people began to express their opinions on social media, arguing whether it is "Lunar New Year" or "Chinese New Year"; (2) bloggers began to pay more attention to cultural diversity, and mentioned "Chinese New Year" and "Lunar New Year" together when sending New Year greetings.
Analysis of influencers and key opinion leaders
1. The initiator of "Lunar New Year" Movement – Korean Professor Xu Jingde
Xu Jingde, a Korean professor, potentially first coined the term "Lunar new year". Xu organizes various online campaigns. He also tells global audience to call "Lunar New Year" instead of "Chinese New Year".
2. Petition campaigns created by VANK on Change.org
Voluntary Agency Network Of Korea (VANK) has 7,423 Twitter followers and posts 6,250 tweets (until April 2023). VANK has a larger influence on an online petition website called "Change.org". Change.org is the world’s largest petition platform. It allows citizens to express their opinions and has gained popular support to solve certain issues, such as racial discrimination and human rights violation.
Until April 2023, VANK had already posted around sixty-six online petitions. Fourteen petitions out of thirty-two "Korean issues'' petitions are related to China. Seven petitions out of thirty-four "global issues'' petitions are related to China. VANK criticized China’s cultural imperialism and online Chauvinism. It also called on the Chinese government and Baidu Corporation to stop attacks on Korean netizens. VANK’s petitions have received more than 13,000 signatures, boosting domestic solidarity.
3. Celebrity: Korean star Danielle's apology incident.
Danielle is a member of the new generation girl NewJeans. She caused some controversy when she called the Lunar New Year "Chinese New Year" on a live broadcast. She later posted a tweet with a video of her apology. As of April 25, 2023, that tweet had 198 retweets, 2,498 likes and 1.291 million views. The tweet has high influence and interaction, arousing the attention and discussion of many netizens.
Below are opinions we gathered from social media and classmates regarding this research topic. We find a spectrum of viewpoints.
"Chinese acting like they’re the only country with a new year lol. P.s. Hanbok is Korea’s traditional clothing."
"As a Chinese Simmer who has been playing this game for years, I feel deeply offended by this post. The Lunar New Year AKA ‘Spring Festival’ and ‘Chunjie’ is the no.1 Chinese traditional festival, NOT Korean. This level of ignorance by the sims team is shocking to me."
"I think everyone calls it Chinese new year. It is mostly known with that name, although the correct name is indeed Lunar New Year."
In conclusion, based on the analysis of the qualitative research, it can be found that the cultural output of South Korea has indeed influenced public social media discourse. Moreover, reflecting back to our hypothesis, activists and celebrities have the most influence over cultural appropriation in South Korea out of the four prominent categories, according to a study based on Twitter engagement data. It appears that these two groups are the most successful in influencing public opinion and moving the topic forward based on the amount of retweets, likes, and comments on their social media posts about cultural appropriation. According to these findings, social media is a key factor in influencing the public debate on cultural appropriation in South Korea, with certain groups having a bigger influence than others.
It is actually a collision between two different mindsets. For Chinese netizens, calling "Lunar New Year" is a de-sinicization action. Firstly, it harms Chinese people’s national sentiments and denies China a major power in history and further eliminates China’s influence on its neighboring countries; moreover, it distorts the history and provokes China. To some extent, it eliminates the influence of Chinese culture, many Chinese netizens think South Korea is overtaking China’s influence. Furthermore, it misleads people and aggravates cultural appropriation between China and South Korea and it further escalates the tensions and intensifies the cultural war.
However, for Korean netizens or international audiences, they believe that "Lunar New Year" is a more scientific term because they recognize and value the cultural diversity of each country that celebrates the festival according to the lunar calendar. They do not want to ignore or offend others who also celebrate the holiday but may have different traditions and history from China.