America throws the best linguistic hissy fits when political relationships sour. Remember when Congress tried to change French fries to “freedom fries” because France didn’t want to come along on the Iraq invasion? Or how about when sauerkraut became so unpopular during World War I that makers suggested changing the name to the less Germanic “liberty cabbage”? Good times.

Well, it may be that the Yanks aren’t the only ones who want suitably patriotic cabbage. In Korea, it looks like Chinese cabbage, the vegetable used to make the most common variety of kimchi, is now being referred to as “kimchi cabbage” or just “cabbage”.

This year the Korean government submitted an application to have kimchi and gimjang, an annual winter event where it is made and shared, given the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity designation when the group meets in December. In the official UNESCO application documents, the cabbage is never referred to as “Chinese cabbage”, although that is a common designation around the world. Instead “napa cabbage” or just “cabbage” are used.

Now Chinese media is reporting that English materials related to the bid that are used inside Korea are calling the vegetable “kimchi cabbage.” The response there has been quite negative, as some feel Korea has unfairly claimed traditions originating in China such as Chinese medicine and Children’s Day as Korean.

A professor from Fudan University in Shanghai was quoted as saying, “Historically, the Korean Peninsula was part of China for a long time. Korean people are just propagating Chinese culture in our place.”

This is likely a tempest in a teapot–or a kimchi urn, if you will–because the term “Chinese cabbage” may have been avoided simply to avoid confusion. Although the term is commonly used to refer to napa cabbage, it is used in some regions to refer to the similar bok choy.

The UNESCO application materials themselves acknowledge that cabbage cultivation came from China, and the Korean press has responded that it is not just the kimchi, but the gimjang event that is particularly Korean. Traditionally, the ideal temperature window for making and storing kimchi was short, so communities and families gathered together to get all of the pickling done in time. Nowadays, the invention of refrigeration has meant the seasonal imperative is gone, but Korea wants to preserve the gimjang festivals and gatherings as part of their cultural heritage.

Source: Xinhua
Image: Wikipedia