Kimchi wars latest: Chinese internet cancels food live-streamer from South Korea for liking online comment about China appropriating the iconic dish

Phoebe Zhang
·4-min read

A South Korean internet star who live-streams herself binge-eating various foods – a phenomenon known as mukbang – is in hot water amid an online dispute over whether kimchi is Korean or Chinese.

The YouTuber, who goes by the name Hamzy, found herself caught in the crossfire of this cultural clash when she added a thumbs-up emoji to comments online about China claiming Korean kimchi, a fermented cabbage dish, as its own.

Chinese internet users said she had insulted China by showing her approval for what were seen as anti-China comments.

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Shanghai-based company Suxian Advertising, which runs Hamzy’s video accounts and online shop in China, was quoted as saying it planned to terminate its contract with her, shut down her online shop on Taobao, an e-commerce portal, and delete her videos. (Taobao is operated by Alibaba, owner of the South China Morning Post.)

If I offended anyone unintentionally or made you feel unpleasant, I apologise sincerely here. I really respect Chinese culinary culture, I hope everybody can sense that

Hamzy posts an apology for appending a “like” to comments about kimchi’s origins that were taken as being anti-China

“We are firmly against any action that insults China and do not allow any foreign bloggers we signed contracts with to have any attitude or comments that insult China,” Suxian was quoted as saying in an online notice. The Post has not independently verified the notice.

The criticism of Hamzy followed a social media storm over popular Chinese vlogger Li Ziqi’s use of the hashtags #ChineseFood and #ChineseCuisine in a YouTube video of her preparing a meal that included pickled vegetables made using a method similar to that for kimchi.

Li Ziqi, a Chinese internet celebrity, in a still from a video showing her pickling Chinese cabbage, radish and sausages using a method similar to that used for kimchi. Photo: YouTube/Li Ziqi
Li Ziqi, a Chinese internet celebrity, in a still from a video showing her pickling Chinese cabbage, radish and sausages using a method similar to that used for kimchi. Photo: YouTube/Li Ziqi

Internet users circulated screen grabs of Hamzy’s thumbs-up.

“Chinese are saying kimbap belongs to them too, how infuriating,” wrote one internet user.

Another user hit back, saying: “Hamzy is a representative Korean mukbang, I hope you can speak out more for Korean cuisine.”

In a still from YouTube, South Korean live-streamer Hamzy prepares a kimchi dish. Photo: YouTube/Hamzy
In a still from YouTube, South Korean live-streamer Hamzy prepares a kimchi dish. Photo: YouTube/Hamzy

Hamzy quickly apologised to her followers, saying that she often “liked” numerous comments and videos every day. It had not been her intention to give insult or convey the impression she was showing support for anti-Chinese sentiment online, she wrote.

“I have treated everyone as friends, and felt the passion of Chinese friends. If I offended anyone unintentionally or made you feel unpleasant, I apologise sincerely here,” she wrote.

“I really respect Chinese culinary culture, I hope everybody can sense that.”

Hamzy (right) sits with a Chinese speaker as she apologises online for approving of comments online about kimchi’s origins that were seen as insulting China. Photo: Weibo/ Hamzy
Hamzy (right) sits with a Chinese speaker as she apologises online for approving of comments online about kimchi’s origins that were seen as insulting China. Photo: Weibo/ Hamzy

The diminutive internet celebrity – who has 5.29 million subscribers to her YouTube channel and reportedly earns more than US$200,000 per month – also apologised in a live-stream on Saturday night.

Still, Chinese fans weren’t happy, with some saying they would no longer watch her videos.

“I feel sorry that I ever liked you,” wrote one user in response to Hamzy’s apology. “Nothing comes before loyalty to my country. I will not call you names, because I did once like you, but this is goodbye.”

How to make cabbage kimchi, the delicious Korean staple

Another commentator demanded she apologise on YouTube in Chinese, Korean and English.

“You should say that pickled vegetables are Chinese cuisine,” the internet user wrote.

Korean supporters were quick to rush to Hamzy’s side, with one writing: “I came to visit (your channel) after hearing that you responded firmly to China’s attitude. I will always support you. Fighting!”

Mukbang channels became popular in South Korea in 2010, sparking a worldwide trend of hosts consuming large quantities of food while interacting with their audience. Hamzy, an internet star at home, gained popularity in China when her videos began appearing on Weibo – China’s Twitter – and video-sharing platforms Bilibili and Xigua Video.

Hamzy has not responded to the Post’s request for comments.

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