South Korean pop culture conquers Chinese hearts

By Wang Wenwen Source:Global Times Published: 2014-2-21 23:53:01

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

I found myself being asked the same question recently whenever I met friends: "Did you watch the Star?"

Star? Meteor? Rocket? I wondered. After being teased by my friends, I was told I must watch the South Korean soap opera My Love from the Star.

The show, aired on an online streaming service, is indeed popular, as I soon found out on the Internet.

Featuring a love story between a handsome alien with superhuman powers and a pretty film star, the show not only relies on romance and comedy like previous much-liked South Korean soap operas, but also includes soul-stirring science fiction.

The show has not ended yet, as there are only two new episodes posted every week. Twice-weekly waves of discussions about the new plot hit China's social media.

Even the heroine's favorite treat, fried chicken and beer on a snowy day, has gained popularity after that particular episode was broadcast.

A friend of mine even went to a fried chicken store in Wangjing, Beijing's Koreatown, and lined up for one and a half hours.

"It tastes marvelous," she said, "especially after I watch that episode!"

It is totally fine if you don't enjoy such soap operas. But don't annoy those who love them, because they are not alone. They are backed by a large number of fans as loyal as them. And you have to accept the consequences if you displease them.

This year soap actor Lee Min-ho, who starred in TV series The Heirs, was the only Korean celebrity invited to China Central Television's annual Spring Festival gala. His mere presence provoked intense screaming.

When Yang Caiqi, a Chinese female dancer who also appeared on the gala stage, was quoted as saying that she was not as keen on him as his blind fans, fury erupted. Millions of fans demanded she apologize to Lee. The fury and the passion made many pity Lee for having such fans.

Chinese mainland society has seen crazier stuff surrounding South Korean stars in the last two years. This enthusiasm, especially young girls' deep love for "pretty boys" in shows, can be traced back more than a decade to when many South Korean movies and TV series debuted on Chinese mainland TV.

Wei Ai, editor-in-chief of a beauty magazine, summed up the fans as young, lacking social experience, shallow, ambition-free, and incapable of separating an ideal from reality.

Poo-pooing won't stop teenagers adoring idols in our consumer culture. These youngsters grew up in a market economy and love trying something new. Their way of life and understanding of culture is a sign of the times in which we live.

To criticize youngsters' crazy love for a particular culture will not halt its development. The question is if these youngsters, after absorbing foreign pop cultures, can be inspired to create something exclusively connected to our own culture and make it universal.

It's disappointing but unsurprising to note that the Chinese mainland's hottest TV show in 2013 Dad, Where Are We Going? was copied from a South Korean reality show. Will our youngsters change that?

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.

Posted in: Viewpoint

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