These days, the South Korean government as well as pop culture promotion agencies attach “K-” to virtually everything of Korean origin that is popular overseas, such as K-culture, K-literature, K-pop, K-food, K-cars, K-dramas, K-quarantine and a host of others. Perhaps politicians and promoters want to inspire patriotism and pride by branding all these cultural exports with a “K,” suggesting that whatever raises the profile of Korea overseas is uniquely “Korean.”

However, they may be wrong. Take Korean literature, for example. When Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian” received the Man-Booker International Prize in 2016, Korean newspapers headlined it as an official recognition of K-literature in the international community. However, Deborah Smith, the translator of the award-winning novel, argued that we should not use the term K-literature for “The Vegetarian” because it limits the novel to the category of regional…

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