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Serious turn for 'hallyu 3.0'


By Kim Ji-myung

We know that the recent media buzz about "Korean culture conquering Europe" through a few young Korean pop groups is quite an exaggeration.

Nonetheless, I find it surprising and also fun to see so many European and American youngsters dance and sing in unison with Korean tunes (in Korean!) on the streets and in parks. Did they practice these group dances for the Korean media? 

It reminds me of the old days when we girls thought there were no decent or appealing Korean songs for us and instead sang Western pop songs in English. Young fans of K-pop may be enjoying themselves without even knowing or caring much about the country of origin of the music. They like Korean songs with repetitive simple melodies and "light" verses. These idolized singers look and sound naïve and innocent, untainted by the dirty tint of sex, violence, drugs or crime.

I cannot disagree when my foreign friends say Koreans are too nationalistic in their interpretation of a success story when Koreans are involved. And of course, it is only the success stories that get the attention and media coverage. Very often only the brighter side of things is highlighted, without any real attempt to grasp the entire picture of reality.

The government often seems to rush to try and steal the show, and then claim the credit for the success. As part of its policy to keep the Korean wave or "hallyu" on track, the government has recently announced that it will set up 30 or more language institutes around the world every year. Meanwhile, isn't it true that the French and German governments have been doing the same quietly over the past several decades, based on a long-term policy?

I am sure that most Korean intellectuals abhor the word hallyu. It connotes unilateral cultural dissemination. It does not carry the depth, subtlety and complexity involved in communicating and understanding cultures among people.

Even as early as 2005, cultural anthropologist professor Michiya Iyamoto of Tokyo University sharply pointed out at a seminar in Seoul that Korean people need to change their concept of "culture" and ways of viewing it if they want to market their culture well to the outside world. Toward that end, we need to understand other people by carefully observing them and their culture.

The word hallyu was first used in the Beijing Youth Daily on Nov. 19, 1999, to describe the unprecedented zeal of Chinese audiences for Korean TV dramas and pop songs. The Chinese also used terms like "Korean tide", "Korean heat" and "Korean wind" although in the end only Korean wave survived.

In the meantime, there have been many events and official efforts to spread systematically and reinforce people's love of Korean culture _ not only music, dance but almost all dimensions of culture including traditional housing (hanok), food (hansik), dress (hanbok), beauty (cosmetics) and even medical treatment.

It is interesting to remember that people originally thought of hallyu as an ephemeral phenomenon like a sudden gust, something that would not last for more than five years. Many still remain doubtful about the future of hallyu, as The Korea Times reported on people's skepticism earlier this year.

A survey shows six out of 10 foreigners believe the popularity of Korean culture will cool down in the next few years. Sixty percent of 3,600 people in nine countries, including China, Japan, Thailand, the United States and France, were doubtful that hallyu will see lasting international success. Some 20 percent said they are becoming "tired of standardized content".

Many experts have said that it is time hallyu had a makeover. There have been sincere discourses on its desirable and sustainable evolution. People have also warned against excessive nationalistic interpretation of the phenomenon, politically incorrect approaches and downright commercialism in operation.

What will happen to hallyu in five years? Will it survive in this unpredictable, rapidly changing world? There have been efforts to find answers to this question.

Since February 2005, Chung-Ang University has conducted programs on hallyu for opinion leaders although it doesn't appear to be a success story for this 15-week course, for which the school mobilizes artists, practitioners and policymakers (even including President Lee Myung-bak) as lecturers, although I don't know if he actually stood at a podium in any classes.

If "hallyu 1.0" was unintentionally initiated by TV producers and a few singers, version 2.0 in the era of social media has been skillfully presented by a more sophisticated entertainment industry of Korea. Now we talk about hallyu 3.0, which may last in a wide spectrum of areas.

Earlier this year, experts from home and abroad reviewed and tried to find answers to obvious and potential issues regarding the future of hallyu at two seminars, organized by the Institute for Global Economy and the SolBridge International School of Business. Many conferences have been held outside the nation on hallyu sometimes in relation to Korean studies, including the one at Michigan University.

The latest development on the scene is the opening in September of the Graduate Hallyu School by the Catholic University of Korea. In addition to a master's degree course, special programs for global participants may open a new horizon of research and experimentation regarding the new global cultural factor known as the hallyu phenomenon.

The writer is chairwoman of the Korea Heritage Education Institute (K*Heritage). Her email address is

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