Sunday, August 4, 2013

What do you know about Korea?

JYP Entertainment came under fire for posting a fabricated photo of K-pop band 2PM’s concert at Tokyo Dome in April, which turned out to be a misleading photoshop work in order to make the stadium appear more crowded than it actually was. / Korea Times file

Hallyu backlash, misconceptions in texbooks hurting national image

By Chung Ah-young

A Vietnamese textbook expert warned that the Korean music industry’s obsession with short-term profit-making may hurt “hallyu,” or the Korean wave, in the long-term.

Le Thi Thu Ngoc, editor of the Women’s Publishing House in Vietnam, said that the higher the Korean wave rises, the stronger the anti-hallyu sentiment is becoming due to the high price tag on K-pop products, which are popularly consumed in Asian countries.

She said that it’s not a good idea to pay little attention to long-term satisfaction of hallyu fans in order to make immediate profits. Her remarks were made at an international conference marking the 10th anniversary of the Understanding Korea Project organized by the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS) on July 31.

“In Vietnam, there is an increasing number of people complaining of teenager fans who are crazy about their Korean idols. Besides the term Korean Wave, people start talking about the term Korean hype that means Korean artists’ activities in the international market are exaggerated compared to the reality,” she said.

In April, JYP Entertainment, one of the three big entertainment companies in Korea, apologized for posting a fabricated photo of K-pop band 2PM’s concert at Tokyo Dome which turned out to be a misleading photoshop work in order to make the stadium appear more crowded than it actually was.

She also pointed out that Korean literature is not as popular as drama and music as “the audio-visual culture overwhelms the reading culture.” Comparing Chinese and Japanese literature to Korean is almost unknown, showing an unreasonable gap among the three nations in Vietnam. She cited that the number of Chinese and Japanese books in the National Library of Vietnam is 539 and 85 respectively but the number of Korean books is only 9.

“The Korean government needs to focus more on improving translation quality and connecting to foreign publishers to bring Korean literature closer to international readers,” she said.

Concerning the popularity of K-pop, the Korean music industry should not only rely on young, beautiful singers but also unique artists such as Psy.

The Korean wave is still high in Vietnam as the spread of hallyu is extending to other areas such as fashion, food, tourism, cosmetics and cosmetic surgery, she said.

“In Vietnam, women get used to the phrase Korean style that indicates one of the fashionable trends: young girls want to be as sexy as Lee Hyori and middle-aged women want to be as elegant as Kim Hee-sun or Lee Young-ae.

She further mentioned that hallyu has contributed to building an Asian cultural community and has brought Korea more opportunities to strengthen its economic ties with other countries.
A U.S. history textbook by Pearson Education in 2009 states that the Korean Peninsula was part of China’s Han Empire in 202 B.C.-220 A.D., which was not true. The Academy of Korean Studies (AKS) is holding an exhibition of the textbooks and other educational resources, which include wrong information about Korea, at the Insa Art Center, central Seoul, through Monday. / Courtesy of AKS

Samuel Guex, a professor of the University of Geneva, said that Korea is described as the “object” of the rivalry between foreign powers, first China/Japan, and then Russia/Japan in some textbooks used in French-speaking Switzerland.

“Although it is a fact that both the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War were waged for strategic interests in Korea, history textbooks should also provide students with insights about the efforts made by Koreans to preserve their independence at the time, to avoid the image of passivity given by the current textbooks,” the professor said.

Guex said that the most striking perception is the way of seeing the Korean War (1950-53). “No mention is made of the Korean people, their action or their suffering. In other words, even if the word Korea is in the name Korean War, the textbook presents it as a war between China and the U.S., Korea playing absolutely no role in the conflict, except for being the battlefield,” he said.
The Philippines’ textbook in 2007 wrongly explains that Korea was once occupied by China. / Courtesy of AKS

In Eurocentric views, though Korea has achieved stunning economic achievements and political democratization, bringing the ongoing popular culture boom, especially in Asia, its international recognition is still low.

“Unfortunately, this recognition has yet to translate into a new awareness among Westerners about the role of Korea not only in East Asian history but in World history as well,” he said.

Meanwhile, Vadim V. Barabanov from Russian Academy of Education (RAE), evaluated the AKS’s project has brought an immense shift to raise the awareness of Korea in Russia.

“The project has contributed to the promotion learning about Korean in the secondary education field of the Russian Federation by providing correct information on Koran culture and history to the Russian educational community and inviting Russian textbook experts. It has also enhanced interest in Korean studies among secondary school teachers and students,” he said.

As a result, Korea becomes a popular subject for extra-curriculum activities and students projects. Also, many teachers develop their own learning material about Korea. “Most self-made teaching resources are presentations devoted to general facts about Korea and its world heritage. Some of them can be used for teaching topics of Russian geography. For example, studying the Russian Far East students learn about Dokdo Island as a disputed territory like the Kurile Islands for Russia,” he said.

The AKS has operated the project for the last 10 years to raise the national image by providing the right information and knowledge for foreign textbook publishers. Textbook experts have joined programs by the AKS to exchange their knowledge and learn accurate information about Korea.

Along with the international conference, the academy is holding an exhibition at Insa Art Center, central Seoul, through Aug. 5.

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