Chinese culture enjoys its hallyu in KoreaJust a decade ago the Korean cultural impact on Asia grew stronger and more influential. It soon became known as the “Korean wave,” or hallyu, as it spread beyond from television to films and pop music.
Korean celebrities subsequently enjoyed newfound fame in China, Vietnam, Japan and Taiwan.
However, in recent years, the tables have slowly turned as more and Koreans are once again showing interest in Chinese culture, which flourished here during the late 1980s and 1990s.
Hong Kong film actors like Andy Lau, Chow Yun Fat and Leslie Cheung appeared on Korean commercials when Chinese film noir was in its heyday 20 years ago.
“The cultural ties between Korea and China are hard to break. They date back thousands of years,” said Chung Nam-no, vice chairman of the Korea-China Cultural Association.
“Thanks to the hallyu, many young Chinese people have a positive view about Korea. Cultural exchanges in literature, arts and performance are increasing,” Chung said. “There couldn’t be any other culture with so many similarities from lifestyles, the way of thinking and the Confucian upbringing.”
One significant sign indicating growing interest in Chinese culture is the revival of Chinatowns.
Unlike other Chinatowns in San Francisco, for example, those in Korea were nearly extinct.
“Sure, there are more people coming to festivals held in our Chinatown,” said Koo Young-sil, who is in charge of cultural events for the Chinatown in the Jung District of Incheon, Gyeonggi.
Koo has helped raise the number of visitors to the most famous Chinatown on the peninsula. “More people come each year to our Jajangmyeon Festival,” said Koo. Jajangmyeon is a famous Sino-Korean delicacy commonly described as bean-curd noodles. The festival is held every October.
Chinatowns in Korea used to be known mainly for their delicacies, but now people visit art exhibitions and traditional performances, Koo said.
“Chinatowns have a huge potential in Korea as tourist attractions,” said Koo.
From May 16 through 18, the fourth Busan Chinatown Special Zone Festival features Chinese traditional costumes, masks and a lion dance.
Earlier this year in January, construction started on what is expected to be the largest Chinatown in Korea. It will be built near Kintex exhibition hall in Goyang, Gyeonggi. These commercial, entertainment and lodging facilities will cover 69,108 square meters (744,000 square feet). They will be used for facilitating Chinese culture-related events.
Prime Group, a majority shareholder of Seoul Chinatown Development, has invested 161.8 billion won ($154.4 million) in the construction of Dragon Plaza, which is to be completed by December 2009.
Noting that Chinatown in Goyang will be the hub of cultural exchange between Korea and China, Baek Jong-heon, Prime chairman, said, “Unlike Chinatowns in other countries and other regions [in Korea] where they were formed naturally, I’m certain Goyang Chinatown will gain an international reputation as a global culture due to flawless planning.”
The entire Chinatown should be completed by 2012.
Interest in China has helped spark a boom in language learning in Korea. Three years ago, Chinese language institutes in Korea saw a sudden spike in enrollment as the Chinese economy continued its relentless growth. Korea’s business with its neighbor has surged, and so has the desire to speak the language.
Elementary and middle school students are particularly keen to learn Chinese. Caihong Chinese, a Chinese-language education institution, launched a program for elementary school students in 2005. Today, it boasts 23,000 students. Tiancai Chinese, which began a similar program just 10 months ago, has 10,000 students already attending its classes.
“At first, businessmen who worked with Chinese partners dominated the classes. Later, college students preparing for employment began to enroll,” said Jeon Hye-ran, a manager at Yi Er San Chinese Institute.
“Today, teenagers make up the majority of Chinese-language learners. They hope to get an advantage in their college entrance exams. We even got a request for kindergarteners.”
According to Jeon, who majored in Chinese language and literature at college and studied in China, some the students learn Chinese language because they are drawn to the Chinese culture.
One such student is Lee Mi-jeong, 23, who fell in love with Chinese pop culture when she was in middle school.
“I fell in love with Chinese epic movies and dramas that depict heroes and chivalry,” she said.
The number of Korean students in China is rising. China’s education ministry says Korean students accounted for a third of international students there last year, the most from a single country.
“Students’ age and study purpose might change,” said Jeon. “But interest in Chinese is unlikely to disappear soon.”
By Lee Ho-jeong, Kim Hyeung-eun Staff Reporters [email@example.com]