Updated: Oct 31, 2022
Image credits: the Medium
RIDING THE KOREAN WAVE - SOUTH KOREA’S SUPER SOFT POWER
In just a few decades, South Korean Culture has become a global sensation, has taken the world by storm, and has left the masses enthralled. “Korean Wave”, also known as Hallyu, is considered first coined by Beijing journalists. Hallyu describes the rising popularity of Korean Culture, which includes Popular Music (K-Pop), Dramas (K-Drama), Language and Cuisine, beauty products, etc., to name a few.
The phenomenon resulted from an admixture of causes that occurred in the 1990s, like the financial crisis in Asia and Korea, restructuring of the government’s policies and Korean economic structure, the relaxation of censorship, the reduction of travel restrictions, etc. However, initially driven by the booming popularity of Korean dramas and movies in South, East and South-west Asia, the phenomenon assumed global proportions bolstered by the internet and social media and boosted further by K-pop.
The popularity has been maintained over time due to various factors. Korean entertainment products like movies, dramas, and music possess excellent quality as well as creativeness. Bong Joon-ho’s movie Parasite is the first non-English film to win Best Picture at the Oscars alongside 3 other Academy Awards testifying Korean entertainment products’ global recognition. The popularity of K-pop has also sky-rocketed in the past decades. Korean artists like PSY’s Gangman Style and bands like Big Bang, Girl’s Generation, Super Junior, etc., turned heads everywhere.
THE BRAND KOREA - THE GRAND WAVE
K-pop has come a long way, and now international music has been dominated by k-pop bands like BTS, Blackpink, EXO, TWICE, Red Velvet, GOT7, MAMAMOO etc., solo ventures of band members and also solo artists like IU, Shaun, Punch, among others. Psy’s “Gangnam Style” was the first YouTube video to reach one billion views. The seven-member boy-band BTS is producing hit, chart-topping songs and a whooping contribution to the gross domestic product of South Korea- $4.65 billion in 2019 and has been responsible for 7.6% of the total foreign tourists that visit South Korea.
K-Dramas and their actors are becoming increasingly popular as viewership of K-Dramas are swelling with time on the various OTT platforms worldwide. K-dramas, with their visual and emotional appeal, are simply addictive.
Image credits: the Time
The language learning app Duolingo reported that Korean is presently the 2nd fastest growing language in the world. Korean brands like Samsung, Hyundai, LG, Kia, AmorePacific, etc., are becoming globally popular. K-dramas, songs and games prove to be globally relevant and at the same time embrace their home-grown roots and talents. Soju, Kimchi, Ramen, Samsung, etc., used in k-dramas also make people aware of the Korean products and culture. As K-Dramas, K-Beauty & K-Pop gain a following, Korean brands and products are experiencing a surge in demand.
South Korean popular culture also serves as a method by which South Korea can promote human development, nurture intercommunity interaction, and establish collaboration between countries. In addition, Hallyu is also one of the new engines to drive Korean economic growth. More recently, in 2019, Hallyu had an estimated USD 12.3 billion boost to the Korean economy.
The nation’s export of cultural goods and services has grown exponentially: a forty-time increase from $188.9 million in 1998 to $7.5 billion in 2018. The Korean Wave has also benefited other industries—including tourism, cosmetics, foods, fashions, and electronics—from its global success. According to Korean Development Institute, the export of every $100 worth of cultural content had led to the export of $248 worth of these consumer goods between 2011 and 2016. According to the Korea Foundation affiliated with the foreign ministry of Korea, the number of members of Hallyu fan clubs in 109 countries worldwide, excluding South Korea, has already crossed 100 million in 2020. Every year, the number of these organizations increases by 7% and the number of members by 36%.
Image credits: the National
SOFT POWER GIANT
Hallyu has grown consistently and rapidly since the 1990s and has proved to be a blessing for South Korea. But this is not just an accident. Hallyu is very well a part of South Korea’s foreign policy of public diplomacy. The term public diplomacy, first coined in the 1960s, is also known as people’s diplomacy, which refers to various government-sponsored efforts aimed at communicating directly with foreign publics. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, South Korea has established public diplomacy as the third pillar of its foreign policy and political and economic affairs.
Korea has embraced its soft-power assets other than only hard-power assets, and Hallyu is South Korea’s tool to develop its soft-power. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, South Korea, even conducts statistical research on the current status of Hallyu in each country. On 28 January 2021, South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Korean Foundation for International Culture Exchange released their 2021 Overseas Hallyu (Korean Wave) Survey. Based on such research, MOFA has provided support for Hallyu fan clubs' voluntary activities. Not only that, in June 2020, South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism also launched a new Hallyu department to expand further the ‘Korean Wave’ or Hallyu.
Many other countries also push for cultural power, but in South Korea, the government has had remarkably quick success. Korean Culture and Information Service has set up 32 Korean Cultural Centres in 27 countries across Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, and America to promote Hallyu.
The Korean Tourism Organization (KTO) has made the best use of this massive interest in Korea by offering very attractive tour packages to tourists. According to the ministry, the biggest motivation of foreign tourists for visiting Seoul is “Hallyu,” and they are diligently getting geared up to reap the benefits. The Korean government is in the process of creating “K-Culture Valley” (a Hallyu inspired theme park) in Goyang. Their government is aware, supportive and goes the extra mile to promote its culture actively. South Korea’s 2020 budget, which was their biggest-ever allocation to the cultural ministry, has about a USD 500 million budget to bolster its content industry, showing the tremendous faith that the government entrusts on it.
The wave is a massive global phenomenon that has been slow-cooked over the decades and not just an ephemeral trend. Hallyu shows the Soft power triumphing at its epitome and is definitely here to stay.
B.A. Honours History First-year
Hindu College, University of Delhi
Swati hails from Dehradun with love for Foreign Policy, food and music.