Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Riding the "Korean Wave"


After World War II, South Korea banned cultural imports from Japan—movies, music and the like—because of the grudge it held against its former imperial ruler. As Seoul started loosening these restrictions in the 1990s (partly in response to black-market Japanese goods that were turning up in South Korea anyway), it decided to create an indigenous culture industry to avoid being swamped by the incoming Japanese tide.

The South Korean government started heavy funding of domestic TV and film production, and apparently the music and video-game businesses as well. Seoul also created a single department, the Korea Culture and Content Agency, to encourage exports.

Today, as Norimitsu Onishi writes in "Roll Over Godzilla, Korea Rules," Seoul's soap operas and hairstyles are the rage across East Asia, and regional perceptions of South Korea and its people are increasingly favorable. Interestingly, Korean auto exports are also way up.

Onishi doesn't address whether South Korea's new popularity is partly a function of East Asia's increasing animosity towards Japan—with South Korea providing cultural products the People's Republic et al. would rather not buy from Tokyo. Also, Korean auto exports could be up in part thanks to a long-term drive by Korean auto manufacturers for higher quality.

Otherwise this short article is a textbook illustration of how a small, culturally unified country can increase its soft power.

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