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Hallyu (한루) or the Korean wave, is a term that refers to the growing popularity of Korean entertainment, culture, food and language in other countries; particularly in East and Southeast Asia. The Korean wave can be traced back to the 1990s when audiences in China, Japan and Taiwan were first exposed to South Korean dramas. Korean dramas, pronounced as durama (드라마) in Korean, are essentially soap operas that last for about three months with around twenty episodes or so. Korean dramas are known to contain highly addicting plotlines. Naturally, stories of unrequited love, good guy versus bad, reeled in many East Asian fans.
Interestingly enough, Korean dramas became popular in Middle Eastern countries like Iran as well. With Korean dramas focused on family values and devoid of sexual content, Middle Eastern audiences were able to identify with some of the drama’s characters. One of the most notable of these dramas is called Jewel of the Palace or dae jang gum (대장금). Dramas like dae jang gum (대장금) sparked an unprecented interest in Korean culture and put South Korea on the “map.”
With the export of Korean dramas, Korean music followed in popularity. Boy bands with flashy dances and upbeat rhythms soon captured female audiences. The most well known of these boy bands is dong bang shin ki (동방신기) a five member group consisting of songs that range from hip hop to more pop songs. Additionally, solo artists like Rain pronounced bi (비) in Korean, and Boa (보아) would rise to top the music charts and perform concerts in countries like Japan.
The Korean wave achieved three goals for South Korea. First, it cemented South Korea’s presence historically, on the world stage. Japan and China were no longer the only countries to dominate Asia socio-politically and economically. For the first time South Korea became a strong contender to challenge the Chinese and Japanese stronghold in Asia. Secondly, the South Korean economy prospered with the export of Korean goods. More people wanted to wear Korean clothes and eat Korean food while they were watching and listening to Korean music and dramas. With the rise in South Korean exports, Korea increased its trading presence in the world as well. Lastly, South Korea gained an upper hand in political and diplomatic affairs. In the past, countries like China and Japan looked down on Korea with contempt, but now efforts are being made in those respective countries to “reconcile” with South Korea. (This reminds me of a situation where the popular kid at school initially ignores you but then upon learning that you’re rich, the popular kid all of a sudden wants to be best buddies with you!)
As South Korea moves towards the future, and as problems mount in North Korea, whether South Korea likes it or not, it will have a greater role in world affairs in the coming years. So don’t be surprised to see South Korea in the news more often or Korean goods in supermarkets all across the U.S.!