China’s cultural cold war continues as S.Korean shows pulled from Chinese streaming platforms

By Li Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2017/3/5 18:33:39

Chinese actor Zheng Kai (left) and South Korean singer Gary star in the fourth season of the Chinese version of South Korean show Running Man.Photo: CFP

Promotional material for South Korean TV drama My Love from the Star Photo: CFP

Promotional material for Chinese singing competition Singer Photo: CFP

South Korean pop culture lovers in China are having a hard time when it comes to watching the shows they love after all major Chinese streaming companies purged their platforms of South Korean shows last week. The move comes as relations continue to sour between China and South Korea following the latter agreed in July of 2016 to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.

"I'm bored. I don't know what to do with myself," avid TV fan Stephanie Shi told the Global Times. Before last week, watching Korean TV series was a major part of her daily routine.

Changes haven't just been limited to the removal of South Korea programming. Chinese TV programs adapted from South Korean shows have also undergone some changes to distance themselves from their South Korean sister shows.

The Chinese version of popular celebrity game show Running Man, which is now in its fifth season, changed its name to Keep Running a few weeks ago. I am a Singer, also in its fifth season this year, is now Singer.

These changes are just a part of China's informal sanctions against South Korea, along with Chinese travel agencies suspension of travel packages to South Korea and Chinese citizens boycotting South Korea's Lotte conglomerate, the company that agreed to provide land for the deployment of  THAAD.

From shows like Dae Jang-geum in 2003 to My Love from the Star in 2013, South Korean TV series have risen in popularity in China over the past few years.

Meanwhile, over the past three years, a majority of hit Chinese reality shows have been adaptations of South Korean productions, including Running Man, I am a Singer, Where are We Going, Dad? and Sisters over Flowers.

This South Korean fever inspired Chinese companies to spend a fortune bringing South Korean stars to China so they could star in local productions.

South Korean stars proved so popular that sometimes security at these idols' press conferences was even stronger and tougher than that of a hit Hollywood star.

Yet, now Chinese shows are unwilling to invite South Korean stars.

Secret to success

"Compared to our TV series, South Korean shows have higher production quality. From cinematography to music, many of them are on the same level as films. Each frame is a pretty poster," Shi said, while talking about how much she loves South Korean TV series, even though she admits that sometimes the storylines can be rather simple or repetitive.

Zhang Hongsheng, director of the Communication University of China's Culture-economy Research Institute, told the Global Times that South Korean TV shows have been successful because they provide a sense of participation, reflect reality and are also entertaining.

Chinese industry impact

While the changes have impacted her hobby, Shi isn't all that upset about things.

"So be it, I'll just go to watch other shows," she said.

Others have been more positive about the changes. Some Sina Weibo users have posted that while they love watching South Korean TV series, they understand and support the removal.

Yet not all viewers are as optimistic. Limei (pseudonym) said she feels that the recent anti-South Korean cultural movement is a rather unintelligent move.

In a post on her WeChat Moment page, Limei stated that in her opinion people who are boycotting South Korean culture over the THAAD system are being somewhat hypocritical, since the US is the real motivator behind the deal. If they truly were willing to take a stance, then they should be willing to "throw away their iPhones and iPads, and not watch US films such as Logan."

As to the impact the current situation will have on China's TV industry, Zhang said that it shouldn't end up causing too much trouble.

"Original Chinese programs have performed pretty well recently," Zhang said.

"Additionally, China's TV show producers are better skilled than before… Now that there are fewer South Korean shows available for import, that may inspire them to be more creative."

Compared to three years ago, the influence of South Korean TV shows has fallen considerably as TV show producers in China have started to look to other countries for inspiration.

For example, Dragon TV brought Bear Grylls to China last year to produce a Chinese version of Man vs Wild. Meanwhile, one of the most popular TV shows right now is Letters Alive, an adaptation of the popular BBC show Letters Live in which performers read correspondence between famous individuals.

"South Korean shows are indeed different from US, British and Thai shows, but they are not irreplaceable, " Shi said.

Newspaper headline: Taking a stance


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