A bizarre craze in China for a Korean soap opera about a 400-year-old alien has caught the attention of the international press.
The Washington Post in a piece published on Friday milks the political and cultural implications of the fad surrounding "My Love from the Star" for all they are worth.
"There is no shortage of problems facing China these days: a terrorist attack that recently left 33 people dead and 143 injured, corruption in government, a worrisome slowdown in economic growth," it begins. "So when the country's two highest governing bodies met in Beijing this week, what was the burning issue on the delegates' lips? A South Korean soap opera that has taken the country by storm."
The daily tells of a pregnant woman in Jiangsu Province who nearly had a miscarriage after she spent all night binging on episodes, chicken and beer.
"To be fair, it's hard to overstate just how popular this show is these days. After the show's female lead mentioned 'beer and fried chicken' in one episode, it became one of the most invoked phrases online. Restaurants cashed in and started selling beer-and-fried-chicken meals," the paper said.
Thanks to being available online, "My Love from the Star" has had 2.5 billion views in China. It found an improbable champion in Wang Qishan, the sixth highest-ranking member of the Chinese government and a member of the Politburo, who praised the soap opera in a recent meeting of the National People's Congress.
"Its premise may seem bizarre to Western soap watchers: It's about an alien who accidentally arrives on Earth 400 years ago, meets an arrogant female pop star and falls in love," wrote the Washington Post. "Well aware of the craze the drama has created in China, one committee of China's political advisory body (called the CPPCC) spent a whole morning bemoaning why China can't make a show as good and as big of a hit."
The show's success has dented Chinese cultural pride. When the Hollywood animation "Kung Fu Panda" became a hit in China in 2008, many agonized why it took an American production to turn the quintessentially Chinese combo into a worldwide hit.
"This time around, the angst over the Korean drama carries with it bitterness about regional rivalries. While China has long considered itself the source of East Asian culture, the domination of Japanese comics and Korean soap operas in Chinese pop culture challenges that view," according to the Washington Post." Some blamed China's censorship system.
When the star of the show, Kim Soo-hyun, visited Nanjing on Saturday China rolled out the red carpet usually reserved for foreign dignitaries. He was to appear on Jiangsu Satellite TV, which provided a private jet and paid him 3 million yuan.
The price of tickets for the recording went through the roof once Kim's appearance was confirmed. Tickets were given away free by random draw, but they were soon trading online for 30,000 yuan. The broadcaster bolstered security for the show, banning bags and liquids from the recording studio, and making guests and press wear name tags and sit in designated seats.
A similar big welcome is expected when Kim's co-star Jun Ji-hyun visits Shangai on March 21.