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Korea in the foreign press

Foreign press analyzes Hallyu

It has been less than 20 years since Korea was widely regarded as a small Far East Asian nation, with no distinctive features. Some cultural relics such as Goryeo celadon, metal prints, kimchi, and the language Hangeul, if any, represented the country. At the time, Koreans often valued the standards and criteria set by advanced countries, envious of their success.

In recent years, however, Korean culture has been welcomed by all corners of the world. In addition, the word ”Hallyu,” or Korean wave, which refers to the increasing popularity of Korean entertainment and culture, is circulating worldwide beyond the Asian region.

Following the trend, the foreign media is paying more and more attention to Korean society and culture. Feature stories that dig deep into Korean pop culture and the key to its popularity have been on the rise.

One recent case in point is the January 10 edition of an article in the Hong Kong Economic Journal that analyzed several reasons behind Hallyu’s growing influence that have been driving people all around the world crazy about Korean movies and music.

Global attention to Korean culture, sparked off by K-Pop, has been diversified in areas such as music, movie, and food Global attention to Korean culture, sparked off by K-Pop, has been diversified in areas such as music, movie, and food (photo: Yonhap News).

Their analysis suggested that one of the strongest distinguishing features of Korean cultural productions is the emphasis on creating unique characters.

The Hong Kong newspaper reported that the success of the Korean drama Daejanggeum, which had swept over Hong Kong, could be attributed in part to the intriguing characters, both main and supporting, and their development throughout the plot. Similarly, one scene in PSY’s record-breaking music video “Gangnam Style” that features PSY dancing with a loudly dressed companion in front of a red sports car was noted for its use of memorable characters.

The second secret to Hallyu’s success, the daily newspaper evaluated, was the cultural policy initiated by Korean presidents over the past few decades. Stepping up investment in the culture industry in the 1990s and directing culture-relevant organizations to focus more on content creation, the Korean government was convinced that the development of the cultural industry can enrich the domestic economy.

The efforts and support made by the government to boost the culture industry was also highlighted by Singapore’s highest-selling newspaper. The January 14 edition of The Straits Times, in an article entitled “Branding Korea: It’s K-omplicated,” reported that in 1999 the Korean government provided financial support amounting to USD 148.5 million, which has played a decisive role in spreading Korean dramas throughout East Asia and Southeast Asia in the late 1990s and maintaining popularity from a more diversified scope of cultural products including movies, music, food, and language.

On the same page, The Straits Times published an article entitled “Cool response to Cool Japan Drive” introducing a new type of rivalry sparked off in the soft power and cultural products between Japan and South Korea. While mentioning “Japan is now on the verge of launching a similar branding exercise, betting that Cool Japan will displace Hallyu in Asia,” the Straits Times pointed out that Japan’s 2011 budget for promoting the culture sector was less than half that of South Korea’s.

The Singapore newspaper reported that Korea, meanwhile, has been making tremendous investments into national image promotion, mentioning that Seoul-based foreign reporters normally have a full mailbox during the year end, receiving various postcards, invitations, and calendars produced by the Korean government.

It also added that numerous organizations including the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST), the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), the Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA), and the Korea International Trade Association (KITA) set aside money in their budget for promotion and programs toward boosting the national image in a wide range of areas from K-pop to Korean food.
In regards to Korea’s diversity, however, the newspaper judged that “it is not an easy task to distil the essence of a country for foreigners,” while quoting Korea-based Koreans and non-Koreans working in promotion sectors.

An article published last month in <i>La Presse</i> covers K-pop and its influence over the Asian music industryAn article published last month in La Presse covers K-pop and its influence over the Asian music industry.

In addition, the December 29 edition of La Presse, a daily newspaper published in Quebec, Canada announced 2012 as the year of K-pop. The French-language newspaper made an optimistic forecast that the presence of Asian artists on the global stage would become more frequent within a few years. The Canadian newspaper stated that inspiration was provided by PSY who established a precedent with his smash hit music video “Gangnam Style.”

The Korean Culture and Information Service (KOCIS) under the MCST confirmed this new reporting trend about Korea over the last five years, pointing out that now there are ten times more reports on Korean society and culture including Hallyu, while the coverage of the Korean economy and North Korea has been relatively reduced. KOCIS also added that after the 2011 Paris K-pop performances, an increasing number of articles have been looking into Korean cultural and promotional policies.

By Lee Seung-ah
slee27@korea.kr

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