The rise of Korean popular culture

South Korea, historically more worried about fending off cultural domination by China and Japan than spreading its own culture abroad, is emerging as the pop culture leader of Asia. From well-packaged television dramas to slick movies, from pop music to online games, South Korean companies and stars are increasingly defining what the disparate people in East Asia watch, listen to and play.

The size of South Korea’s entertainment industry, which began attracting heavy government investment only in the late 1990’s, jumped from $8.5 billion in 1999 to $43.5 billion in 2003. In 2003, South Korea exported $650 million in cultural products; the amount was so insignificant before 1998 that the government could not provide figures.

But the figures tell only part of the story. The booming South Korean presence on television and in the movies has spurred Asians to buy up South Korean goods and to travel to South Korea, traditionally not a popular tourist destination. The images that Asians traditionally have associated with the country – violent student marches, the demilitarized zone, division – have given way to trendy entertainers and cutting-edge technology.

Here is the full story, and yes some of the material is getting to North Korea as well.


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