Hallyu and politics don’t mixThe megahit drama “My Love From the Star” has rekindled Hallyu, or the Korean Wave - the international popularity of Korean celebrities and entertainment programs - in China. The drama’s leading actor, Kim Soo-hyun, who plays an aloof, intelligent, cool and lovable alien who has lived in Korea for more than 400 years and who falls in love with a haughty top actress, enjoys A-list celebrity status in China due to the drama’s immense popularity.
He was whisked away on a chartered jet to Nanjing over the weekend amid tight security and was paid more than 3 million yuan ($489,617) to appear on Jiangsu Satellite TV’s reality show “Super Brain.” Tickets for the show were selling for as much $4,800. Jun Ji-hyun, who plays the sassy actress Cheon Song-yi, also created a splash with Chinese women rushing to buy the clothes she wore on the show and eat her favorite meal - fried chicken with beer. One woman reportedly had a heart attack watching the show. The drama rejuvenated the Korean Wave, which had ebbed slightly after Psy’s horse-riding dance steps in “Gangnam Style.”
The drama’s sensation was not just the talk of the town in China; it spilled over to the political scene as well. Members of the powerful People’s Political Consultative Conference discussed the lack of such creative and phenomenal China-made TV dramas and shows during a two-day session on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress. During the meeting, Wang Qishan, secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, posed a question to his colleagues: “Why can’t we make TV dramas as good as the Koreans? I thought on this and I finally came to understand. The power of the Korean drama is in its application of traditional values and culture.”
The craze over the soap opera had even the Washington Post wondering after it witnessed the discussions at China’s most important and biggest political event. The newspaper reported that the popularity of the Korean drama hurt the pride of the Chinese leaders - who have long believed their country to be the hotbed of East Asian culture - and gave them a moment for soul-searching about creativity standards in overall popular culture.
Hallyu has been a trendsetter in Asian pop culture and the entertainment business. But we have to be aware of the deep-seated rivalries in this part of the world. In the past, the popularity of Korean stars stirred anti-Korea sentiment by extreme rightists during diplomatic spats over historical and territorial issues. The government and the business sector must come up with a careful strategy to promote and keep the Korean Wave separate from political developments. Hallyu is one of Korea’s biggest soft powers and should be polished and developed with industrial focus.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 10, Page 34