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Hallyu, the Effect of the Korean Dramas to Chinese Consumers

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 4217 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Korean popular culture has been spread infectiously throughout the worlds for a past few decades where a new term, Hallyu has been introduced through this popularity; which means the “Korean wave”. These terms refer to a surge in the international visibility of Korean culture where it begins in East Asia specifically Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Central Asia and Japan in the 1990’s and continuing more recently throughout more country (Ravina, 2008, p. 3). This Korean popular culture was primarily started with a few television dramas that were able to attract audience’s heart in East Asia where these dramas could be viewed everywhere on the earth. The enthusiasm for Korean popular culture has set off the development of several areas such as Korean tourism, language and cuisine. What the deliberately strategised through the boost in production and export has become one of the influences from the transnational flow of the Hallyu in Korea. Therefore, the South Korean government has utilised the Korean wave as the medium to polish the country’s national image beside enhancing the public democracy internationally (Chua & Iwabuchi, 2008; Jang & Paik, 2012).

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As the Korean culture has started to penetrate to the several Asian countries, it was then viewed as a fad by the audiences as Korea has never developed a popular culture that was generally received in other countries. Since the Korean wave exploded, Korea has kept in building several forms of popular culture that penetrate over the world. Throughout the year, the popularity of Korean popular culture specifically regarding exports has been increased by 21.4 times from the year 2014 (Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, 2015). The Chinese media first coined the term Hallyu in the late 1990’s which describe the rapid popularity of Korean popular culture. Even though Hallyu has spread to many Asian countries through mass media, but there is no doubt that it has found its greatest success in China. This essay will look on Hallyu, where it has become a phenomenon among Chinese cultural consumers. Furthermore, this essay also will look over the impact of the consumption of Hallyu’s dramas in China.

Korean Cultural Imperialism

One of the prominent theories that educate acquaint the existing studies on Hallyu is the theory of globalisation. These are because Hallyu involves in the cross-border stream of cultural products and the recent globalisation process in East Asia has laid the base for it through liberalisation of markets and cultural industry sector. There are various models and dimensions of globalisation which includes not only the economic and political but also social and cultural aspects (Held et al. 1999, p. 341). Cultural globalisation is frequently associated with the notion of imperialism, which is regarded as its earlier form (Tomlinson 1991; Schiller 1979; Crane 2002; Curran and Park 2000).

The critical feature of the transnational flow of Hallyu is the active participation of the Korean government in well-established and utilised the cultural and creative industry as a vehicle of economic and political enhancement for their nation. In the late 1990s, where it was a significant period when the creative industries as a whole were designed as a critical sector for the growth of the South Korean economy (Choi and Maliangkay, 2015: 3). President Roh mentioned that it is perhaps will be even more worthwhile to indicate that the cultural and political significance of using Hallyu as Korean’s weapon in the international cultural exchange and foreign affairs (Huang, 2009). He also explained the phenomenon of Korean wave demonstrates how cultural imperialism develops as the economic imperialism. Regardless of seeing the Korean wave as merely another face of cultural imperialism or promptly tolerating in accepting the Korean wave as Korea’s obvious method of cultural imperialism. Many scholars have however only approached the subject from the theoretical standpoint and have left out an important issue on the socio-cultural significances that this new stream has on audiences and consumers of different cultural background who all intensely consume products of Korean popular culture (Phuong, 2016).

Hallyu, Audience and Fans in China

Hallyu which was first come in China in 2001 has sweep the Chinese audience with a strong domestic media industry. Since last year, Korean drama has become a massive hit in China such as the drama of “Descendants of the Sun” which is mainly because the drama itself does not conflict with the Chinese cultural values (Kim, 2017). Therefore, it was accepted by the Chinese audience. Furthermore, as there was a rapid change in the media environment until nowadays, it has dramatically affected the influence on how the Korean popular culture has been consumed especially on the young generation of Chinese. South Korea has not been exporting their programs to China until the 1990s. Then, in the year 1994, the export of Korean dramas ‘What on Earth is Love?’ was shown on China’s state-owned CCTV, it has triggered an influx of the Korean dramas into China. Since then, China’s open media policy has enabled Chinese television to show others foreign TV programs which include Korea. The system has paved the way for Korean TV shows, drama, song and culture to enter their market (Sora, 2004).

As the globalisation and cultural exchanges have developed and become more and more frequent throughout the year, Asia focusing on China has seen no longer being dominated by American popular culture; meanwhile, they tend to choose Korean popular culture which closely more resembles their culture. The Chinese audience prefers Korean entertainment over the American because it contains more Asian values and sentiments for them. As there is an increase in Korean dramas, movies and pop song in China, it has been received well by Chinese audiences. One of the main reasons is that Korea and China shared a similar culture. They tend to have a long historical relationship and have been sharing the common cultural background since then. Therefore, it is easier for the Chinese audience to accept the Korean dramas, movies and culture as they share a similar expression of feelings, philosophy, values and thought. Besides, the Chinese audience admires the Korean culture as it awakens their distant memory of their traditional civilisation. It could help encourage the Chinese to reassess their traditional culture and give rise to a renaissance of their traditional culture (Chai, 2011).

The consumption of Korean dramas and movies in China has been an enormous success; hence there was an explosion of all the things of Korean such as their fashion, food, language, song and even culture (Onishi, 2006). Chinese consumer and audience were attracted to the modern and sophisticated image portrayed in the Korean dramas and movies. The image projected through the drama such as the latest fashion, cheerful background music and emphasising the visual imaginary had shown that Korean television and broadcasting to be trendy and much more modern than what the Chinese audience are expecting (Sang-yeon, 2010). As the Korean dramas explode in China, it is most welcomed among the Chinese teenagers as they are nowadays being exposed with the Korean celebrities and idol incudes BTS, Super Junior, EXO and many more. For instance, EXO Chinese support site has around 900 followers in their Chinese websites which are Weibo (Wen, 2014). The Chinese teenagers are exposed more on Hallyu as they are keen to up to date in their social media.

Weibo is one of the social mediums that has been used in China. Weibo is known as an online platform that provided the services of micro-blog sites which has the same function as Twitter which has been used universally. The main clients of Weibo are mainly aimed at Chinese users and also a Chinese speaker. In Weibo, users can post the message or upload any picture, WAP page and even SMS and MMS (Chang, 2014). Weibo is one of the used mediums in China as in 2009; the Chinese authorities have blocked most of the overseas SNS websites to make Weibo play as a regional SNS platform in China. Since the formation of Weibo in China, it has been an excellent opportunity for the Chinese audience and even fandoms to being able to connect with their favourite Korean artist and idols. The development of this mediums also has created a flexible environment for Chinese fans to get multi-path news and sources besides being able to communicate with others.

Korean and Chinese Drama

There are two types of Korean drama that have been exported to China which is historical and contemporary dramas. Korean historical drama usually is centred on the well-known historical figures and events. The fictional elements are added to supplement the unrecorded piece of the history within the particular historical time frame to invigorate audience interest. Dae Jang Geum is one of the examples of the famous Korean historical drama aired in China in 2005 which it shows the realistic description of Korean royal cuisine and pharmaceutical which particularly has attracted the Chinese audience. Meanwhile, the contemporary Korean drama in which is fictional and usually happens in the setting of the present South Koreans society. Most of the modern drama portrait the daily lives of Korean in the urban areas. The focal themes of this type of drama changes from love and family to political issues. Some of the examples of love, romance and family dramas that have been loved by Chinese audience includes Autumn in My Heart (2000), Winter Sonata (2002), Miss Mermaid (2002) and most recently Secret Garden (2011). These dramas also have attracted young Chinese audience as they include a trendy-looking lead character which has guides the young Chinese audience on their fashion, hair and makeup.

Different from Korea, in the early role of Chinese television society, was not entertainment where it is instead served to teach and inform the people. The first Chinese television drama that began broadcasting in 1985 were A Mouthful of Vegetable Pancake, which was selected to a group of elites who. Under the early of the Communist system, there was the only little attempt made in pleasing the viewer which that was not the role of the medium (Green, 2000). There was a total of 180 Chinese drama that was broadcast but yet until 1980 the drama was produced for sheer entertainment and viewing pleasure. The first Chinese television drama that achieved popularity was Yearnings which was filmed in 1990. The demand for Korean drama was obtained by using the standard conflict resolution formula. This drama describes the social contradictions and the power struggle that happened in China (Hong, Yin, 2002).

There are significant reasons why the Korean drama has an enormous success in China which it includes it is more familiar and approachable for the Chinese audience where Korean popular culture was skilfully blending the Western and Asian values to creates its own culture and values (Jim, Seo, 2004). The May Fourth Movement and Cultural Revolution has undermined that Chinese traditional culture and Confucian values that underline the relationship. Meanwhile, Korea was known to be one of the most Confucian societies in the world, but then the increase in Korean drama has proven this point by reflecting on the Confucian values back. Hence some of the Chinese audience viewed Korean show seems to be more Chinese than Chinese. Besides, there has been increasing popularity in Korean drama due to an increasing number of cases where Korean dramas depict a positive representation of China. Chinese audience discovers their own traditional culture in Korean drama and being able to recapture their cultural identity and pride through them.

Challenges of Hallyu Drama to enter into China

In recent years, the Chinese government has emphasised its assurance to strengthen ideology building and to shield the socialist system. China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, 2006 had declared that Korean drama was to be cut by half (Sue Jin Lee, 2011). The People’s Daily additionally revealed that China Central Television Station, (CCTV)’s announcement to expand the range of imported foreign dramas in actuality was meant to lessen the Korean dramas being imported to China. Furthermore, the Chinese government also introduced a strategy that promotes more variety in the countries of cultural imports where this policy has brought in more cultural coming from US and Japan which have turned out become a strong contender with Korea in the Chinese cultural market. As through the measures, the Chinese government has expressed uneasiness towards the Hallyu’s influence over the Chinese audience.

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Along with the Hallyu enthusiasm, anti-Hallyu sentiment as additionally arising in China. There are various reasons behind the anti-Hallyu sentiment which includes the sudden fleeing of certain Korean organisations from China (Han, Summer 2012). With Korea expanded their trade with the USA and Japan, some Chinese people think that Korea will disregard China, where it is deepening the anti-Hallyu sentiment. These have made the Hallyu phenomenon being hard to penetrate the Chinese market, but over the year, the Chinese audience and even the government cannot resist the popularity of Korean drama in their country.

Impact of Korean Drama’s Consumption towards the Chinese Audience

Based on the report by the market researcher Euromonitor, the Korean TV dramas and movies have proved to be a striking marketing strategy for the fashion, brands and cosmetics industry. For instance, the popularity of a Korean TV drama, “My Love from Another Star” which has been a massive hit in China has proved the power of Hallyu phenomenon in fashion and lifestyle. These are where a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes, cost about US$625 which was worn by the heroines in that drama, Jun Ji-Hyun, was sold out in all shoe stores across Asia. Besides, the Yves Saint Laurent lipstick which also being worn by her also experiences a similar situation. These have proved that Korean TV drama has given a significant impact in the Chinese fashion which they believe Korean fashion are up to date with the latest trends (AFP, 2015). Furthermore, the beauty products that were featured in the top hit Korean dramas has been rocketing demand for the relevant cosmetics and skin care products in other Asian countries especially China.

The significance of South Korea’s influence on fashion and lifestyle trends across China is undeniable. South Korea has a significant moment-turned-decade as the cultural influencer and lifestyle trendsetter int China despite their small population which just 51 million against China with 1.379 billion population (Tai, 2017). The makeup trend form Korea has become popular among the Chinese audience. Bettina Ding mentioned that the Korean straight eyebrows, snow-white skin, two-toned lip colour, coral eyeshadow and cheek colour have now become a standard look among the Chinese female and teenager. Korean beauty care products are exceptionally well known among Chinese women and are the most mainstream shopping item among female Chinese tourists to Korea.

Also, as the Korean drama are being popular mainly among the young, urban population in Chinese, they tend to learn the Korean language. Using the Korean drama as an effective medium in learning the Korean language among Chinese consumers is a great opportunity for them. Not to deny, the Korean language has a significant influence from the Chinese therefore it does not make the Chinese audience having trouble learning Korea.

Furthermore, having a diverse anti-Hallyu voice in China could lead to an abundance of direct criticisms of Korean cultural products and pop stars. The Korean TV dramas are often condemned for repetitive stereotypical stories, lack of variety, too many coincidental elements, and many more. Hallyu, it is worried, can delude Chinese audience especially young teenager and prevent them from growing up in a normal way.


Recently, Hallyu has become a global culture possessed by all people in numerous countries. The border-less concept in globalisation has the cultural hybridisation between host culture and Korean popular culture without losing their Korea identity. Furthermore, globalisation also formed a conception of what, who and how has Hallyu emerged. Therefore, it is not surprising when you found an equivalent perception of Hallyu among this diverse society. These have brought the fancier and lavish style of Korean dramas and culture as a cosmopolitan, the citizen of the world.

Thus, Hallyu focusing on Korean drama can either could be given a positively or negatively impact to the Chinese consumers. This essay examined the Korean phenomenon which becomes increasingly popular over time among the Chinese cultural consumers besides looking on the impact of the consumption oh Hallyu’s drama that being exported in China. Since the late 1990s, Korean drama has provided a convenient and culturally safe alternative for the Chinese audience feeling comfortable with it. The fundamental reason of why Korean dramas great success in China is that they can meet the needs and wants of the Chinese audience which includes cultural and psychological contentment, deep fulfilment and also the visual satisfaction that could attract Chinese consumers. Moreover, there is also an ideal mix of traditional and modern in South Korean dramas, showing the essence of the traditional culture in a contemporary manner. Chinee people should learn the successful experience of Korean drama to apply the practical approach used by Korea into the Chinese film industry.

As discussed in the essay, Hallyu has helped to boost Chinese people’s enthusiasm beside change their perception towards Korean country. Through the Korean wave, Chinese audience came to know more concretely and personally the Korean popular culture. The popularity of Hallyu in China has reminded them of their common cultural background where they once realised that they shared a lot of similarities with Koreans in their daily life.


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