How Korean culture wave took the world by storm?

How Korean culture wave took the world by storm?

Supporting K-drama and K-pop became state policy followed by successive South Korean governments

By Sumeyye Dilara Dincer

Hallyu or Korean Wave refers to the phenomenal growth of Korean popular culture, in the form of music, television shows, video games and even cuisine.

This is the first of Anadolu’s four-part series on the Korean Wave.

What many do not know is that K-Culture is a state policy of using soft power to promote Korean identity.

South Korea was colonized politically, economically and culturally by Chinese empires and Imperial Japan.

- K-Culture is a way out

In the late 90s, South Korea was grappling with the Asian financial crisis.

Then President Kim Dae-jung saw a way out.

He focused on the Korean Wave as the main source of economic growth.

Speaking to Anadolu, sociologist Alptekin Keskin said that South Korea understood the importance of exporting culture.

“South Korea realized this after the economic crisis of 1997. Then this became a way out,” said Keskin.

- First step: K-dramas

Despite the enormous popularity of K-pop, it is K-dramas which started the trend.

The Korean Wave began with the 97 series called What is Love?, which got 150 million views in China, followed by Winter Sonata, which took Japan over by storm in 2002. Sales from Winter Sonata exceeded $3.5 million in Japan alone. This series came to Türkiye from Asia and became famous here as well.

Seo Taiji and Boys, who debuted in 1992 with the song, I Know, are widely regarded as introducing K-pop to the world.

With renewed interest in Korean drama and music in China and Japan, the term Hallyu was coined.

H.O.T, a boy band, became a global sensation among teenagers with its choreographed dances and peppy songs.

They became the first K-pop band to perform outside of Korea.

- State policy

Suk-Young Kim, who teaches theatre at UCLA, said that K-dramas spread first to Asia, then to North America and beyond, receiving awards at international film festivals, and this interest turned to K-Pop.

The Korean Wave is divided into four periods: 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and 4.0.

Dramas, movies and music dominated the 1.0 era between 1997-2007.

The government directly got involved in K-culture in the 2.0 era.

In the 2.0 period, which started in 2008, the focus was on music and dramas.

Cultural products moved to platforms such as YouTube with technological developments, and Hallyu began to show itself in East Asia, Western Europe, the US, and Latin America.

Ferruh Mutlu Binark, a professor at Türkiye’s Hacettepe University who has conducted fieldwork in South Korea, said South Korean presidents have seen cultural products as something that have an export value following the Asian economic crisis.

Referring to his meeting with members of the Korean Creative Content Agency (KOCCA), Binark said: "The period between 1997 and 2005, which emerged with the market's own dynamics, is called the first period.

"The period after 2005 (2.0) is important in this respect: Internet, the development of technology, the emergence of social networks and platforms, companies engaged in industrial production in Korea ... This content are not produced by the state, but private companies."

- Korea’s soft power

John Lie, professor of sociology at UC Berkley, also said the Korean Wave had no connection with the state at first, but later turned into a state policy.

Stating that the government noticed the increase in national and international interest in K-pop, Lie said: "With the undeniable success of K-pop and South Korean dramas, the state has worked to promote South Korean entertainment."

Alongside private companies, the Korean Ministry of Culture and Tourism has also developed plans to bring Korean cultural products to the overseas market and offered loans to entrepreneurs.

This decision, which became the country's "grand strategy", was followed by successive governments under the Hallyu Industry Support Development Plan.

Since the late 90s, they have either directly supported or subsidized all cultural initiatives in this field.

Keskin hailed the policy as a success story, saying: "There is no other country in the world that uses these groups and popular culture as effectively as Korea."

So much is South Korea's emphasis on soft power that the policy is even included in its National Defense Strategy.

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