Sat, Feb 19, 2005 - Page 16 News List

'Korea mania' hits Taiwan

South Korea is grabbing all the attention at the Taipei International Book Exhibition

AFP , Taipei

The Taipei International Book exhibition has drawn 877 publishers from 40 countries, but South Korea is particularly popular this year.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

First it was cars and high-tech gadgets, then a succession of popular television dramas. Now books are making an impact as "Korea mania" sweeps Taiwan.

With interest in all things South Korean at its highest in years, the Taipei International Book Exhibition has for the first time opened a South Korea pavilion as one of its three major exhibits.

Soon South Korean authors may join the nation's TV stars in becoming household names across the country, although it is unlikely they will inspire the same fan frenzy as the screen heart-throbs.

"There are good reasons to pick South Korea for one of the three major theme exhibits," said Charlotte Lin, executive director of the Taipei Book Fair Foundation which organizes the book fair.

"They have displayed an outstanding performance on various fronts, and that includes their prosperous publication industry," she said.

The six-day book exhibition, which runs until tomorrow at Taipei's World Trade Center, has drawn 877 publishers from 40 countries to display their publications in 2,099 booths.

But South Korea is proving the major attraction for many of the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected to attend the literary event. Last year's book fair drew about 400,000 visitors.

South Korean-made goods ranging from cars and cellphones to home appliances have been steadily gaining ground in Taiwan in recent years.

But the bout of Korea-mania now sweeping the island is fueled mostly by the success of television serials, which was a key factor behind the pavilion, Lin said.

The popularity of South Korean television programs climaxed last year with the historical drama Dae Jang Geum, set in the Chosun Dynasty about 500 years ago.

On one day in August at least 1.1 million people people tuned into the tale of Korea's first female royal physician Seo Jang-Geum, aired on a local cable TV station, an AC Nielsen survey showed. It was a record audience in Taiwan for a South Korean program.

With that in mind, a one-storey-tall portrait of the program's popular actress Lee Young-ae clad in a traditional Korean dress hangs outside the South Korean pavilion, drawing crowds of fans. The huge poster appeals to Taiwan people to "read Korea, feel Korea."

Inside the pavilion, there are several other huge posters depicting elements of Korean culture such as buildings and ancient artifacts, while hundreds of books are on display.

"I started to show interest in South Korea after a recent tour of the country," said Hsiao Chia-jung, an 18-year-old student.

"Their food is different from ours. My general impression of South Korea was good," she said.

But some book fair-goers doubted whether Korea-mania could extend into literature.

"These books are all Greek to me," said one woman, looking at the Korean-language texts.

To help overcome the language barrier, two local publishers have translated into Chinese two novels by Lee Mun-yul, the internationally best-known South Korean writer.

The Chinese editions of Our Twisted Hero and The Son of Man hit the market Wednesday after Lee met with his readers at the fairground.

Our Twisted Hero, which won its author Korea's Lee Sang Literature Prize in 1987, criticizes the then authoritarian government, while The Son of Man tells of a young man in the search of his own soul.

"The chance of Lee becoming a popular writer here is high," said Huang Yeh-fang from the Taipei-headquartered Linking Publishing Co, which published the The Son of Man.

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