Sunday, April 20, 2014

Obama between toppling Japan and sunken-hearted Korea

As the new "pivot to Korea-Japan", Barack Obama must be bracing for a very special trip that will lead him to toppling Japan and sunken-hearted Korea.


The righting of capsized Korea has not started yet (see "Korea Upside Down"). And as divers recover one by one lifeless bodies from the Sewol, the nation starts thinking about the other victims of the tragedy: survivors with PTSD, relatives left without psychological assistance, that vice principal who took his own life... or even journalistic deontology*.

At the same time focusing on the present, reconstructing the past, and working on future improvements, Korea as a whole adopted a new timeline. Always on.

Non-stop coverage of Sewol tragedy means that if you're an announcer, your ad will be covered with sad updates and casualty countdowns
Meanwhile, across the East Sea, Japan remains on the verge of capsizing into the dark waters of "ABEIGNomics", under the helm of a Prime Minister who persists in methodically dishonoring the nation:

"Obama ponders Sewol tribute or altering trip. Meanwhile, Shinzo Abe sends flowers to Yasukuni... #ABEIGNomics"
As if a fascist** ruler wasn't disgraceful enough for poor Japan: dozens of pro-Nazi demonstrators paraded in Tokyo, waving Nazi and Rising Sun flags, praising Hitler, and denying the existence of the Holocaust. Far from arresting these outrageous fanatics, the police protected them all the way***...

"In ShinzoAbe Japan, police protects pro-Nazi demonstration"
No, the Japanese democracy cannot survive with governments that support war criminals and police that support Nazis. It's up to each citizen to take a stand and prevent the nation from sinking. Even if "Abenomics" were to fail and precipitate the end of this infamous PM, Japan cannot afford to postpone any longer its obligation to face history and to cleanse a political system corrupted by Imperial Japan loyalists.

Hopefully, from time to time, moderates speak up to defend the honor of the nation and to denounce the government's attacks on democracy and the peaceful post-war constitution. I'm glad to learn that 200,000 copies of this book were sold:

"'What happens if you change the Constitution?' bestseller denounces ABEIGNomics"
So how did the situation evolve since "The Tripartite Summitulacra" in The Hague? Clearly, one party seems to have recovered while the two others took serious hits:
  • Korea, as we see, is literally overwhelmed by the Sewol crisis.
  • Obama's foreign policy is under crossfire: not only the US failed to make a difference in Ukraine after Syria, but changes are demanded in the approach of Asia Pacific (see "Re-balancing the rebalance: resourcing U.S. diplomatic strategy in the Asia-Pacific region" - "A Majority Staff report prepared for the use of the Committee on foreign relations United States Senate" - 20140417). Again, John Kerry is not seen as involved as Hillary Clinton with the region.
  • Shinzo Abe simply bought time by accepting a first director-general meeting on Imperial Japan sexual slavery issues ahead of Barack Obama's visit. As expected, the meeting didn't solve anything. Bonus: Japanese lobbyists even managed to restore the "State Visit" status!
"Obama saves face of Emperor of Japan, not Shinzo Abe's: still 2-day only, but "State Visit" status
In this context, more will be expected from Barack Obama than sincere condolences**** or the nine Joseon seals to be returned to the Gyeongbokgung museum. And more than "unwavering friendship", we want to hear about unwavering principles. 

Again, the POTUS must stand for the victims of Imperial Japan sexual slavery system as a universal cause, not just by mentioning it as an issue to be settled between Japan and Korea because that's absolutely not the case: once and for all, Japan must chose between post-war peace and Imperial Japan revival.

And of course, North Korea will try its "best" to remain at the center of all discussions. As usual, ad nauseam:

"Ever the tactful KIM Jong-un: weird choice of photo op as Sewol tragedy unfolds"

Seoul Village 2014
Welcome to our Korean Errlines! Follow Seoul Village on Facebook and Twitter
Bookmark and Share
Add this page to your favorites

* see Kim Tong-hyung's "Media coverage on ship sinking has been pathetic" - whatever happened to the guidelines fixed by the Journalists Association of Korea following the 2003 attack of Daegu subway?
** again, I'm just telling it as it is: Shinzo Abe is a textbook (!) fascist - see all posts related to Shinzo Abe on Seoul Village, for instance "Saving Japan - Let's fall the Indecision Tree", "The Elusive Independence Day - When will Japan officially proclaim its Independence from Imperial Japan?", "Dear Japan, Please Say No To Abeignomics"...
*** see "日극우 "히틀러 기리자"… 나치旗 들고 도쿄시내 행진"(Chosun Ilbo - 20140421)
**** see "Statement by the President on the Tragic Ferry Sinking Off the Coast of the Republic of Korea" (Embassy of the United States in Seoul, Korea - 20140417)
On behalf of all the American people, Michelle and I send our deepest and heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims of the tragic ferry sinking off the coast of the Republic of Korea. The bonds of friendship between the American and Korean people are strong and enduring, and our hearts ache to see our Korean friends going through such a terrible loss, especially the loss of so many young students. South Korea is one of our closest allies, and American Navy personnel and U.S. Marines are already on the scene assisting with the search and rescue efforts. I’ve directed our military to provide any and all assistance requested by our Korean partners in the days ahead. As I will underscore on my visit to Seoul next week, America’s commitment to our ally South Korea is unwavering—in good times and in bad. As the Korean people deal with this heartbreaking tragedy, they will have the unending support and friendship of the United States.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

From The Outside, KAL's "7 Star Hanok Hotel" Showcases Excellence in Freight

Remember Korean Air's "hanok hotel" project in  Songhyeon-dong(see "Korean Air Grounded : Seoul 7 Star Hotel Delayed")? Rather than traditional Korean architecture, the first aerial views bring to mind plane hangars ("Excellence in Freight"?), computer chips, old tape recorder keys, or maybe the kind of golden piano keys Liberace's diamond-laden fingers would love to strike:

Source "7성급 한옥호텔'이라더니…귀퉁이 영빈관이 '고작'"  (News1 - 20140417) via Naver
The architect KIM Won - who worked with the great KIM Swoo-geun at Space Group - went as far as wondering if this was truly the work of a renowned colleague (Mario Botta, who did the round part of the Leeum), and how this thing could pretend to be inspired by hanok.

Yes, if you look closely in the upper left corner, you do find a couple of hanoks, but they sound very much like the "Hanok Alibi" I wrote about last year in "Build a hanok and they will come - Marketing impostures and genuine slow urbanism":
And you can't even see them from the street the way you do for the Office of Royal Genealogy at the nearby MMCA Seoul*..., but that's consistent with a non-inclusive, resolutely exclusive 7-star concept that, otherwise and regardless of its degree of hanokness, seems optimized to leverage on intense foot traffic at a key touristic intersection, with a gallery facing Insadong. 

Note that unlike in Blingblingistan (a.k.a. Dubai), hotel classifications don't reach as far as 7 stars in Korea, but that's another story. At least - speaking of stories - this high-profile project remains low-rise...

... and at ground level for the moment, because the land has remained untouched so far. I took this view from across the street a couple of years ago...

November 2011
... and News1 published this close-up yesterday: 

Source "서울 호텔 이용률 78.9%, 공급과잉 우려"  (News1 - 20140416)
News1's shot was taken not far from where the gallery will be erected, at the bottom righ corner in the aerial view above. This angle prolongs the Insadong axis, and you can see the Folk Museum, Cheong Wa Dae, and Bugaksan in the background.

Note that this last picture illustrated an article about the mounting risk of hotel rooms oversupply in Seoul, a recurrent topic on my own "Korean errlines"**, and an issue raised yesterday by the CCEJ (Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice) during a meeting where the so-called 'hanok hotel' came under fire.

Intense lobbying eventually seems to be paying for KAL, and leveraging the government's recent deregulation frenzy, an obviously tailor-made reform took care last month of the law that had blocked the company for years (no hotels could be built near schools, and there's a couple of them just next door):

"Law changes to allow hotels near schools. Will #KoreanAir build its 'hanokized' 7-star near #Anguk?" (20140327)

So if you want an aerial view from a hotel with hanok, I suggest the one I took a couple of days ago from the 23rd floor of The Shilla:

"#Jangchung Gymnasium in its #Colosseum stage (in the distance, #DDPSeoul, #Doota Tower)"
Following a bottom right - top left diagonal:
  • in the right corner: the hotel's Yeong Bing Gwan, a 1967 hanok used for weddings and receptions
  • in the center: the old Jangchung Gymnasium, beheaded during its renovation, almost looks like Roma's Colosseo
  • in the background: on the way to Doota Tower, the shining flank of the giant squid (the DDP - see "Sneak peek inside Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Park")
And of course, Wongudan's Hwanggungu Pavilion is still standing on Westin Chosun territory.

Seoul Village 2014
Welcome to our Korean Errlines! Follow Seoul Village on Facebook and Twitter
Bookmark and Share
Add this page to your favorites

* BTW if you fancy more animated aerial views of this block, re-watch "MMCA Seoul from above")
** along with the future magnets on each side of the Gyeongbokgung: this KAL hotel and the Four Seasons (see for instance "Four Seasons Seoul", "A 6 Star Hotel in Gwanghwamun?")

Korea Upside Down

One month after Malaysia's MH370, the Sewol tragedy exposes Korea's own failures in crisis management.
24 hours after the incident, most of the 475 people on board (mainly students) remain trapped in a ferry that had plenty of time to be evacuated before it sank.

"Cruise ship w 500 'people on board calling for help by #Jindo. Sinking?" (20140416 - 9:33 AM)
"For 140 mn, a nation watches its kids die. Incomprehension in #ChosunIlbo and across #Korea"" (20140417 - 8:29 AM)
Tragic incompetence on board, utter confusion on shore, this nation seems projected 20 years back in time, when the Sampoong Department Store collapsed.

Let's hope more lives will be saved, and lessons learned for the future.

Seoul Village 2014
Welcome to our Korean Errlines! Follow Seoul Village on Facebook and Twitter
Bookmark and Share
Add this page to your favorites

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Redrawing Korean Maps - Innovation Clusters

Maps time!

More than ever, the NW-SE axis forms the industrial backbone of South Korea. Since 2010, the regions of Yeongnam (Busan-Gyeongbuk-Gyeongnam-Ulsan-Daegu) and Hoeseo (Chungnam-Chungbuk-Daejeon-Sejong) have boomed much more spectacularly than Sudogwon (Seoul-Incheon-Gyeonggi):

Korea's main industrial regions in 1980 and now - the purple dots mark sites added after 2010 (Yeongnam clearly ahead of Hoseo and Sudogwon)
The recent adoption of a system of innovation clusters certainly contributed to a phenomenon facilitated by improved infrastructures, particularly in transports. Each region has now clear "verticals", knowing that, of course, not all regions and clusters are not created equal:

Clear "verticals" for each region

Zooming in, the regional hubs and their interfaces (simplified maps):

Sudogwon (Seoul-Incheon-Gyeonggi) - Paju among the missing hubs
Chungcheong, where Samsung invests massively in displays for instance in displays
Yeongnam Daegyeong (North) - NB: I'm glad nothing is planned around Andong
Yeongnam Dongnam (South) - Busan the natural magnet
Honam - a less dense network
Gangwon - new infrastructures (e.g. railways) shall help this laggard of a region catch up. As long as they don't spoil Seoraksan..
On the Korea Industrial Complex Corporation's website, you can also get all details at the mini-cluster level. Here, Seoul, where the DMC and the G-Valley (around Guro) play key roles:

The Korea Industrial Complex Corporation promotes a global vision and consistency in a complex system where some major industrial parks are directly under the authority of the government, while many are attached to local authorities**. Launched in 1997 to replace a system of regional management corporations, the KICOX started the following year with the Paju publishing hub, and led the shift towards innovation clusters in 2004.

Naturally, only a few clusters may become international leaders, and there's always a rob Peter to pay Paul effect, not to mention environmental impacts. But as we speak, Korea's map keeps being redrawn.

And such clusterfucks as Saemangeum will probably keep popping up: in Korea like anywhere else, you'll never prevent all politicians from nurturing pharaonic pet projects.

Seoul Village 2014
Welcome to our Korean Errlines! Follow Seoul Village on Facebook and Twitter
Bookmark and Share
Add this page to your favorites

* "4곳뿐이던 산업단지가 30년만에 131곳 `진격의 충청`" (MK News 20140410)
** just like with the special zones (FEZ - Free Economic Zone / FIZ - Foreign Investment Zone / FTZ - Free Trade Zone...)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: the first test shot taken from the first North Korean drone

South Korea recently found North Korean drones containing records of aerial views of such strategic sites as Cheong Wa Dae or NeNe Chicken farms. 

These high tech Unmanned Aerial Vehicles were built to avoid detection, with hand-painted cardboard recycled from a piñata, super 8 cameras, and elaborate engineless propulsion systems (forensics detected traces of Mentos and Coke). South Korean authorities don't know how many drones roamed the country, but each one was numbered.

A student found drone #1 on Yeouido while studying cherry blossoms and spring bottoms, and we managed to get the records (from the UAV, not the student's shameful snapshots). They include the first picture taken during the drone's maiden trial in a North Korean military facility.
We submitted this exclusive document to eminent Baekduologists:

Exclusive: the first test shot taken from the first North Korean drone

Experts overwhelmingly see a 2-ton missile, complete with a nuclear warhead and an activation button. Bolts look like they may have been fashioned in Pakistan, but the hairdo is definitely North Korean. 

On the second picture, which we submitted to the NIS (they seem to have lost it), alarming fumes rise from the warhead. From a tubular part branded Pyongyang Paeksan Tobacco, which leads to a Pakistan-DPRK JV, and may confirm the covert role of Abdul Qadeer Khan in North Korea's nuclear program.

See also: "KIM Jong-un's Movember Selfie"

Seoul Village 2014
Welcome to our Korean Errlines! Follow Seoul Village on Facebook and Twitter
Bookmark and Share
Add this page to your favorites

Monday, April 7, 2014

China reaches high speed into North Korea... and post-Juche East Asia

KBS detailed yesterday* a high speed line to be built by China across North Korea. It would follow the Pyongui Line (Pyongyang-Dandong), and furthermore the Gyeongui Line that connected Seoul with Pyongyang.

According to KBS, the DPRK Economic Development Commission confirmed in February a December 2013 agreement that would change the whole region, even if in the short to medium term only a minority were to use the infrastructure.

If the line falls short of reaching into China and the DMZ by stopping at Sinuiju and Kaesong, it gives a clear advantage for China and its technology in post-Juche Korea. South Korea will have little choice but to connect - or to try the alternate Rason route with Russia.

Construction would last 6 years, with two waves that have not been fully detailed yet:
  • 1st stretches: 80 km
    • From the North: Sinujiu Station - Tongrim Station (Sinujiu-Dongnim, 40 km)
    • From the South: Kaesong - Yonan (Gaesong-Yeonan, 40 km)
  • 2nd stretches: 296 km
    • From the North: Tongrim - Chongju - Sinanju - Pyongyang (Dongnim-Jeongju-Sinanju-Pyongyang, 147 km)
    • From the South: Yonan - Haeju - Sariwon - Pyongyang (Yeonan-Haeju-Sariwon-Pyongyang, 149 km)

It also mean that Chinese executives and engineers will roam the country for a long while, including at the doorsteps of Kaesong Industrial Complex. China will operate for 30 years on a BOT basis (Build Operate Transfer), likely into post-Juche DPRK. 

Note that this agreement happened around the JANG Sung-taek purge, and that over the past few months, China also gained long term concessions to use North Korean land.

The silent "Hanschluss"* seems well under way. And this Northeast Project of a railway doesn't even need to rewrite history: it's the economy, stupid.

Seoul Village 2014
Welcome to our Korean Errlines! Follow Seoul Village on Facebook and Twitter
Bookmark and Share
Add this page to your favorites

*  "개성~신의주 고속철 북중 계약 체결" (KBS News 20140407) - NB: thanks Nikola "Kojects" Medimorec for the link!
** see "Game over for the 'Hanschluss' scenario?", "Re-engaging North Korea - A Four Party Talk"(on blogules: "China-North Korea : the Great Hanschluss still the base case scenario")... 

20140409 addendum (remarks and reminders):
. This KBS story has not yet been confirmed by any other media, and a MOU is by no means the final deal. We learn how long the construction would take (6 years), but not when it would start, if it does. What matters here is the nature of the concessions made by the DPRK as they (re)negociate with China.
. Note that the Shenyang-Dandong high speed section will be inaugurated in 2015 ("China to open high speed rail link to North Korean border in 2015"). Dandong and Sinujiu are separated by the Yalu River, but I don't know if, among the many new bridges planned by China between both nations, some are already planned as rail-friendly. Shenyang shall also be connected with Beijing, Harbin, and Dalian.  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Heralding cultural diversity - a stronger and more sustainable Korean wave (Part III)

I've been receiving a couple of requests every week about my piece for the "First World Congress for Hallyu" (October 2013) ever since I mentioned it* last year. I might as well post it here.

I'd been asked a paper on Hallyu and ethics, and seized the opportunity to raise the alarm on a few abuses, and to call for a better respect of cultural diversity. Clearly, as it is defined and marketed now, Hallyu can't survive long. And it shouldn't without a complete overhaul, because Korean culture as a whole can be hit as collateral damage.

There was so much more to say, but I was not going to write a whole book on this topic (well maybe I should, it would most certainly outsell my absurdist fiction).

PS: it had to be split into 3 parts to fit this blog's format. See also Part I and Part II.


Heralding cultural diversity - a stronger and more sustainable Korean wave:

  • Understanding wave dynamics – learning from nature
    • Defining waves: always bear in mind that waves are disturbances
    • Defining Hallyu: a simple wave, a current, or a vast ocean?
    • Revealing a vast ocean in movement? Easier than carving every day the perfect wave
  • Respecting cultural diversity – at home and abroad
    • This is not a competition, this is not a “Clash of Cultures”
    • Think nurturing beyond preserving: don’t build seawalls, grow mangroves!
    • Diversity is the key to sustainability, ‘consistent’ doesn’t mean ‘constant’
  • Nurturing an ethical, open, and fair ecosystem – showcasing cultural leadership
    • Free creative forces across the nation and beyond, liberate time and space
    • Economic leaders must act as true cultural leaders, open up and embrace change
    • Most exposed at the crest of the wave, ‘cultural sectors’ must lead as role models
The spirit of Hallyu
© Stephane MOT - August 2013

III) Nurturing an ethical, open and fair ecosystem - showcasing cultural leadership

“Respect” is the key word in ethics. We’ve seen how important it is to respect nature and what it teaches us, to respect diversity within our own culture, or to respect other cultures as much as our own. Korea can leverage rich and diverse cultural assets to transform the “Korean wave” into a larger, stronger and more sustainable movement, and in many ways, Korean culture has already become an international model. But to reach beyond the “success story” dimension of the model, and to become a true cultural leader, the nation must make sure that its whole ecosystem is exemplary.

No one owns culture, but everybody is a stakeholder and contributes: citizens, companies, associations, local authorities, governments… Korean culture radiates according to how each one behaves, impacting the way others perceive it (and by the way, most radiations happen to be waves).

Nurturing an ethical, fair and open ecosystem is also a business imperative: not only to secure today’s activity, but also to generate new revenues in the future.

a) Free creative forces across the nation and beyond, liberate time and space

Because culture is first about how people live, use time and space, those are fundamental dimensions where Korean culture can grow stronger and more sustainable. Korean culture success nowadays was also made possible because over the past decades, more Korean people have claimed more free time and space. Before the 1997 crisis, enjoying leisure time was almost considered a crime against national competitiveness, and now all the talk is about securing competitiveness through creativity.

If creativity is not restricted to the happy few so-called “creative people”, a nation cannot decree creativity. Still, creativity can be stimulated and facilitated, potentially creative forces can be liberated to enable the miracle of creation, or the more simple miracle of creation meeting its public.

Let’s make sure all citizens have chance to contribute and to give their full cultural potential. Particularly when dealing with key issues in Korean society, we should always consider this essential dimension:
  • A persistent gender inequality: impossible to develop grand things without empowering half of the nation. The focus is usually on around work and maternity, but empowerment must be total, and culture is an essential dimension for every individual.
  • An aging society: senior citizens have not only a lot to share on Korean culture and its past, but also often both the time and motivation to contribute to its future. Local authorities are already inviting students to come share with them, but Korea also needs its elder citizens across its land and cities, to give sense to territories, to help re-cultivate them.
  • A dystopian education system: Korean kids love to read and discover, but sooner and sooner, they’re turned into exam performers deprived of time and occasions to think by themselves. Hopefully, very positive changes are already coming to what has become a uniform system destroying creativity: alternative schools propose sound education for kids who refuse the system (potentially the most gifted to help it evolve), creative paths are now open beyond kids from wealthy families, and the top students, who used to go for engineering, then for law, now opt for custom ‘bibim’ / DIY programs where they can pick the courses they fancy across the university…
  • The multicultural / international challenge: again, mixed families and foreign communities are a chance, and essential contributors to Korean culture. Seoul developed an expertise in leveraging energies from foreign communities to improve the daily life and cultural experience for all citizens, through the Seoul Global Center. Programs like Global Seoul Mates or Korea Clickers pool enthusiast bloggers from around the world to share about Korean culture and daily life.
  • A pervasive competitiveness, a stressful work environment: the vast majority of cultural contents are now instantly generated and shared by ordinary citizens, and Korea is already leveraging an almost ubiquitous connectivity, multiplying participative / collaborative initiatives (sometimes in artistic projects, such as “Seoul Our Movie”, under the direction of Park Chan-wook). Slow life and slow food movements are also gaining momentum. At work, why not give employees time to develop pet projects, time for non-competitive, creative, collaborative activities?
  • … the list could go on endlessly: again, a better, fairer society contributes to a better, fairer culture.
The way space is used or misused is fundamental in the perception of a culture, and respecting the cultural potential of spaces is the first and most natural way of opening more space to culture.

Korea long suffered from the scars of occupation, war, or the industrial boom, but each of them, in return, produced very valuable cultural assets, such as the old Seoul Station (now Culture Station 284), the DMZ, or the industrial heritage that became Incheon Art Platform.

Seoul has evolved from a ‘hard city’ to a ‘soft city’ and a tourist magnet, and every city or county across Korea knows how to highlight their cultural assets. Unfortunately, the “new town” model continues to thrive, erasing whole neighborhoods with priceless cultural assets, or ruining cityscapes and even the countryside with uniform monoliths that negate not only the past, but all social and environmental trends. With Gyonam-dong, for instance, it’s not just hundreds of hanok, but also charming alleyways and villages that disappear. And the impact on the image of Korean culture is catastrophic: foreign visitors are chocked by the destruction, and mourn Seoul alleyways as much as they cry for Beijing hutong. Korea cannot herald creativity and diversity overseas if its cityscape negates them at home.

Building without a long term vision is not an option anymore, particularly considering Korea’s demographics. Innovation and creativity are welcome, but some ‘touristic’ landmarks supposed to exhibit culture and creativity actually generate the opposite effect: because of overdone design, they look too flashy and artificial, and obsolete before they are even erected.

Hopefully and at long last, Korea is starting to reconsider its urban and architectural heritage, to restore forsaken landmarks, to protect hanok clusters, waterways, and mountains, to give a new purpose to previously neglected spaces (even rooftops or wastelands), to grow culture from uncultivated land. Furthermore, beyond the structures, life spaces are revived, that were on the decline if not bound for destruction: traditional markets, charming neighborhoods, “moon villages”… The residents are either involved at the core of the project, like in Seochon’s Tongin Market, or at the origin of it, for instance when ordinary citizens reconquer their shared space to make it livelier and welcoming, sometimes with their own art that may look clumsy at times, but feels often fresher than many more ambitious and expensive projects.

And when a place is condemned, why not leverage constructively from destruction, for instance by turning it into a cultural event in itself, or an opportunity to culturally strengthen a community? In Paris, the XIIIth District and Itinerrance art gallery secretly invited tens of street artists from around the world to transform an old apartment tower into an ephemeral street art museum (Tour Paris 13). In Seoul, the residents of Bogwang-dong were invited to collaborate on a book collecting memories of the neighborhood about to be destroyed. For years, the Seoul Museum of History has been leading a considerable effort to stimulate a dynamic preservation and transmission of micro-cultures and memories across a city that has lost a lot of villages over the past decades, looking for the soul of Seoul directly at the heart of its neighborhoods and citizens.

Beauty and emotion don’t necessarily come from the most glamorous places, people, or moments. Thanks to such great photographers as CHOI Min-shik or KIM Ki-chan, the Korean and beyond, the World’s cultural heritage is richer in touching moments exposing life, cities, and humans as they truly are.
b) Economic leaders must act as true cultural leaders, open up and embrace change

The previous section focused on ordinary citizens and life spaces because they are too often overlooked when culture is mentioned, but of course Korea boasts vast communities of talented artists, associations, and professionals in cultural sectors, and over the past decades the nation has considerably multiplied its spaces devoted to culture (museums, galleries, libraries, event venues…).

The following sections focus on the ‘economic’ dimension of Korean culture. Because at the business level too, Korean society’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats find their mirror image in Korean culture, which will grow stronger and more sustainable as the ecosystem becomes more open and fair. Before raising issues specific to the ‘culture business’, let’s start with Korea’s business culture.

And in Korean business culture, the lack of fairness is clearly identified as a key obstacle to growth, innovation, and creativity. Besides, cultural change at this level is a recurrent political priority, be it in Lee Myung-bak’s ‘fair society’, Roh Moo-hyun’s ‘balanced national development’, or Park Geun-hye’s ‘creative economy’ visions. If this culture of unfairness permeates the whole economy, Chaebol stand out as 800-pound gorillas showing the wrong example: they’re often blamed for controlling value chains and key entry points from the production to the distribution, or for sharing little of the value with third parties. Even with the emergence of the internet and one-click-away competition, small and medium players struggle to emerge and survive.

The strongest ecosystems do need big fishes, but also thriving independent communities, significant challengers that are allowed to grow into big fishes, a wide array of players that spur creativity and bring positive changes benefiting the whole market, starting with the ‘big fishes’ who share a much bigger pie and learn how to evolve constantly, gaining in fitness and in relevance in a coopetitive world and a genuine network society.

Hopefully, ‘Big fishes’ are starting to realize that an ocean without biodiversity is a dead ocean, that absorbing or choking the most promising fry as soon as they hatch undermines innovation and long term value for themselves as well as for the whole market, that ultimately, evolution is the only way for them to save the Korean seas they live in, and to succeed in more open waters. And you can’t survive by growing your own ecosystem, even with the best in-house incubators. AOL thought they could control the ocean, they dominated internet access in its early stages, but even after absorbing Time Warner, they lost their leadership because fundamentally, they didn’t evolve and open up to adapt to a truly open web.

Just like they play a major role in Korean society, Korean corporations and chaebol often play leading roles in the promotion of Korean culture, and even when they are not directly present in cultural sectors, most groups own art foundations, support creation, design, or cultural preservation. But only a few can be considered as true cultural leaders: because they’ve already embraced the long overdue Korean revolution in business culture, they’re already followed as ethical models, and respected because they are respectful of the ecosystem, not because they are feared.

Most likely, more regulations will be needed to accelerate the process, but this culture change is ineluctable: for the ‘Big Fishes’, that’s not only a matter of image, but also sound strategic thinking, and very good business. And again, imagine the formidable impact on Korean culture once this revolution is achieved, the liberation of creative forces, the positive power of attraction for innovators and entrepreneurs from all horizons…
c) Most exposed at the crest of the wave, ‘cultural sectors’ must lead as role models

Naturally, for Hallyu, nowhere is this “economic culture change” more urgent than at its core, particularly around the production and distribution of cultural contents, where a few cases of unfair business practices can cast a very negative impact on the whole industry, and Korea. For instance, as K-pop became mainstream in Europe, scores of journalists came to investigate the phenomenon in Korea, quickly exposing the dark side of the industry in sensational documentaries denouncing cases of abusive contracts and working conditions. Because they exposed moral scandals, they hurt much more than the classic criticisms that denounced a ‘culture industry’.

Last April, the Korean movie industry agreed on a standard labor contract that ended a long tradition of exploitation of film crews. A lot remains to be done, for instance to reward creators and scenarists or to better redistribute value across the ecosystem according to international standards, but the single fact that major producers, distributors, and labor unions collaborated with a shared ethical vision marked a very significant change. Here too, everybody wins in the end, including audiences that are more likely to enjoy a great movie. Here too, and particularly as Korean players emerge in the international spotlight, turning a blind eye to wrong practices is not an option anymore; to the contrary, fighting against them must be a priority. Even in Hollywood, the usual suspect for ‘big entertainment’ accusations and not exactly the symbol morality and fair business, they’re very bad PR if you’re running for an Academy Award!

Of course, in cultural sectors like everywhere, Korea boasts several ‘big fishes’, such as “majors” in entertainment and communication, that are often at the same time key assets at the global level, and enjoying dominant positions on markets where independents have a tough time being distributed beyond YouTube and minor venues or theaters, even if content-wise, the “indie” tradition is very strong in Korea.

Significantly, KIM Ki-duk is more popular in France than in Korea where, even after claiming the prestigious Golden Lion in Venice Festival, the director cannot be screened on prime time in multiplexes that mostly rely on blockbusters and in-house productions. According to Korean Film Council (KOFIC) data, concentration keeps rising and diversity decreasing: the top 3 multiplex groups raised their share of screenings from 62.2 to 86.7% between 2008 and 2011, and reduced their proportion of independent movies screenings from 7-10% to 1-2% between 2009 and 2012. The Korean public is no more trained for diversity on smaller screens: even with many cable TV movie channels, the variety remains very low, particularly on prime time. There is no point creating a mangrove if diversity is not supported within it and typically, Korean screen quotas should not be considered at the nationality level only: in France, respecting cultural diversity, financing and screening independent creation are obligations broadcasters must follow if they want to keep their licenses. And because more audiences have developed a taste for a wider variety of movies, at home and in theaters, multiplexes can optimize their revenues even when blockbusters fail to deliver, leveraging a much wider catalog of movies, including of course many indies. Again, everybody wins, and the pie grows bigger.

It’s also high time to tear down the artificial seawalls erected within the local ecosystem. When every major broadcaster propose their own yearly TV awards, rewarding only in-house programs, it tells a lot about the room for improvement. And change is coming PSY showed a very positive example by inviting stars from rival talent agencies in his videos.

If Hallyu is a national cause, all stakeholders must collaborate to make this very rich ecosystem reach its full potential. This will take new regulations, new shared platforms, more cultural leadership from market leaders. Seoul Digital Media City has been designed for that moment, as a key convergence point rich in infrastructures and incubators where, ultimately, all players shall cohabit, cooperate, coopete for their common good in a cluster that could become a global model. They already proved they could work together, they must show the way for the rest of the nation. As true cultural leaders.

The spirit of Hallyu

Korean culture is a rich and diverse ocean in motion. We’ve barely scratched its surface today, but Koreans are particularly aware of its value (starting with such essentials as Hangeul or hansik), and not just because its very existence has been threatened in the past, or because education and literature have traditionally been considered more important than material matters. They all know that it is a defining part of themselves, they feel eager to share it, and the same can be said from foreigners who fell in love with Korean culture. This contagious passion is one of the most formidable strengths of Korean culture, maybe the very spirit of Hallyu. Again, the main challenge may not be letting other people know that this vast ocean in motion exists, but trying not to overwhelm everybody with our enthusiasm!

See also Part I and Part II.


Seoul Village 2014
Welcome to our Korean Errlines! Follow Seoul Village on Facebook and Twitter
Bookmark and Share
Add this page to your favorites

* see "Heralding cultural diversity: a stronger and more sustainable Korean wave (1st Congress - WAHS)"
Welcome to Seoul Village - Copyright Stephane MOT 2003-2014 - 스테판모 -

Home - About you, about me, about us - Seoul Village en Français - "Inhuman, all too human Seoul" ("Seoul: inhumaine, trop humaine") - blogroll - Seoul Village TV

Welcome to my personal portal : blogules - blogules (Version Française) - dragedies - KIM Mudangnim - mot-bile - footlog - La Ligue des Oublies - blogules archives - blogules archives (Version Française) - footlog archives - Citizen Came

books, movies, music