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[Book Review] 'The Korean Wave in a Post-Pandemic World' delves into Hallyu's past, present and future

Oct. 3, 2023 - 15:50 By Lee Si-jin
The cover of “The Korean Wave in a Post-Pandemic World” (Springer)

“The Korean Wave in a Post-Pandemic World”

By Shin Geon-cheol, Mark Whitaker


Since the late 1990s, South Korean pop culture has gained popularity overseas, with music, TV dramas and films becoming major exports to other Asian countries.

The spread of Korean culture has continued, expanding beyond Asia. The term Hallyu, or Korean Wave, was first introduced in China in 1999 to describe the influx of Korean cultural products to the country. The Korean Wave is now defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "the increase in international interest in South Korea and its popular culture, represented by the global success of South Korean music, film, TV, fashion and food."

“The Korean Wave in a Post-Pandemic World,” set to be published in early December, explores the lesser-known circumstances that accelerated South Korea’s soft power growth and its rise to becoming a major economic asset for the country.

The 671-page book takes readers through the some thirty-year history of the Korean Wave in three major chapters covering its past, present and future.

The book is authored by Shin Geon-cheol -- a Kyung Hee University professor specializing in analyzing Korean business and marketing strategies, business history, entrepreneurship and technological innovation -- and Mark Whitaker, a sociology professor at the State University of New York in Korea. It offers a fresh lens through which to view Korea, while also seeking to give useful comparative ideas, metrics and case studies to understand what has been happening within the country and abroad.

Shin emphasized the significance of delving into the first durable non-Eurocentric modern cultural wave in world history.

“We should be spending time analyzing how a durable and digitized Korean Wave started and continued. We should be spending time analyzing how it is now ever so slightly displacing or at least de-centering centuries older Western hegemony over global economics, cultural standards and media hardware and cultural production,” the authors write.

The book starts off by examining the change in South Korea’s status from a developing to a developed country, taking into consideration its historical, economic and political background. It continues to delve into the ever-growing popularity of the Korean Wave as not just a flash in the pan or something that suddenly appeared on the world scene only about a decade ago.

Shin and Whitaker explore Korea's durable homogeneous culture and its modern technological exports by doing comparative analyses of development factors and trends of the Korean economic miracle as they relate to the Korean Wave, along with detailed case studies of particular sectors of the Korean Wave in online movies, cosmetics and K-pop music.

The authors relate additional factors such as economic, political, cultural and digital development among the other success factors for the Korean Wave via the latest examples of K-pop superstar group BTS, Korean cosmetics pioneer Cosmax and Netflix’s dystopian series “Squid Game.”

The book questions whether the cultural tsunami that is the Korean Wave is accessible and transferable to other countries. It also aims to provide further insights on the Korean Wave's future in the post-pandemic era, the possible emergence of a new cultural wave, the fate of different nations in a global digital sphere and more.

“Will Korea be a harbinger leading the way to a more multipolar global economy and cultural world, or will Korea remain an outlier? Arguments for Korea as harbinger and outlier were given throughout this book. We can learn from Korea regardless of one’s interpretation about it,” the authors write.