Hallyu Wave

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From the wave of cultural globalisation, there emerges a derivative, counter-tide of cultural regionalisation: the so-called Hallyu (Korean Wave) is a case in point. The term Hallyu literally denotes “Korean (Cultural) Wave/Current,” and was first used by the Chinese media in the late 1990s. It refers to a sweeping phenomenon in which Korean cultural/media products are enthusiastically hailed by adjacent countries in East and South East Asia: namely, Japan, China (including Hong Kong), Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. This unprecedented craze for Korean culture is spreading at an astonishing pace, stretching from content-based products like movies, popular songs, and television dramas to such cultural hardware as food, clothing, accessories, mobile phones, and the likes. For instance, a famed television drama Winter Sonata (South Korea, 2002) has been broadcast in thirteen different terrestrial and cable stations in Japan alone and viewed by over two-thirds of the nation’s television households. When the male protagonist of Winter Sonata, YongJun Bae, visited Japan in November 2003, nearly 4,000 middle-aged female fans swarmed the Narita International Airport, practically paralyzing it for a few hours. Situations in Taiwan, Vietnam and China are similar by and large. In China, South Korean programs have become a fixture on commercial networks and cable stations as well as on CCTV (China Central Television), a government-owned and operated television network. The total hours of running Korean programs outstrips that of all other foreign broadcasts combined, including those from the United States and Japan. The phenomenal success of Korean television dramas is paralleled by equally strong demands for South Korean films, pop music, and media celebrities, which in turn fuel the robust growth of Korea’s culture-based industries. For example, in response to the sudden influx of avid Hallyu fans from Japan, Taiwan, and China, savvy tourist companies introduced a variety of “Hallyu tour” packages, itineraries which consist mostly of visiting famous drama sets, broadcasting stations, and live music concerts. It is reported that a record 257,000 Japanese visited South Korea in October 2004 alone. As such, the number of foreign tourists travelling to South Korea increased dramatically, from 2.8 million in 2003 to 3.7 million in 2004. What are the socio-cultural and politico-economic contexts from which Hallyu arose? What are the implications of Hallyu in East and South Asian regions? The Korean Wave may be seen as a conjunctural effect resulting from a conflation of domestic/international, economic/political, and historical/contemporary factors. More specifically, Hallyu is an upshot of the clash of two crosscurrents: first, the relative decline in Japan’s economic, political, and cultural leadership in Asia, which highlights the startling rise of China; second, the proliferation of (neo)liberal doctrines leading to a higher level of regional integration in economy and culture, which is at odds with the residual forces of Cold War and postcolonial politics that reproduce political schisms in the region. The following briefly outlines the principal political and economic conditions from which Hallyu sprung to life. From the early 1990s onward, Japan’s clout in East and South Asian provinces in the areas of politics, culture, and the economy has visibly waned. A decade-long economic recession eroded the foothold the country had gained over forty years in the post-WWII period. Politically, the resurgence of ultra-rightwing politics exacerbated the already estranged relationship with neighbouring countries. The ever-escalating anti-Japan sentiment in the region permeates cultural domains as well. Contrary to the warm reception that Japanese culture enjoys in the industrialised West, an increasing level of antagonism and apathy toward Japan is evident in East and South East Asia. Hence, even the most widespread...
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