Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mapping Cultural Diffusion: The Case of "Korean Wave" in North East India

Mapping Cultural DiffusionThe Case of ‘Korean Wave’ in North East India
Otojit Kshetrimayum [1]
Ningombam Victoria Chanu[2]
This article has been published in Narsimhan, Sushila and Kim Do Young (ed.). 2008. India and Korea: Bridging the Gaps. New Delhi: Manak Publications.
The Korean cultural wave has been spreading since the late 1990s, starting from the neighboring countries of China and Japan. The South East Asian countries were next to be hit by the Korean wave. This paper specifically tries to explore the nature of diffusion of Korean popular culture and also its impact on North East India, particularly Manipuri society through Korean satellite channel, music and movies. The study demonstrates that the Korean wave has been an emerging phenomenon in Manipur much before the Indian government’s initiative to popularize it. It assesses the possible factors responsible for this change. Cultural proximity is one of the key factors that have explained the successful diffusion of Korean wave in Manipur. The paper also illustrates the new socio-cultural dynamics that has evolved in recent years in Manipur. Moreover, it shows that Manipur has been experiencing Korean wave with more or less the same impact like other Asian societies.
Culture is a design for living. The culture of a society is a way of life of its members. Culture is a learned behaviour shared by and transmitted among the members of a group or society. According to E. B. Tylor, culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. The process of spread of cultural traits is termed as cultural diffusion. Cultural traits are the individual acts and objects, which constitute the overt expression of a culture.Since 1990s a major course of cultural diffusion has been gaining ground in India. There has been a major makeover in the cultural life of the Indian society after its policies on liberalization and globalization. The North Eastern States of India are not an exception. The wave of globalization and information and communication technology revolution has also been felt in Manipur, one of the North Eastern States of India. In such a setting, this paper specifically tries to explore the nature of diffusion of Korean popular culture and also its impact on North East India, particularly Manipuri society through Korean satellite channel and movies. The study illustrates that a new wave of youth culture has surfaced in recent years in Manipur. Moreover, this paper shows that Manipur has been experiencing Korean wave with more or less the same impact like other Asian societies.However, before we assess the case of Manipur, it is imperative that we comprehend the concept of Korean wave and its expansion in other parts of the world.
From jaebol to hallyu: An Overview
Korea first burst into the global imagination with its demonstration of industrial prowess. In one of the most astounding stories of economic development in recent times, Korea’s GNI (current US $) increased from $8 billion in 1970 to $922 billion in 2005, an increase of almost 115 times. Very quickly, Korean jaebol groups became household names all across the world. The first global hint of the softer cultural side of the Korean people emerged when Korean cultural exports became as prominent as Korean industrial exports, and everyone heard of the new word, hallyu. Very soon, the image of Korea shifted from jaebol to hallyu. However, hallyu also helped the jaebol (Madhuban, 2006).Hallyu is a term coined by the Chinese media which literally means "Korean Wave". It is a collective term used to refer to the phenomenal growth of Korean popular culture encompassing everything from music, movies, drama to online games and the Korean cuisine.[3] Its roots are traceable to democratization, which kicked off with the South Korean elections in 1987 and the Seoul Olympics in 1988.Korean wave was first introduced in the late 1990s in China referring to the popularity of Korean culture in foreign countries. It was initiated when the exported Korean TV dramas and remakes of pop music became popular in China and Hong Kong. From well-packaged television dramas to slick movies, from pop music to online games, South Korean companies and stars are increasingly defining what the disparate people in Asia watch, listen to and play. In Asia, ‘The Jewel in the Palace’ and ‘Winter Sonata’ is the must-see television shows. South Korea is cashing in on a marketing push that has made its soap operas and pop stars wildly popular across Asia. Following this trend, a number of Korean pop music singers and actors and actresses made their debut in neighboring countries and started gaining recognition. Since then, the Korean wave has been sweeping across countries in Asia, mainly in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and Vietnam. Actors and actresses, such as Bae Yong-Joon, Choi Ji-woo, Kim Hee-sun, Won Bin, and Jang Dong-gun are now international stars, dominating the entertainment market in Asia.South Korea is acting as a filter for Western values making them more palatable to other Asians. From clothes to hairstyles, music to television dramas, South Korea has been defining the tastes of many Asians for the past six years. Asian viewers describe Korean dramas as energetic and exciting while maintaining traditional values. The boom of Korean entertainment has increased demand for Korean products, and more people have become interested in Korean culture and the language.[4]The Korean wave or Hallyu has been a blessing for Korea, its businesses, culture and country image. Since early 1999, Hallyu has become one of the biggest cultural phenomena across Asia Pacific. The booming South Korean presence on television and in the movies has led Asians to buy up South Korean goods and to travel to South Korea, traditionally not a popular tourist destination. So tremendous has the Hallyu effect been that it has contributed 0.2% of Korea's GDP in 2004, amounting to approximately USD 2 billion.[5]Hallyu is now creating a new wave, facilitating active interchanges of popular culture among neighboring Asian countries. Of late, Western observers and the international press have expressed their wonder at how Korean popular culture has become the major commodity in the Asian market. Whereas Korean culture had long remained in the periphery of Northeast Asia, hallyu has offered the opportunity to make the country an active producer of culture. Hallyu has shown a reverse route from the past flow of cultural interchange in Northeast Asia; it has not copied or followed the footsteps of Western popular culture. It has shown its capability of "cultural creations" befitting Asian sentiment and values.[6] Thus, there has been rising torrent of Korean wave in East Asia, South East Asia and also slowly in South Asia. Korean wave has also been expanding its tide in other parts of the world other than Asia.
Korean Wave in Manipur: An Appraisal
Before we delve into the assessment of Korean wave in Manipur, let us briefly examine its nature in India in general. The phases of Korean wave in India can be divided into two. The first may be referred to as Korean economic wave. It came in India with the liberalization of Indian market in the beginning of 1990s. There was essentially growing association with the Korean companies like Hyundai, LG, Daewoo, and Samsung. In following years, these companies further expanded and diversified the range of their products and became household names in India. Now there is hardly any family, especially in urban India, which does not have products of these Korean companies. 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.[7]The second phase may be termed as Korean cultural wave. It has reached the Indian shore very recently as compared to some of the other Asian countries. In May-June 2006, a Korean delegation visited India, as part of its efforts to spread the Korean Wave in this country. For the very first time in India the Korean drama “Emperor of the 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" began to be aired on DD 1 from 24th September 2006. So, the introduction of Korean dramas is 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. 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. It is significant to note that the two phases are complementary to each other.[8]However, in the case of Manipur the nature of diffusion of the second phase of Korean wave in India gives a different picture. Manipur felt the tide of the emerging Korean wave more or less at the same time as experienced by other Asian countries like China, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan etc. What made it possible? Many factors facilitate the foray of the phenomenon. Some of them may be discussed as follows:
Introduction of cable television network
The introduction of cable television network has played a significant role in the dissemination of culture to other societies. Manipur has experienced this process of cultural diffusion mainly through this medium. The Korean satellite channel Arirang is the harbinger of Korean wave in Manipur. Its popularity began largely due to the ban on Hindi satellite channels, which used to be the favourite channels of the Manipuris. They started to look for an alternative channel, which could give them wholesome entertainment. The search was fruitful. The popular Korean Channel, Arirang has been instrumental in bringing closer home the rich Korean culture, tradition and cuisine.
Ban on Hindi satellite channels and movies
Hindi films and Hindi television channels, except national channel DDTV, which is under the state control, were banned by one of the underground revolutionary organizations of Manipur in the year 2000. Then forth, it had been a gloomy scene for movie lovers here as cinema halls owners were forced to convert their halls into schools or shopping malls. No doubt, there has been a digital film revolution in Manipur to bridge this gap, it has been left to the films from Korea, especially South Korea and Thailand brought in through Myanmar border to win the hearts of the enthusiast crowd here with their youthful romances, thrillers and action-packed movies.
International border trade
India’s Look East Policy has opened new vistas in terms of trade between South East Asian countries and India through Manipur, an international border state with Myanmar. This has not only encouraged trade in various items but also smuggling of pirated music and movie CDs.
Cultural proximity: A key factor
The Korean success story represents the rebirth of an ancient and traditional Asian society. Its cultural roots can be traced back to both Indian and Chinese civilization (Mahbubani, 2006).[9] What made Korean popular culture boom in Manipur can be explained 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. One of the most cited authors in current articles dealing with cultural proximity is J. D. Straubhaar. Cultural proximity is a characteristic that is predominately reflected in “nationally or locally produced material that is closer to and more reinforcing of traditional identities, based in regional, ethnic, dialect/language, religious, and other elements” (Straubhaar, 1991). [10] Moreover, he further argues that if the preference for national programming cannot be fulfilled, also products from the same region (e. g. Latin America for Mexico) can be relatively culturally proximate. Thus, the author defines different levels of cultural proximity.
Straubhaar describes shared ‘cultural linguistic markets’ (Straubhaar, Fuentes, Giraud & Campbell, 2002)[11] or ‘geocultural markets’ (Straubhaar, 2002)[12] as a premise for cultural proximity. Cultural linguistic markets “are unified by language. However, they go beyond language to include history, religion, ethnicity (in some cases) and culture in several senses: shared identity, gestures and nonverbal communication; what is considered funny or serious or even sacred; clothing styles; living patterns; climate influences an other relationships with the environment. Geocultural markets are often centered to a geographic region, but they have also been spread globally by colonization, slavery and migration.[13] Populations belonging to one market select television programs that are able to reflect the characteristics of this market.
Keeping in view of the above theoretical framework, the cultural proximity between Manipuri and Korean societies can be discerned. Manipur can trace its history back 2000 years. It is one of the eight North-Eastern states of India having a population of about 2.4 million. It has a territorial area of 22,327 sq. km out of which only one tenth is the plain areas (valley). Manipur is bounded on the east by Burma (Myanmar), on the west by the Cachar district of Assam, on the north by Nagaland and the Chin hills of Burma. Meiteilon (Manipuri), which belongs to Tibeto-Burman language family, is the state language. Manipuri society is not homogenous. The Meiteis, Nagas and Kukis are the major ethnic groups. The Meiteis constitute about 60 percent of the total population.The Koreans are believed to be descendants of several Mongol tribes that migrated onto the Korean Peninsula from Central Asia (KOIS, 2003).[14] Meiteis are ethno-linguistically Tibeto-Burman family of Mongoloid stock (O. K. Singh, 1988; Kamei, 1991).[15] Sir Jhonstone also wrote, “Meiteis or Manipuris are a fine stalwart race descended from an Indo-Chinese stock, with some admixture of Aryan blood, derived from the successive wave of Aryan invaders that passed through the valley in pre-historic days (Johnstone, 1971: 97).”[16] Thus, the people of these two societies belong to the Mongoloid stock.Clan communities that combined to form small town-states characterized ancient Korea. The town-states gradually united into tribal leagues with complex political structures, which eventually grew into kingdoms (KOIS, 2003: 16).[17] Various clan communities also typified Manipuri society. The various proto Meitei tribes of Manipur valley were politically and socially integrated into a political and social entity by the powerful Ningthouja (Mangang) kingdom founded by Pakhangba (33–154 AD) in the first century AD. There are now seven clans in Manipur, which are locally known as Yek-Salais.[18] These are Mangang, Luwang, Khuman, Moirang, Angom, Khabanganba and Sarang-Leishangthem (also called Chenglei) (Shah, 1994: 94).
The family name comes first in traditional Manipuri names like the Koreans. Manipuris akin to the Koreans do not refer to others by their given names except among very close friends. Even among siblings, the younger ones are not supposed to address their elders by given names but rather eche (eonmi in Korean), meaning elder sister, or eyamba (oppa in Korean), meaning elder brother (KOIS, 2003: 156-157).[19]
Sanamahism of Manipur is a counterpart of Shamanism in Korea. Sanamahism is a pre-Hindu religion of the Manipuris. It does not have a systematic structure but permeates into the daily lives of the people through folklore and customs. It incorporates a vast knowledge and philosophy about the creation of universe, earth, beings, and the life and death of people. The ritual functionaries of this religion are Maiba (priest) and Maibi (priestess). The maibas and maibis have a three–fold role, as priests and priestesses, givers of oracles, and preservers of oral tradition. In the first of these roles they offer gifts and bloodless sacrifices before the lais (deities) at various points during the festival. As preservers of the oral traditions it is their responsibility to memorize and repeat accurately the sacred lyrics of the festival, and to lead the congregational singing. The maibi’s role as medium between the living and the spiritual world is perhaps the most remarkable, and the most original and authentic. However, the main difference between the maibi and maiba is that the former is god-gifted and ordained completely while the latter is made and trained through his labour and research.They are similar to shaman, Mudang in Korean. Both Sanamahism and Shamanism includes the worship of spirits that are believed to dwell in every object of the natural world, including rocks, trees, mountains and streams as well as celestial bodies. Till today, both of these religions have remained an underlying religion of the Manipuri and Korean people as well as vital aspect of their culture respectively (KOIS, 2003: 162-163).[20]
In Manipur, there is the close association of religion with music and dance. The distinctive approach to Manipuri culture is best seen in the fact that dance is religious and its aim a spiritual experience. Development of music and dance has been through religious festivals and daily activities of lives. Not only is dance a medium of worship and enjoyment, a door to the divine, but indispensable for ceremonies like birth of child, marriage, death, etc (M. Kirti Singh, 1988: 165).[21] Likewise, the traditional music of Korea is always a distinctive Korean voice, a voice that arises from the character of the Korean people, related to Korea’s climate and natural environment and also to religion and ideology.[22] For a better understanding of Korean music, one point that should not be omitted is that in music that is used for rituals, the cosmologic principle of the five natural elements and yin and yang play a prominent role (KTO, 2005: 26-28).[23] Maibi’s ritual dance is the foundation of most of the dance forms of Manipur like that of the shaman’s ritual dance in Korea.
There is also similar cultural trait in folk games. Ssireum in Korea or Mukna in Manipur is a traditional form of wrestling. It is a type of folk competition in which two players, holding to a satba (Korean) or khwangshet (Manipuri), a cloth tied around the waist and thigh, use their strength and various techniques to wrestle each other to the ground (KTO, 2005: 182) .[24]
The foregoing traditional cultural relations have shown that there is a cultural proximity between the Korean and Manipuri societies. The hallyu spirit is the spirit of traditional culture. Traditional culture, or cultural heritage, befits modern society and promises its future. Traditional culture manifests its intrinsic meaning as a source of power, which enables a connection between the past, present and future in the reality of daily life. Tradition is the strongest motivating power when creating a new culture.[25] This traditional cultural proximity has ultimately facilitated the immense popularity of Korean wave in Manipur along with the preceding three factors: introduction of cable television network; ban of Hindi satellite channels and movies and international border trade. In the next section, the socio-cultural implications of Korean wave in Manipur are discussed.
Socio-cultural implications
New movie cult
The ‘Hallyuwood’ movies are gradually replacing the Bollywood ones. Instead of current Bollywood favourites, it is movie names like “The Classic”, “Windstruck”, “You are My Sunshine”, “A Moment to Remember”, “Love so Divine”, “My Sassy Girl” etc., that are on the lips of the teenagers. The posters of Korean actors and actresses like Gweon Sang-woo, Cha Tae-hyun, Jeon Ji Hyun, Jung Da Bin and Song Seung Hun have replaced that of Shah Rukh Khan, John Abraham, Priyanka Chopra, Aishwarya Rai, and others. “Mostly young guys come to rent the Korean film CDs from us,” says Naoba, who is a salesman in a CD parlour at Imphal. “I like watching them as they are so cool,” says 15 year-old Marina, a Class IX student who loves watching Song Seung Hun. “It’s easy to understand the film as they’ve English subtitles,” she further adds.Even the local cable network ISTV has been cashing in on this new flavour by telecasting these films through their network on prime time.
New youth culture
With the arrival of Arirang, its impact upon the Manipuris, especially among the youngsters has been felt in myriads of ways. For example, after watching the various Korean serials on Arirang, there is an earnest desire by the youngsters to imitate and copy everything from language, to food habit, to dress style, even the body language and some Korean manners. They have started using some common sentences used in the day to day life by the serial stars. For instance, anna saiyo (halo), sarange (I love you), watuke (what to do), waju waju (yes) etc. They begin to wish each other through Korean style. In fact, there is competition among the sibling about the knowledge of language competence. Before, hardly the youngsters knew about ‘chopsticks’, but now they have learnt to use it and some of them have food with it. Now, the traditional plate for having rice is being replaced by bowl. They have become so familiar with the Korean actors, actresses and singers that most of them know Kang-ta, Kang-Sang-Hyun, Baby Box, Boa, Jang- Nara, Che-in-Fio, Jyun-Sung etc. Some of them can even sing some of their favourite Korean singers’ songs. Rakesh, an undergraduate, says “There are many things in Korean cultural life that are shown in serials and movies, which we can relate with our own society”.Like most of the Korean heroes, many youngsters in Manipur are growing their hair. By Ganji’s skirt, they mean the style of skirt worn by a Korean serial character called Ganji. By Kangta’s earring, they mean a particular earring worn by the singer Kangta. Among school kids and teenagers, Korean movie is one of their hot topics. Hindi movie had once occupied an immense area in the lives of the Manipuri cinegoers. However, with the ban of the Hindi movies, it is the Korean movie along with the Manipuri movie, which has filled the void. America was a dream for every Manipuri youth before, but now is slowly shifting towards Korea. “I want to learn Korean so that I can know more about their culture”, echoes Sanjana, a class XII student.The youths have also started sleeping on the floor of their room instead of on the bed. They feel that it is so fashionable.
New business trends
These pirated films, which can be rented for as low as five rupees or ten rupees for a night are a rage with the audience. These movies come in special DVD formats consisting of around eight to nine movies in a DVD. “We make copies and either sell them or rent them out”, says Manglem, a video parlour owner at Imphal. However, there are also some dissident voices against the flooding of these movies asking for censorship. The markets at Imphal, generally known as Moreh (referring to one of the towns of Manipur in Indo-Myanmar border where most of the international trade takes place) markets, which deal with imported items from South East Asian countries through Myanmar, are flooded with pirated movie, television serial and music CDs mainly from Korea. There are also trends of making music videos of Manipuri songs using clippings from Korean movies and are then sold.
The conclusions that we can draw from the above evaluations areKorean wave stormed Manipur more or less at the same time it started spreading to other Asian societies.It was only on 23 July, 2006 that the first ever Korean drama was aired on India’s national television channel, DDTV. The Manipuri experience of the Korean popular culture was not under the direct initiative of the government. It is mainly through cable television network (Arirang) and pirated music and movie CDs that Korean cultural wave entrenches the heart of Manipuri society.Factors that facilitate the foray of Korean wave in Manipur are introduction of cable television, ban on Hindi satellite channels and Hindi films and opening up of international border trade between India and South East Asian countries through Manipur.The key factor that abets the popularity of Korean wave is the cultural proximity of Korean and Manipuri societies in terms of both being of Mongoloid stock; both societies being based on clan communities; sharing similar traditional religious structures in Sanamahism and Shamanism; similar streams of philosophy in traditional music and dance; and similar forms of folk games.Not only the younger but also the older generations of Manipur share the same sentiments while watching hallyu dramas and films; and also identify with its dance and music. The younger generation in particular seeks to learn more about the Korean culture, traditions, language and fashion.Hallyu can help to develop broader cultural interchange and cooperation.
The authors would like to thank Atom Sunil, G. Amarjit, A. Joy and Ph. Newton for their assistance in the writing of this article.
[1] The author is a Research scholar in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. His major interests are Sociology of Mass Communication, Industrial Sociology and Cultural Studies.
[2] The author teaches English in Zakir Husain College, Delhi University, India. Her major interests are English Language Teaching (ELT) and Cultural Studies.
[3] Korean_brands.asp
[5] Korean _brands.asp
[8] Ibid.
[9] Mahbubani, Kishore. Op. Cit. 5.
[10]Straubhaar, J. D. 1991. Beyond Media Imperialism: Assymetrical interdependence and cultural proximity. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 8, 39-59. See also Straubhaar, J., Campbell, C. & Cahoon, K. 2003. From national to regional cultures and television markets of NAFTA. Online document
[11]Straubhaar, J., Fuentes, M., Giraud, C. & Campbell, C. 2002. Refocusing form global to regional homogenization of television: Production and programming in the Latino U.S. Market, Mexico and Venezuela. Paper presented at the International Communication Association Annual Conference in Seoul, South Korea.
[12] Straubhaar, J. 2002. (Re)asserting national television and national identity against the global, regional and local levels of world television in J. M. Chan & B. T. McIntyre (Eds), In Search of Boundaries: Communication, Nation-States and Cultural Identities. Westport, Connecticut: Ablex Publishing.
[13] Ibid. p. 196.
[14] Facts about Korea. 2003. Korean Overseas Information Service. p.13.
[15] See O. K. Singh. 1988. ‘Aspects of Archaeology in Manipur’ in N. Sanajaoba (ed.). Manipur: Past and Present. Vol. 1. New Delhi: Mittal Publication. p. 69. & Kamei, Gangmumei. 1991. History of Manipur (Pre Colonial Period). Vol.1. New Delhi: National Publishing House. p. 21.
[16] Johnstone, J. 1971. My Experience in Manipur and Naga Hills. Delhi: Vivek Publishng House. p. 97.
[17] Facts about Korea. 2003. Korean Overseas Information Service. P. 16.
[18]These are Mangang, Luwang, Khuman, Moirang, Angom, Khabanganba and Sarang-Leishangthem (also called Chenglei). See Shah, R. Kumar. 1994. Valley Society of Manipur. Calcutta: Punthi Pustak. p. 94.
[19] Facts about Korea. 2003. Korean Overseas Information Service. p. 156-157.
[20] Facts about Korea. 2003. Korean Overseas Information Service. p. 162-163.
[21] M. Kirti Singh. 1988. Religion and Culture of Manipur. Delhi: Manas Publications.p. 165.
[22] Korean Cultural Insights. 2005. Korean Tourism Organization. p. 26.
[23] Ibid. p. 28.
[24] Ibid. p. 182.