Korean Fried Chicken, How Seoul Owners Are Winging It

South Korean fried chicken franchises are popping up all over the country. Tight competition is squeezing owners.

There are around 50,000 chicken joints in South Korea
There are around 50,000 chicken joints in South Korea
Jason Strother

SEOUL — The main difference between American and Korean preparations of fried chicken comes down to the marinades. Popular ones here are soy sauce, garlic and the quintessential Korean flavor yangnyum.

Lee Seon-young, who runs a chicken and beer restaurant in my neighborhood, squeezes the sweet and spicy sauce over a batch of crispy tenders that he just pulled out of a deep fryer. Unlike KFC's Colonel Sanders' original recipe, the ingredients for yangnyum are no secret.

"It's made of sugar syrup, pepper paste, ketchup and paprika powder, ah, and some other stuff," Lee says.

There are around 50,000 chicken joints in South Korea. Most are franchises and deliver to customers doors via motorbike. It's not unusual for dozens of these small restaurants to cluster together in a residential area.

Jeong Eun-jeong, an author of a book on the history of Korea's chicken industry, says these restaurants appeared on the scene 20 years ago after the Asian financial crisis, which took a big toll on Korea's economy.

"A lot of middle aged men were fired from their jobs then. And many of them opened chicken franchises," she says. "So these restaurants became popular not because Koreans like eating fried chicken so much but because suddenly there were just so many of these places and then Koreans started eating more chicken."

She explains there's a notion in Seoul that if you want to own your own business, you should open a restaurant even if you have no experience in the food industry. Entrepreneurs pay for culinary classes at chicken academies run by franchises.

Shin Hyun-ho runs one such school in Seoul. He teaches newcomers how to cook and manage a franchise. He says it's a competitive industry but still easy to be successful.

"Everyone likes chicken, so there are plenty of customers," says Shin. "The initial investment doesn't have to be that much, it's up to the new owner."

The low investment attracts entrepreneurs. Three years ago, Park Shi-kyung took out a $150,000 loan to open a chicken restuarant restaurant. The 45-year-old already ran his own sign-making company. But he says he needed to earn more money to support his family.

"I'm at an age when I need to earn more money so I can pay for my two kids' private education to get them ready for university. But running this kind of business was harder than I thought it would be," he admits.

Park's restaurant is one of about 50 chicken places in his neighborhood. He says the competition and lackluster economy is making it almost impossible to earn money.

"Ahhhh, well, on average, in a month, I don't make any money at all. After paying back the loan, buying ingredients, paying my staff and paying rent, my profits are zero. Right now, nothing," Park says.

Jeong Eun-jeong says Park's situation is typical. Most franchise owners never make a profit. She says they can't close their restaurant either because then they's lose everything.

"Most chicken restaurant owners use their apartments as collateral when they take out a loan to open their restaurants. So, they also lose their homes when the business fails," she says.

Jeong estimates that each year, about half of all chicken restaurants in Korea go out of business. But that's not stopping new entrepreneurs from entering the market. A lack of jobs for college graduates has seen restaurant owners get younger and younger.

Lee Seon-young, 31, owner of my neighborhood chicken joint, says he knew how tough the chicken business was when he opened his place six months ago. He tells me there's even a phrase to describe the competition between restaurants.

"We call it the chicken game. People lower their prices to be competitive and that ends up putting them out of business."

Lee says business is good. He's not playing the chicken game.

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Chinese Students Now Required To Learn To Think Like Xi Jinping

'Xi Jinping Thought' ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university.

Children from Congtai Elementary School, Handan City, Hebei Province

Maximilian Kalkhof

BEIJING — It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education.

The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader.

Xi Jinping has been the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for almost 10 years. In 2017, at a party convention, he presented a doctrine in the most riveting of party prose: "Xi Jinping's ideas of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new age."

Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself. In other words, to make China great again!

Communist curriculum replaces global subjects

This doctrine has sent shockwaves through China since 2017. It's been echoed in newspapers, on TV, and screamed from posters and banners hung in many cities. But now, the People's Republic is going one step further: It's bringing "Xi Jinping Thought" into the schools.

Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation?

The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

photo of books on a book shelf

Books about Xi-Jinping at the 2021 Hong Kong Book Fair

Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/SOPA Images/ZUMA

— Photo:

Targeting pop culture

The regime is also taking massive action against the entertainment industry. Popstar Kris Wu was arrested on charges of rape. Movies and TV series starring actor Zhao Wei have started to disappear from Chinese streaming platforms. The reason is unclear.

What the developments do show is that China is attempting to decouple from the West with increasing insistence. Beijing wants to protect its youth from Western excesses, from celebrity worship, super wealth and moral decline.

A nationalist blogger recently called for a "profound change in the economy, finance, culture and politics," a "revolution" and a "return from the capitalists to the masses." Party media shared the text on their websites. It appears the analysis caused more than a few nods in the party headquarters.

Dictatorships are always afraid of pluralism.

Caspar Welbergen, managing director of the Education Network China, an initiative that aims to intensify school exchanges between Germany and China, says that against this background, the curriculum reform is not surprising.

"The emphasis on 'Xi Jinping Thought' is being used in all areas of society," he says. "It is almost logical that China is now also using it in the education system."

Needless to say, the doctrine doesn't make student exchanges with China any easier.

Dictatorships are always afraid of color, pluralism and independent thinking citizens. And yet, Kristin Kupfer, a Sinology professor at the University of Trier, suggests that ideologically charged school lessons should not be interpreted necessarily as a sign of weakness of the CCP.

From the point of view of a totalitarian regime, she explains, this can also be interpreted as a signal of strength. "It remains to be seen whether the Chinese leadership can implement this so thoroughly," Kupfer adds. "Initial reactions from teachers and parents on social media show that such a widespread attempt to control opinion has raised fears and discontent in the population."

Die Welt
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