Cultural Imperialism to the “Korean Wave” in China
Attention: all I mean "Korean" here is " South Korean"
I expected to travel in Korea since I was 13 years old. I love everything about Korea, such as Korean Drama, Korean idol, Korean song, Korean lifestyle and even Korean people. Also, there are many friends who are crazy about Korea cultures surround with me, I am just a little Chinese girl in one of thousands Korean fans in China. Korean Culture is really popular in China these days. From clothes to hairstyle, music to television dramas, South Korea has been defining the tastes of many Chinese and other. We copy the same style from the Korean idol and drama actors that make us looks like them. Korean films, TV dramas and pop music have become immensely popular abroad, a phenomenon known as the Korean Wave. It is now considered as a significant social and cultural trend and everyone involved in it including governments, industries, and celebrities want to have a piece of it. Why the Korean Culture can be popular in China, even in East Asian Countries. I use the cultural imperialism theory to explain the Korean Wave and analyze the Korean Wave from a nationalistic perspective by interpreting it as the dominance of Chinese Culture by Korean culture. Different affection with American cultural imperialism in all over the world, Korean Wave represents small but notable changes in the cultural imperialism in East Asian countries, especially in China. In this research paper, I use theoretical analysis to explain the Korean Wave. It is composed of the following sections: first, what is the Korean Wave? Second, the reasons of the Korean Wave become popular in china. Third, what are the effects of Korean Wave.
What is the Korean Wave?
“For a start, the Korean wave is indebted to the media liberalization that swept across Asia in the 1990s. The Korean wave seems to have come into existence around 1997, when the national China Central Television Station (CCTV) aired a Korean television drama “What is Love All About?”, which turned out to be a big issue. In response to popular demand, CCTV re-aired the program in 1998 in a prime-time, and recorded the second-highest ratings ever in the history of Chinese television. In 1999, “Stars in My Heart,” another Korean television drama series, became a big hit in China and Taiwan. Since then, Korean television dramas have rapidly taken up airtime on television channels in East Asian countries and areas, such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and Vietnam (Cho, 2011).”
Now that knowing that the Korean Wave actually came to existence, most of people still don’t really know what it actually is. Korean Wave broadly refers to the popularity of Korean Popular cultural products in East Asian region including China. It is a phenomenon that is manufactured by the South Korean state itself, especially by the culture industry. The Korean culture industries like the film, TV drama and other media industries noticed the positive effect of Korean cultural export, not only on the economy, but also on the nation’s image. Korean on this basis, the Korean government aid themselves to a good image of Korea through the export of popular culture-Korean Wave. The Korean government started playing a key role in this process. “Korean Wave is “national pride” and “dominance” that appear to have stemmed from pseudo imperialism (Choi, 2004).” Korea always wants to strengthen its international position in the world. Due to American political strategies to Asian, Korea could not be a dominant country in Asian. In addition, before 17th century, Korea is dependency of China; Chinese culture has great influence on Korean Culture. Koreans do not want admit their culture comes from Chinese civilization. And again, South Korea was under Japanese colonial rule between1910-1945 (Tsu, 2010). Korea has sensitive historic relationship with Japan. Koreans exhibit strong negative emotions against Japan. Korea neither had long history as China nor developed economy as Japan; he cannot find his position in the Asian scene. Besides, After War World II, Korea becomes the most developed countries after Japan in Asian, its rapid economic development of Asia’s “Four Little Dragons” (Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, South Korea), but Korea’s economic and political status in international scene is not equal. Korean Wave becomes an important part of the national project for the Korean government to strengthen Korean’s pride in their cultural excellence.
Why did Korean pop culture become so popular?
Why it became so popular has various reasons. Though the Korean Wave has spread to many Asian countries there is no doubt that it has found greatest success in China. The first and most important reason is that China and Korea share a similar culture. Over thousands of years, China and Korea have had a long historical relationship and have shared a common cultural background (Li, 2001). The civilization of Huaxia or Han not only has deeply influenced Korean language and values, but also Korea's etiquette, customs and social structure. China was the source cradle of Huaxia civilization in East Asian. Japanese culture and Korean culture are influenced by Chinese civilization (Jang, 2003). So the similar expression of feelings, Chinese people is easy to accept similar philosophy and values and similar thoughts from Korean dramas and culture.
Other reason can be the fact that importing a Korean Drama was a lot of cheaper than purchase other Drama and movie from other countries, such as Hollywood movie. The recent economic crisis in Asia has brought about a situation where Asian buyers prefer the cheaper Korean programming. In addition, the Korean government also has given the media industry full support to export their dramas and films. Just being cheap cannot explain the Korean Drama and movie are popular among the Chinese people. Korean TV dramas are infused with urban middle-class scenes and there are many young viewers will be attracted in the urban cities of Asia. Chinese people were attracted to the "modern image" seen in the fashion, hair styles, and lifestyles of Korea. Despite more than 20 years of reform, China still far behind most developed countries. Compared with Korea, the gap is not very big, especially in bigger coastal cities such as Shanghai and Beijing. Chinese people consider the views and items portrayed in Korean dramas, such as tall buildings and fancy cars. Because of Korean culture is similar with Chinese culture, Chinese people feel that their can see a modern lifestyle in those shows and they can live like them in a few years. It's easy to accept that lifestyle from South Koreans because they are culturally closer to Chinese (Ohishi, 2006).
Effects of the Korean Wave
When the Korean government started aiding the Korean media industries in exporting Korean pop culture, they did this with the view on improving the national image and increasing the Korean economy. As a result of these and other economic developments, “South Korea is now the twelfth largest economy in the world, and its entertainment companies are able to finance shows and movies with production values much higher than in most of Asia (Lee, 2011).” They are success in both of the aspects. In this Cultural Wave, Korean pop idols are the key element to attract international attention to other commercial sectors in Korea. It has a tremendous influence on the Korean tourism sector. Because of famous Dramas, Many foreign (mainly Asian) visitors come to Korea to visit the locations where the dramas where filmed. Even, travel agencies see big business in this and sell TV drama-themed group tours to Korea with titles like “Best of Korean drama trailer deluxe tour”. According to the report from the National Bureau of Statistics of China, there is 3 million Chinese people travel in Korea every year during 2003 to 2009 ( National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2003-2009) .
Korean pop idols even had a big impact on consumer culture, including food, fashion, make-up trends and even plastic surgery. There is a group so called “Korean tribe”, that the young people copy clothes and hairstyle from their favorite Korean idol. They adapt the way of dressing, hairstyles, make-up, etc. all the way up to plastic surgery, just to look like their idol. The regional fans are even eager to learn the Korean language. According to the report from the National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2000 up to now, the percentage of Chinese people who learn Korea were grow with the speed of 0.34% per year because of the interest generated by Korean dramas (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2000-2011). Korean is today the second most widely language as we learned after English. They want to make themselves look like their favorite Korean soap opera stars or more close to their favorite idol.
The media is the important way to learn about a country. Korean Wave is good way to learn Korea. The Korean government tried to build a freedom, democracy, rich and warm image of Korea in the Asia. It is worked out fine now. The appeal of Korean pop culture to Asians is especially meaningful for the Korean government. But, besides these rather positive effects, recently there are rising some negative opinions and criticism on this wave.
There is some critical voice were raised recently. Because of some Korean historical dramas provoke a reaction of Chinese nationalism. For example, the Drama “ Dachangjin” is historic drama which tells the tale of an orphaned kitchen cook who went on to become the king's first female physician. In the Drama, South Korea has a territorial dispute with China. Finally, South Korea was won in the in drama. This scene was deleted when it is aired on the Chinese TV, but there still have lots of Chinese people watch this scene. Along with Korean Wave has a more deeply influence by Chinese, some of Chinese people felt the threat from Korea, they think Chinese culture would be disappeared in the future. There are some other issues between Korea and China that making more and more Chinese people join in the community of anti-Korean Wave, such as the Dragon Boat Festival application for world cultural heritage status, These people think Dragon Boat Festival is a Chinese traditional festival, it is existed 2000 years, nobody think this festival can become other country’s cultural heritage status. But Korea applied the Dragon Boat Festival as its own traditional culture festival to the cultural heritage status. This behavior enraged many Chinese people conflict with Korean Wave.
In a word, the Korean wave is not a bilateral relationship in terms of cultural exchange. The one-way influx of Korean pop culture through today’s Korean wave reinforces an imbalance of cultural industry in the Asian region. Korean government supports the Korean Wave not just only enforce the cultural invasion, but also attempted to become a leading position in the global economy.
The Korean Wave is gradually extended; we cannot say that the future of the Korean Wave in China is gloomy. Both the Chinese and Korean governments should adopt a long-term strategy, encourage cultural exchange and increase mutual understanding. Korea should establish positive perception of Korean Wave. It should promote what is "truly Korean" and improve the image of Korea and its people as well as call for efforts to reach Chinese people and let them know more about Korea by way of books and other materials. China should also overcome its narrow-minded nationalism and ethnocentrism by learning other countries' cultures. At the same time, we have to maintain vigilance to invasion of Korean culture. China has to create a Chinese trend of its own to influence East Asia and the world in the future.
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