Advances in Applied Sociology
2012. Vol.2, No.3, 196-202
Published Online September 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
Korean Wave as Tool for Korea’s New Cultural Diplomacy
Gunjoo Jang1, Won K. Paik2,3
1Department of Curriculum, Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation, Seoul, Korea (South)
2Department of Political Science and Diplomacy, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Se oul, Korea (South)
3Department of Political S cience, Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, USA
Email:, paik1wk@huf s
Received May 20th, 2012; revised Jun e 24th, 2012; accepted July 8th, 2012
Abstract: In recent years, there has been an influx of Korean popular culture throughout the world, in-
cluding East Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Korean popular culture, also known as the
“Korean Wave” (Hallyu in Korean) ranges from television dramas, movies, popular music (K-pop), dance
(B-boys), video game, food, fashion, tourism, and language (Hangul). The main focus of this paper is to
examine the essence of the Korean Wave and its impact on the world. In particular, this paper aims to ex-
plore the relationships between the spread of the Korean Wave and political and social changes in a global
perspective. That is, does the Korean Wave affect the political position and diplomatic leverage of Korea
in any meaningful way? Toward this objective, this paper first examines the relevant literature of interna-
tional relations for policy and culture change, especially with regards to globalization, interdependence,
soft power and world value change. Then, recent developments of the Korean Wave are reviewed and
critically analyzed in order to ascertain political and policy implications for Korean diplomatic and prac-
tical directives. Finally, we will draw an interpretive conclusion and recommendations toward the plausi-
bility of the Korean Wave as a policy tool for Korea’s cultural diplomacy.
Keywords: Korean Wave; Cultural Diplomacy; Complex Interdependence; Globalization; Soft Power;
World Value Change
In recent years, there has been an influx of Korean popular
culture throughout the world.1 It began from a small part of
East Asia and has been spread out to the world, including East
Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Korean popu-
lar culture products, also known as the “Korean Wave” (Hallyu
in Korean) ranges from television dramas, movies, popular
music (K-pop), dance (B-boys), and to a lesser extent video
games, food, fashion, tourism, and language (Hangul). The term
Korean Wave was coined by the Chinese press (Hanliu in Chi-
nese) a little more than a decade ago to refer to the popularity of
Korean pop culture in China. The popular idol group H.O.T.’s
concert held in Beijing gave the chance for Chinese press to
coin the word: “The boom started with the export of Korean
television dramas (mini-series) to China in the late 1990s. Since
then, South Korea has emerged as a new center for the produc-
tion of transnational pop culture, exporting a range of cultural
products to neighboring Asian countries. More recently, Korean
pop culture has begun spreading from its comfort zone in Asia
to more global audiences in the Middle East, Africa, Europe,
and the Americas.” (The Korean Wave, 2011: p. 11).
At the same time, the Korean government has tried to take
the advantage of the Korean Wave as a policy tool to improve
its cultural and public diplomacy.2 Under Lee Presidency, the
Korean government has placed “complex diplomacy” and
“value diplomacy” the main policy objectives to improve cul-
tural and public diplomacy along with enhancing national im-
age and national brand. In particular, the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs and Trade and the Presidential Council on Nation
Branding have been seeking to take advantage of the popularity
of the Korean Wave to promote Korean national interest and to
enhance Korean images in the world.3
In these backdrops, the main focus of this paper is to exam-
ine the essence of the Korean Wave and its impact on the world.
In particular, this paper aims to explore the relationships be-
tween the spread of the Korean Wave and political and social
changes in a global perspective. That is, does the Korean Wave
affect the political position and diplomatic leverage of Korea in
any meaningful way? Toward this objective, this paper first
examines the relevant literature of international relations for
policy and culture change, especially with regards to globaliza-
tion, complex interdependence, soft power and world value
change. Then, recent developments of the Korean Wave are
reviewed and critically analyzed in order to ascertain political
and policy implications for Korean diplomatic and practical
directives. Finally, we will draw an interpretive conclusion and
recommendations toward the plausibility of the Korean Wave
as a policy tool for Korea’s cultural diplomacy.
Theoretical Discussion
World is Flat? One of the controversial debates in recent
1Hereafter “Korean” refers South Korean.
2Cultural diplomacy is defined a s “ the practice of using cultural resources to
facilitate the achievement of foreign policy objectives, and international
cultural relations as the practice of using diplomatic resources to facilitate
the achie ve ment of cult u ral policy objective (Kim & Ni, 2011: p. 141).
3Korea became the first country to establish a presidential council to coor-
dinate efforts to improve national image and national brand. The Council
hosted The Korea Nation Branding Convention 2011 under the slogan
“Hallyu, into the Future with World,” in Seoul, Korea, August 25-28, 2011.
At the same time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has published
the first ‘Cultural D i p lomacy Manual’ in 2010.
years has been the nature of globalization and the subsequent
structural and systemic attributes of global transformation.
Feiock et al. (2008) examines the debate between two contend-
ing views regarding globalization. On the one hand, Friedman
(2005) claims the “world is flat” and that globalization in the
information age has diminished the importance of location as a
competitive edge in fostering economic growth. On the other
hand, Florida (2005) argues that the world is spiky and that
while globalization has exposed many regions to heightened
competition, the world is far from flat. It is still quite moun-
tainous or “spiky,” because it is full of clusters where location
matters, most notably in cities. Feiock et al. (2008: p. 15) con-
cludes that globalization has produced a world that is neither
flat nor spiky: “More apt is a metaphor portraying the economic
world as, if you will, more clustered and rough (regionally fo-
cused) than flat (globally focused) or spiky (locally focused).
Simply put, economic development success gravitates toward
interconnected regional entities whose competitive advantages
lies in their collaboration. However, we need to note that in the
globalized world and emergence of network society, the clus-
tered world is closely interconnected to one another regardless
of the distance or location.
Complex Interdpendenc. According to Keohane and Nye
(2001: p. 7), dependence means a state of being determined or
significantly affected by external forces. Interdependence,
which most simply de fined means mutual de pendence, refers t o
situations characterized by reciprocal effects among countries
or among actors within different countries. In the era of inter-
dependence, what is the connection between the Korean Wave
and international actors and institutions? By importing the con-
cept of interdependence from international relations toward the
Korean Wave, we hope to identify factors that promote cultural
globalization and the changes in power structures in the global-
izing world. Such an approach emphasizes the importance of
cross-national comparative analyses. In this vein, there is a
need to examine an interaction between the spread of the Ko-
rean Wave and its plausible impacts on other countries.
As globalization became a buzzword in the 1990s, Keohane
and Nye (2001: pp. 228-233) argued that globalism involves
spatially extensive networks of interdependence, and is defined
as “a state of world involving networks of interdependence at
multicontinental distances, linked through flows and influences
of capital and goods, information and ideas, people and force,
as well as environmentally and biologically relevant sub-
stances.” Since interdependence refers to situations character-
ized by reciprocal effects among countries or among actors in
different countries, globalism is a type of interdependence with
two special characteristics: 1) Globalism refers to networks of
connections (multiple relationships), not simply to single link-
ages; 2) Globalization is not a process that involves the retreat
of the state because the state remains a strategic contested ter-
rain, control of which is pivotal to world order. It is a process
involving increased cross-border socioeconomic activity, mak-
ing it enormously difficult to distinguish between global and
national and in fact, the global becomes the national and
vice-versa.4 This renders the excessively vertical view of the
world found in mainstream international relations theory in the
shape of traditional levels of analysis and dichotomous exter-
nal-internal approaches increasingly meaningless (Baker, 2000:
pp. 366-367). For a network of relationships to be considered
global it must include multicontinental distances, not simply
regional networks. Accordingly, interdependence and globalism
are both multidimensional phenomena with distinct types of
flows and perceptual connections that occur in spatially exten-
sive networks in economic, military, environmental, social and
cultural dimensions (Keohane & Nye, 2001).
Complex interdependence got its driving force with the ad-
vent of network society. By network society, we refer to the
social structure that results from the interaction between social
organization, social change, and a technological paradigm con-
stituted around digital information and communication tech-
nologies (Castells, 2004: preface p. 17). The network society
has been presenting certain common feature which is deter-
mined by the cultural and institutional environments in which it
evolves. Simply put, the network has no center, just nodes. And
these nodes are interconnected whose importance does not stem
from its specific features but from its ability to contribute to the
network’s goals (Castells, 2004: p. 3). All nodes of a network
are necessary for the network’s performance. This fits the in-
terpretation of complex interdependence, and shows the possi-
ble interconnection between a regionally confined cultural phe-
nomenon and its impact on the world.
Soft Power and Cultural Diplomacy. The end of the Cold
War, increasing complex interdependence among societies, and
the advent of information technology have prompted an in-
crease attention for public diplomacy in foreign policy making
processes.5 There has been a gradual and yet steady transforma-
tion in methods, contents, and scopes of foreign policy making
apparatus. Along this vein, there is an increasing support for
Nye’s argument regarding “soft power.” Nye (2004) defines
soft power as the ability to get what you want through attraction
rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractive-
ness of a country's culture, political ideals, and policies. When
our policies are seen as legitimate in the eyes of others, our soft
power is enhanced. He also noted that soft power “could be
developed through relations with allies, economic assistance,
and cultural exchanges.” As opposed to “hard power” or use of
coercion, Nye argues that this would result in “a more favorable
public opinion and credibility abroad.” Accordingly, we expect
the diplomacy in the 21st century would move toward actively
taking advantage of the influence of public opinion which re-
sults in strengthening the public diplomacy. The main trend of
today’s diplomacy is to pursue national interests by influencing
the public opinion of other states. Complex interdependence
has caused the two fold phenomenon of synchronization and
differentiation of domestic politics and international relations.
This paves the way for states to pursue a new approach to for-
eign policies different from traditional and existing ones. While
scholars of international relations have paid more attention on
how domestic public influences state interests and policy, the
role of domestic public abroad has not been comprehended nor
focused. Members of public are poorly informed relative to
leaders; they lack knowledge regarding the reasons for a given
policy and the relationship between the policy and potential
consequences. This is most evident in international affairs,
4Globalization usually refers to a multi-dimensional process whereby mar-
kets, firms, productions, and national financial systems are integrated on a
global scale. At the same time, globalization in other areas of life, such as
communication, might have a ramification in non-economic areas too, as in
cultural affairs—and these can have subsequent political consequence
(Brawle y, 2003: pp. 12 -17).
5Public diplomacyis perceived as the aggregate of diplomatic efforts in
political ideals, public and international policies, and cultural attractiveness.
In this way, cultural diplomacy is viewed as a subset of public diplomacy.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 197
where issues are less salient and public is exposed to very little
debate and information. Because individuals also have negligi-
ble influence on foreign policy, each has little incentive to
gather and analyze information. For instance, in the context of
coercive intervention on the part of another state, public lacks
policy information in two related way s. First, they do not know
if the policy serves collective interests or whether it reflects
selfish interests with potentially undesirable consequences.
Second, they do not know if the proposed policy is a reasonable
means to achieve the stated goals (Thompson, 2006: p. 11).
Thus, state needs make public of other states to know about its
own intension as well informing the public of its own.
World Value Change. Along with increased interdependence
and globalization, Inglehart and Welzel (2006) argue that so-
cioeconomic development brings major changes in society,
culture, and politics by transforming people’s basic values and
beliefs. Although socioeconomic development tends to bring
predictable changes in people’s worldviews, cultural tradi-
tions—such as whether a society has been historically shaped
by Protestantism, Confucianism, or Communism—continue to
show a lasting imprint on a society’s worldview. History mat-
ters and a society’s prevailing value orientations reflect the
influence of tradition. Further, modernization is not linear. It
does not move indefinitely in the same direction but reaches
inflection points at which the prevailing direction of changes.
Thus, modernization goes through different phases, each of
which brings distinctive changes in people’s worldviews. In
addition, the inherently emancipative nature of self-expression
values makes democracy increasingly likely to emerge. Mod-
ernization brings cultural changes that lead to the emergence
and flourishing of democratic institutions. The growth of hu-
man autonomy is the theme underlying the processes of mod-
ernization, rising self-expression values, and democratization.
To conclude, socioeconomic development brings increasingly
favorable existential conditions and diminishes external con-
straints on intrinsic human choice. Favorable existential condi-
tions contribute to emerging self-expression values that give
individual liberty priority over collective discipline, human
diversity over group conformity, and civic autonomy over state
authority (Inglehart & Welzel, 2006). In short, the norms of
citizen engagement and transparency, among others, are seen as
universal values.
The Korean Wave: Past and Present
The Korean Wave is generally understood in terms of the re-
cent increase in the popularity of Korean cultural products such
as television dramas, movies, popular music (K-pop) and dance
(B-boys), video games as well to a lesser extent toward Korean
fashion, food, tourism and language. This sudden interest has
not gone unnoticed by various media sources, both in Korea
and abroad. In the 1990, the Korean Wave started with TV
dramas.6 For the first time, “Winter Sonata” became popular in
Japan and spread to China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. In the
2000’s, the Korean Wave has spread to the world through
Internet and social media. TV drama was the first of the Korean
Wave, followed by young idol groups (K-pop), movies and
various cultural elements.
Korean TV dramas (or mini-series) have been an instrumen-
tal component of Korean Wave. The drama Dae Jang Geum
provided an opportunity for Korean dramas, which had gar-
nered popularity in China, Japan, and Southeast Asia. Dae Jang
Geum, also known as Jewel in the Palace, is based on a real
historical figure and takes place against the backdrop of 16th
century Chosen Korea. The story portrayed the ups and downs
of an orphaned girl who becomes the king’s chief physician.
The beautiful clothing of the Chosen royal court, the restora-
tions of Chosen architecture, and the colorful palace cuisine
sparked global interest in Korean traditional culture. The in-
formation on Korean traditional medicine satisfied global trend
toward a healthy living (The Korean Wave, 2011: p. 27). After
the drama was first aired in Taiwan in 2004, it enjoyed high
ratings in Hong Kong and China, touching off a Dae Jang
Geum fever in the Chinese-speaking world. The drama has so
far been aired in dozens of countries, including China, Vietnam,
India, Turkey, Israel, Nigeria, Romania, Hungary, Bosnia, Rus-
sia, Sweden, Colombia, Peru, Canada, the United States, Aus-
tralia, and New Zealand (The Korean Wave, 2011: pp. 28-29).
Korean dramas are popular for various reasons in different
countries. Americans find Korean dramas relaxing and cheerful
and Europeans find the plots uncomplicated and romantic.
Asians, meanwhile, discover lifestyles and trends they wish to
emulate. The Middle East finds it the subtle repression of emo-
tions and intense romantic passion without overt sexuality.
Muslim countries find the dramas “safe”. Saudi Arabia’s mon-
archical government broadcasted Dae Jang Geum and Jumong
which portrays Korea’s hero-themed drama for emphasizing
support and loyalty to the government. While Asians enjoy the
common tradition and “against all odd” themes in Korean his-
torical epic dramas, Western audiences like the refreshing hu-
mor, fanciful plots, and sincerity such as “My Lovely Kim
Sam-soon” and “Boys over Flowers”. Unlike Latin American
soap operas featuring sexual and sensational topics and scenes,
“My Lovely Kim Sam-soon” including romanticism and mod-
ern Cinderella storylines was aired on major television net-
works in Peru in its prime time nine o’clock slot instead of the
news (The Korean Wave, 2011).
The Korean Wave is not limited to TV dramas. The new Ko-
rean Wave is primarily led by famous Korean girl idol bands
such as Girls’ generation, Kara and Wonder Girls’. The Korean
Wave in the familiar Confucian-based values appeals to Asians.
Hong Kong based channel “V” began to feature Korean Pop
music videos in the late 1990s (The Korean Wave, 2011: p. 30).
The success of H.O.T, Shinwha, NRG, and the girl band Baby
Vox in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China emerged as the next
epicenter for pop culture. Female singer Boa started her career
in Japan and hit the number one position 7 times in the Oricon
Weekly Album as she became the first female Korean vocalist
to succeed in Japan. One of the most successful boy groups
Dong Bang Shinki became the first ever foreign artists top the
Oricon weekly single chart nine times and setting a record for
the highest ever sales on the first week of release (The Korean
Wave, 2011: p. 32). According to the Japanese current events
weekly AERA, Korean groups dominated the Japanese music
market as the “Korean invasion” and compared K-pop with the
British group the Beatles who dominated the American music
market in the 1960s (The Korean Wave, 2011: p. 37).
The New-Korean Wave is spear-headed by the spread of the
K-Pop. A rapid growth of social network services such as
YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter has made it possible to ex-
pand the Korean Wave beyond Asia to Europe. Videos of Girl’s
Generation, provided on SM Entertainment’s YouTube channel
6Along with the popular idol group H.O.T.’s who held its first concert in
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
are one of the most widely downloaded videos world-wide. One
of those videos, “Gee”, has been watched 42 million times by
viewers from all over the world, including Thailand, the United
States, Japan, and Europe (The Korean Wave, 2011: p. 47). A
live YouTube broadcast of a new album by the project team
“GD & TOP” was watched simultaneously by 390,000 people
worldwide. In the digital age, when the world is connected via
the internet, the effort and cost required to promote Korean
culture has dropped dramatically. While the Korean group the
Wonder Girls broke onto the Billboard’s Top 100 a year earlier
only after spending a year performing in the United States, Big
Bang’s fourth mini album “Tonight” reached No. 6 on the
United States’ iTunes store, and the music video of its title
track was watched one million times within two days of being
released on YouTube (The Korean Wave, 2011: pp. 48-49).
Furthermore, created “21 Under 21: Music’s
Hottest Minors 2011” in 2011, and Four Minutes Hyuna ranked
17th overall. The Billboard dot com. introduced Hyuna as one
of the key faces of the global K-pop movement. Music video of
Hyuna’s “Bubble Pop”, provided on You Tube channel, had
been watched 160 million times as of September, 2011 includ-
ing the United States, England, France, and Australia. At Paris
Conference, SM Entertainment founder and producer Lee,
Soo-Man described his company’s strategy as “culture tech-
nology” and noted that “…unlike information technology, cul-
ture technology is more subtle and complicated, as it primarily
works with invisible assets and enigmatic human resources and
their growth potential…The final state of Hallyu would be
sharing and returning added value through localization” (The
Korean Wave, 2011: p. 70).
Finally, Kim and Kim (2011, p. 32) conclude that “…Korean
media products and their impact are now popular in many
Asian countries. Beyond Asia, the Korean cultural wave is
extending its reach throughout the world. Although the themes
and influences of the Korean Wave are usually accepted in with
most countries…Hallyu is certainly an outstanding global me-
dia and pop culture phenomenon and has contributed to the
globalization of the media market and the diversification of
global media studies”.
The Korean Wave in Cultural and Historical
The basic foundation of the Korean Wave originates from
Korean’s cultural characteristics that have a strong affinity for
music and dance. From the earliest days of Korean history,
Korean people have had a love for music and dance. Whether
working in the field or celebrating a fall harvest, Koreans peo-
ple sang and danced to their traditional tunes. Famed Movie
Director Lee Jang Ho (2011) affirms that “When I think about
the Korean Wave, I realize that we are aware that Korean peo-
ple are good at music and dance.” Korean folk music includes
traditional songs that are orally transmitted over generations. It
does not require any special talent or skill, to the contrary anyone
can sing individually or as a part of group. In this way, Korean
folk music expresses the Korean lifesty le in a simple and honest
way that many have enjoyed and cherished for the centuries.
There are three ways to sing Korean fork songs: lead and
follow, conversational, and solo.7 Lead and follow method is
where one singer would lead a song and the others would fol-
low leader’s singing in a choral manner. Current songs of Ko-
rean idol groups (or K-pop) are very similar to this traditional
method of lead and follow in which a leader of a K-pop group
would initiate and start the song and the other group members
would follow the leader in harmonious fashion. Another inter-
esting characteristic of Korean traditional music is that it is not,
unlike composer oriented Western music, rather Korean folk
music is more singer oriented toward he/she can improvise and
change the tonal and harmonic delivery. This provides for the
Korean people to individually express their musical talents
through song and dance. For instance, “Nanta” which is cur-
rently performed in various venues in the US is a modern ver-
sion “Nongak”, traditional music performed by farmers.
Samulnori is a type of traditional percussion music. The
word samul means “four objects” and nori means “play”. It is
one of the oldest traditional ceremonial musical patterns which
reflect group consciousness of an agricultural community, sha-
manism, Buddhism and folk entertainment. Thus, there is a
strong spiritual energy among farmers. According Lee Bae-
Young, the Chief of the Presidential Council on Nation Brand,
the Korean Wave has the DNA of traditional culture. Young
idol group’s role sharing is inheritance of that of agricultural
community (Korea Herald, 2011: p. 1). As noted by Cai (2011:
p. 1), “The Korean wave is the combination of Confucianism
and Western industrial culture. Korean pop culture has bor-
rowed the best of Western popular culture and recreated it ac-
cording to Korean tastes”.
Although Korean history stretches back some 5000 years,
Korea has gone through the vortex of world history in the 20th
century. The nation had suffered the ills of Japanese colonial-
ism for over 35 years in which Japan tried to Japanese Koreans.
The end of colonialism was quickly followed by the Korean
War, which destroyed much of the nation’s economic and so-
cial infrastructure. Korea had to start from scratch in almost
everything. Economically Korea embarked on efforts to catch
up to so called the developed countries. Culture was no excep-
tion to this. Korea has long been acquainted with to imports and
been open-minded about foreign cultural products. Ancient
Koreans absorbed Buddhism, Confucian teachings and Chinese
writings and traditions (The Korean Wave, 2011: p. 17).
More recently, Korea began to absorb American style of liv-
ing and education, European philosophy, and Japanese moder-
nity. During two wars—one at home and another in Viet-
nam—soldiers of allied forces brought popular and modern
culture in from the United States and other countries. Koreans
were hooked to the flood of imported music—American folk,
lush ballads, rock, French chansons, Italian canzone; Latin and
Cuban music, and Japanese enka—and local singers eagerly
mimicked the tunes and styles to ride on the explosive popular-
ity of foreign adult contemporary music in Korea. A lineage of
American folk, balladry, R&B, British rock, and Japanese
group “wannabes” sprouted. By the 1980s, when South Kore-
ans were able to afford leisure and entertainment after decades
of nonstop industrialization at a galloping pace, more American
and European pop culture streamed in.
With the democratization movement that began in the 1980s,
regulations on the importation of foreign culture were relaxed.
It became trendy to hear American and European pop songs on
the radio, American dramas on TV, and Hollywood and Hong
Kong films in the theaters. Starting in the mid-1990s, however,
things began to change. From the radio, which used to play
7In addition, there are catch song, in which the next singer would catch up
to the previous singer, and the hook song in which a succeeding singer
would line up to the initiating singer.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 199
mostly foreign pop songs, Korean pop music flowed all day
long, its genres diverse and its quality greatly improved. Record
shops were full of sophisticatedly designed albums by Korean
artists. Foreign albums, which just 10 years earlier would have
been given pride of place, were banished to a corner. The music
industry was pumping out big-time local artists. In less than a
decade, Korean pop recouped its home turf. On countless cable
TV channels, Korean dramas were playing 24 hours a day, and
on the weekends the theaters were full of people who had come
to see Korean films. Films were drawing audiences of 6 million
or more for the first time in Korean cinematic history; the re-
cords kept being broken until 2006, when another Korean film
recorded an amazing 13 million viewers, equivalent to almost
30 percent of the nation’s population at the time. Korea had
become one of only a handful of nations that consume more
locally produced cultural content than foreign content. And
Koreans were not the only ones who began to enjoy Korean
pop culture (The Korean Wave, 2011: pp. 17-20).
After the Korean War, Koreans were embarked on a non-stop
nation building project to reestablish the political, economic
and social pillars of the country. The casting off of the vestiges
of Japanese ways coincided with a need to invent new and ef-
fective traditions in what Hobsbawm (1983) calls the invention
of tradition after rapid transformation. The 1960s to the 1980s
laid the foundation for the creation of such inventions, cultural
reconstruction, identity development and the participation in the
project of modernity (Giddens, 1991). By the 1990s, South
Korea had moved beyond what Ingelhart (1999) called the ten-
dency to “emphasize economic growth at any price”. Though
still thirsting for development and global involvement, two
events took place which vastly changed the landscape for South
Korea and the future possibility for the Korean Wave: the 1988
allowance of Hollywood to distribute movies directly to thea-
ters, and the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.
1988 was a big year for South Korea. The Olympics Games
were hosted in Seoul, South Korea, making a small Northeast
Asian country the sudden center of attention—something South
Korea had wanted, but had hardly felt possible since the 1950s.
The Games brought brand recognition, forged international
partnerships and bolstered the national image, all of which
stoked the fire of Korea’s slow-growth nationalistic pride. Yet,
in the same year the Korean government allowed Hollywood to
distribute films directly to Korean theaters, which crushed do-
mestic film popularity and by 1994 foreign visual content en-
joyed over 80% of the market share (Yi, 1994). This was fol-
lowed by a flood of American products that furthered damaged
the Korean culture and industry. There was a growing concern,
particularly in the government, that amid development and
modernization that Korean-ness and national culture would
disappear. How could this occur in a country that has hosted the
Olympics? Subsequently, in 1994 a report appeared from the
Presidential Advisory Board on Science and Technology dis-
cussing how the economy could benefit from the culture indus-
try based on the premise that if Hollywood movie like Jurassic
Park could earn as much as selling 1.5 million Hyundai cars,
then why shouldn't Koreans try to benefit in such a way (Shim
2006)? The report lead to the establishment of the Culture In-
dustry Bureau, which in 1995 quickly initiated the Motion Pic-
ture Promotion Law that forced a quota for Korean film repre-
sentation in theaters. The government actively and optimisti-
cally promoted the fledgling media industry by even going so
far as to require financial investment by th e large family corpo-
rate conglomerates of Korea (the chaebol), like Hyundai, Sam-
sung, and LG (Jin, 2006). Soon domestic production and con-
sumption of Korean cultural products began to establish their
roots. Korean companies could enjoy the profit, and Koreans
consumers could take pride and participate in their culture in
new and different ways.
Just when things were looking up, it was uncovered that that
South Korea had accumulated massive foreign debt due largely
to the reciprocal relationship between the government and the
Chaebol and the latter attempted risky and extensive expansion,
leaving the banking industry with numerous non-performing
loans which led to the IMF crisis of 1997. Numerous businesses
collapsed. Korea’s credit rating tanked. And numerous corpo-
rate fire sales occurred. When the smoke cleared, South Korea
was left injured, but endowed with a cultural legacy of such
setbacks, the momentum of the country was hardly slowed.
While efforts were made to repair the financial sector, it be-
came increasingly obvious that creating capital was important,
thus more money flowed from the Chaebol into their media
sectors producing cultural products. The result was the increase
in both investment and consumption of Korean cultural prod-
ucts in East Asia over the next few years, which soon expanded
to Central and South Asia and eventually to Europe and the
Hong Quinbo, editor of Dandai stated that “The Korean TV
series What is Love had been a huge success in China. The
Chinese audience had mostly watched TV soaps from Europe,
America, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. After What is Love, the
Chinese audience fell for Korean dramas as if they had discov-
ered a whole new world. In 1998, Chinese teenagers colored
their hair after the Korean idol group H.O.T. In 1999, a shop-
ping center selling Korean products opened in downtown Bei-
jing. By 2003, Hyundai Motor Beijing was turning out cars and
soon becoming as big as American and European brands in
China” (The Korean Wave, 2011: p. 21). In this vein, Lee
(2011) affirms that “Korea is very small but has made dynamic
progress unlike China and Japan. In the new era, the world will
focus on culture and Korea has already emerged as a leader.
The Twenty-first century is called the ‘cultural century’, and
Korea has a unique and outstanding culture. I positively feel
that it could lead the world”. Yet, such views do not help easily
substantiate the concept or the potential impact of the Korean
Wave. It is first necessary to identify exactly what the Korean
Wave has been and how it should be defined and in order to
ascertain its impact on cultural diplomacy and policy making.
Characteristics of the Korean Wave
The influx of Korean Wave throughout the world has pro-
duced various reactions and impacts. Our observations lead to
the following general conclusion regarding the characteristics
of the Korean Wave. First, the Korean Wave is not a true ‘Ko-
rean’ wave, rather it is a hybrid of the traditional Korean cul-
tures and western cultures, particularly American.8 As pointed
out by Shim (2006) cultural hybridization has occurred as local
cultural agents and actors interact and negotiate with global
forms, using them as resources through which Koreans con-
8One particularly crucial point about the spread of the Korean Wave is that
thanks to digital technology, local cultures can now travel even to remote
corners of the world. New media platforms like the Internet and satellite TV
have prov ed vital in spreadi ng Korean culture in markets such as the Mid -
dle East, Europe, and beyond. Inter-Asian cultural affinity has also played
an importan t role in the p roliferation of Korean culture overseas.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
struct their own cultural spaces. In other words, the Korean
Wave can be more correctly described as the Korean-hybrid
wave. Korean pop culture seduces audiences by combining the
enticing images of Westernized modernity with just the right
amount of Asian sentimentality. This fusion is at the base of the
Korean Wave. Korea took advanced foreign cultures, grafted
them onto its own, and produced an advanced culture all its
own (The Korean Wave, 2011). You (2006: p. 4) claims that
“This, in fact, is the very strength of Korean culture. Having
accommodated foreign culture for a long period of time, we
have acquired great historical experience of refining imported
culture into our own.” Furthermore, Korean scholars credit
cultural hybridity with simultaneously promoting globalization
and localization of Korean pop culture in both the global and
local markets. Since the 1990s, Korean culture has become
increasingly globalized (The Korean Wave, 2011).
Second, the spread of the Korean Wave has produced differ-
ent impacts at the cross-national level, which confirms Flor-
ida’s view that the world is not flat. Simply put, the effects of
cultural fusion are, in the case of the Korean Wave, different
across societies and regions. For instance, according to Huang
(2011) the Taiwanese appropriation of Japanese and Korean
cultures has also created and promoted a hybrid form of culture
and consumption, but it did not produce cultural homogeniza-
tion or cultural autonomy. In Malaysia, the Korean Wave has
contributed to enhancing favorable images of Korea, increasing
Malaysians’ interest in Korea’s society and culture, such as
language and living (Cho, 2010). As noted by Cai (2011: p. 1),
“After the establishment of diplomatic relations between China
and Korea in 1992, the relationship between the two countries
developed quickly. The two countries share common ground on
some important regional issues, such as the North Korean nu-
clear crisis. They base this diplomatic consensus on their own
interests. Because they share the common experience of Japa-
nese invasion, they remain wary of Japan. In addition, Korea is
gradually distancing itself from the United States and is in-
creasingly moving close to China, which makes Chinese people
more comfortable with Korean culture”.
Third, there have been significant “anti-Korean Wave”
movements and slogans in Japan, China, and Taiwan, indicat-
ing both the success of the Korean wave and an uneasiness of
non-reciprocal cross-cultural exchanges (Lee, 2009). Cai (2011:
p. 2) reports that “China's State Administration for Radio Film
and Television also said in December 2005 that China had been
too generous with the import of Korean TV dramas and called
for a stricter screening process. It also said China should limit
airtime for Korean dramas to 50 percent. Soon here after, China
Central Television said it would gradually reduce the amount of
time allotted to soap operas from Korea. Beijing TV said it was
pondering a similar move and could start showing more Hong
Kong and Taiwan-made soap operas”.
Now to the question, “Does the Korean Wave affect the po-
litical position and diplomatic leverage of Korea in any mean-
ingful way?” We tentatively conclude that the Korean Wave
has a positive impact and potential that would promote Korea’s
cultural diplomacy as a part of soft power approach as argued
by Nye along the line of Inglehart’s argument of world value
change and Keohane and Nye’s multiple channels. For instance,
Sung (2010) notes that the negative impression of South Korea
by Taiwan after the break-up of diplomatic relations (in 1992)
has been transformed into a positive image of a nation with
confidence and strong nationalism—the Korean Wave provided
an opportunity for Taiwan and Korea to build positive relation-
ship and has provided Taiwanese with a new image of South
Korea. Moreover, the Korean Wave has promoted increasing
cross-cultural ties. Cho (2010) argues that the Korean Wave
brought changes to Malaysians’ ways of thinking and living
and also brought economic changes to Malaysian society by
influencing Malaysians to prefer Korean food over Malaysian
food and to purchase South Korean goods. Thus, “Malaysia
will need Korean experts and Korea will need Malaysian ex-
perts to maintain and develop close bilateral relations in the
future (Cho, 2010: p. 13)”. Therefore, the Korean Wave can
and has served as the cultural resources which would promote
cultural and public diplomacy and preferences changes.
The Korean Wave provides a meaningful opportunity for
Korean government to take advantage of newly emerging cul-
tural and public diplomacy to promote Korean cultural advan-
tages in globalizing world. Accordingly, Lee (2009: p. 123)
positively affirms that “…the Korean wave can contribute to its
soft power by providing opportunities for the manipulation of
Korea’s images, extending a network effect of Korean popular
culture, and also producing internationally influential heroes
and celebrities”. Figure 1 provides a systemic view of Korean
government’s effort to promote its cultural diplomacy, headed
by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Presiden-
tial Council on Nation Branding.
As noted by Lee (2009) although the Korean Wave can still
be creatively mobilized and utilized to achieve many political
and economic goals, too deliberate attempt to use cultural assets
for political and economic purposes will provoke backlashes as
in the case of anti-Korean Wave movements and slogans.
Likewise, Lee (2011) adds that “The Korean Government
should not take a forefront role in the promotion of its Korean
Wave. I wish the authority make young entertainers develop
and expand their stage. If the state support or lead, it can cause
serious problems. Like a free market economy, let the culture
spread itself naturally. The state has not to take the main char-
acter in the stage of entertainment business.” Furthermore, cul-
ture technology is more subtle and complicated, as it primarily
works with invisible assets and enigmatic human resources and
their pot ential growth pot ential (The Korean Wave, 2011: p. 70).
domestic foreign
Ministry of
Presid ent ial C ouncil on
Nation Brand ing
Central Go v ernment
Ministry of Cult ure, Sports and Tourism
M inist ry of E d ucation, Science
andTe chnol ogy
Local Government / NG Os
Government Affil i ated Ins ti tutions
The K o rea F oundat ion / K o rea Arts & Culture Education Service
National Institute for International Education
Figure 1.
Organizational chart of Korea’s cultural diplomacy.9
9This diagram is from Cultural Diplomacy Manual (2011) Ministry of Foreign
Affairs and T r ade, p. 26 .
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 201
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
We suggest that the cultural diplomacy initiative should be
designed to help educate, enhance, and sustain the relationships
between countries and cultures.10 The ultimate goal of the ini-
tiative is to help enable relationships between neighboring
countries based on dialogue, understanding and trust. We sug-
gest a cultural diplomacy initiative that assists in correcting
mis-information that might be present and supplements partial
information that might already be present. In order to maintain
as much neutrality as possible, and to achieve the maximum
amount of success, we suggest that the main agent or organizer
of the proposed cultural diplomacy be a non-governmental,
non-profit, and non-partisan organization. Furthermore, we
suggest that the vehicle of the proposed cultural diplomacy
initiative would be to create a sustainable network of young
professionals and students within and across the region. Finally,
we suggest that the target audience be as broad and inter-disci-
plinary as possible. For instance, the student exchange pro-
grams should include as many academic fields as possible and
the young leaders network should remain inter-disciplinary and
international in nature. Thus, we would recommend a more
prudent and pluralistic approach in which the Korean govern-
ment plays in facilitating the Korean Wave that are less explicit
or more implicit, in a balanced way, such as more support for
corporate sponsorships, private entrepreneurships and NGO
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10We have structured our recommendations al o ng the following items : 1 . Age n d a of the Proposed Cultural Diplomacy Initiatives, 2. Agents or Organizers of the
Proposed Cultural Diplomacy Initiatives, 3. Vehicles of Proposed Cultural Diplomacy Initiatives, and 4. Target Audience of the Pro
osed Cultural Diplomacy
Initiatives. These recommendations are based on the Report of Workshop, “East Asian Community Building: Cultural Diplomacy as a Policy Tool of Soft
Power,” co-organized by Jeju Peace Institute and Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, Jejudo, Korea, October 6, 2011.