South Korean entertainment has widely been reported to be suffering from the fallout of a political dispute with China, but the real problem is the rise in plagiarism of Korean TV programs there, industry insiders said Thursday.
At least seven variety programs that are set to air in China early next year are illegal copies of Korean shows, and the number is expected to grow if all 2,000 Chinese TV networks are taken into account, the sources said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
"Finding Genius," an SBS TV program that seeks to discover and nurture prodigies across the nation, served as the basis for an upcoming show on China's Hunan TV called "Curious Child," while "Three Meals a Day," a popular cooking-reality show on cable channel tvN, has been reproduced in China under the title "The Life We Long For," according to the sources.
TV officials attributed the increase in such plagiarism to the Chinese government's ban on Korean cultural content, which came in the wake of Seoul's decision in July to place an advanced US missile shield on its soil. The defense system, known by its acronym THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense), is seen by Beijing as a major threat to its national interests and the regional security balance.'
"China won't speak outright about THAAD, and instead talks about fostering the authenticity and creativity of the Chinese people by restricting 'hallyu' content. But then, they make copies behind our backs, which doesn't add up," a senior official at a Korean terrestrial network said, referring to the Korean pop culture phenomenon also known as the "Korean Wave."
China hasn't always plagiarized Korean material. Before the political row erupted, the world's largest nation imported the formats of hit Korean variety shows, including "Running Man" and "Infinite Challenge," and produced Chinese versions out of them.
"China calls itself a continent and a major power, and yet, it's appalling that instead of paying for hallyu content, they steal it," the official added.
Other industry insiders played down the extent of Beijing's tacit ban on Korean entertainment. Many within the industry agree that there have been delays or cancellations of scheduled hallyu programs and a marked decrease in casting offers for South Korean actors.'
But there is no truth to the rumors that South Korean stars have been dropped from Chinese ads, they said.
Actress Jun Ji-hyun, who shot to stardom in China after playing the female protagonist in the 2013 TV series "My Love from the Star," signed a new mobile phone ad contract in October, while her co-star Kim Soo-hyun signed two new ad contracts in August.
Requesting anonymity, a senior official at an entertainment agency here cautioned against exaggerating the so-called ban as the Korean entertainment industry could end up playing into the hands of the Chinese, whose ultimate aim is to create fear and use that unrest to get better deals.
"It's upsetting that this problem seems to be getting bigger as it appears that nothing's actually happening in China, and we're making a big fuss," he said.
The chief of another entertainment agency said: "China still desperately needs hallyu content, and the Chinese authorities know it. If we keep flinching at every Chinese move, they'll think we're easy. We have to ignore China's tricks and act with dignity."
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