How Popular Are Korean Stars in China Really?

Korean stars are said to have taken China by storm, but how much of that claim is hype and how much accords with the facts has not always been clear.

Kim Soo-hyun, who became a top star in China thanks to the Korean soap "My Love from the Star," is reportedly earning 10 million yuan or W1.65 billion for each commercial he does there.

His colleague Lee Min-ho gets paid 8 million yuan per commercial.

But while their agents make it sound as if the two are among the most highly paid stars in China, they actually earn rather less than their Chinese counterparts.

According to the People's Daily, Jackie Chan is the highest paid star in China. He recently made 16 million yuan for appearing in an electronics advert. Zhang Ziyi usually gets 15 million yuan and Andy Lau around 12 million yuan. Fan Bingbing reportedly makes 8 million yuan, a little less than Kim.

Korean actress Jeon Ji-hyun, who starred in "My Love from the Star" alongside Kim, is said to have made 6 million yuan from a drinking water commercial recently that provoked a storm in a teacup.

Chae Rim, who is to marry Chinese actor Gao Ziqi in October, is more highly regarded in China than in her home country. She earns around 4 million yuan per advertisement.

How much stars get paid for commercials is not the only barometer of their popularity in China. Frequency of web searches is also a good indicator, and there Kim and Lee do stand out.

The Korea Foundation for International Culture Exchange tallied up the daily rankings of the most searched celebrities on Baidu, China's largest portal site, for two weeks from July 7. Kim ranked fourth and Lee 10th, while Chan and Lau did not get a look-in.

Among Korean women, Jun came in 22nd, but Chae and another long-time Korean Wave star, Jang Na-ra, were not on the list.

But Chinese members of K-pop groups rate higher than their Korean members. Kris, or Wu Yifan, a former member of EXO, ranked third on the list, ahead of Kim. Victoria, or Song Qian, the Chinese leader of girl group f(x), was the fifth most searched female celebrity ahead of Fan, who came in 10th.

Park Sung-hyun at the foundation said, "Even if you're a big star, if you don't follow up with subsequent work, you're immediately forgotten by the public. That’s as true in China as anywhere else."

So how can Korean stars keep up their star status in China? Chae and Jang were once top stars there, but not any more. Park Gil-sung, a professor at Korea University, said, "In order to produce great stars of the caliber of Jackie Chan, we need to go beyond the current celebrity-centered marketing strategy and create a content-oriented sustainable business model."

englishnews@chosun.com / Aug. 02, 2014 08:19 KST