BEIJING — With more than 100 flights and 30,000 tourists traveling between China and the Republic of Korea (ROK) every day, the two countries are looking beyond numbers to expand the quality of people-to-people exchanges.
Personnel exchanges between China and the ROK have expanded 111-fold since diplomatic normalization, from 90,000 in 1992 to 10 million in 2014.
The greatly improved mutual understanding between the two countries rides on the back of wider and deeper economic cooperation. Since 1992, bilateral trade has increased 60 times to $300 billion in 2014.
A landmark free trade agreement, signed by the two countries earlier this year, is expected to attract even more tourist visits between the two countries.
The huge volume of mutual visits has spawned a variety of cultural exchanges between China and the ROK.
K-pop bands have never failed to draw screaming Chinese fans on visits to Beijing and Shanghai. The ROK singer PSY’s Gangnam Style song can often be heard thumping at dance venues in even the most remote Chinese towns.
ROK TV shows such as You Who Came From the Stars inspired several popular Chinese Internet phrases and defined fashion trends among Chinese youngsters. Tens of thousands of Chinese newlyweds flock to the ROK each year for professional wedding photos.
Amid increasing people-to-people exchanges, the ROK, which has historically drawn deep influence from Chinese culture and tradition, is also looking to tap the pulse of China’s mainstream culture as it digs into different aspects of the world’s second largest economy.
The documentary Super China, which was broadcast on major ROK network KBS earlier this year, set a record high of 10 percent audience rating, reflecting the ROK people’s growing interest in its rapidly emerging neighbor.
Books by contemporary Chinese writers such as Yu Hua, Mo Yan and Su Tong frequently appear on Korean publishers’ lists. The Korean edition of the novel Chronicle of a Blood Merchant by Yu Hua was recommended as one of the 100 must-read books by the ROK’s Joongang Daily.
The ROK is home to 20 Confucius Institutes, the highest number among Asian countries. Since the China Cultural Center debuted in Seoul in 2004, people thronged to register for Tai Chi, Chinese language and, more recently, Dunhuang Dance classes.
People-to-people exchanges have been flourishing with 200 visits by cultural delegations to each other’s country each year, covering Beijing Opera, acrobatics, symphony orchestra, musicals, ballet, art exhibits, and national treasure exhibits.
According to China’s Ministry of Education, of the 377,000 registered overseas students in China in 2014, students of the ROK accounted for 17 percent, making up the largest portion.
“People-to-people exchanges deepen cultural understanding and affinity between countries, helping cement political relations and cooperation in all aspects,” said Chinese Cultural Counselor to the ROK Shi Ruilin.
“Cultural exchange between China and the ROK has been deepening in both official and public fields, empowering economic and social development in the two countries,” Shi said.
Shi said industry leaders in China and the ROK were eager to cooperate in tapping the vast market of cultural trade between the two countries.
Of all the people-to-people exchanges, youth exchange is an important component between China and the ROK as it represents an opportunity to build a better future for cooperation.
Premier Li Keqiang addressed the first China-ROK Young Leaders’ Forum on Nov 2 during his three-day trip to the ROK starting from Oct 31, calling on youngsters of the ROK and China to strengthen exchange, increase mutual understanding and inject fresh vitality into the development of bilateral relations.
After the ROK President Park Geun-hye visited China in 2013, the two sides set up a joint committee for cultural exchange.
According to the committee’s 2015 agenda, which contained 2.5 times the number of items than the 2014 agenda, China and the ROK are scheduled to hold seminars on humanities, shoot documentaries, exchange education ideas, promote traditional art and launch a variety of local exchange programs.
“China is a good neighbor and important partner of South Korea and a significant factor South Korea must consider while designing its future strategy,” said Lee Heeok, director of the Sungkyunkwan Institute.