Entertainment

Korean wave

How a South Korean entertainer provoked a cultural controversy

Is this Chinese enough for you?”

China’s netizens are on the rampage again. But surprisingly, this time the object of their vitriol is not Zhang Ziyi but Korean singer-actress Jang Nara.
Jang – Korea’s best known entertainer in China – revealed in a talk show in her homeland: “Every time when I am short of money I will go to China to make more!”
Her remark caused an immediate response from  China’s ultra-patriotic and highly sensitive netizens. “An insult to Chinese people,” wrote one infuriated netizen on popular internet portal Sina.com. “Gone too far, no Korean performer has said anything like it.”
Jang quickly posted an announcement on her blog, apologising for her statement. Her production company defended the singer, saying that Jang never made the comment, explaining it was added by the TV station in an incorrect subtitle. More importantly, “Jang Nara definitely does not only come to China for milking money,” it proclaimed.
China is now one of the largest markets for South Korean cultural exports like video games, soap operas and “K-pop” music. In fact, a survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in 2008 found that about 80% of respondents from China looked to South Korean culture with high respect.
Jang (pictured above) is one of the Korean entertainers to ride what is called the “Korean Wave”. As soon as her hit TV series Successful Story of a Bright Girl exploded in China in 2002, Jang followed up with a Chinese album, translating previously released Korean songs into Mandarin. In 2007, she was named by her country as a cultural ambassador to facilitate the relationship between China and South Korea. Moreover, she was the only non-Chinese  singer to perform in the 2008 Olympic theme song Beijing Welcomes You.
It doesn’t get much bigger than that…
So maybe it’s understandable that Chinese netizens should feel betrayed. If this was an isolated incident, it might not have gotten them quite so upset. But alas, last month Jang once again touched on another sensitive issue regarding the Sino-South Korean relationship.
In early February, Jang became the focus of an internet controversy after being named the official image ambassador of Li Shizhen, a renowned physician and pharmacologist for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) who cured people during the Ming Dynasty. Soon, publicity shots of Jang in traditional Korean dress – the hanbok – were plastered all over China, showing her visiting Li’s tomb in Hubei.
What’s the big deal? As it turns out, in the past Koreans have claimed that Li was not in fact Chinese but (you guessed it) Korean. That’s because Hubei – Li’s birthplace – was highly populated  by Koreans in ancient times.
Netizens complained that by showing up in traditional Korean hanbok it suggested that Jang too believed Li was Korean.
Jang quickly denied the accusations. She told Beijing Youth Daily that she had agreed to be Li’s image ambassador to fulfil the wish of her grandfather, who is also a TCM practitioner in Korea and an admirer of Li.
Well, if it is any comfort to Jang, says China News Service, she has successfully fulfilled her duty as an ‘ambassador’. Li Shizhen was a long-forgotten historical figure, but is once again, thanks to her, the talk of China.

China’s netizens are on the rampage again. But surprisingly, this time the object of their vitriol is not Zhang Ziyi but Korean singer-actress Jang Nara.

Jang – Korea’s best known entertainer in China – revealed in a talk show in her homeland: “Every time when I am short of money I will go to China to make more!”

Her remark caused an immediate response from China’s ultra-patriotic and highly sensitive netizens. “An insult to Chinese people,” wrote one infuriated netizen on popular internet portal Sina.com. “Gone too far, no Korean performer has said anything like it.”

Jang quickly posted an announcement on her blog, apologising for her statement. Her production company defended the singer, saying that Jang never made the comment, explaining it was added by the TV station in an incorrect subtitle. More importantly, “Jang Nara definitely does not only come to China for milking money,” it proclaimed.

China is now one of the largest markets for South Korean cultural exports like video games, soap operas and “K-pop” music. In fact, a survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in 2008 found that about 80% of respondents from China looked to South Korean culture with high respect.

Jang (pictured above) is one of the Korean entertainers to ride what is called the “Korean Wave”. As soon as her hit TV series Successful Story of a Bright Girl exploded in China in 2002, Jang followed up with a Chinese album, translating previously released Korean songs into Mandarin. In 2007, she was named by her country as a cultural ambassador to facilitate the relationship between China and South Korea. Moreover, she was the only non-Chinese singer to perform in the 2008 Olympic theme song Beijing Welcomes You.

It doesn’t get much bigger than that…

So maybe it’s understandable that Chinese netizens should feel betrayed. If this was an isolated incident, it might not have gotten them quite so upset. But alas, last month Jang once again touched on another sensitive issue regarding the Sino-South Korean relationship.

In early February, Jang became the focus of an internet controversy after being named the official image ambassador of Li Shizhen, a renowned physician and pharmacologist for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) who cured people during the Ming Dynasty. Soon, publicity shots of Jang in traditional Korean dress – the hanbok – were plastered all over China, showing her visiting Li’s tomb in Hubei.

What’s the big deal? As it turns out, in the past Koreans have claimed that Li was not in fact Chinese but (you guessed it) Korean. That’s because Hubei – Li’s birthplace – was highly populated by Koreans in ancient times.

Netizens complained that by showing up in traditional Korean hanbok it suggested that Jang too believed Li was Korean.

Jang quickly denied the accusations. She told Beijing Youth Daily that she had agreed to be Li’s image ambassador to fulfil the wish of her grandfather, who is also a TCM practitioner in Korea and an admirer of Li.

Well, if it is any comfort to Jang, says China News Service, she has successfully fulfilled her duty as an ‘ambassador’. Li Shizhen was a long-forgotten historical figure, but is once again, thanks to her, the talk of China.


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