When most of the world thinks “Gangnam Style,” they think of South Korean rapper PSY, but Yahoo! Finance points out that affluent Chinese have a much more intimate relationship with Gangnam. For many middle-class Chinese, the epicenter of urban elegance is this district of Seoul that reminds visitors of all the “good life” has to offer.
“The style in South Korea is more sophisticated and cuter than what we have in China. We came here because South Korea is the leader in fashion and makeup,” said Yang Candi, who went with her groom-to-be to South Korea for an all-day wedding shoot in front of Gangnam’s pristine backdrops. Engaged couples flock to Gangnam, where weekend wedding photo packages cost thousands of dollars, part of South Korea’s $15 billion wedding industry. For the well-off 20-somethings of China, however, the money is a mere pittance: they have grown up knowing South Korea as a kind of paradise. “I always wanted to come here, especially after watching South Korean TV shows,” said Yang’s fiancée, Chen Jingjing.
Song Sung-uk, professor of South Korean pop culture studies at the Catholic University of Korea in Seoul, believes that South Korea emerged as the fourth-largest Asian economy in the aftermath of the Korean War by using popular culture to cultivate a certain image.
For middle-class Chinese, appearances are everything. As more “K-drama” film and “K-pop” music spreads through the global pop culture, the more popular South Korea is becoming. “Chinese look up to South Korea for its sophisticated urban culture, style and beauty,” Song said, “Rather than visiting traditional palaces or shopping for antiques, they would rather go to Gangnam to experience state-of-the-art shopping malls.”
According to the South Korean tourism ministry, an estimated 2.5 million Chinese visitors spent an average of $2,150 per person in 2012. iWedding, the largest of the South Korean wedding planners hosting Chinese tourists, has done business with 50 to 60 visiting couples per month for a year. A competitive company, Design Wedding, recently formed a partnership with a Shanghai company and has served 50 Chinese couples in Seoul since May.
image credit: luke hoagland