Korean Hallyu in Vietnam: a threat of cultural invasion

Photo: Young Vietnamese males bursted into tears after seeing their Korean idols at the airport in 2012. Credit: Yan News.

“Idolization is a good cultural feature, but doing it unconsciously is a disaster”.

Above is the content of a discussing question in Vietnam University Entrance Exam in 2012 mainly aiming the effect of the South Korean’s music and movies on Vietnamese young people, which created controversies throughout the country at that moment.

The Korean Hallyu (or Korean Wave) refers to the escalating spread of South Korean culture since the 1990s (Ryoo, 2009). Its effects are recognized throughout the world, but mostly in East Asia countries including Vietnam. It has been nearly 20 years since the Korean Hallyu reached Vietnam (Pham, 2015) but this phenomena is still being questioned: Whether it is merely cultural exchange, or an implicit cultural invasion ?

The rapid approach of Korean Hallyu into Vietnam roots in the fact that the two countries share the same Confucianism ideology and values which are reinforced in Korean cultural products (Ryoo, 2009). Moreover, close geographical distance and the reasonable price compared to that of Japan or Hongkong attracts Vietnamese media managers to import dramas or artists’ shows.

Korean K-pop boyband EXO performing a Vietnamese song in a concert in Hanoi, 2015. Credit: Youtube.

The Korean Wave introduced to Vietnamese audiences a new trend of entertainment which is a hybridity between modern features and traditional values. Most of the dramas and movies refer to love, family issues and traditional values but in “an age of changing technology” which are more easily to relate than Western products (Ryoo, 2009). Furthermore, Korean popular music (or K-pop) with beautiful singers delivering songs with soft, ear-catching melodies also draw great attention. Its positive effects are obvious. Teenagers are directed away from social evils as they spend time updating news about their idols or enjoying their products. Young people develop new trends of fashion and interest in Korean cuisines, which diverse their taste of enjoyment. Even middle-aged audiences can refresh their mind watching TV dramas which closely relate to their daily issues.

However, those surface benefits have inner threats as young Vietnamese can strip away their self and traditional identity (Dang, 2009). Fans’ admiration to their idols are expressed not just through buying albums, posters or watching music videos but spending millions VND in order to buy tickets or travel across the country or even overseas to be at concerts. Some cases proved that the support are becoming over-excessive. After a show in 2012, many girls kissed the chair on which a famous actor have seated. Some fans were not hesitant to insult or threatened to murder their parents because they were not allowed and provided money to chase their idols. Others were willing to give up their future as they decided to quit the University Entrance Exam claiming that the question humiliated their idols and favour. Moreover, Korean culture are taking over young people’s awareness of their country’s image. K-pop performances such as dance or songs covers take place at traditional events such as school ceremony or celebration of important dates such as Teachers’ day.

So what is the actions to take ? And who is responsible to take those ?

Back to 2010 when I was standing outside of a Korean concert in Vietnam waiting for a friend, I had a short chat with a middle-aged man whose daughter was a K-pop fan. After listening to him expressing concern about the effects of this trend on his daughter who was still 15, I asked him what would be possible to prevent it. “They keep showing films, selling tickets, and the kids have internet and other kinds of access. What can I do ?”, he said.

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