Go to contents

China’s drive for cultural rise

Posted May. 25, 2019 07:42,   

Updated May. 25, 2019 07:42


Come to think of it, the Chinese broadcasting business might have been glad when the relations between South Korean and China soured a few years ago due to the deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system.

The Chinese government’s unofficial ban on Korean pop culture took effect when the deployment of THAAD in South Korea was confirmed in July 2016. The airing of Korean dramas in China was canceled and K-pop bands had their events canceled overnight. The impact of the ban was enormous. At that time, Korean entertainment agencies disproportionately focused their publicity activities on China, so much so that the phenomenon was called, “China only.” No wonder the ban hit the Korean pop cultural sector hard. But the Chinese government did not care about it. It started to promote its entertainment business while putting a ban on Korean pop culture. It felt as if the government had already laid out detailed plans.

While the Chinese government prohibited the import of “finished products” of Korean pop culture, it allowed the exchange of formats, which serve as a “blueprint” in making its own content. It was to minimize the impact of Korean cultural content and at the same time assimilate the know-how. In format exchange, the producer and the staff of an original show serve as a coach in China as “flying producers.” There was one ridiculous case, where a Chinese broadcaster, which purchased the license from Korea, and its competitor, which copied the format without permission, scrambled to launch the show first in China.

There have been talks about relieving the ban on Korean pop culture since the start of the year. But China has no reason to rush as it is now capable of making quality shows. That is why Korean producers, who went to China at the height of the Korean wave, are returning home one by one.

In fact, China is drawing a big picture. It is dreaming of the cultural rise of China. China appears to have two big goals. One is to create high value-added content in the TV, film, and music industry. It was the path Korea took after the 1997 Asian financial crisis. The Chinese government’s 2017 policy aimed at promoting Chinese dramas actually included support plans for selling quality dramas overseas. The other is to boost the national brand power through culture and have people around the world feel friendly toward China, thereby improving the image of Chinese products. The West and Japan have successfully boosted their national brand power through their culture.

China has been making such attempts for several years. China is targeting a niche market in the drama business in Southeast Asia. Chinese actors have started to appear in Hollywood movies, such as “Pacific Rim: Uprising” and “Kong: Skill Island.” It is common to see the logo of a Chinese film studio at the start of a movie. Have you recently seen a Chinese actor playing a villain in a Hollywood movie? These have been possible due to the power of China’s money and are part of China’s cultural rise.

Some say China is dreaming of cultural imperialism. China is known to have a strong pride in its culture. Would anyone remember that Korean pop culture contributed to China’s cultural development if China’s cultural rise actually became successful? In order not to listen to such words, more efforts should be put into improving Korean pop culture.

Kwon-Mo Moon mikemoon@donga.com