Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Korean cultural wave and Soft power

Cultural Diplomacy and Hallyu
The cultural diplomacy has been integral part of influencing foreign relations. In the past South Korea has used economic diplomacy to forge closer relations with many countries, particularly with USSR and China. However, in the recent times, South Korea has demonstrated its “soft power” by advancing cultural diplomacy (Kim 2005). Korean cultural wave, popularly known as Hallyu (in Korean), has been attracting the attention of various scholars who see this wave as a new variable in the international arena, which can have greater impact in Korea’s foreign policy initiatives. The cultural wave began with the export of South Korean T.V dramas, movies, popular music and games to China and Southeast Asian countries including Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Singapore. Now, the wave is spreading from South Korea to Japan, India, Middle-East and Latin America (Korea Focus 2006).
It is important to realize that the new Korean cultural wave ‘Hallyu’ does not just spontaneously emerge. All the major Korean popular groups were carefully imagined, funded, instructed, created, and promoted by culture entrepreneurs. The government promoted them, precisely when the Korean market was opened to the Japanese popular culture, legally for the very first time. Perhaps, the Korean wave is the long awaited flowering of post colonial Asian artistic expression, the creation of a regional “Asian’ cultural manifestation against the erstwhile domination of the Western culture. There is a considerable support for this position as well.
South Korea’s transformation began with the democratization in the late 1980’s which unleashed sweeping domestic changes (Kim 2005). As its democracy and economy have matured, it’s influence on the rest of Asia, neglected until a decade ago, has grown accordingly. Its cultural exports have even caused complaints about the cultural invasion in China and Vietnam. Before the pop stars, Korean movie led the export of Korean pop culture to overseas. Certainly, South Korean television dramas have also become so popular that they organized a tour which brings Japanese to their film locations in South Korea. In China and Taiwan, South Korean dramas are the top favourite among the T.V programmes. Star of such dramas have become shining idols in these nations and for the fans there, which emulate the fashion, hairstyle or makeup of Korean stars. Most of the neighbouring countries get so influenced that people start changing their faces to look like the Korean stars, even eating Korean food leading to the mushrooming of restaurants around Asia.
South Korea has acknowledged the power of its culture and products. Culture is a remarkably durable and persistent factor in human affairs. It is a dynamic vessel that holds and revitalizes the collective memories of a people by giving emotional life to traditions (Lucian 1985). Culture is helpful in mapping different routes of political development because it treats seriously the nuances in behaviour patterns which may seem only trivial but which actually are critical in distinguishing between success and failures (Lucian 1985). With the rapid economy growth South Korea has achieved prominent place in the World. Perhaps, what is left over after economics and politics are added in society. As it forms a part of fully recursive set of relationships that determines how people lead their lives. Culture allows one to see how the different realms interact with one another, how they structure each other to produce the totality of a society. The idea of culture has been developed and deployed in the modern as well as postmodern world as a means of attempting to order, control, and define “others” in the name of power and profit (Mitchell 2000).
Culture has been a topic of intense discourse among scholars in the past many years. It is precisely because the idea of culture has become one of the most important tools of power at a time of global restructuring. The term “culture” has been gradually used as an instrument of surplus value extraction, as with the “conquest of cool”. It has become a means of wringing profit out of new markets at home and abroad, and a way for channelling dissent in productive directions. One of the thinkers has opined that Knowledge is always contested, but it is nonetheless the case that some forms of knowledge become more powerful than others: it becomes hegemonic. In this way culture is a means for representing relations of power. Culture is a representation of “others” which solidifies only in so far as it can be given objective reality as stasis in social relations. The idea of culture is not what people are doing; rather, it is the way people justify their actions. It is the way activities are reified as culture. The list of process and activities that practitioners of cultural geography and cultural studies use to exemplify culture are important not because they are culture, but because through struggle over the power to define them, they are made to be culture.
To build a relationship with other countries, South Korean government is using culture as one of its important tool encompassing soft power with cultural diplomacy to strengthen and developed a new relationship with the neighbouring countries. As Korean popular culture is rising in East Asian markets and their products are being widely circulated. In this region, South Korea has newly emerged as a cultural power, in addition to representing itself to as industrial forerunner and a new model. The South Korean entertainment and media has thoroughly reported the spread of Korean pop culture into Asia and the rest of the world rapidly. I can say that, this new cultural wave could be an important factor of re-establishing a healthy relationship between South Korea and the other countries.
Soft power strengthens through interactions with public diplomacy. If a country has much soft power; its public diplomacy will be strengthened. On the other hand, if a country performs well in its public diplomacy, it will add more strength to its soft power. South Korea has already improved its national image through its active promotion of foreign press coverage and intellectual interest in the country. The spread of Korean culture is represented by its new fade of popular culture.
South Korea is small country, yet with a dynamic and rich culture, it has been able to secure national support. The rising popularity of South Korean film, television drama and popular culture are noticeable in the Asian region and which leads to social unrest. South Korean wave is a cultural asset shared by the regional members, a modest and yet encouraging form of cultural repertoires through which people in the very near geographical area can improve their communication and understanding (Onishi 2006). “Pop culture is no longer moves simply in a single direction, but moving from the west to the rest of the world. Instead, it’s a global swirl, no more constrained by borders than the weather,” (Walsh 2006).
Globalization is based on exchange of liberal competition, borderless network and efficient communication from across the world, which help to promote the diversity of culture. Owing to advance communications and transport systems, traditional lifestyles are rapidly changing into global life styles. Cultural diversity is based on different communities as well as on different cultural environment. It is certain that cultural identity derives from unity in such diversity.
On the other hand, globalization has made easy path for supplying the South Korean product in various countries from heavy technological to soft and sleek items. In most of the countries product like Samsung, Hyundai, L.G and Lotto are occupying big place in household equipment. So, given that South Korea’s quality product has created many fan bases throughout East and South East Asia. Here, technology has made a new paradigm of changing the image of poor and secluded Korea to young and dynamic South Korea.
Cultural mixing and global dynamism as well as the widespread sharing of cultural interest are made possible through information technology. Now it seems to be inspiring the emergence of what may perhaps be termed pan-East Asian qualities in the representational culture of South Koreas. The degrees to which people participate in the social and cultural phenomena vary from to place to place. Soft power is often a tool for domestic influence not just as an instrument of diplomacy but for other means as well.
However, the definition of power is losing its emphasis on military force and conquest that marked earlier eras. The factor of technology, education, and economic growth has become more significant in international power, while geography, population, and raw materials are becoming somewhat less important (Nye 2004). Soft power is a kind of power or the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals and policies. It constitutes very real power an ability to gain objectives.
“Hallyu” the New Cultural Wave
Hallyu is the Korean wave which has been referring to the popularity of South Korean popular culture in other Asian countries. The ‘Hallyu or Korean wave’ starts with export of Korean TV dramas such as “winter sonata” across east and Southeast Asia. The growing success of Korean drama was shortly matched in the field of movies and popular music. Korean movies are especially successful not only between Asian countries but also the other continents. At the Santa Barbara Film festival several Korean movies were screened, and now this Korean cultural wave has spread beyond Asia. As we see from the late 1990s until now, South Korea has been one of the few countries where domestic movies are more popular than Hollywood movies. The Korean wave is indebted to the media liberalization that swept across Asia in 1990s. Since the South Korean television dramas have rapidly taken up airtime on televisions channel in countries such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia, which show media liberalization beginning in the 1990s.
The recent Asian economic crisis has brought about the situation where Asian buyers prefer the cheaper Korean programmes to Hollywood productions. Korean television dramas were the quarter of the price of Japanese ones, and the tenth of the price of Hong Kong television drama as of 2000, (Lee 2003). Korean television programming exports have increased so dramatically from 2003 that they earned $37.5 million, compared with $12.7 million in 1999. South Korea’s cultural industry is presently enjoying something of a heyday. Korea has become the seventh largest film market in the world, with national films attendance totals by 2000 exceeding 70 million. Korea is now a top exporter of music, television programme, films to the Asia-pacific region. The popularity of Korean drama and music has begun to edge out of America and Japanese market dominance in Asia, which regionally caught the Korean Wave early this decade.
In the beginning, many Asian television companies broadcast South Korean shows because the productions were impressive looking and their syndication was inexpensive. As the regional exposure to Korean drama increased, the programme has resonated with Asian audiences and this popularity has grown by 2000. Today, observers generally agree that most likely explanations for the popularity of South Korean shows, singers and movies throughout the Asia includes Korea’s high income levels and the close cultural proximity and affinity they share with the neighbouring Asian countries. As a result of these and other economic developments, it is now the 10th largest economy and entertainment in the world. South Korean shows and movies deploy themes that Asian audiences can relate to more easily than those of western entertainment. It deals with family issues, love and filial piety in an age of changing technology and values and often reinforces traditional values of Confucianism. While some anxiety has arisen about the potentially corrosive consequences of western culture and the degree to which regional audiences experience culture in a manner common with Koreans. There huge popularity nonetheless implies that Asian audiences find the melodramatic and family oriented massages relevant to their lives. The drama ‘Jewel of Palace’, a South Korean television series about a royal cook during the Chosun dynasty, for instance drew more viewers in Hong Kong than any program in the previous 25 years (The Korean Wave, 2006).
The recent popularity of South Korean culture has a strong economic impact, in addition to inviting in many interests in Korean culture. Korean broadcasting exports jumped from $8,318,000 in 1997 to $71,461,000 in 2004 and has boosted tourism to the country. The phenomenon is not limited only to the economy or the popular culture. There is an increasing interest in the Korean language and interest in Korean traditional dress called Hanbok. There is a report of some Chinese brides have even chosen to wear Korean traditional suit (Hanbok) in their wedding pictures. In Seoul, capital of South Korea a theme park has been opened where foreign tourist or visitors can explore the sets of their favourite shows and the range of traditional Korean attires (Korean Wave, 2006).Within the agencies of Korean government, the term Korean wave first appeared when the Ministry of Culture and Tourism planned and produced a CD with the purpose of promoting Korean music to neighbouring countries in 1999. Its title in English was ‘Korean Pop Music’ while its Chinese version was Hallyu which has been translated as a trend or a song from Korea. The term went into broader circulation when the Chinese media used the term to represent the success of Korean singers in China.
Hallyu’s Role in Foreign Relation
The Korean government is providing numerous scholarships for the foreign student who want to study and do research in Korean Society. Korea foundation is one the biggest government foundation which is providing various funds and scholarship. This is one medium of soft power by the South Korean government to reach in every corner of the world. They also targeting specially youngster because young mind always try to explore on new things. South Korea has adopted a range of soft power devices as explicit instruments serving the broader foreign policy goal. In a way soft power is often a tool for domestic influence and not just an instrument of diplomacy by other means. South Korean effort to forge closer ties to the North Korea through soft power is also infused with a domestic political and cultural agenda. Somewhat distinct from soft power are the entire sweep of cultural interactions in the form of film, tourism, fashion, pop music and the like. This has been shown, at times mobilized by governments as instruments of soft power.
In a way one can say that ‘Winter Sonata’ a television drama has done more politically for South Korea and Japan then the FIFA World Cup they co-hosted in 2002. An effort to overlook their bitter historical past, both government promoted cultural exchanges before the world cup event but it was not until the huge success of ‘Winter Sonata’ in Japan that a craze for all things South Korea was triggered. Recognizing the important political impact on South Korea attributed to these ever increasing popular television dramas, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism awarded the prestigious Presidential prize to its director, for his immense contribution in promoting exports of cultural products. The social impact of television dramas has been felt in countries as close as China and as far away as the Philippines in terms of fashion and social trends. Singapore, a country known for its warm and humid climate throughout the year, fans want to learn how to wrap the wool scarf conspicuously worn by the actors. There was a time when Hong Kong films were hugely popular across Asia, many teenager imitated Hong Kong movie stars costumes and hairstyles.
In other words, selling cultural productions means penetrating into the subject of the country and their culture. The ever growing fever for Korean pop culture, called Hallyu or “Korean Wave” is generating a Korea boom in many Asian countries. Fans of Korean pop music, television dramas, and films are more than willing to spend money on trips to Korea on top of buying and patronizing Korean goods, fashions, hairstyles and food. The export market for popular Korean televisions dramas, films, videos, DVDs, and CDs have been expanding at the rapid pace. Korean government statistics show that during the first eight months of the year 2004 an unprecedented number of three million tourists from Japan, China and other Asian countries gathered to Korea to visit the locations of Korean television dramas and films or have the opportunity to meet their favourite Korean stars. Encouraged by the huge success of the drama, the Korean government is seeking to optimize on the Hallyu effect and improve Korea’s national image abroad. In fact, Korea’s tourism industry is not the only area to have benefited from the sweeping popularity of South Korean pop culture. Many South Korean companies doing business with Asian countries gear their marketing strategies towards the South Korean Wave as fans of South Korean pop culture have developed strong tastes for South Korean electronics, cosmetics, clothing and the political ties with South Korea.
Over the past few years, an increasing amount of Korean popular cultural content including television dramas, movies, pop songs and their associated celebrities has gained immense popularity in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and other east and Southeast Asian countries. News media and trade magazines have recognised the rise of Korean popular culture in Asia by dubbing it as the ‘Korean Wave’. All things Korean from food and music to eye brow shaping and shoe styles are the rage across Asia, where pop culture has long been dominated by Japanese culture and Hollywood (Visser 2002). According to Hollywood reporter Korea has transformed itself from an embattled cinematic backwater into the hottest market in Asia (Segers 2000).
Given their infatuation with Korean culture, the regional fans are eager to learn the Korean language and travel to Korea (SBS 2001). Park Young Su, assistant bureau chief at the Korean National Tourism Organisation (KNTO), said thanks to the success of shows like ‘Autumn in my heart’ and ‘Winter Sonata’, we have had 1,30,000 tourist from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand coming to visit the locations where the dramas were filmed (Lee 2003). In this context, Korean big business is making effort to transform Korean wave fans into consumers of Korean product and services. Samsung electronics in China successfully took advantage of Ahn Jae-Wook’s popularity by hiring as a model for its computer monitor commercials. In Vietnam LG household and Health care show sales skyrocket after it featured Korean actress Kim Nam-Ju in its advertisement. Since then LG has notched the first place in brand recognition among foreign cosmetic brand in Vietnam. In order to reinforce the existing ‘Korean Boom’ in Vietnam, LG Electronics is reported to have provided Vietnamese televisions station with the several Korean television dramas for free, even covering the cost of dubbing. The South Koreans have just begun to realize that culture can be as profitable as semi-conductors.
The growing popularity of Korean cultural wave has more implication than simply earning foreign currency, especially considering that the country has had some diplomatic friction with its neighbours in the past decades. The Vietnamese still vividly remember that the Korean soldiers fought against their liberation army during the Vietnam War. Then, the Korean president, Kim Dae-Jung, even invited the famous television series pair to dinner he hosted for Vietnamese president Tran Duc Luong when the latter visited Korea on 23rd August 2001 (Australian 2002). BOA, who made the cover of The French Le Monde in July 2002 as an icon of cultural exchange between Korea and Japan, was invited to the two countries summit conference in June 2003 in Tokyo. In all, Koreans heartily welcome the fruits of the Korean wave in the midst of recovery from the 1997 economic crisis and the subsequent International Monetary fund directed economic restructuring, which they often refer to as ‘national humiliation’.
The popularity of South Korean popular culture in South East Asia, particularly Television drama, has increased tourists arrival from this region. It is also raises the question of the absorption of Korean culture, and in particular, its popular cultural products. It would be seen hard to believe that cultural exposure to the South Korea has been relatively recent in Singapore, China, Japan, and Vietnam. Historically, the presence of Koreans in South East Asia has not been visibly significant in comparison to the Chinese and the Japanese.
Some thinkers have suggested that Korean popular culture is seeking to coexistence with the other Asian cultures. If the Korean wave distorts the vitality of other Asian cultures, it would be nothing short of an East Asian version of cultural imperialism. Then, the cultural phenomenon would be a mechanism that would hinder peace and coexistence in the region. They further suggest, South Koreans should not over react about their cultural rise instead they should approach the trend from more of a comprehensive perspective for the future. In this context, the Korean understanding is examined to study the drive behind the Asian nations in actively importing Korea’s cultural products. For instance, the popularity of Korean culture rises in the mainland, particularly since the late 1990s, when the Chinese start to evolve their traditions as a reaction to a wave of capitalization. In a way, Korean cultural products as well as dramas and specially movies maintain Asian values. It is also pointed out that the Korean wave could be viewed as a cornerstone in the build up to the region’s cultural community. It is said that the Korean wave has contributed much to the process as it has already become irreversible for the Asian countries to take after or refer to each other.
The Korean wave's impact is so great that people from around the region are travelling to Seoul to feel the presence of South Korea’s uniqueness and dynamic characters which they have been able to portrait in international level.

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