Is China’s ban on the ROK entertainment a cultural policy or a struggle for international relations?

Lingsi Yang
4 min readMar 27, 2021
Members of South Korean variety show Running Man
Members of South Korean variety show 《Running Man》| BAIDU IMAGE

As a fanatic of Running Man, a South Korean variety show, I have been waiting for updates on the show every Monday since it first aired in 2010. Until the summer of 2016, I suddenly couldn’t see the update for the show in the previous channel, learned later that this is because the Chinese government has introduced restrictions on the South Korean entertainment industry, China National Radio film and Television imposed ban includes: stop investing in new Korean cultural industry companies; stop K-idol groups from performing to audiences of more than 10,000; prohibit signing new cooperation projects of South Korean TV dramas and variety shows; ban South Korean actors from appearing in TV dramas. State-owned China Central Television (CCTV) reported that SARFT, China’s broadcast regulator, had banned the airing of Korean TV shows with effect from Sept. 1. The promulgation of the ban on South Korea has brought great influence to China-South Korean relations and cultural exchanges between the two countries. The promulgation of the ban on South Korea has brought huge influence to the relations between China and South Korea and the cultural exchanges.

Many South Korean and Chinese media outlets have linked the ban to South Korea’s deployment of the US Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system, which has soured China’s ties with South Korea. Is the ban a means of international relations to show the Chinese government’s strong dissatisfaction and opposition to the THAAD system, or is it a cultural policy to protect and develop its own entertainment and cultural industries? I don’t think we can say for sure, because I think it does play a role in both.

EXO performed at a music show in South Korea in 2013 | STARNEWS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

On the one hand, from TV dramas to fried chicken, South Korean products are especially popular among young people in China. They’re also one of South Korea’s biggest exports, earning the country a record $5.3 billion in 2014. In 2016, the Korean romantic drama Uncontrollably Fond had more than 4.1 billion views on China’s version of YouTube, Youku, according to Yonhap, South Korea’s largest news agency. China has become the biggest export market for South Korean TV content and music acts. Banning South Korea’s cultural and entertainment content was aimed to protect Chinese cultural heritage and economic benefits. Today, American, Japanese and Korean dramas have developed very maturely, while Chinese content is relatively uncompetitive. If it is not banned, the Chinese market will be divided up, and no one will watch it, no money will be made, and no good products will be produced, thus falling into a vicious circle. The Chinese market still needs high-quality content to attract audiences and develop its content industry, which will be a long-term growth process.

GETTY IMAGE

On the other aspect, China is one of the largest export markets of South Korea’s cultural industry. China has been threatened by the THAAD built by South Korea,China banned on South Korean entertainers as defiance. The stocks of the four major entertainment companies in South Korea began to plummet. In the third quarter of 2016 when the “ban” began to take effect, the stock prices of Korean K-wave companies in South Korea dropped by 14% on average. According to the Korea Modern Economic Research Institute estimated that the “restrictions” caused a loss of about 8.7 billion won in the cultural industry in South Korea, and the economic loss in South Korea was huge.

But Even though Chinese citizens love Korean culture, they have expressed support for the government’s tough stance against Korean businesses and culture. Xinhua, one of the Chinese government’s media mouthpieces, reported in August 2016 that 80 percent of Chinese people would support a ban of South Korean stars appearing in Chinese TV shows. If we want Chinese culture to go out of the world, first of all, the people of our nation should recognize and carry forward our national culture. It is a matter for the Chinese government and cultural industry workers to jointly think about creating their own cultural symbols.

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