The "Korean wave" began in the late 1990s, when South Korean TV dramas became big hits in China and Taiwan. The 1997-1998 Asian Financial Crisis led to heavy losses in the manufacturing sector IN South Korea, prompting a handful of businesses to turn to the entertainment sector. According to The New York Times, South Korea began to lift restrictions on cultural imports from Japan in 1998. With an aim of tackling an impending "onslaught" of Japanese movies, anime, manga, and J-pop, the South Korean Ministry of Culture made a request for a substantial budget increase, which allowed the creation of 300 cultural industry departments in colleges and universities nationwide. Around the same time an effort was made to export South Korean entertainment. [Source: Wikipedia]

Dani Madrid-Morales of City University of Hong Kong wrote:““Investment to increase their quality became especially prominent when new commercial TV stations opened in Korea in the 1990s. The battle for audience brought a “drama war” characterized by an increased number of productions, theme diversification, fresher scripts, and improved overall entertainment quality. The phenomenon soon spread and, in 1997, the broadcast in China Central Television (CCTV) of Sarangi Mwogillae/What is love about (Aiqing shi shenme in Chinese) sparked one of the first massive K-drama fandom waves overseas (Leung, 2008). [Source: Dani Madrid-Morales, ‘Transatlantic connection’: K-pop and K-drama fandom in Spain and Latin America,” City University of Hong Kong, 2014]

Hallyu emerged when the Korean drama “What Is Love About?” was shown for the first time on Chinese Central Television (CCTV) in 1997 or 1998. It was one the first times a Korean drama was shown on a non-Korean television network. The drama was spectacular success. It recorded the second-highest ratings ever in the history of Chinese television (Heo, 2002). Hallyu then spread in neighboring countries. Other South Korean dramas in the late 1990s and early 2000s were very successful and boosted the entertainment industry in South Korea. The export of television program from South Korea increased to 27.4 times from 5.5 million in 1995 to 150.9 million in 2007. [Source: Emergence of the “Korean Wave” and Its Influence on Bangladesh by Shally Shahina Akter, Master’s Thesis, March 2019]

Soon after Korean dramas were introduced in China, Korean music was broadcast on the Beijing-based radio show named as “Seoul Music Studio”. This music also became popular. In November 1999, the Chinese state-controlled newspapers, the Beijing Youth Daily, published an article describing the "zeal of Chinese audiences for Korean TV dramas and pop songs". In February 2000, the S.M. Entertainment's boy-band H.O.T. became the first modern K-pop artist to give an overseas performance, with a sold-out concert in Beijing. As the amount of Korean cultural imports rapidly increased, the Beijing government responded by limiting the number of Korean TV dramas shown to Chinese audiences. In June 2001, Shinhwa's fourth album Hey, Come On! Was a big was a big success in Asia, particularly in China and Taiwan.

During the late 1990s and the early 2000s the Korean wave caught on in the East Asian countries like Vietnam, Taiwan and China, aided by and aiding cable TV and satellite networks that broadcast South Korean drama, music and movies. Two influential dramas in the early 2000s — “Winter Sonata” and “Jewel in the Palace — were immensely popular not only in East Asia regions but also in South Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa’

Laura Zhou He Huifeng wrote in the South China Morning Post: “The Korean wave helped boost tourism and retail sales in South Korea, sectors that have become increasingly dependent on Chinese customers. Stars like Kim Soo-hyun, who played an alien who falls in love with an actress in My Love From the Stars in 2014, as well as Song Joong-ki, who plays a peacekeeping soldier in the hit series Descendants of the Sun, have become popular on the mainland. Many reality TV shows, including Running Man, are co-produced by South Korean and Chinese TV stations. [Source: Laura Zhou He Huifeng, South China Morning Post, August 2, 2016]

China Become Enraptured with K-Pop Culture in the Mid 2000s

Reporting from Beijing, Norimitsu Onishi wrote in the New York Times: “At Korea City, on the top floor of the Xidan Shopping Center, a warren of tiny shops sell hip-hop clothes, movies, music, cosmetics and other offerings in the South Korean style. To young Chinese shoppers, it seemed not to matter that some of the products, like New York Yankees caps or Japan's Astro Boy dolls, clearly have little to do with South Korea. Or that most items originated, in fact, in Chinese factories. "We know that the products at Korea City are made in China," said Wang Ying, 28, who works for the local branch of an American company. "But to many young people, 'Korea' stands for fashionable or stylish. So they copy the Korean style." [Source: Norimitsu Onishi, New York Times, January 2, 2006]

“From clothes to hairstyle, music to television dramas, South Korea has been defining the tastes of many Chinese and other Asians for the past half decade. As part of the Korean Wave,a television drama about a royal cook, "The Jewel in the Palace," is garnering record ratings throughout Asia, and Rain, a 23-year-old singer from Seoul, drew more than 40,000 fans to a sold-out concert at a sports stadium here.

“For a country that has been influenced by other cultures, especially China but also Japan and America, South Korea finds itself at a turning point in its new role as exporter. South Korean movies and dramas about urban professionals in Seoul, though not overtly political, present images of modern lives centering on individual happiness and sophisticated consumerism. They also show enduring Confucian-rooted values in their emphasis on family relations, offering to Chinese both a reminder of what was lost during the Cultural Revolution and an example of an Asian country that has modernized and retained its traditions. "Three Guys and Three Girls" and "Three Friends" are South Korea's homegrown version of the American TV show "Friends." As for "Sex and the City," its South Korean twin, "The Marrying Type," a sitcom about three single professional women in their 30's looking for love in Seoul, was so popular in China that episodes were illegally downloaded or sold on pirated DVD's.

“"We feel that we can see a modern lifestyle in those shows," said Qu Yuan, 23, a student at Tsinghua University here. "American dramas also show the same kind of lifestyle. We know that South Korea and America have similar political systems and economies. But it's easier to accept that lifestyle from South Koreans because they are culturally closer to us. We feel we can live like them in a few years." "They seem to have similar lifestyles," Ms. Qu said. "They have friends and go to bars. They have good mobile phones and good cars and lead comfortable lives." Her classmate, Huo Kan, 23, said, "American dramas are too modern....Something like 'Sex and the City' is too alien to us." Jin Yaxi, 25, a graduate student at Beijing University, said, "We like American culture, but we can't accept it directly." "And there is no obstacle to our accepting South Korean culture, unlike Japanese culture," said Ms. Jin, who has studied both Korean and Japanese. "Because of the history between China and Japan, if a young person here likes Japanese culture, the parents will get angry."

“Politics also seems to underlie the Chinese preference for South Korean-filtered American hip-hop culture. Messages about rebelliousness, teenage angst and freedom appear more palatable to Chinese in their Koreanized versions. Kwon Ki Joon, 22, a South Korean who attends Beijing University and graduated from a Chinese high school here, said his male Chinese friends were fans of South Korea hip-hop bands, like H.O.T., and its song "We Are the Future." A sample of the song's lyrics translate roughly as: "We are still under the shadows of adults/Still not Free/To go through the day with all sorts of interferences is tiring." To Mr. Kwon, there is no mystery about the band's appeal. "It's about wanting a more open world, about rebelliousness," he said. "Korean hip-hop is basically trying to adapt American hip-hop."

“Here, at a computer center on a recent evening, young Chinese could be seen playing South Korean online games. Cyworld, the largest online community service in South Korea, is announcing its arrival in China by plastering ads on city buses. Thanks to the Korean Wave and South Korea's new image, being Korean helps business. "I'm sure there is a connection, though we don't have exact figures," Jim Sohn, the chief executive of LG Electronics China, said in an interview inside the company's brand new US$400 million headquarters here. Another company that has benefited from the Korean Wave's "positive effect" is Hyundai, said Um Kwang Heum, president of its Chinese division. Though a latecomer to China, Hyundai signed a joint venture agreement with Beijing Automotive Industry Holdings in 2002 and has already become No. 2 in sales among automakers in China.

Why Korean Dramas Are Successful in China

Amy Qin wrote in the New York Times: “For years, entertainment industry observers in China have sought to explain Korean television’s foothold in China. They say it comes down to packaging. “The Koreans continue to do well because of the details,” said Fan Xiaojing, a Chinese journalist and long-term analyst of the Korean entertainment industry. “China just can’t capture the romance.” [Source: Amy Qin, New York Times, July 20, 2015]

“Unlike in China, where experts say up to 70 percent of a production’s budget can be spent on actors’ salaries, both Korean and Chinese producers say that Korean shows tend to spend more on production sets and screenwriters, avoiding fake props, brands and backdrops in favor of the real things. And since in Korea shows are broadcast soon after they are filmed, scriptwriters and directors can get feedback quickly, allowing them to make tweaks according to audience demands.

“Actors in Korea are also groomed from a young age and taught how to walk and dress, said Ms. Guan, who previously worked at an artists’ management agency in Seoul. They are taken in for plastic surgery, and as part of their training are instructed on how to “let just one teardrop fall.” The Chinese are catching on, producers on both sides say, as they also learn what content resonates most with Chinese audiences. According to producers, the show must be fast-paced, and if it is a drama, it should be a love story. “Chinese people think the good dramas are ones with nonrealistic themes,” said Ma Xue, a cultural critic and producer. “All involve a Cinderella who falls in love with a prince.” As for love, the expression of it is usually restrained. In “Star,” when the alien character, Do Min-Joon, and the star actress, Cheon Song-yi, even so much as kiss, Do Min-Joon falls violently ill.

Bi Yantao, a professor in communication studies at Hainan Tropical Ocean University, wrote in the China Daily: “Some people attribute the popularity of South Korean TV series to their love-oriented stories, overflowing aestheticism, and romantic, sympathetic and suspenseful scenarios that seem to fit in with young women's fantasies. The pleasing personalities of the male and female protagonists, their vivaciousness, as well as the zigzagging plots and marvellous music, which meet young viewers' psychological demands, are also believed to be strong points of South Korean TV dramas. [Source: Bi Yantao China Daily, April 12 2016. Bi is professor in communication studies at Hainan Tropical Ocean University, China]

But all these seem superficial factors if we believe some scholars who say the success of South Korean dramas essentially stems from the success of the country's cultural policy and its cultural business model, which consider the success of the performing arts sector only as a subordinate factor. "South Korean TV dramas benefit from the positive image of the country and its eagerness to integrate itself with the outside world". In my view, South Korean TV dramas have been successful because they benefit from the positive image of the country and its eagerness to integrate itself with the outside world. After all, a country's film and TV productions should be analysed in the context of its broader national image.

Korean Dramas Create Blockbuster Products in the Chinese Market

Koichi Kato and Ken Moriyasu wrote in Nikkei: South Korean entertainment reigns supreme in China. The figures say it all. The most popular TV Korean drama of 2014, "My Love From the Star," was watched a total of 2.8 billion times on Chinese streaming site iQIYI.com. The silver-sparkled Jimmy Choo high heels worn by lead actress Jun Ji-hyun, also known as Gianna Jun, in the second to fourth episodes disappeared from stores, not only in China and South Korea, but also in places like Dubai and London, where Chinese travelers sought them out. In April 2014, when Jimmy Choo opened its first store in Shenyang, northeast China, all 50 pairs of the US$800 pumps sold out in almost no time. [Source: Koichi Kato and Ken Moriyasu, Nikkei, January 8, 2015]

“Although just a few hundred pairs of the shoes were originally produced, Jimmy Choo executives, seeing their worldwide appeal, decided to produce several thousand more. Each handmade shoe takes four months to complete. It was a similar story for the Mondo backpack by Samsonite that lead actor Kim Soo-hyun carried over his shoulder as the show's handsome alien. Samsonite did not pay for a product placement. Kim reportedly decided to use the bag because he liked it. The backpack went on sale two days after the episode aired in January and sold out within a week.

“Because Samsonite hadn't received any notice that Kim would be using the Mondo, they didn't have enough of the backpacks to keep up with demand, resulting in missed sales opportunities. "After seeing the tremendous demand for the product, we stepped up our production to speed up restocking," said Leo Suh, Samsonite's president for Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. "By having our marketing and merchandising teams work closely with our suppliers, we managed to reduce our lead time for the product from 60 days to 45 days," he told the Nikkei Asian Review.

“When the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, or KOTRA, held a seminar for Korean restaurant chains in Dalian last fall, four of the nine companies that attended offered fried chicken. In "My Love From the Star," main character Song-yi, played by Jun, celebrated the first snowfall of the year with a meal of fried chicken and beer. In Dalian, posters of a smiling Jun can be seen promoting Kentucky Fried Chicken, Paris Baguette bakeries, bags of potato chips and a local department store. She will soon be the face of Gucci.

Chinese Flip Over “My Love From Another Star”

The Korean drama “My Love from the Star” was such a big hit in China and had its fans doing all kinds of crazy things. The show debuted in December 2013 and drew a 24 percent average viewership in South Korea but then drew massive audiences in China, where it was viewed online through iQiyi, a Chinese video streaming platform, alone 14.5 billion times as of March 2014. The premise of the show is: an alien lands 400 years ago in Korea and falls in love. Then, we arrive in present, where alien meets his first love's doppelgänger — a conceited starlet, and inevitably falls in love with her too. [Source: Kimberly Wang buzzfeed, March 12, 2014]

Amy Qin wrote in the New York Times: “China’s obsession with a South Korean television show about a 400-year-old Harvard-educated alien who falls in love with an arrogant actress reached such a frenzy last year that online streaming companies here began racing to snap up licensing rights for other South Korean television programs, inflating their prices almost tenfold. The show ignited a nationwide frenzy. Even the first lady of China, Peng Liyuan, became swept up in the fever. She was quoted by the state-run People’s Daily commenting on the physical resemblance between the lead actor, an extraterrestrial heartthrob with a mop of jet-black hair, and her husband, President Xi Jinping, in his younger years. [Source: Amy Qin, New York Times, July 20, 2015]

“The target audience for dramas like “Star,” as is it known, consists mostly of women in their teens to early 40s who prefer to watch shows known as naocanju, or “brain-dead dramas,” instead of popular series from the United States, like “Game of Thrones” and “House of Cards.” ‘My Love From Another Star’ was a very exceptional show, just like ‘Friends’ in the 1990s and early 2000s,” said Grace Guan, who manages Sohu’s Korean content strategy. “We would all love to make a show like that, but there are so many elements involved.”

Kimberly Wang wrote in buzzfeed: “The show has sparked all sorts of trends, namely one for chicken and beer as it's the heroine's favorite food combination. Resulting in over 3.7 million posts on China's microblogging platform about "chicken and beer" in the weeks following the episode's airing. Even China's A-list celebrities bought into the trend. Gao Yuan Yuan, a Chinese actress, posted this photo on her Instagram with the caption: "First snow. Where's my fried chicken and beer?" In Jiangsu, an eastern Chinese province, a pregnant woman nearly suffered a miscarriage from binge watching the show late into the night and eating too much fried chicken. A couple in Tieling, a northeast Chinese city, reportedly ate themselves sick. They were both admitted to the hospital for pancreatitis. In Chongqing, a major city in Southwest China, a woman supposedly dumped her boyfriend after he refused to buy her fried chicken in the middle of the night because he wasn't as romantic as the show's leading man. [Source: Kimberly Wang buzzfeed, March 12, 2014]

“Another story reported that a 50-year-old Chinese woman suffered a heart attack from late night binge-watching and getting too "emotional" over the storyline. Allegedly, a manager in Fujian, a far eastern province of China, gave his employees the day off just to catch the series finale. When Chinese officials met in Beijing this week, the show was the hottest topic of discussion. They debated why China hasn't made a show nearly as popular. The CPPCC National Committee even went so far as to deem that the fanaticism sparked by My Love from the Star has hurt the self-respect of Chinese culture. The CPPCC National Committee even went so far as to deem that the fanaticism sparked by My Love from the Star has hurt the self-respect of Chinese culture.”

Chinese and Southeast Asians Go Nuts for “Descendants of the Sun”

In 2016, AFP reported: “Millions across Asia will sit down this week for the finale of a hit South Korean drama series that has triggered relationship health warnings in China, a thumbs-up review from Thailand’s junta chief and a trans-regional passion for its two young stars. “Descendants of the Sun” tells the story of an army captain sent on a peacekeeping mission to a fictional war-torn country, Uruk, where he meets and falls in love with a surgeon working with a medical NGO. The 16-episode show has garnered impressive domestic ratings for broadcaster KBS, but its real success has been overseas and the series has been hailed for reviving the so-called “Hallyu” (Korean wave) of K-pop and K-drama that started spreading across Asia in the early 2000s. [Source: AFP, April 12, 2016]

“It has proved particularly popular in China, where it has been simulcast on the video-streaming site iQiyi.com and has notched up more than 2 billion accumulated views, while becoming one of the top-ranked search and discussion topics on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. “Will I be able to find an acceptable husband if I keep watching K-dramas?” said one Weibo user, describing herself as “totally in love” with lead actor Song Joong-ki’s character. Such obsessive yearnings triggered a tongue-in-cheek warning from China’s Public Security Ministry about thousands of women who were suffering from “Song Joong-ki sickness.” “When chasing male or female stars, do not become too infatuated with them, because sometimes your casual words could end up hurting those who really care for you,” the ministry advised on its own Weibo account.

“And it is not just China. In Singapore, advertising executive Jamayne Lam, who described Song as “every girl’s dream,” confessed to getting hooked on the drama after just 10 minutes and binge-watching all 11 available episodes in two days. In Hong Kong, where it’s shown on Viu TV — a free-to-air channel that also has an online portal — the series is popular with commuters who like to view it on their smartphones while traveling to and from work. “After watching the first episode, I could not help but chase it,” said Susan Yuen, a 30-year-old clerk, adding that waiting for the latest episode upload has become a weekly routine for her and many colleagues in her office.

“In Thailand, former army chief-turned-Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha praised the series for its sense of sacrifice, obedience and duty. “So please watch it and if anyone wants to make such a drama I will financially sponsor it to make people love government officials,” Prayuth told delegates at a government function in Bangkok. His only criticism was that Song is possibly too young and handsome. “In real life a captain must shoulder a lot of burden and would look older,” he suggested.”

Business and Production Side of “Descendants of the Sun”

“Descendants of the Sun” was largely shot in Greece and funded with Chinese money. John Kang wrote in Forbes: Baidu ’s video-streaming affiliate iQiyi.com bought the exclusive rights to stream the show in China for US$250,000 per episode which, in total, is equivalent to about 40 percent of the show’s production costs. The show was released simultaneously in South Korea and China, the first Korean drama to do so, and was viewed more than 1 billion times on the platform. [Source: John Kang, Forbes, April 5, 2016]

AFP reported: “Korean dramas normally begin airing before later episodes are filmed — allowing for ratings-boosting script adjustments. But “Descendants of the Sun” was pre-recorded in its entirety — a major “risk,” according to its South Korean producer Next Entertainment World (NEW). “None of the pre-recorded dramas have been successful in the past,” a spokeswoman for NEW said. “But it was necessary to pass Beijing’s censorship rules for our first simulcast in China.” [Source: AFP, April 12, 2016]

“Censors did make some changes to the Chinese-version of the drama, including deleting a fight between South and North Korean soldiers in the first episode. Pre-recording paid off by allowing a strong pre-broadcast marketing strategy that included airing movie-like teasers in South Korea and China three months in advance. The drama has now been sold to 32 countries, including Japan and non-Asian broadcasters in the United States, England, France and Russia.

“Its success is built on the same staples that have made K-dramas a lucrative cultural export: attractive lead actors, melodrama and romance. What sets it apart, experts say, is its modern-day setting of military peacekeeping, upbeat patriotism and, perhaps most crucially, the fact that it’s a K-drama that isn’t “too Korean.” “At a time when Asia has seen scores of natural disasters like tsunami and earthquakes, the series projects a sense of universal humanity,” said Yun Suk-jin, professor of Korean Literature at Chungnam National University. “And because it is set overseas rather than in Korea, it appeals more to international viewers,” Yun said. It has spawned a mini industry, with Chinese fans snapping up cosmetics, clothes and fashion accessories favoured by the show’s stars — especially the female lead Song Hye-kyo — and sold on iQiyi.com‘s online shopping site.

How Chinese Businesses and the Beijing Government Are Dealing with Popular Korean Dramas

Amy Qin wrote in the New York Times: “ Then China’s entertainment regulators stepped in, imposing greater limits on foreign television content as part of a broader campaign to rein in China’s fast-growing market for online video, which has become a popular alternative to Chinese broadcast television. (According to official statistics, there were 433 million viewers of online video — TV shows included — in China by the end of 2014, making it the largest streaming market in the world.) Many in the online video industry in China suspect the new guidelines were issued at least partly because of the popularity of “My Love From Another Star.” [Source: Amy Qin, New York Times, July 20, 2015]

“Faced with the limits, popular streaming websites like Sohu, iQiyi and Youku want to develop their own Korean-inspired content to sate the country’s appetite for the programming, part of a broader fascination with Korean popular culture. That has meant trying to tap into South Korea’s secret sauce — the magic formula that has turned the country into a pop-culture juggernaut that churns out viral exports like the singer and rapper Psy, the singer Rain and hits like “My Love From Another Star.” “We share the same culture and cherish similar social values,” said Sophie Yu, director of international communications for iQiyi, the online video streaming website affiliated with the search giant Baidu. “So Korean content naturally is easy to be understood and accepted by the Chinese audience.”

“For Chinese companies, part of the strategy includes making Chinese versions of popular South Korean fare, particularly variety and reality shows. Some of the hottest Chinese programs, like Zhejiang Television’s game-variety show “Running Man” and Hunan Television’s reality show “Where Are We Going, Dad?,” were based on South Korean formats. Nearly all of China’s top online video websites have signed agreements with South Korean television stations and production companies to co-produce television shows tailored for Chinese audiences. But after the success of “My Love From Another Star,” Chinese companies are setting their sights higher. Millions of viewers in China last year tuned in to watch the 21-episode mini-series, which originally aired on the Seoul Broadcasting System, a leading South Korean network. Maggie Xiong, senior director of international acquisitions at Youku, the streaming service, said the show “brought Korean content to the mainstream.” It was streamed more than 2.5 billion times in the first three months after its premiere in December 2013.”

Why China Can’t Make Drama’s as Good as South Korea’s

After the success of “My Love from the Star,” there was a lot of soul searching and hand wringing over why China can’t make drama’s as good as South Korea’s. William Wan wrote in the Washington Post: Well aware of the craze the drama has created in China, one committee of China’s political advisory body (called the CPPCC) spent a whole morning bemoaning why China can’t make a show as good and as big of a hit. At a meeting of delegates from the culture and entertainment industry, some blamed it partly on China’s censorship, euphemistically referred to as the “examination and approval system” at the meeting by Feng Xiaogang, a famous director and a CPPCC member. “My heart trembles,” he said, when waiting for a movie to go through this rigorous censoring procedure. “My wings and imagination are all broken,” said one comedian delegate. But she didn’t go into further detail, perhaps out of caution of offending those very censors. [Source:William Wan, Washington Post, March 7, 2014]

“Many viewed the popularity of the Korean drama as a heavy blow to Chinese confidence in their culture. “It is more than just a Korean soap opera. It hurts our culture dignity,”one CPPCC member said. It’s not the first time popular foreign entertainment has led to hand-wringing in China. In 2008, when Dreamworks’ “Kung Fu Panda” became a runaway hit in China, it led to similar soul-searching. Why did it take American producers to find the drama and humor in a fat panda learning kung fu in China, many asked.

“This time around, the angst over the Korean drama carries with it bitterness about regional rivalries. While China has long considered itself the source of East Asian culture, the domination of Japanese comics and Korean soap operas in Chinese pop culture challenges that view. One of China’s top seven Communist Party leaders even weighed in on the issue this week. “Korean drama is ahead of us,” Wang Qishan said in surprising comments at one of the more important legislative meetings, according to Beijing News. Wang is head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, in charge of an ongoing wide-scale anti-corruption campaign. But, he said, the Korean soap opera also highlights how the Chinese value aspects of their traditional culture that can be seen in the drama. “The core and soul of the Korean opera is a distillation of traditional Chinese culture,” Wang said. “It just propagates traditional Chinese culture in the form of a TV drama.”

Marketing of Korean Dramas in China

Amy Qin wrote in the New York Times: “According to the new regulations, which were issued in September, foreign television shows cannot constitute more than 30 percent of TV content on Chinese online video-streaming sites. In addition, all foreign television shows must be reviewed by censors before they can be streamed. Korean production companies are still finding ways to take advantage of the fast-growing online market in China. [Source: Amy Qin, New York Times, July 20, 2015]

HB Entertainment is partnering with a Chinese company to produce two new dramas similar to “Star” specifically for the Chinese market, one in Chinese and one in Korean with subtitles. “China is a big part of our strategy now,” said Bomi Moon, head of the Korean company HB Entertainment, which recently opened a Beijing office. “Many Chinese companies want to work with Korean partners because we’re good at writing scripts.”

“Whether this will result in a show as popular as “Star” has prompted much debate in China. During the annual session of the National People’s Congress last year, some members spent a full morning panel discussion bemoaning that China could not have made “Star.” One high ranking Chinese politician, Wang Qishan, said he watched the show. “Actually, I have been wondering why Korean dramas have such a strong foothold in China,” he said, according to The Beijing News. “After watching I finally understood — Korean dramas are ahead of us.”

South Korean TV Dramas Used to Portray the Korean Side on Koguryo Issue

Jon Herskovitz of Reuters wrote: “South Korea is fighting a battle with China over ancient history using one of the most powerful weapons in its arsenal — sappy TV dramas watched by hundreds of millions of viewers in Asia. “The Koguryo issue may be one of the smaller problems that China has but it is everything for Korea. Koguryo symbolizes the identity of Korea,” said Kim Woo-jun, a professor at the Institute of East and West Studies at Yonsei University in Seoul. [Source: Jon Herskovitz, Reuters, April 25, 2007]

“Three South Korean television dramas on the Koguryo kingdom released in the past six months were hits at home and abroad, with scenes of galloping horses, court intrigue and sword fights. But the television shows raised hackles in China and Hong Kong, where viewers supporting China’s claims to Koguryo crossed swords in cyberspace with those defending South Korea’s position. The dispute became so emotive that the user-generated Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia blocked readers from contributing to the section on Koguryo “until disputes have been resolved”.

“Debates over historical versus modern borders are argued all over the world. But they rarely fire up the passions of television viewers in the way that the argument over the Koguryo kingdom has in North Asia. Television producer Lee Joohwan’s historical drama “Jumong” was a big hit in South Korea where it was a ratings winner. But some Chinese viewers railed against the series on the Internet, branding it a Korean attempt to rewrite history. A Hong Kong broadcaster went so far as to change the names of the entities in the series to make the show more palatable to its Chinese-speaking viewers. “Despite the controversy, I don’t think the drama would have been popular if it hadn’t been interesting,” said Joohwan.

“But there is little chance that the dispute will end soon as South Korea prepares to fire a new salvo in the historical debate with the launch of a big budget blockbuster television drama. “Taewang Sasingi” is the story of what Koreans consider to be one of the greatest kings of Koguryo and will air in September starring Bae Yong-jun, a favorite for fans in many parts of Asia.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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