South Korean Content Restrictions Continue in China

South Korea’s loss may be Japan’s gain as Chinese audiences’ tastes shift. 

Unofficial restrictions on South Korean entertainment content are continuing, resulting in the cancellation of live performances, name changes of popular television shows, and giving an opportunity to an unlikely beneficiary: Japanese content producers.

Korean soap operas and pop music acts enjoy enormous popularity in China. However, a host of South Korean television formats, including musical variety show I Am A Singer and reality program Infinity Show both saw their titles changed in recent months, according to state-run, English-language newspaper Global Times. The article stated the title changes may be due to the expiration of format licensing agreements, but while the names appear to have changed, the formats themselves have not.

Korean artists are also finding that their live appearances are being canceled. Pianist Paik Kun-woo and soprano Jo Sumi both did not receive visas for upcoming China concerts or tours. Classical music is rarely subject to the same kind of political winds or cancellations that affect Asian or Western pop acts.

As China Film Insider first reported in August, South Korean entertainment products, especially television dramas and concerts by musical acts, appear to be targeted in retaliation for that country’s decision to deploy the US Terminal High-Altitude Areas Defense (THAAD) missile defense system. China objects to the American defense technology being placed nearby, although South Korea sees it as a bulwark against attack from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea), rather than as an anti-China move.

Although the restrictions have not had a marked impact on the popularity of Korean content, they come at a time when films and television series from Japan are finding new audiences among young Chinese. The film Your Name became Japan’s highest-grossing film in China ever at the end of 2016. Despite continuing historical and territorial disputes between China and Japan, Japan is one of the most popular tourist destinations for Chinese travelers, and younger Chinese do not feel the same nationalistic aversion to China’s World War II enemy.