By Sandip Kumar Mishra
Department of East Asian Studies
University of Delhi
Recently Chongdong Theater, an official Korean theater group performed in three metropolitan cities of India. The public responses to these performances were jam-packed auditorium and cheering crowd. Hardly has any foreign troop and its performances been bestowed upon such generous, thundering and uninterrupted applause. When the performers introduced a genre of Korean music to Indian audiences, everybody in the auditorium seemed to have gone in a trance. Mesmerized from such an enchanting performance, the audience incessantly clamored for an encore. Undoubtedly, it was an obvious knock of Hallyu (Korean Wave) on the doors of India and it seemed to be a thundering knock in every sense of the term.
The Korean wave might be just touching the shores of India culture and musical landscape, but it had been flowing in torrents in the East and the South East Asian countries. The spread of the Korean cultural wave had been a decade long process, starting from the neighboring countries of Japan and China. The South East Asian countries were next to be hit by the Korean wave. Initially, there were apprehensions about the spread of Korean wave in the other regions of the world as the phenomenon was understood from the point of view of Cultural proximity theory. The theory purports that media productions from culturally affiliated countries have greater reception than those from the culturally distanced countries. It was speculated that the spread of the Korean Wave could not go beyond the shores of the countries having cultural proximity with Korea, but there have been growing realization and understanding that the Korean wave might transcend the regional and cultural boundaries because of its intrinsic strength.
Although, it is true that the Korean government has shown interest in introducing these dramas to the countries, which are geographically and culturally away from Korea, the popularity, demand and sustainability of these dramas could not be ensured just by the government support. There seems to be a popular demand for the cultural products of the Korean Wave. Take an example of Japan, where despite many political disagreements between Japan and Korea, Korean dramas such as Winter Sonata
became a fad among the general people. The Korean government might facilitate the availability of these products to various countries but the globalization of cultural traits must have to pass the fair trail of being interesting and inspiring to people and only then there could be sustained demand for these products in foreign countries. In the case of performance of the Korean troop in India also, it is true that the Korean Embassy in India and the Indian Council of Cultural Relations hosted the event, but the credit of all those applause could not be given to them alone. It was basically power of the Korean music which made every spectator to enjoy the performance.
In May-June 2006, a Korean delegation visited India, Indonesia and Thailand as part of its efforts to spread the Korean Wave in these countries. In India, for first time the Korean Drama 'Emperor of Sea" was introduced by DD 1 on 23rd July 2006. In another move to make Indian audiences aware about the Korean cultural richness, the MBC hit drama "A Jewel in the Palace" ("Dae Jang Geum
") began to be aired on DD 1 from 24th September. It is difficult to make any assessment about the popularity of these dramas as initial viewer ship of first drama was around 0.8 percent only. However, it is notable that there has been 4 percent growth of viewer ship of the first drama since then. Although, it is premature to make any definite statement about the popularity of these Korean dramas as they are still in nascent days only, there are people who like these dramas very much and they wish that these dramas would be shown more often (presently these dramas are shown only once in week). Not only in India but also in other South Asian countries such as in Pakistan there are demands for the Korean dramas and soon Pakistani audience too would be able to watch these eternal and omnipresence saga of Korean history and culture on their state channel. It is nothing but the popularity and the huge market potential of these Korean dramas that have evinced a keen interest from the hugely popular Sony TV channel in them. The Sony TV has expressed its willingness to have these dramas in its milieu of programmes. All these developments clearly point to an incoming Korean Wave in the South Asian countries also, which are geographically far away from the Korea.
Korean wave, though of a different nature, first came in India with the opening up of opportunities for the external players in the liberalized market of India in the beginning of 1990s. The first phase of the recent interactions of Indians with Korea was essentially growing acquaintance with the Korean Jaebol like Daewoo, Hyundai, LG and Samsung. There were people in India who were not aware of Korea though they had well information about these Korean companies and their products. In subsequent years, these companies further expanded and diversified the range of their products and became household names in India. Now there is hard to find a family, especially in urban India, which does not have products of these Korean companies. Gradually, small and medium sized Korean companies have also come to Indian market and are working as a cultural ambassador of Korea in India. Thanks to the economic interests of the Korean companies in India, the bilateral trade between the two countries has grown from a meager $570 million in 1991 to about $7 billion in 2006. With the proposal of the POSCO, a steel giant of Korea, to investment around $12 billion in integrated steel plants at Paradip in Orissa, there have been speculations that there would be increased interests of Korean multinationals in India in coming years. The POSCO investment in India would be the largest ever foreign investment in India till date and the single largest overseas investment by a Korean company. If it is not a Korean economic Wave in India than what is it? Moreover, the growing interest of Korean companies in India has also brought its spill-over in various forms. Korean language education and Korean studies have grown faster in recent decades in India.
There has been growing demand in India for not only Korean language but also Korean studies in general with the growth of Korean companies in India. The Korean studies, which was taught in only one university of India, namely the Jawaharlal Nehru University, has been established in University of Delhi in 2002, University of Madras and University of Calcutta in 2005. Every year the number of students enrolled in various courses related to Korean studies has been growing dramatically. In these universities, various events like Korea Week by University of Delhi and Hangul Day by Jawaharlal Nehru University have been celebrated annually and are quite popular. It is worth to mention in this regard the Korean Drama which has been presented as part of the Korea Week by the University of Delhi. Though the drama directors come every year from Korea, the casts are Indian students learning Korean language in the University. In 2004 and 2005, Korean dramas Chunhyang-jeon and Heungbu-jeon were performed and they became so popular that the Korean drama performance has become central to the Korea Week celebration. Because of growing demand and popularity of these drama shows, this year the performance of the Korean drama Kimsorowangwa Heowangwhu was done at the Kamani Auditorium of Delhi which hosts most of the significant performances of Indian theatre and is the hub of cultural life of Delhi.
So, the introduction of Korean dramas on the National TV Channel of India and loud support to Korean music performances were not out of the context. They are part of growing interest of Indians in not only Korean economic miracle but also in the cultural traits of Korea exemplified in various TV soap operas and music. Like wise spread of Korean wave in Japan, China and other Southeast Asian countries, the wave seems to have reached at the shore of South Asia. Putting things into perspective, it could be said that the coming of the Korean wave in India might take some more time to make a visible and splashing presence but augmented by all encompassing relations between the two countries and growing business relations between the countries in leaps and bounds, there could not be any doubt from its becoming more and more popular and strong in coming times.
Even looking from the point of view of cultural proximity angle, Korea and India share the story of Kim Suro of Gaya kingdom, who married to Indian princess of Ayodhaya in 1stcentury BC. The story of ancient marital alliance between the two countries is not the lone intersection of the past. Buddhism and Asian values are other common features in Korea and India from time immemorial. On the bedrock of historical and cultural linkages as well as growing economic mutuality between both countries, the Korean wave could venture into a country of billion with its never ending ebb. Even beyond the cultural proximity theory, there are uniqueness of Korean elements in these cultural products which also have many generic elements. Take for example the Korean dramas, which enact and narrate emotionally gripping themes such as family, friendship, love, greed and betrayal. The portrayal of universal themes explains the transcending appeal of Korean dramas in various cultural context of Asia. However at the same time, these dramas do reflect unique elements of Korean values, beliefs and practices in their narration and presentation.
The phenomenon of the Korean Wave and its spread in far away countries like India and South Asian region is also symbolic of Korea emerging as a 'soft power' in Asia. Here soft power means that Korea has the 'power to attract' based on its intangible resources such as its ideas, culture, business practices, intellectual know-how, political and social values and so on. In contrast to hard power, which primarily relies on its physical resources such as military forces, population, territory and raw materials, acceptance of Korean intangible aspects would certainly provide it the leverage to play more significant role in Asia. It is said that 21stcentury would be an era of intangibles and definitely Korean wave and its intangible effects on the social psyche of human beings in Asia could be a phenomenon to be reckoned with in the new century.
Though, the prospect of Korean wave looks promising in India and even in other South Asian countries, however, given the size and other infrastructural factors of India, it would be premature to come to a definite conclusion about the process in advance. The Korean wave in India would take its unique course, however it has shown a good beginning with capturing the imagination of the people and we could be optimistic about its future. Till date only two dramas have been performed in India but in future there are number of popular Korean dramas such as presently running Yul Aphop Sunchong, Paris' Yeonin, Naeirumun Kim Sam Soon that could be introduced in India with success in future. There is possibility as well of the Korean drama being shot in India with the help of Indian casts. In March last year, Korean TV program production company DHB introduced entertainment show 'Muya Muya' fully shot in Thailand and the program recorded highest viewer rating within six months in Thailand. It is estimated that in last two years, a total of 10 Korean studios have explored foreign markets in order to produce TV programs in Thailand, Vietnam, and China. There are expectations that India would also be included in this list.
In the Indian case, it is difficult to decide whether it was the growing demand for knowing Korea that was instrumental in making Hallyu introduced in the country or it was started with the government help, to make the possibility of Hallyu in India and South Asia. At this stage of economic and cultural exchange, it is incumbent upon the government and private players to bring Korean cultural product to South Asian countries and introduce them to general population. Given the geographical distance, the Hallyu needs initial helping-hand but later on it might become a driving force in the bilateral relations of Korea with these countries. The example of India could be a case of precedent in this regard.
The author teaches at the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi, India.