Korean Historical Soaps Upset China

Korean historical dramas have upset Chinese authorities and Internet users alike. Chinese authorities have imposed a press embargo on "Taewangsasingi," about the Koguryo Kingdom (37BC-668AD) from the early days until King Kwanggaeto the Great, and Chinese Internet users are calling "Chumong," about the early kingdom’s founding, chauvinistic and anti-Chinese.

Tianya Club, one of the most popular Internet forums in China, and Chinese search engine Baidu are inundated with messages attacking "Chumong." Users complain Korean drama is following in the footsteps of Japanese attempts to rewrite history, depicting Koreans as innocent and the Han-dynasty Chinese as cruel. "The drama portrays Han China as even nastier than Japan," one message says. "What are the Chinese authorities doing? Korea is airing this kind of vicious TV drama all around the world."

Bae Yong-joon of Bae Yong-joon of "Taewangsasingi" (right) and Song Il-gook of "Chumong"

Hong Kong's ATV, which started airing "Chumong" once a week last month, has changed "Han Dynasty" into "Tian Zhao" (meaning "a country ruled by the son of Heaven," its name among vassal states) and "countries" into "tribes" in the subtitles. ATV says it "revised" some sensitive lines. "'Chumong' is an interesting and well-produced drama. But its theme is simply a myth or legend," it said.

The Chinese Communist Party's information department has imposed a press embargo on "Taewangsasingi," which starts airing in September, because it tackles the hairy historical questions of Koguryo, a kingdom China has for some time attempted to co-opt as part of Chinese history. Starring Korean Wave star Bae Yong-joon in his first TV drama in five years, "Taewangsasingi" is the most expensive Korean TV drama ever made with W45 billion (US$1=W937) in production cost.

Hong Kong weekly Yazhou Zhoukan said China feels uneasy about a succession of Korean TV dramas about the early Koguryo and Barhae kingdoms. They also include "Yongaesomun," which portrays a general in the later Koguryo period who repelled four invasion attempts by the Tang Dynasty, and "Taejoyong" about the Barhae founder uniting refugees after the fall of Koguryo. In its Feb. 4 edition, the magazine quotes Korea experts as saying such shows do not amount to a cultural invasion but rather provide opportunity for "cultural fusion" between the two countries. The weekly points out that many Korean pop stars are appearing in Chinese TV dramas and the two countries continue to co-produce films and TV dramas.

englishnews@chosun.com / Feb. 05, 2007 08:20 KST