BH Discuss – Is Hallyu used too much to promote Korean Culture?

Go on the website of any governmental organisation aimed at promoting Korean tourism or culture and it won’t be long before you come across something to do with Korean pop culture. Whether it’s the ‘Hallyu Today’ tab right in the centre of the Korean Tourism Organisation’s English language website or the Korea Agro-Fisheries Trade Corporation recent K-Food campaign featuring CNBLUE, wherever something Korean is being promoted you can be guaranteed that an idol or a drama star won’t be far away.

Romantic mushroom, anyone?

k-pop academy


In the UK, the Korean Cultural Centre is now into the fifth run of K-pop Academy programme which aims to teach a group of young K-pop fans in the UK about Korean language and culture. This is part of a wider range of events and programmes promoting different aspects of culture and all prefixed with the letter K – including K-Art, K-Film and most recently, K-Literature.

On one hand, many non-Korean people who are interested in different aspects of Korean culture and many Korean language learners found their way to it via K-pop and K-Dramas and undoubtedly Hallyu does have some power as a marketing tool to encourage (particularly young) people to become interested in these things and even visit Korea.

But on the other, is it really right to conflate hundreds of years of history and culture with some manufactured pop culture products? Doesn’t that cheapen them in some way? For someone interested in Korean culture beyond the shiny idol façade, it can be tiring to see it penetrate into other unrelated cultural interests. It can also be very irritating for Korean people who are not interested in K-pop having their country conflated with its media.

And does it even work? Some academics have criticised using K-pop as a tourism strategy because the kind of people who consume K-pop’s ‘buying power is so weak that it’s hard to expect that their affection toward K-pop will lead to an extra consumption of other Korean products or services.’

However perhaps there is also an argument to say that the growing scale of Hallyu inside and outside of Asia has some kind of larger intangible cultural power that will be of benefit to Korea not just now but also in the longer term. Perhaps K-pop’s success now will lay the way for better promotion of Korean tourism and other aspects of Korean culture in the future.

What do you think? Let us know.

Related Reading


The Korean Wave does not really exist

Culture Wars: Can “Cool Japan” compete with the Korean Wave?

The other Korean wave: The rising popularity of Korean cosmetics

BH Discuss: Do idols help or hurt Korea’s independent directors, artists and musicians?

The Hallyu fan’s guide to teaching in Korea


‘K-pop does little for economy’ – The Korea Times

Korea is a dolphin, not a shrimp – JoongAng Daily

‘There is no Korean wave’ – The Korea Times

Seoul’s Seocho office eyes ‘Korean wave districts’ – The Korea Herald

Learning Korean via pop songs, TV dramas – JoongAng Daily

  • Sarah Stephen

    If hallyu really has no positive effect on the economy, why has tourism to Korea increased by more than 100% since the advent of hallyu in the middle of a global recession, and why does the government continue to throw money at it? Conflating korean culture with hallyu might be inaccurate, but it works monetarily. And you can’t blame them for wanting to continue to take advantage of that.

  • Jordan

    I personally enjoy having some of the Korean Culture show through. I love Kpop and since finding it 5 years ago I love reading up on some of the culture and traditions. I think that anyone who gets into international music gets curious about the culture behind it and their favorite idols.

  • Chris

    I’ve long been interested in Korean history and culture – but there seems to be a shocking lack of ways of finding out more about these topics. I graduated in Chinese Studies, and have an interest in the East Asian region generally – but when I go to a bookstore, I find an abundance of books on a wide variety of Chinese and Japanese topics (from the ancient to the modern), but usually not a single book on Korea. On the odd occasion I’ve found a book about Korea, it’s either some sort of expose of the North Korean regime, or an American account of the Korean war. Aside from visiting the Korean collection at the British Museum, I’ve found it really hard to read more about Korean history and culture. Does anyone know of any good resources for this kind of thing?

    • Lizzie (beyondhallyu)

      I know your pain, Chris, I’ve had the exact same problem. Shelves and shelves of books about China and maybe 2 about Korea.

      If you are looking for a book with a good overview of modern Korean history and culture I would definitely recommend “Korea: The Impossible Country” by Daniel Tudor.

      I’ll have another think about it as well and maybe start up a discussion topic or make up some kind of resource list in the next couple of weeks.