How has East Asia influenced life in the UK?

In early 2021 the School of East Asian Studies ran a creative writing competiton for students in years 10, 11 and 12 in the UK. We asked entrants to write an essay that addressed the following question ‘How has East Asia influenced life in the UK?’.

Prizes were awarded in line with out four main undergraduate degree programmes

  • Chinese Studies (Chinese culture, society and politics)
  • Japanese Studies (Japanese culture, society and politics)
  • Korean Studies (Korean culture, society and politics
  • East Asia Studies (East Asia as a cultural, social and political region)

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Winning entry
How has East Asia influenced life in the UK?
Written by Raven Wales

East Asia has influenced life in the UK in numerous ways; from the introduction of food that we now eat as everyday meals, to idols encouraging young and old to be able to express and love themselves. Additionally, different ethnic groups within Asia can also share common ground in the UK so neither group has to feel less important that the other.

One way lots of people are introduced to new cultures is through their food, this doesn’t differ with Asian cultures. Recently, there have been more Korean restaurants appearing throughout the UK such as Korean BBQ and Korean fried chicken outlets. This allows people from the UK to enjoy and appreciate new flavours and experiences by simply eating, hopefully leading people to become more interested in the food and where it comes from continuing on to learn more about Korea and its cultures.  Furthermore, there are more Asian and Korean food items in well-known supermarkets such as Sainsburys and Tesco. This means that more Korean and Asian recipes are being made, as well as Asian snacks such as peppero and mochi being eaten at home. The fact that well known stores are selling these different products allows the shops to expand their range of products to suit peoples everchanging tastes.

The Hallyu (Korean) wave has meant individuals from around the world, including the UK, to enjoy music without having to know the language. Similarly, people are watching K-dramas and Korean movies with subtitles and not worrying about the language barrier. This lets people experience the Korean culture through their TV screens and allows them to implement some aspects into everyday life. One thing that could influence the life of a person from the UK in a positive way is showing respect to elders. As UK citizens we love to spend time with our grandparents and parents however, unlike in East Asia, we don’t necessarily respect them and pay our respects to them in the same way as younger people do in Asia.

K-dramas are increasingly popular and producers often include idols from K-pop groups in the cast.  BTS’ V starred in the KBS drama Hwarang, EXO’s Chanyeol has just starred in the film The Box prior to enlisting for his compulsory military service.

Even though BTS is very well known now, the first K-pop artist to break through in the UK was PSY with the song Gangnam Style. This song reminded people that there isn’t just English language music so they could open their tastes to new cultures. Furthermore, opening up to learning and appreciating the new culture discovered, can open up eyes to what idols have to do as people and not just as a glamourous celebrity. Some idols come from humble backgrounds and have to support their family, some just send gifts to their family to be a filial son or daughter because that is what they were taught as they grew up as part of their culture. However, there are some idols who choose to go against their parents’ wishes to become active in the K-pop industry such as RM from BTS who was placed in the top 1% of the country and has an IQ of 148. RM’s parents expected him to have a normal job but RM went against their wishes and instead became a trainee at BigHit Entertainment.

RM, along with his other members, had to go through a harsh training period when they had to practise dancing, singing and rapping constantly. This allowed them to hone their skills to join the extremely competitive industry of K-pop. Luckily, they were one of the groups that made it and their careers have expanded to lengths of unimaginable success. BTS has impacted not only the UK but the world with their message of ‘Love Yourself’. They have tried to spread this message everywhere including UNICEF and at the United Nations.  This message allows people everywhere to try to learn to embrace who they are and not ‘jam [yourself] into the moulds that other people made’ (RM of BTS).

Moreover, other idols have set examples of this positive identity especially through fashion. Korean idols have become pioneers and icons of well-known fashion brands as well as wearing clothes that destroy the gender conforming ideals. Kai from EXO is the global ambassador for Gucci and has been for two years running. He was the first Korean idol to be part of a collection, not only that but it is named after him as well. Additionally, he wears crop tops in music videos and on stage with his group members starting to break the gender roles of certain pieces of clothing. Also, Yeonjun from Tomorrow X Together wears crop tops and is even interested in wearing skirts following the example of ATEEZ member Hongjoong.

Another way in which East Asia has impacted life in the UK is that our nation can help build a relationship between Northern and Southern Koreans. In New Malden in South-West London, there is a small concentrated population of Koreans, from both the North and South. There is a divide between them because of the differences between the two cultures. However, there are formal gatherings of the two different populations promoting unity, civility and communication. As much as the two populations try to get along, the South Koreans can accidently leave out the North Koreans in instances such as having tea together at the weekends or mothers’ meetings on the school playgrounds. The two populations may not get on well yet but they both agree that being in the UK provides an equal playing field for them to try because they are both considered foreigners.

In conclusion, I think that the most impactful thing on the UK is K-pop because it impacts young people and helps them through hard times. I think that most of the idols from Korea are good role models for people to look up to and there is lots of content that they produce that is safe for anyone to watch.