Descendants of the Sun smash hit prompts Beijing to warn on South Korean dramas

The cast of "My Love from the Stars" make their appearance at a 2013 press conference. The rise of Hallyu is proving lucrative for South Korea and marketeers.
ilgan Sports | Multi-Bits | Getty Images

A new South Korean tele-drama is proving too hot for China to handle, forcing the country's Ministry of Public Security to warn of the social ills of too much viewing.

At the heart of the ministry's complaint is a 16-episode drama called "Descendants of the Sun", which premiered in South Korea and China in February, smashing ratings and dominating trending topics on Weibo, China's answer to Twitter.

"Watching Korean dramas could be dangerous, and may even lead to legal troubles," the ministry warned in a Weibo post at the weekend.

The department then cited some real-life cases of domestic violence, divorce and plastic surgery, all of which it related to an obsession with Korean dramas and accompanied with photos of similar incidents from various Korean television series.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches a firing contest of the KPA artillery units at an undisclosed location in a photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang on Jan. 5, 2016.
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Many Weibo users took the ministry's post with a pinch of salt.

"This isn't the fault of Korean drama but has to do with IQ," one Weibo user commented. Another added, "Although I don't like Korean dramas but these are all individual cases. [Those involved] lack IQ."

The huge success of "Descendants of the Sun" is the latest example of Hallyu, which means Korean Wave, and refers to the growing popularity of South Korean pop culture.

And the public security ministry's warnings are not without some grounds in previous Korean drama-induced lunacy.

In 2014, another hit South Korean series, "My Love from the Star," sparked such a craze in China for Korean fried chicken that a pregnant woman reportedly almost suffered a miscarriage after chowing down on fried chicken and beer – the food favored by the lead actress in the series.

And earlier this month, a 20-year-old Chinese woman was reportedly diagnosed with acute glaucoma after an 18-hour Korean drama binge-watching session.

Netflix beaten to the punch in China

The cautionary post from a ministry in China underscores the growing influence of Korean pop culture in China and the enormous economic opportunities that have emerged from Hallyu in the past decade.

Amid a global slowdown, South Korea is banking on its tourism and service industry to prop up its economy. And a state-backed entertainment push has gained traction in Asia, with China proving to be a lucrative market.

To cater to Chinese viewers, the entire series of "Descendants of the Sun" was pre-recorded so that it could be cleared in advance by Chinese censors, allowing it to be broadcast simultaneously in both countries. This was in contrast with the "live-shoot" system that Korean dramas typically follow, with episodes being filmed as previously recorded episodes are aired, so that script adjustments can be made according to ratings.

The gamble has paid off, with "Descendants of the Sun" passing 400 million views on the Chinese online video platform, iQiyi. Ratings in South Korea have hit 30 percent, which means three in ten people viewing television during the timeslot were watching the TV drama.

The drama, a romance set against military operations in a fictional country, has also spurred interest in cosmetics, smartphones and fashion products featured in the show.

South Korean singer Psy, Park Jae-sang performs on the stage at a bar on July 18, 2015 in Hangzhou, China.
ChinaFotoPress | Getty Images

Chinese investors, unsurprisingly,have been keen to cash in on the Hallyu phenomenon, which was estimated to have been worth 12.6 trillion won ($10.6 billion) in 2014, according to official South Korean figures cited by the Korea JoongAng Daily newspaper.

News agency Yonhap reported in January that official figures showed that Chinese investors had injected 3 trillion won ($2.5 billion) into the South Korean games, movie and entertainment sectors over the past five years.

The investments come as China seeks to build soft power in the region.

In 2014, following the success of "My Love from the Star," China's political advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress (CPPC) lamented the fact that China could not produce as big a hit of its own, reported The Washington Post then.

CPPC delegates reportedly viewed the popularity of the Korean drama as a blow to Chinese confidence in their own culture, reported state-run Xinhua news agency.

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