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Hallyu Stars and Philanthropy

  • [등록일]2017-02-16
  • [조회] 1551

Good deeds by celebrities are always right. Whether it is just to create a good image or authentically motivated, good deeds by celebrities are always a good idea. Good deeds not only have a positive impact on the celebrities, but also have significant ramifications beyond the stars themselves.


Recently, it has been discovered that Song Joong-ki has secretly helped a comfort woman victim and donated to a foundation for children with leukemia. When his secret good deeds were made public, his popularity naturally went up even more. Nobody questioned his eligibility when he was awarded with the Presidential Citation during the 2016 Korean Popular Culture and Arts Awards. Having climbed up to superstardom across Asia with his role in Descendents of the Sun, Song was already popular as he was, but his secret good deeds were all the more applauded by everyone. Thanks to his impact, awareness on comfort women and children’s leukemia issues also increased, which was another positive outcome.


As can be seen, good deeds by celebrities always adds a little something extra to their popularity. The secret behind Yoo Jae-suk’s rise to become the “Nation’s MC” (국민 MC) was not only thanks to his capability, but also because of all the anecdotes about his good deeds that became well-known. The impact of celebrities’ good deeds goes beyond the borders of Korea. Good deeds localized for overseas are also important.


During his 10-year career, Park Hae-jin is known to have donated over KRW 1.1 billion in Korea and KRW 600 million in China. In 2011, he donated for the disaster recovery fund for Japan and donated supplies for a children’s welfare center. In 2013, he donated supplies worth KRW 100 million to the slums of Guryong Village and volunteered to deliver yeontan (Korean coal briquettes) to the needy. In 2014, Park donated KRW 100 million to a cause related to the sinking of Sewol ferry, the Children’s Rehabilitation Hospital construction fund, and to the flood victims in Busan. In 2015, he donated another KRW 100 million to the Community Chest of Korea. His philanthropy continued in China as well. In April, he donated all proceeds from a live broadcast of his fan meeting in China to the Shanghai Baby’s Home. Thanks to his volunteer and charity activities in China, Park became the first Korean to win the “Civic Public Welfare Award” in 2014, an award given to 10 selected actors for doing good deeds in China. He was also the first recipient of the Haengbok Nanuminsang (행복나눔인상, “Happiness Sharer’s Award”), which is given by the Minister of Health and Welfare.


Park Hae-jin delivering yeontan in Guryong Village - Source: Screenshot of [Park Hae Jin] True Story - No. 15 


Such philanthropy brought Park great support in Korea as well as China, and had a positive impact on sponsoring companies and fans. Jayjun Cosmetics, which uses Park as their model, also donated KRW 100 million to a children’s welfare center in Shanghai. Park’s fans in China participated in the donation project run by the Jet Li Foundation, raising funds in Park’s name, exceeding the target amount by five times. Whether it was intended or not, Park’s good deeds definitely boosted his image in China.


Song Joong-ki donated a portion of the proceeds from his fan meeting tour in China to the region in the country affected by the earthquake. He has also consistently sponsored children with cancer since 2011. During his military service, he donated KRW 100 million to UNICEF for the children in Nepal after the earthquake there. He also donated all his earnings from his appearance on Chinese shows Happy Camp and Hurry Up, Brother: Season 4, which amounted to over KRW 200 million per show. It goes without saying that this was met with positive response among his Chinese fans.


Enjoying great popularity in China, Lee Min-ho is even running his own charity project with his fans. In 2014, Lee and his fans in Korea and abroad launched the donation platform, “Promiz.” Promiz is a portmanteau of the words “promise,” “Lee Min-ho” and MINOZ, the name of his fan club. The program supports various charity and volunteer activity projects, and maintains a market that donates all its proceeds. Lee and Promiz donated KRW 50 million to UNICEF on World Water Day to help supply clean potable water for those in need. He also donated KRW 100 million under MINOZ for the Nepal earthquake disaster relief.


Hallyu stars serve as de facto ambassadors to the local public when they go abroad. When the great earthquake hit Japan on March 11, 2011, major news outlets in Korea reported concerns over negative impact on Hallyu due to the earthquake. At the time, I believed that it was in these situations that Hallyu stars should step up to the plate and lead humanitarian efforts to support Japan. After calling the heads of around 30 agencies of Hallyu stars, I wrote an article called “Hallyu Stars Roll Up Their Sleeves to Help with Disaster Recovery in Japan” on March 13. Most of the stars and their agency heads agreed that they should help the victims in Japan. Although I probably had no part in it, Bae Yong-joon donated KRW 1 billion on March 14, which was followed by most Hallyu stars making donations to the disaster relief fund for the Japanese earthquake victims. Japanese news outlets immediately provided significant coverage of such efforts. Many reports indicated that Bae’s donations exceeded those of major Japanese corporations. Such news also stimulated celebrities in Japan, as if the fact that Korean stars’ donations exceeded the Japanese celebrities’ donation hurt their pride. Soon, major Japanese girl group AKB48 out-donated Bae, followed by additional donations from other top Japanese stars. Japanese media even compared the donations from Japanese celebrities with those from Korean Hallyu stars. News of donations collected among the general public in Korea also reached Japan. These donations not only improved the image of Hallyu stars, but also greatly helped encourage favorable views on Korea in Japan.


The good deeds of Hallyu stars also reached beyond China, Japan, and all the way to Africa to boost the national image. Multiple schools and wells were created in Africa under the name of Korean celebrities. In Mongolia, fans are planting trees in the desert under the name of their favorite stars. Sometimes, the Hallyu stars are doing what the government should be taking care of in the first place.


Song Hye-kyo has recently sponsored the production of a Korean guidebook for Utoro, Japan. Written in Japanese and Korean, the guidebook included photos and detailed the history of the village, including how it came to be, the threat of forced eviction, and its denizens’ efforts to preserve Korean culture. Song Hye-kyo has also fully funded the production of guidebooks for various historical sites across the world, including the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea Museum in Chongqing, Yun Bong-gil Memorial in Shanghai, Yi Jun Memorial in The Hague, and the Ahn Changho Family House in Los Angeles. Such efforts not only improved her image as a celebrity, but also contributed to raising awareness about Korea around the world.


A Korean guide to Utoro Village in Japan, funded by Song Hye-kyo - Source: Professor Seo Kyoung-deok’s Facebook page


It is said that Korea’s public diplomacy is a century behind those of developed nations. In 1912, Japan sent 3,020 cherry trees to Washington D.C. and 3,000 to New York. This allowed the Washington cherry blossom festival to continue for 114 years. This type of sentimental diplomacy based on soft power rather than hard power is more long-lasting, as they take roots deeply in the other country. U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert’s efforts to eat chimaek (chicken and beer) with young Koreans and throw first pitches at baseball games in Korea is a part of such public diplomacy.


U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert participating in the Daegu Chimaek Festival - Source: U.S. Embassy Seoul’s Flickr page


Korea only legislated the Public Diplomacy Act in 2016, demonstrating how behind the country is. In the meantime, Hallyu media including K-pop, K-drama, and K-film filled that gap. Hallyu stars helped promote Korean pop culture and the general understanding of Korea across the world. Good deeds by Korean celebrities improve the image of Koreal. This is why good deeds of celebrities are important, whether they are intentional or not.


While these Hallyu stars represent Korea in many virtuous endeavors, there are those in Korea that obstruct these celebrities’ efforts. Despite the saying that goes “who would throw stones at a virtuous deed?”, there is a surprising number of people who do in fact like throwing rocks. Malicious comments find their way onto news articles on good deeds performed by celebrities. While fame is possibly the blame for such unwanted negative attention, a majority of charitable celebrities have been embroiled in defamation suits against Internet trolls. People may be apathetic towards news of charity, but it seems that they are quick to engage in malicious behavior.


Meanwhile, there are indications of limiting the public role of celebrities to good deeds. Nowadays, celebrities who donate or engage in volunteer service are referred to as “gaenyeom” (개념) celebrities. To have gaenyeom, literally meaning “concept” in Korean, is an Internet expression that loosely translates to thinking and acting respectably, along with having the right values and conscience. As such, gaenyeom celebrities originally meant those who had a healthy perspective on certain issues or incidents by saying and doing the right things. Thus, at one point, gaenyeom celebrities were referred to as socialtainers. There was a time when there were many socialtainers, both praised and criticized by various social factions. However, such socialtainers disappeared one day, lending a different meaning to the term than what is used to have back in the mid 2000s. After the last few elections, celebrities who were vocal on social media spoke no more. They left the social media scene. The “concept” of “gaenyeom” celebrity began to mean something else entirely. From meaning someone who spoke and acted his or her mind, the term now meant celebrities who did good deeds. From time to time, such change in the meaning of the “gaenyeom” title has acted as a tacit pressure on celebrities to keep their mouths shut and their wallets open.


When they received the Presidential Citation during the 2016 Korean Popular Culture and Arts Awards, Song Joong-ki and Song Hye-kyo wore flower and butterfly pins that symbolized support for comfort women. Lee Kwang-soo, who was awarded the Prime Minister’s Citation, also displayed his support for comfort women by wearing a badge shaped like an empty chair. Cho Jin-woong, who also received the Prime Minister’s Citation, sported a yellow ribbon that symbolized the “never forget” movement regarding the sinking of the Sewol ferry. While their awards were covered extensively in the media, the meaning of the pins that these stars wore did not receive full justice in the reports. If anything, some found cause to criticize the stars because of the badges and ribbons. Such criticism came from both the right and left of the political spectrum. It is gravely regrettable to see how some accuse these stars of wearing the badges just for show in these types of events, chastising them to focus on their craft instead of acting out of their place.


(left) Song Joong-ki, (middle) Song Hye-kyo wearing the flower and butterfly badges and (right) Lee Kwang-soo 

wearing the empty chair badge to show support to comfort women as they take to the stage during the 2016 Korean Popular Culture and Arts Awards 


Good deeds of celebrities and Hallyu stars are always right. In addition to the direct beneficiaries, Korea also benefits as a nation, thanks to the positive educational impact of these good deeds. It is only right that such good deeds are applauded and encouraged. However, the celebrities must not be coerced into performing only good deeds. Such coercion is not even possible. While supporting the good deeds of Hallyu stars, society should not turn the other way when it comes to celebrities expressing their opinion on social values as responsible citizens. Pop culture originates from a loud exchange of shouting matches and listening to such loud noises. In order for more Hallyu stars to serve as public diplomats, their opinions should be heard and respected just as much as their good deeds are supported. Doing the right thing usually begins by listening.


※ This article is published in webzine 'Hallyu Story', issue of November 2016, a specialized monthly webzine about cultural industry.


▷ Check Korean version of 'Hallyu Story'


  • name  : Hyung-Hwa Chun
  • profile : 'Money Today' reporter