“Hallyu” – an Unstoppable Influence in Asia?


By Yu-Shan Wu

Hallyu, or Korean Wave, 한류, is the growing aspiration to know more about Korean culture. The term was originated in mid 1999 by Beijing journalists surprised at the fast growing popularity of Korean entertainment and culture in China. The wave has started in East Asia and swept over Southeast Asia. Recently, it has even landed in the Middle East and part of Europe. The Korean Wave has extended the cultural understanding and interaction between South Korea and the rest of Northeast Asia and further created more business opportunity between countries. Based on Harvard professor Joseph Nye, he describes this wave as a soft power, and this soft power could create faith in culture, polices and institutions to win the battle of hearts instead of using traditional forms such as military power to gain awareness from countries.

The soap opera and k-pop (Korean pop music) have been the two main sources

of the Korean Wave in China. In 2003, the Korean television drama “Winter Sonata” was first shown on Japanese television in twenty episodes.  It captured 22% of the prime time viewing audience. In 2004 Winter Sonata had its second showing and this time it captured 24% of viewing audience.  ImageThis drama not only created the honor for the main character Bae Yong Joon but for the Korean drama business. Demand by fans for Winter Sonata merchandise has created an industry with an annual turnover in Japan and Korea worth 2.3 billion US dollars. Even the wife of the Japanese president was into this trend and drama.

Below is the chart of economic effect of Hallyu. Hallyu generated approximately extra KRW 1 trillion in 2010 than in 2009. In terms of value-added figures, Hallyu raised the figures by KRW 453.2 billion to KRW 1.9192 trillion. Hallyu also created more employment opportunity from 15,888 to 51,545 people. Based on the report, it also indicates this hallyu effect is large to China, Japan, and South Asia due to its high export. The tourism is the biggest winner in the sector because of the increase in the number of tourists visiting Korea. Southeast Asia also played a significant role in raising tourism in Korea.

Economic effects of Hallyu (Unit : KRW 1 million, %)

Hallyu effects Year Rate of increase from 2009 (%) Ave. rate of increase
2008 2009 2010
Production inducement 4,933,688 3,960,623 4,982,470 25.8 0.5
Value-added inducement 1,713,952 1,466,022 1,919,254 30.9 5.8
Employment inducement 12,503 35,657 51,545 44.6 103.0

The Korean wave has been partly relying on both direct and indirect governmental supports and thus sometimes is deemed as a product of South Korea’s cultural imperialism. Interestingly, the Korean governments also grab this opportunity and actually use this advantage to promote business. From the official Korea tour video, we are able to see well known kpop star introduce those entire scene from drama and extend to introduce side products from drama.

What’s more, the government has always strived to boost economic development in terms of both aggregate GDP growth and in developing the sophistication of production, the value added to goods and services and the increases in creativity and innovation. Hallyu is a creative industry that government can create profit through building relationship with this sector and further create growth.

Come back to its influence to other counties, China, with an autocratic government, will definitely not allow this hallyu invade into China. In 2001 Hu Jintao has elucidated that the Chinese Communist Party would never allow any actions threatening China’s socialist foundation and further. In January 2006, China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television announced that Korean dramas were to be cut by half. However, with the invention of more powerful route such as online video website, the hallyu fever is inevitable in china. Until 2012, China has imported 10-15 times more cultural products from Korea than it has exported. However, recently, China is gradually accepting this trend and further cooperates with this hallyu trend ex: joint production with korean entertainment producer. By utilizing South Korea’s filming techniques and China’s stage production techniques generate economic and cultural gains for both countries.

As a Taiwanese, I can feel the entire impact of hallyu in Taiwan, stores are playing Korean music, selling clothes made in Korea, and TV is playing Korean drama. However, its 21st century now, Mao’s dictatorship is no more working in this era full of freedom and it is hard to control people’s preference.  Hallyu is contagious, it can go from person to person, country to country, plus the advance video spreading tools, its hard to avoid this culture invasion. (Example: PSY oppa ganam style) Hallyu could be an unstoppable influence in Asia now, but we cannot promise that there will not be next “Chinese style” “Thai style” invading the world. Government really should learn from Korea and be supportive when private sector needed. Hallyu starts from entertainment sector too and with government support, they are able to have ease export all over the world.







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One Response to “Hallyu” – an Unstoppable Influence in Asia?

  1. brandeisaer says:

    Hallyu, believe it or not, was a conscious effort by the Korean government to facilitate trade and economic influence via pop culture. I remember that every year, Korean government sponsored concerts with popular Korean singers and movie stars in Vietnam to promote K-pop.
    Regarding the analysis, two major questions that you could have explored further are, why Korea was so successful and whether other countries could adopt this model. You mentioned that China or Thailand should learn from the success of Korea. Why haven’t they? Will they be able to follow this path? In your opinion, why or why not?

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