The Korean Wave (“Hallyu”) – its triumphs and challenges
Introduction – History of the Korean Wave (“Hallyu”): the Success Stories
The Korean Wave (“Hallyu”)[i] succeeds in the world. It is amazing because Korean is not one of the major languages in the world and Korea does not have any historical heritages or influences on the other countries. The Korean Wave is influential through Asia and the world.[ii] Although Korean culture has been an outsider of the world, it is becoming more influential and powerful as time goes by. Korea adopted two track policies at the same time toward culture – Innovation and Preservation.[iii] Most of the Korean Wave is a transformation of traditional Korean culture. However, some sources of the Korean Wave directly came from the traditional Korean culture.[iv] The Korean government and market have tried to develop the culture while preserving the traditional culture. This combination of the traditional and the modern culture is one of the competiveness factors of the Korean Wave.
The Korean Wave mainly consists of four parts: K-Pop (Music), K-Dramas (soap opera), Korean Films, K-Animation (“Man-Hwa”). However, it stretches beyond the four areas and goes to new areas such as literature.[v]
Why could the Korean Wave (“Hallyu”) succeed?
The change from Information Technology (“IT”) and digitalization provides opportunities for developing countries to encourage competiveness by using their traditional cultures in the cultural industries.[vi]
However, developed countries already have priority in the world cultural market. Hollywood and US pop music industries maintain big investment power and capacity to overwhelm other countries. It is not an easy task for developed countries to overcome their deficient money and man power to support their cultural industries. The success of the Korean Wave is combination of government policy and market efforts. Thus, an examination of the various reasons for the success of the Korean Wave is provided.
1) Demand perspective
A craving for more developed and sophisticated culture of Korean people is one of the most important reasons to explain the success of the Korean Wave. The culture flows from higher and developed culture to lower and undeveloped culture like flowing water. People in Korea have had opportunity to enjoy the culture of developed countries such as the United States or other western countries.
As aforementioned, the United States and other western countries had more developed cultures than Korea. So many people wanted to get a more developed culture like the culture of developed countries and they tried to benchmark and catch up to the cultures of developed countries. American Force Korean Network (“AFKN”) was one of the important sources for Korean to learn advanced culture.[vii] Even though importing Japanese culture was prohibited because of the experience of colonization, many people illegally imported Japanese cultural products such as J-pop and J-animation (“Man-Ga”) for personal enjoyment.[viii]
2) Supply perspective
Korea has many big competitive players on the international market, known as Chaebul, such as Samsung and LG.[ix] Chaebul is an industrial conglomerate doing every business from hardware to software. Chaebuls started from manufacturing industries but they realized that they could not get more success without more brand and cultural power. So they invested into the cultural market. Chaebuls have their own entertainment companies such as Sony entertainment or Dream-works. Their companies recruit talented young people and train them in their facilities to make cultural goods for making profit. The Korean Wave`s competiveness comes from big investment by combining traditional Korean culture and modern world culture and transforming traditional Korean culture to match the view points of world culture.
In addition, Chaebuls invested in the cultural infrastructure of Korea with multiplex theaters, studios and other facilities for cultural industries. Cultural industry experts from developed countries visiting Korea and inspecting the facilities are surprised at the investment of the cultural industries.
3) Government policy
Government policy is one of the most important factors for success of the Korean Wave. Even though the government`s influence thorough policy wean as markets strengthen, government policy is an still important factors to be considered. Government policy can be divided into two big pillars: Regulation and Promotion[x]
Regulation is made up of screen quotas, adjusting the profit-sharing rate between content providers and network providers, enhancing intellectual property rights, and quotas for local and traditional content providers. The policies of screen quotas[xi] and quotas for minor content providers are very important to protecting the domestic market and cultural diversity.
Promotion consists of supporting export by government affiliated agencies, developing the labor capacity of cultural industries (developing man-power), building facilities such as studios to be shared by cultural industry entities (creating infrastructure), loaning the capital for film-makers or content providers (budget support for the industry), advertising for copyright campaign and so on.
One of the important recent government efforts is transformation from analogue to digital. The Korean government succeeded in its broadband internet policy. From this experience, the government tries to enhance digitalization of the country to develop the manufacturing industries, such as digital 3D TV and the contents industry.[xii]
Aforementioned, the cultural industries grew enough to succeed without government support. As a result sometimes they do not want government intervention. For example, most of multiplex cinemas are owned by Chaebul and they want to make more money by playing more Hollywood movies (even when Korean movies are more interesting and popular than Hollywood movies, they do not protest screen quotas).
However, the market cannot be a cure-all in spite of its success in the cultural industries. These days government policy is more focused on preservation than before. Though the market can succeed help innovation like the Korean Wave, but the local and traditional Korean culture, where less profit has been made, market failure should be supplemented by government policy. And local and traditional culture can be a foundation for a more diverse Korean Wave in the future. So the Korea government is making an effort to preserve traditional heritage and intangible cultural resources. For example, supporting people who have techniques to make traditional artifacts or play traditional music and song.[xiii]
Challenges against the Korean Wave (“Hallyu”)
As the Korean Wave becomes more popular, the antipathy grows. Some Asian countries, such as Japan and Taiwan worry about cultural imperialism from Korea.[xiv] It is quite coincidental as Korea worried about the same things around a decade ago.
The Korean Wave is mainly concentrated on making profits. As a result, diversity in the Korean Wave is deficient. For example, K-pop is focused on dance music and K-drama is focused on so-called trendy drama (love stories). Those deficiencies are not desirable for the future success of the Korean Wave.
The Korean Wave is very curious phenomenon and it can be a hope for developing countries. The Korean Wave shows the successful cooperation between the market and government. Government can be the initiator to help the market, but cultural industries are the place that requires the creativity of the market. If the government crowds out the market, then cultural industries would not develop any more. Government policy should be an assistant to creator, but it should not be a creator itself.
[i] “The Korean-Wave refers to spread of South Korean culture around the world. The term was coined in China in mid-1999 by Beijing journalists surprised by the fast growing popularity of Korean entertainment and culture in China. The Korean wave is responsible for achieving over one billion dollars in revenue annually for South Korea through cultural exports.” See, Korean Wave, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_wave (last visited Oct. 22, 2011).
[ii] “Egyptian aficionados of Korean pop culture are a dedicated group, eager to have their Korean pop dreams fulfilled and embraced by the community at large. Whether it’s through films, music, books or food, the ‘Korean wave’ has definitely hit Cairo, and is doing so with much fervor.” See Steven Viney, Korean pop culture spreads in Cairo, Al-Masry Al-Youm (July 19, 2011), http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/478542 (last visited Oct. 22, 2011).
[iii] The preservation model seeks to harness intellectual property rights to preserve traditional culture in its authentic form, but the innovation model encourages tradition to be adapted to serve contemporary side. The author of this article maintains that the innovation model is better strategy than the preservation model to sustain traditional cultures. See Sean A. Pager, Folklore 2.0: Why Remixing Tradition is the Best Way to Preserve It, 1-6, available at http://www.law.stanford.edu/display/images/dynamic/events_media/Folklore_2_Why_Remixing_Tradition_is_the_Best_Way_%20to_Preserve_It.pdf
[iv] K-Drama (Korean a soap opera) such as the Korean historical drama, Dae Jang Geum, came from the Korean history and tradition
[v] Korean Culture and Information Service, The Korean Wave: A New Pop Culture Phenomenon, 59-90, Korea Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (2011)
[vi] Diana Barrowclough and Zeljka Kozul-Wright, Creative Industries and Developing Countries: Voice, Choice and Economic Growth (Routledge Studies in Contemporary Political Economy), 2-32, Journal of Cultural Economics, 2009, vol. 33, issue 1 (2009)
[vii] Korean Culture and Information Service, Supra
[viii] Korea had bad memories from Japanese colonization and cultural imperialism. So, at that time the Korean government thought that if Korea opened the market for Japanese culture, it would encroach on the Korean cultural market. As a result, Korea government banned the importing Japanese culture. The ban was lifted in the 1990s.
[ix] Young-Iob Chung, South Korea in the Fast Lane: Economic Development and Capital Formation, 125-142, (Oxford University Press, 2007).
[x] Korea Communications Commission, KCC Plan for 2011, 2-36, Korea Government (2011)
[xi] “Screen quotas are a legislated policy that enforces a minimum number of screening days of domestic films in the theater each year to protect the nation’s films. The screen quota system is enforced to prevent foreign markets from making inroads into the domestic film market. The screen quota system was started in the United Kingdom in 1927 through the Cinematograph Films Act 1927. Other countries enforcing screen quotas include France, South Korea, Brazil, Pakistan and Italy.” See, Screen quotas, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Screen_quota (last visited Oct. 22, 2011).
[xii] Korea Communications Commission, Annual Report 2010, 37-63, Korea Government (2011)
[xiii] Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Annual Report 2010, 231-245, Korea Government (2011)
[xiv] CNNGO, Anti-Korean Wave in Japan turns political: Hundreds rally in front of Fuji TV to protest Korean dramas. Is this the turning of the tide?, http://www.cnngo.com/seoul/life/anti-korean-wave-japan-turns-political-141304 (last visited Oct. 22, 2011)