Chinese fans of S.Korean pop culture stay loyal despite rumored ban

By Ren Yaoti Source:Global Times Published: 2016/8/17 19:33:39

China's love affair with South Korean popular culture seems to have fallen on tough times. Due to the planned deployment of a missile defense system, unofficial rumors say the Chinese authorities are going to clamp down on K-pop and K-dramas. While some fans have decided to stand with the rumored government stance and boycott Korean culture, many hardcore supporters have chosen to stick with their beloved idols.

Chinese fans wait for South Korean pop star Park Si Hoo at an airport in Shanghai. Photo: IC

Earlier this August, South Korean media first reported that China would ban K-pop and K-dramas in order to put pressure on the South Korean government in retaliation for the deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in the country.

The rumored ban aroused intensive discussion on Chinese social media. "When it comes to the country, there is no idol" soon became a hot hashtag on Sina Weibo.

This controversy has driven some fans of Korean pop culture, known as Hallyu, to stop following their idols online with Weibo user Azhun-yeon writing "I'm a super crazy fan, I love K-pop stars, but I love my country more than anything."

A fan of G-Dragon (a member of South Korean boyband Big Bang) decided not to go ahead with her plan to see the band in concert, explaining "I can't imagine if one day a bomb lands on my country, and I might have paid for it."

The rumors about the ban were first reported by The Seoul Economic Daily on August 4, which reported that China is going to restrict imports of Korean entertainment, but these claims have not yet been officially confirmed or even responded to by the Chinese authorities.

The rumors said that from September 1 onwards K-pop concerts were going to be cancelled, Korean dramas would be scrubbed from schedules and South Korean stars would be banned from Chinese chat shows.

The China News Service news agency reported that these rumors are "unsubstantial" and that "There's no change to the airing of KBS TV drama Uncontrollably Fond on Chinese Internet behemoth Youku." However, public appearances from some of the show's stars have been indefinitely postponed.

The South China Morning Post quoted two insider sources at a Guangdong TV station who said they had received orders from the national media watchdog saying that new approvals for programs featuring South Korean pop stars would not be granted in the near future.

K-pop Krazy

The popularity of South Korean pop culture in China in past decades has sprung in part from the relative friendliness of ties between the two nations since they established diplomatic relations in 1992, with South Korea acting as a diplomatic partner to China in Sino-US talks and the Six Party Talks on North Korean denuclearization.

However, the deployment of THAAD has angered China and damaged ties.

China and Russia have both criticized the deployment, claiming it will affect the strategic balance in the region and hamper their nuclear deterrents.

Hallyu is a huge phenomenon in China with 17.6 million people counting themselves as Hallyu fans in 2015.

Cultural exports earned South Korea 37.71 trillion Korean won ($34 billion), which accounted for 2.54 percent of its GDP in 2014, according to an April report. The report also said that China is the biggest market for South Korean media products, making up over 40 percent of the overseas market for South Korean movies and TV shows.

Korean pop music is also a major money-spinner in China. Big Bang played 15 major concerts in China last year, with fans paying up to 580 yuan for seats so far from the stage that they can only see the band on the LED screens set up in the venue. VIP tickets can go for as much as around 1,900 yuan, some 500 yuan more than the average student pays for their yearly rent on campus.

Having grown up with Hallyu, most young fans do not see it as a foreign culture and are unlikely to turn against it because the government has decided to punish South Korea for its defense decisions.

Li Minmin (pesudonym), a high school student in Beijing, says that recent events have not affected her passion for Hallyu at all. She says that she still spends whole days watching videos of her favorite K-pop bands "like crazy," adding that "It totally has no influence on me, if they are banned in China, then I will save money and make other plans."

Despite the official pressure, there are still planned Hallyu events. Li recently posted a screenshot to her WeChat Moments that described the Chinese tour of G-Dragon, who will perform in cities across China in 2017, and the teenager said she was already looking forward to seeing the idol sing in Beijing.

Just like Li Minmin, Guangzhou University sophomore Hu Yu (pseudonym) is also a hardcore Hallyu fan. The 10-year fanatic, who admits she knows nothing about the tense missile situation in Northeast Asia, says she is looking for someone to come with her to see pop stars from K-pop company AOMG play in Guangzhou in September.

Motherland or Oppa

While many Hallyu fans have stuck with their idols despite the actions of the South Korean and Chinese governments, they have been known to get incredibly worked up over controversies that directly involve their beloved "Oppas," a Korean word used to refer to male Hallyu stars.

Not long after official tensions spiked, a commercial starring a famous South Korean actor outraged some Chinese fan groups. Park Bo Gum became famous in China for his role in the South Korean soap opera Reply 1988. But his appearance in an ad for American footwear brand K-Swiss was slammed as some argue that it showed China in a bad light.

In the commercial, Park plays a master of the Go board game, just as he does in Reply 1988. His opponent in the board game is a fat and furious middle aged man called the Great Wall. The Great Wall loses the game and is slapped by a girl. Some enraged Chinese fans have claimed that the Great Wall represents China and have directed their anger over how he is portrayed in the ad toward Park.

Don't Stop New K-Drama, a Sina Weibo account which covers Hallyu culture that has over three million followers, announced it will not publish any Park-related news until he apologizes to China.

On the other hand, many of Park's fans have decided to defend him. Those who still support him say that, while they also found the ad offensive, the public should not blame him solely for its content. "He didn't do it on purpose, he may not have a say in this commercial shooting, though he should have noticed, his company also needs to take responsibility in this issue," said one fan of Park. Some even speculated that this controversy was intentionally whipped up to help arouse opposition to THAAD and to turn the public against South Korea.

Hu Yu told the Global Times that if her favorite South Korean idol was involved in a similar scandal, she would feel very disappointed. "If my Oppa is disrespectful to my country, that means I was blind when I fell in love with him. I would give up loving him, why should I love a man that has personality problems?" Hu said. "Those who don't like China, please don't make money in China," she added.

Unlike Hu, who is anxious about her fandom after the Park scandal, Li is totally unperturbed. While she admits that any crackdown on Hallyu will make it more difficult for her to watch videos online or see shows, she says her passion for Hallyu cannot be quenched by the scandal.

"It is really hard for a fan to care about too many things," Li told the Global Times, "If I want, then I do, if I don't, then I quit. No matter how big the scandal is, the only thing that matters is if I like him or not,"  she added.

The differing opinions expressed by Hu and Li reflects what Li describes as the broadening base of Hallyu fandom in China, which she says is increasingly diverse.

"Time changes and so do people," she said.

Newspaper headline: Hallyu hardcore

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