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China Focus: Cultural exchanges boom under closer China-ROK ties

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

BEIJING, July 1 (Xinhua) -- Cultural exchanges and cooperation between China and the Republic of Korea (ROK) are on the rise, as President Xi Jinping's visit to Seoul this week is sure to provide more impetus.

Korean TV and pop crossovers to China are proving more popular and socially significant than ever. Who would have imagined that a catchphrase from a ROK TV series could have provided a much-needed marketing boost for the Chinese poultry industry when it was suffering under the spread of bird flu earlier this year?

That's what happened when a character in "You Who Came From The Stars," widely screened in China, pronounced, "A snowy day is the perfect time for fried chicken and beer."

This is just one example of China and the ROK getting closer, both economically and culturally. With Xi in Seoul on Thursday and Friday, the gap is likely to get narrower still.

Chinese interest in Korean media is not a new trend. At one point, there was hardly anyone in the country who had not seen "Dae Jang Geum," a 2003 ROK series about an orphaned kitchen cook who goes on to become the king's first female physician.

But China-ROK exchanges are now being given a more governmental seal of approval. At a public diplomacy forum bringing together officials of the two countries in June, many delegates expressed willingness for more cultural collaboration.

In 2013, officials inked a tentative accord that would recognize China-ROK co-productions as homemade movies in both countries, a position which would give them preferential treatment in funding and distribution.

Sensing the opportunity, ROK media agencies including SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, JYP Entertainment and FNC Entertainment have opened Chinese offices.

Lee Chul Woo, a 25-year-old ROK student at Shanghai's Fudan University, was also influenced in his vocational aspirations. When he first came to China in 2008, he was a physics major.

"Then I got myself transferred to major in television and broadcast journalism because I want to be a producer and do TV programs in China," said Lee.

According to China's Ministry of Education, there were some 290,000 registered overseas students in China in 2011. ROK students accounted for the largest ratio, 21 percent.

As the two countries deepen ties, more ROK students are finding reasons to bring their culture to China. For Lee Sang Hyun and Oh Gyeong Eon, the reason was potential for Korean restaurants.

Oh studied in Shanghai, and met and married Lee there. Now they are about to open a third outlet in their Korean food chain in the city.

In the past, Korean food in China has always been modified to cater to Chinese tastes for stronger flavoring, according to Lee. "But that is not the original Korean food. Now, especially as more and more Chinese people are coming back from visiting the ROK, they also want to taste something that is truly authentic," he added.

For Lee and Oh, the secret to running a catering business in China is to source authentic Korean ingredients. As economic ties between the two countries are getting closer, that is getting easier.

Though all of the couple's 70-plus staff are Chinese, including the chefs, Lee said improved logistics between China and his home country are a great help in making dishes.

Korean culture, embodied in music and movies, fashion and food, is imposing a visible and speedy impact on Chinese while China's traditions such as Confucian culture have an invisible and long-established influence in the other direction, said Li Tianguo, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' National Institute of International Strategy.

Kim Dong-gi, director-general for cultural affairs of the ROK's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at the China-ROK forum last month that he was amazed by the number of Korean TV shows broadcast in China.

"It shows that people from both countries can understand each other culturally and emotionally," noted Kim.

ROK data indicates that Chinese tourists accounted for the largest share of inbound tourists to the country in 2013, the first time that had happened.

The ROK now has 17 Confucius Institutes and there are more than 800 flights from China on a weekly basis.

"There is no doubt that 'Korean Wave' and 'Chinese Wind' can continue to play an important role in the mutual relationship," said Li. Enditem

(To stay up to date with the latest China news, follow XHNews on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/XHNews and Xinhua News Agency on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/XinhuaNewsAgency.)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/xinhua-news-agency/140701/china-focus-cultural-exchanges-boom-under-closer-china-rok-t