Pop culture highlights shared values and styles

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Pop culture highlights shared values and styles

Lee Wook-yon is a professor of Chinese culture at Sogang University and an expert on Lu Xun, a legendary general during the kingdom of Wu. He has researched various cross-cultural issues, particularly concerning Chinese pop culture and hallyu, or the Korean wave, that spread across Japan, Taiwan and China. Lee recently granted an interview about hallyu with the JoongAng Daily.

What are some of the characteristics of hallyu in Chinese-speaking regions?

[The Chinese] seem to discover modern elements in the traditional sides of Korean popular culture. The style differs depending on each generation. If younger generations understand modern Korea through pop music, the older generation takes a keen interest in Korean family dramas, which maintain traditional Asian values. That’s why TV dramas by conservative writers like Kim Su-hyeon are a big hit in Chinese-speaking regions. As for mainland China, modernization hasn’t come full circle yet. Besides, traditional Chinese culture has been completely absent in modern-day China since the socialist revolution. That’s why they view Korea as a model nation that succeeded in modernization and still maintains its authentic values.

How much do Korea and China know about each other’s culture? What has changed before and since hallyu?

In the old days, Korea and China shared similar cultures. After 1948, the two became political enemies, and even in the modern day, the two held some serious hostility about each other because they were on opposite sides of the cold war for nearly five decades. For a long time, China saw Korea as an American colony while Koreans saw China as a dictatorial Communist nation. Attitudes have changed since hallyu hit China. Before, there was no such thing as the Korean Republic for the Chinese. They saw us as South Joseon, an enemy of North Joseon [North Korea], China’s political ally. Now the Chinese see Korea in a positive light, a nation that preserves East Asian traditions, a dynamic and patriotic country, an IT leader and a nation of passionate minds.

Park Yong-ha, a hallyu actor, recently said in an interview that “hallyu is over, the business is over.” How much do you agree?

The impact of hallyu has declined since 1995. It would be hard to repeat the same fever. But hallyu won’t disappear in China or other parts of East Asia. But whether it continues to impact Asia depends on whether Korea has a strong cultural identity that differs from China or Hong Kong. The pop culture in East Asia is increasingly unified. Entertainers from China, Japan and Korea are sharing substantial crossover.

Many Chinese celebrities are coming to Korea. Do you think this trend could ease anti-hallyu sentiment?

Whether we intend it or not, Chinese culture will continue to flow into Korea because the standard of Chinese culture is gradually improving. That would bring more Chinese into Korea, and the exchange would inevitably thrive. This will help ease cold war tensions and China’s worries that their culture will be overrun by Koreans.

In the past, hallyu stars went through some adverse situations when they went to China. Their concerts were cancelled without notice, or management companies ran into disputes with local organizers. Is this because the business practices of the two nations are different?

Those incidents happened during the early phase of hallyu due to a lack of experience. But many shows then were also heavily for investment purposes. Events should be rooted more on the local standard, and events should move away from inviting just top stars. The fact that Korean stars like Jang Nara or the management company SM Entertainment are focused on local Chinese culture is meaningful. China has a strong sense of cultural pride.

By Park Soo-mee Staff Reporter [myfeast@joongang.co.kr]
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