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North Korea - SOCIETY

North Korea - Environment

North Korea

THE KOREAN PENINSULA, located at the juncture of the northeast Asian continent and the Japanese archipelago, has been home to a culturally and linguistically distinct people for more than two millennia. The ancestors of modern Koreans are believed to have come from northeast and Inner Asia. Like their Japanese neighbors, they have been deeply influenced by Chinese civilization. The elite culture and social structure of traditional Korea, especially during the Chosn Dynasty (1392-1910) founded by General Yi Sng-gye, reflected neoConfucian norms. Despite centuries of Chinese cultural influence, an episode of Japanese colonialism (1910-45), division into United States and Soviet spheres after World War II (1939-45), and the Korean War (1950-53, known in North Korea as the Fatherland Liberation War), the Korean people have retained their ethnic and cultural distinctiveness. Indeed, cultural distinctiveness, autonomy, and creativity have become central themes in the North Korean regime's chuch'e ideology.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea) is a socialist society with a Soviet style authoritarian political system in which the leadership emphasizes the formulation of a distinctively Korean style of socialism termed chuch'e. Its antithesis is "flunkeyism", or sadejuui, which traditionally referred to subordination to Chinese culture but has come to mean subservience to a foreign power. North Korean leaders label as "flunkeyism" anything that they wish to criticize as excessively dependent on foreign influence.

The North Korean regime has attempted to break with its China-dependent Confucian past, but the more authoritarian strains in Confucian thought are reinforced by the authoritarianism of Marxism-Leninism and Stalinism and by contemporary social values. Like the ideal Confucian ruler, North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are depicted as morally perfect leaders whose boundless benevolence earns them the gratitude and loyalty of the masses.

Kim Il Sung's domination of the political system after 1948 and his formulation of chuch'e ideology has made him the focus of an intense personality cult comparable to, and perhaps even more extreme, than that of Joseph Stalin. Through means of the state-controlled media and the education system, which includes an elaborate network of "social education" institutions aimed at creating a proper environment for the rearing of North Korean youth, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are the focus of nationwide veneration.

North Korea's rigidly hierarchical social structure resembles that of pre-modern Korea: an unequal society, both in terms of status and economic rewards. The rulers are at the apex, next come a small elite of Korean Workers' Party (KWP) officers, then a larger group of KWP cadres, and, finally, the majority of the population. At the bottom of the social-political pyramid are the politically suspect, including those whose relatives fled to the Republic of Korea (ROK, or South Korea) after 1945. The treatment of people is largely determined by political criteria. For example, talented people with "tainted" political backgrounds usually find it impossible to attend a college or university.

Insight into this cloistered society has benefited since the late 1980s from North Korea's release of statistics about its population, health conditions, educational enrollment, and other data previously kept secret. This information suggests that as of July 1991, the approximately 21.8 million North Koreans have life expectancies, health conditions, and mortality rates roughly equivalent to those of South Korea, which at that time had about twice the population. In the early 1990s, however, relatively limited information is available on living standards, especially for those living outside the capital city of P'yongyang.

North Korea

North Korea - POPULATION

North Korea

Estimating the size, growth rate, sex ratio, and age structure of North Korea's population has been extremely difficult. Until release of official data in 1989, the 1963 edition of the North Korea Central Yearbook was the last official publication to disclose population figures until 1989. After 1963 demographers used varying methods to estimate the population. They either totaled the number of delegates elected to the Supreme People's Assembly (each delegate representing 50,000 people before 1962 and 30,000 people afterward) or relied on official statements that a certain number of persons, or percentage of the population, was engaged in a particular activity. Thus, on the basis of remarks made by President Kim Il Sung in 1977 concerning school attendance, the population that year was calculated at 17.2 million persons. During the 1980s, health statistics, including life expectancy and causes of mortality, were gradually made available to the outside world.

In 1989 the Central Statistics Bureau released demographic data to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) in order to secure the UNFPA's assistance in holding North Korea's first nationwide census since the establishment of the DPRK in 1948. Although the figures given to the United Nations (UN) might have been purposely distorted, it appears that in line with other attempts to open itself to the outside world, the North Korean regime has also opened somewhat in the demographic realm. Although the country lacks trained demographers, accurate data on household registration, migration, and births and deaths are available to North Korean authorities. According to the United States scholar Nicholas Eberstadt and demographer Judith Banister, vital statistics and personal information on residents are kept by agencies on the ri, or ni (village, the local administrative unit) level in rural areas and the dong (district or block) level in urban areas.

Size and Growth Rate

In their 1992 monograph, The Population of North Korea, Eberstadt and Banister use the data given to the UNFPA and also make their own assessments. They place the total population at 21.4 million persons in mid-1990, consisting of 10.6 million males and 10.8 million females. This figure is close to an estimate of 21.9 million persons for mid-1988 cited in the 1990 edition of the Demographic Yearbook published by the UN. Korean Review, a book by Pan Hwan Ju published by the P'yongyang Foreign Languages Press in 1987, gives a figure of 19.1 million persons for 1986.

The figures disclosed by the government reveal an unusually low proportion of males to females: in 1980 and 1987, the maleto -female ratios were 86.2 to 100, and 84.2 to 100, respectively. Low male-to-female ratios are usually the result of a war, but these figures were lower than the sex ratio of 88.3 males per 100 females recorded for 1953, the last year of the Korean War. The male-to-female ratio would be expected to rise to a normal level with the passage of years, as happened between 1953 and 1970, when the figure was 95.1 males per 100 females. After 1970, however, the ratio declined. Eberstadt and Banister suggest that before 1970 male and female population figures included the whole population, yielding ratios in the ninetieth percentile, but that after that time the male military population was excluded from population figures. Based on the figures provided by the Central Statistics Bureau, Eberstadt and Banister estimate that the actual size of the "hidden" male North Korean military had reached 1.2 million by 1986 and that the actual male-to-female ratio was 97.1 males to 100 females in 1990. If their estimates are correct, 6.1 percent of North Korea's total population was in the military, numerically the world's fifth largest military force, in the late 1980s.

The annual population growth rate in 1960 was 2.7 percent, rising to a high of 3.6 percent in 1970, but falling to 1.9 percent in 1975. This fall reflected a dramatic decline in the fertility rate: the average number of children born to women decreased from 6.5 in 1966 to 2.5 in 1988. Assuming the data are reliable, reasons for falling growth rates and fertility rates probably include late marriage, urbanization, limited housing space, and the expectation that women would participate equally in terms of work hours in the labor force. The experience of other socialist countries suggests that widespread labor force participation by women often goes hand-in-hand with more traditional role expectations; in other words, they are still responsible for housework and childrearing. The high percentage of males aged seventeen to twenty-six may also have contributed to the low fertility rate. According to Eberstadt and Banister's data, the annual population growth rate in 1991 was 1.9 percent.

The North Korean government seems to perceive its population as too small in relation to that of South Korea. In its public pronouncements, P'yongyang has called for accelerated population growth and encouraged large families. According to one KoreanAmerican scholar who visited North Korea in the early 1980s, the country has no birth control policies; parents are encouraged to have as many as six children. The state provides t'agaso (nurseries) in order to lessen the burden of childrearing for parents and offers a seventy-seven-day paid leave after childbirth. Eberstadt and Banister suggest, however, that authorities at the local level make contraceptive information readily available to parents and that intrauterine devices are the most commonly adopted birth control method. An interview with a former North Korean resident in the early 1990s revealed that such devices are distributed free at clinics.

Population Structure and Projections

Demographers determine the age structure of a given population by dividing it into five-year age-groups and arranging them chronologically in a pyramidlike structure that "bulges" or recedes in relation to the number of persons in a given age cohort. Many poor, developing countries have a broad base and steadily tapering higher levels, which reflects a large number of births and young children but much smaller age cohorts in later years as a result of relatively short life expectancies. North Korea does not entirely fit this pattern; data reveal a "bulge" in the lower ranges of adulthood. In 1991 life expectancy at birth was approximately sixty-six years for males, almost seventy-three for females.

It is likely that annual population growth rates will increase in the future, as will as difficulties in employing the many young men and women entering the labor force in a socialist economy already suffering from stagnant growth. Eberstadt and Banister estimate that the population will increase to 25.5 million by the end of the century and to 28.5 million in 2010. They project that the population will stabilize (that is, cease to grow) at 34 million persons in 2045 and will then experience a gradual decline. By comparison, South Korea's population is expected to stabilize at 52.6 million people in 2023.

Settlement Patterns and Urbanization

North Korea's population is concentrated in the plains and lowlands. The least populated regions are the mountainous Chagang and Yanggang provinces adjacent to the Chinese border; the largest concentrations of population are in North P'yngan and South P'yngan provinces, in the municipal district of P'yongyang, and in South Hamgyng Province, which includes the Hamhng-Hngnam urban area . Eberstadt and Banister calculate the average population density at 167 persons per square kilometer, ranging from 1,178 persons per square kilometer in P'yongyang Municipality to 44 persons per square kilometer in Yanggang Province. By contrast, South Korea had an average population density of 425 persons per square kilometer in 1989.

Like South Korea, North Korea has experienced significant urban migration since the end of the Korean War. Official statistics reveal that 59.6 percent of the total population was classified as urban in 1987. This figures compares with only 17.7 percent in 1953. It is not entirely clear, however, what standards are used to define urban populations. Eberstadt and Banister suggest that although South Korean statisticians do not classify settlements of under 50,000 as urban, their North Korean counterparts include settlements as small as 20,000 in this category. And, in North Korea, people who engage in agricultural pursuits inside municipalities sometimes are not counted as urban.

Urbanization in North Korea seems to have proceeded most rapidly between 1953 and 1960, when the urban population grew between 12 and 20 percent annually. Subsequently, the increase slowed to about 6 percent annually in the 1960s and between 1 and 3 percent from 1970 to 1987.

In 1987 North Korea's largest cities were P'yongyang, with approximately 2.3 million inhabitants; Hamhng, 701,000; Ch'ngjin, 520,000; Namp'o, 370,000; Sunch'n, 356,000; and Siniju, 289,000. In 1987 the total national population living in P'yongyang was 11.5 percent. The government also restricts and monitors migration to cities and ensures a relatively balanced distribution of population in provincial centers in relation to P'yongyang.

Koreans Living Overseas

Large-scale emigration from Korea began around 1904 and continued until the end of World War II. During the Japanese colonial occupation (1910-45), many Koreans emigrated to Manchuria (China's three northeastern provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning), other parts of China, the Soviet Union, Hawaii, and the continental United States. People from Korea's northern provinces went mainly to Manchuria, China, and Siberia; many from the southern provinces went to Japan. Most émigrés left for economic reasons because employment opportunities were scarce; many Korean farmers had lost their land after the Japanese colonial government introduced a system of private land tenure, imposed higher land taxes, and promoted the growth of an absentee landlord class charging exorbitant rents.

In the 1980s, more than 4 million ethnic Koreans lived outside the peninsula. The largest group, about 1.7 million people, lived in China; most had assumed Chinese citizenship. Approximately 1 million Koreans, almost exclusively from South Korea, lived in North America. About 389,000 ethnic Koreans resided in the former Soviet Union. One observer noted that Koreans have been so successful in running collective farms in Soviet Central Asia that being Korean is often associated by other citizens there with being rich, and as a result there is growing antagonism against Koreans. Smaller groups of Koreans are found in Central America and South America (85,000), the Middle East (62,000), Europe (40,000), Asia (27,000), and Africa (25,000).

Many of Japan's approximately 680,000 Koreans have belowaverage standards of living. This situation is partly because of discrimination by the Japanese. Many resident Koreans, loyal to North Korea, remain separate from, and often hostile to, the Japanese social mainstream. The pro-North Korean Choch'ongryn (General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, known as Ch sen s ren or Ch s ren in Japanese) (see Glossary) initially was more successful than the pro-South Korean Mindan (Association for Korean Residents in Japan) in attracting adherents among residents in Japan.

Between 1959 and 1982, Choch'ongryn encouraged the repatriation of Korean residents in Japan to North Korea. More than 93,000 Koreans left Japan, the majority (80,000 persons) in 1960 and 1961. Thereafter, the number of repatriates declined, apparently because of reports of hardships suffered by their compatriots. Approximately 6,637 Japanese wives accompanied their husbands to North Korea, of whom about 1,828 retained Japanese citizenship in the early 1990s. P'yongyang had originally promised that the wives could return home every two or three years to visit their relatives. In fact, however, they are not allowed to do so, and few have had contact with their families in Japan. In normalization talks between North Korean and Japanese officials in the early 1990s, the latter urged unsuccessfully that the wives be allowed to make home visits.

Updated population figures for North Korea.

North Korea

North Korea - Confucian and Neo-Confucian Values

North Korea

Neo-Confucianism, the dominant value system of the Chosn Dynasty (1392-1910), combines the social ethics of the classical Chinese philosophers Confucius (Kong Zi, 551-479 B.C.) and Mencius (Meng Zi, 372-289 B.C.) with Buddhist and Daoist metaphysics. One of neo-Confucianism's basic ideas is that the institutions and practices of a properly ordered human community express the immutable principles or laws that govern the cosmos. Through correct social practice, as defined by Confucian sages and their commentators, individuals can achieve self-cultivation and a kind of spiritual unity with heaven (although this was rarely described in mystic or ecstatic terms). Neo-Confucianism defines formal social relations on all levels of society. Social relations are not conceived in terms of the happiness or satisfaction of the individuals involved, but in terms of the harmonious integration of individuals into a collective whole, which, like the properly cultivated individual, mirrors the harmony of the natural order.

During the Chosn Dynasty, Korean kings made the neoConfucian doctrine of the Chinese philosopher Zhu Xi (1130-1200) their state ideology. Although it was a foreign philosophy, Korean neo-Confucian scholars, of whom the most important was Yi Hwang, also known as Yi T'oe-gye (1501-70), played a role in adapting Zhu Xi's teachings to Korean conditions. This was done without denying the cultural superiority of China as the homeland of civilized thought and forms of life.

Neo-Confucianism in Korea became quite rigid and conservative by the mid-sixteenth century. In practice, the doctrine emphasized hierarchy in human relations and self-control for the individual. The Five Relationships (o ryun in Korean; wu lun in Chinese), formulated by classical Chinese thinkers such as Mencius and subsequently sanctified by Zhu Xi and other neo-Confucianist metaphysicians, governed proper human relations: that "between father and son there should be affection; between ruler and minister there should be righteousness; between husband and wife there should be attention to their separate functions; between old and young there should be proper order; and between friends there should be faithfulness." Only the last was a relationship between equals; the others were based on authority and subordination.

Throughout traditional Korean society, from the royal palace and central government offices in the capital to the humblest household in the countryside, the themes of hierarchy and inequality were pervasive. There was no concept of the rights of the individual. In the context of the wider society, a welldefined elite of scholar-officials versed in neo-Confucian orthodoxy was legitimized in terms of the traditional ethical distinction between the educated "superior man" or "gentleman," who seeks righteousness, and the "small man," who seeks only profit. This theme was central in the writings of both Confucius and Mencius. Confucianism and neo-Confucianism as political philosophies proposed a benevolent paternalism: the masses had no role in government, but the scholar-officials were supposed to look after them as fathers look after their children. In the Chosn Dynasty, status and power inequalities, defined precisely within a vertical hierarchy, were generally considered both natural and good. The hierarchy extended from the household relationships of fathers and children through the intermediary relationships of ruler and ruled within the kingdom, to Korea's subordinate status as a tributary of China.

There is a danger, however, in overstressing the idea of Korea as a homogeneously Confucian society, even during the Chosn Dynasty. Foreign observers have been impressed with the diversity of the Korean character as expressed in day-to-day human relations. There is, on the one hand, the image of Koreans as self-controlled, deferential, and meticulous in the fulfillment of their social obligations; on the other hand, there is the Korean reputation for volatility and emotionalism. The ecstasy and euphoria of shamanistic religious practices, one of Korea's most characteristic cultural expressions, contrast sharply with the austere self-control idealized by Confucianists. Although relatively minor themes in the history of Korean ethics and social thought, the concepts of equality and respect for individuals are not entirely lacking. The doctrines of Ch'ndogyo, an indigenous religion that arose in the nineteenth century and combined elements of Buddhism, Daoism, shamanism, Confucianism, and Catholicism, taught that every human being "bears divinity" and that one must "treat man as god."

North Korea

North Korea - Chosn Dynasty Social Structure

North Korea

In the Chosn Dynasty, four distinct social strata developed: the scholar-officials (or nobility), collectively referred to as the yangban; the chungin (literally, "middle people"), technicians and administrators subordinate to the yangban; the commoners or sangmin, a large group composed of farmers, craftsmen, and merchants; and the ch'mmin (despised, or base people, often slaves) at the bottom of society. To arrest social mobility and ensure stability, the government devised a system of personal tallies in order to identify people according to their status, and elites kept detailed genealogies, or chokpo.

In the strictest sense of the term, yangban referred to government officials or officeholders who had passed the civil service examinations, which tested knowledge of the Confucian classics and their neo-Confucian interpretations. They were the Korean counterparts of the scholar-officials, or mandarins, of imperial China. The term yangban, first used during the Kory Dynasty (918-1392), literally means two groups, that is, civil and military officials. Over the centuries, however, its usage became rather vague, so the term can be said to have several overlapping meanings. A broader use of the term included within the yangban two other groups that could be considered associated with, but outside, the ruling elite. The first included those scholars who had passed the preliminary civil service examination and sometimes the higher examinations but failed to secure government appointment. In the late Chosn Dynasty, there were many more successful examination candidates than there were positions. The second included the relatives and descendants of government officials because formal yangban rank was hereditary. Even if these people were poor and did not themselves serve in the government, they were considered members of a "yangban family" and thus shared the aura of the elite so long as they retained Confucian culture and rituals.

In principle, however, the yangban were a meritocratic elite. They gained their positions through educational achievement. Although certain groups of persons (including artisans, merchants, shamans [mudang], slaves, and Buddhist monks) were prohibited from taking the higher civil service examinations, they formed only a small portion of the population. In theory, the examinations were open to the majority of people, who were farmers. In the early years of the Chosn Dynasty, some commoners may have been able to attain high positions by passing the examinations and advancing on sheer talent. Later, talent was a necessary but not a sufficient prerequisite for getting into the core elite because of the surplus of successful examinees. Influential family connections were virtually indispensable for obtaining high official positions. Moreover, special posts called "protection appointments" were inherited by descendants of the Chosn royal family and certain high officials. Despite the emphasis on educational merit, the yangban became in a very real sense a hereditary elite. Thus, when progressive officials enacted the 1984 Kabo Reforms, a program of social reforms, they found it necessary to abolish the social distinctions between yangban and commoners.

Below the yangban, yet superior to the commoners, were the chungin, a small group of technical and administrative officials. This group included astronomers, physicians, interpreters, and career military officers. Local functionaries, who were members of an inferior hereditary class, were an important and frequently oppressive link between the yangban and the common people, and were often the de facto rulers of a local region.

The sangmin, or commoners, comprised about 75 percent of the total population. These farmers, craftsmen, and merchants bore the burden of taxation and were subject to military conscription. Farmers had higher prestige than merchants, but lived a hard life. Below the commoners, the ch'mmin performed what was considered vile or low-prestige work. They included servants and slaves in government offices and resthouses, jailkeepers and convicts, shamans, actors, female entertainers (kisaeng), professional mourners, shoemakers, executioners, and, for a time, Buddhist monks and nuns. Also included in the category were the paekchng who dealt with meat and the hides of animals; they were considered "unclean" and lived in segregated communities. Slaves were treated as chattel but could own property and even other slaves. Although slaves were numerous at the beginning of the Chosn Dynasty, their numbers had dwindled by the time slavery was officially abolished with the Kabo Reforms.

North Korea

North Korea - The Traditional Family and Kinship

North Korea

Filial piety (hyo in Korean; xiao in Chinese), the first of the Five Relationships defined by Mencius, had traditionally been the normative foundation of Korean family life. Historically, the Korean family was patrilineal. The most important concern of the family group was to produce a male heir to carry on the family line and to perform ancestor rituals in the household and at the family gravesite. The first son customarily assumed leadership of the family after his father's death and inherited his father's house and a greater portion of land than his younger brothers. His birthright enabled him to carry out the ritually prescribed obligations to the family ancestors.

The special reverence shown to ancestors was both a social ethic and a religion. Koreas were taught that deceased family members did not pass into oblivion, to a remote afterlife, or, as Buddhists believed, to rebirth as humans or animals in some remote place; rather, they remained, in spiritual form, securely within the family circle. Even in the early 1990s, the presence of the deceased is intensely real and personal for traditionally minded Koreans. Fear of death is blunted by the consoling thought that even in the grave one will be cared for by one's own people. Succeeding generations are obligated to remember the deceased in a yearly cycle of rituals and ceremonies.

The purpose of marriage was to produce a male heir, not to provide mutual companionship and support for husband and wife, even though this sometimes happened. Marriages were arranged. A go-between or matchmaker, usually a middle-aged woman, carried on the negotiations between the two families involved; because of a very strict law on exogamy, these two families sometimes did not know each other and often lived in different communities. The bride and groom met for the first time at the marriage ceremony, a practice that was gradually abandoned in urban areas before World War II.

The traditional Korean kinship system, defined in terms of different obligations in relation to the reverence shown to ancestors, was complex. Anthropologists generally view it in terms of four separate levels, beginning with the household at the lowest level and reaching to the clan, which included many geographically dispersed members. The household, chip or jip, consisted of a husband and wife, their children, and, if the husband was the eldest son, his parents. The eldest son's household, the stem family, was known as the "big house" (k'nchip, or k' njip); that of each of the younger sons, a branch family containing husband, wife, and children only, was known as a "little house" (chag nchip, or chag njip). It was through the stem family of the eldest son that the main line of descent was traced from generation to generation.

The second level of kinship was the "mourning group" (changnye), which consisted of all those descendants of a common patrilineal forebear up to four generations back. Its role was to organize ceremonies at gravesites. These included the reading of a formal message by the eldest male descendant of the changnye progenitor and the offering of elaborate and attractive dishes to the ancestral spirits.

Similar rituals were carried out at the third level of kinship organization, the lineage, p'a. A lineage might comprise only a handful of households, or hundreds or even thousands of households. The lineage was responsible for rites to ancestors of the fifth generation or above, performed at a common gravesite. During the Chosn Dynasty, the lineage commonly possessed land, gravesites, and buildings. Croplands were allocated to support the ancestral ceremonies. The p'a also performed other functions--aiding poor or distressed lineage members, educating children at schools maintained by the p'a, and supervising the behavior of younger lineage members. Because most people living in a single village were members of a common lineage during the Chosn Dynasty, the p'a performed many social services at the local level that, in the 1990s, are provided by state-run schools, public security organs, and the state system of clinics and hospitals.

The fourth and most inclusive kinship organization was the clan or, more accurately, the surname origin group (tongsng). Members of the same munjung (extended family) shared both a surname and origins in the generally remote past. For example, the Chnju Yi, who originated in Chnju in North Chlla Province (in contemporary South Korea), claimed, and continue to claim, as their progenitor the founder of the Chosn Dynasty, Yi Sng-gye. Unlike members of smaller kinship groups, however, they often lacked strong feelings of solidarity. In many if not most cases, the real function of the surname origin group was to define groups of permissible marriage partners. The strict rule of exogamy prohibited marriage between people from the same tongsng and tongbon (ancestral origin) even if their closest common ancestors had lived centuries earlier. Confuciansts regarded this prohibition, which originated during the Chosn Dynasty, as a sign of Korea's civilized status; they believed that only barbarians married within their own clan or kin group.

North Korea

North Korea - The Colonial Transformation of Korean Society

North Korea

The social strata of the Chosn Dynasty and the family system were sustained by a highly stable environment composed, for the most part, of rural communities. The Hermit Kingdom, as it was called by Westerners, had very little contact with the outside world even in the late nineteenth century. Rapid changes, however, occurred during the Japanese colonial period, which disrupted the centuries-old ways of life and caused considerable personal hardship.

These changes were particularly disruptive in rural areas. Traditionally, all land belonged to the king and was granted by him to his subjects. Although specific tracts of land tended to remain within the same family from generation to generation (including communal land owned by clans and lineages), land occupancy, use, and ownership patterns were often ambiguous and varied from one part of the country to another. Land was not privately held.

Between 1910 and 1920, the Japanese carried out a comprehensive land survey in order to place land ownership on a modern legal footing. Farmers who had tilled the same land for generations but could not prove ownership had their land confiscated. Such land ended up in the hands of the colonial government, to be sold to Japanese enterprises such as the Oriental Development Company or to Japanese immigrants.

These policies forced many Koreans to emigrate overseas or to become tenant farmers. Still other Koreans fled to the hills to become "fire field," or slash-and-burn, farmers, living under extremely harsh and primitive conditions. By 1936 there were more than 1.5 million slash-and-burn farmers. Other former farmers moved to urban areas to work in factories.

The fortunes of the yangban elite were mixed. Some prospered under the Japanese as landlords or even entrepreneurs. Those yangban who remained aloof from their country's new overlords, however, often fell into poverty. A few Koreans educated in modern Japanese or foreign missionary schools formed the nucleus of a modern middle class.

The Japanese built railroads and highways--a logistic system- -and schools and hospitals. A modern system of administration was established to link the colonial economy more effectively with that of Japan. These changes also fostered employment for Koreans as mid- and lower-level civil servants and technicians. During the 1930s and early 1940s, industrial development projects, especially in the border area between Korea and China, employed thousands of Koreans as workers and lower level industrial managers. All the top posts were held by Japanese; prewar and wartime industrialization nevertheless created new classes of workers and managers.

At the end of World War II, Korea's traditional social fabric, based on rural communities and stable social hierarchies, was tattered but not entirely destroyed. In South Korea, the traditional social system survived, although drastically altered by urbanization and economic development. In North Korea, an occupation by Soviet troops, the communist revolution, and the rule of Kim Il Sung, transformed the society.

North Korea

North Korea - Tradition and Modernity in North Korea

North Korea

The extent to which the Confucian values of the Chosn Dynasty continue to exert an influence on North Korean society in the 1990s is an intriguing question that cannot be adequately answered until outside observers can gain greater access to the country. The regime practices a very strict regimen of "revolutionary tourism" for those few people allowed to visit the country, so observing everyday life and gleaning opinions and attitudes are impossible. The average tourist views countless monuments to Kim Il Sung, revolutionary theatrical performances, model farms and factories, large, new apartment complexes, and scenic splendor, but hears little of what the people really think or feel. Confucianism clearly does not serve as a formal ideology or social ethic (being condemned because of its history of class exploitation, its cultural subservience to a foreign state, and as a contradiction of the chuch'e ideology). Yet its more authoritarian and hierarchical themes seem to have made the population receptive to the personality cult of Kim Il Sung.

This authoritarian strain of Confucianism has apparently survived, transformed by socialist and chuch'e ideology. It appears that P'yongyang has chosen to co-opt some of the traditional values rather than to eradicate them. For example, the education system and the media strongly emphasize social harmony. But the nature of education beginning at the preschool level and the limited amount of time parents are able to spend with children because of work schedules subordinates parental authority to that of the state and its representatives. Some aspects of filial piety remain salient in contemporary North Korea; for example, children are taught by the state-controlled media to respect their parents. However, filial piety plays a secondary role in relation to loyalty to the state and Kim Il Sung.

Kim Il Sung is not only a fatherly figure, but was described, in childhood, as a model son. A 1980 article entitled "Kim Il Sung Termed Model for Revering Elders" tells of how he warmed his mother's cold hands with his own breath after she returned from work each day in the winter and gave up the pleasure of playing on a swing because it tore his pants, which his mother then had to mend. "When his parents or elders called him, he arose from his spot at once no matter how much fun he had been having, answered 'yes' and then ran to them, bowed his head and waited, all ears, for what they were going to say." According to Kim, "Communists love their own parents, wives, children, and their fellow comrades, respect the elderly, live frugal lives and always maintain a humble mien." The "dear leader," or Kim Jong Il, is also described as a filial son; when he was five years old, a propagandist wrote, he insisted on personally guarding his father from evil imperialists with a little wooden rifle.

The personality cult of Kim Il Sung resembles those of Stalin in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s and Nicolae Ceau escu in Romania until his overthrow in 1989. But in North Korea, special attention is paid to the theme of Kim's benevolence and the idea that North Koreans must repay that benevolence with unquestioning loyalty and devotion, recalling old Confucian values of repaying debts of gratitude. Kim's birthday, April 15, is a national holiday. His eightieth birthday, celebrated in 1992, was the occasion for massive national celebrations. The state-run media similarly depicts Kim Jong Il in a benevolent light.

One enthusiastic Japanese writer related in a 1984 book how the younger Kim, learning of the poor living standards of lighthouse keepers and their families on a remote island, personally arranged for various life-style improvements, including water storage tanks, television sets, special scholarships for the children, and "colorful clothes, coats and caps of the kind that were worn by children in P'yongyang." In the writer's words, "the lighthousemen and their families shed tears of gratitude to the Secretary [Kim Jong Il] for his warmhearted care for them." The writer also described the "bridge of love," built on Kim's order in a remote area in order to allow thirteen children to cross a river on the way to school. He emphasized that the bridge had absolutely "no economic merit."

North Korea

North Korea - Chuch'e and Contemporary Social Values

North Korea

Chuch'e is a significant break with the Confucian past. Developed during the period of revolutionary struggle against Japanese imperialism, chuch'e is the product of Kim Il Sung's thinking. Chuch'e emphasizes the importance of developing the nation's potential using its own resources and reserves of human creativity. Chuch'e legitimizes cultural, economic, and political isolationism by stressing the error of imitating foreign countries or of becoming excessively "international." During the 1970s, Kim Jong Il suggested that chuch'e ideology be renamed Kim Il Sung Chuui (Kim Il Sungism). Kim Il Sungism, epitomizing chuch'e, is described as superior to all other systems of human thought, including (apparently) Marxism.

Chuch'e thought is not, at least in principle, xenophobic. P'yongyang has devoted considerable resources to organizing chuch'e study societies around the world and bringing foreign visitors to North Korea for national celebrations--for example, 4,000 persons were invited to attend Kim Il Sung's eightieth birthday celebrations.

The government opposes "flunkeyism." Kim Jong Il, depicted as an avid student of Korean history in his youth, was said to have made the revolutionary proposal that Kim Yushin, the great general of the Silla Dynasty (668-935), was a "flunkeyist" rather than a national hero because he enlisted the aid of Tang Dynasty (618-907) China in order to defeat Silla's rivals, Kogury and Paekche, and unify the country. Chuch'e's opposition to flunkeyism, moreover, is probably also a reaction to the experience of Japanese colonialism.

Apart from the North Korean people's almost complete isolation from foreign influences, probably the most significant impact of chuch'e thought and Kim Il Sungism with regard to daily life is the relentless emphasis on self-sacrifice and hard work. The population is told that everything can be accomplished through dedication and the proper revolutionary spirit. This view is evident in the perennial "speed battles" initiated by the leadership to dramatically increase productivity; another example is the bizarre phenomenon called the "drink no soup movement," apparently designed to keep workers on the factory floor rather than going to the lavatory. Moreover, chuch'e provides a "proper" standpoint from which to create or judge art, literature, drama, and music, as well as a philosophical underpinning for the country's educational system.

North Korea

North Korea - Classes and Social Strata

North Korea

Although socialism promises a society of equals in which class oppression is eliminated, most evidence shows that great social and political inequality continues to exist in North Korea in the early 1990s. The state is the sole allocator of resources, and inequalities are justified in terms of the state's political and economic imperatives. Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are described by unsympathetic foreign observers as living like kings. (The South Korean film director Sin Sangok and his actress wife, Ch'oe Unhui, who were apparently kidnapped and taken to North Korea on Kim Jong Il's orders, described him as a fanatic film buff with a library of 15,000 films; they claimed that he alone could view these films, which were collected for his benefit by North Korean diplomats abroad.) Equally important from the standpoint of social stratification, however, is a small and clearly defined elite within the ruling KWP, who, like the privileged communists listed in the former Soviet Union's nomenklatura, a listing of positions and personnel, have emerged as a "new class" with a relatively high standard of living and access to consumer goods not available to ordinary people.

According to North Korean sources cited by Eberstadt and Banister, total membership in the KWP in 1987 was "over 3 million," or almost 15 percent of the estimated population of 20.3 million that year. Membership in the party requires a politically "clean" background. Given the KWP's status as a revolutionary "vanguard party," these individuals clearly constitute an elite; it is unclear, however, how the standards of living of lower echelon party members differ from those of nonparty members. Nonetheless, party membership is clearly the smoothest path for upward social mobility. It opens opportunities such as university attendance to members and their children. The statecontrolled media repeatedly exhorts party members to eschew "bureaucratism" and arrogance in dealing with nonparty people. But it is unclear how successful the regime is in uprooting the centuries-old tradition of kwanjon minbi (honor officials, despise the people), which often make the traditional aristocratic yangban elite insufferably arrogant.

Although Japan had promoted some industrialization in the northern part of their Korean colony during the occupation, most of the Korean Peninsula's population before 1945 were farmers. North Korea's industrialization after the Korean War, however, transformed the nature of work and occupational categories. In the late 1980s, the government divided the labor force into four categories: "workers," who were employed at state-owned enterprises; "farmers," who worked on agricultural collectives; "officials," who performed nonmanual labor and probably included teachers, technicians, and health-care workers as well as civil servants and KWP cadres; and workers employed in "cooperative industrial units," which Eberstadt and Banister suggest constitute a minuscule private sector. North Korean government statistics showed that the state "worker" category constituted the largest category in 1987, or 57 percent of the labor force. Farmers comprised the second largest category at 25.3 percent; and officials and industrial cooperative workers, 16.8 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively. Within the "worker" category, skilled workers in the fisheries and in the heavy, mining, and defense industries tend to be favored in terms of economic incentives over their counterparts in light and consumer industries; the labor force in urban areas tend to be favored over farmers. Despite the small size of the "cooperative industrial sector," that is, the industrial counterpart of the cooperative (collective) farms enterprise, a black market apparently exists, with prices as much as ten times higher than those in the official distribution system. Farmers' markets also exist. The black market is not likely to be large enough to foster the emergence of a sizable, shadowy class of smugglers and entrepreneurs.

Food and other necessities of life are strictly rationed, and different occupational groups are reported to receive different qualities and kinds of goods. Sin Sangok and Ch'oe Unhui wrote in the South Korean media in the late 1980s that consumption of beef and pork is largely restricted to "middle-class" and "upper-class people"; "ordinary people" can obtain no meat except dog meat, which is not rationed. An exception is made for the New Year's holidays, Kim Il Sung's birthday, and other holidays, when pork is made available to all. They also report that the regime is actively encouraging sons to assume the occupations of their fathers and that "job succession is regarded as a cardinal virtue in North Korea."

Housing is another area of social inequality. According to a South Korean source, North Korea has five types of standardized housing allotted according to rank; the highest ranks--the party and state elite--live in one- or two-story detached houses. Sixty percent of the population, consisting of ordinary workers and farmers, live in multi-unit dwellings of no more than one or two rooms, including the kitchen.

Family background, in terms of political and ideological criteria, is extremely relevant to one's social status and standard of living. Sons and daughters of revolutionaries and those who died in the Korean War are favored for educational opportunities and advancement. For these children, a special elite school, the Mangyngdae Revolutionary Institute, was established near P'yongyang at the birthsite of Kim Il Sung. South Korean scholar Lee Mun Woong wrote that illegitimate children are also favored because they are raised entirely in state-run nurseries and schools and are not subject to the corruption of traditionally minded parents.

Conversely, the children and descendants of "exploiting class" parents--those who collaborated with the Japanese during the colonial era, opposed agricultural collectivization in the 1950s, or were associated with those who had fled to South Korea- -are discriminated against. They are considered "contaminated" by the bad influences of their parents and have to work harder to acquire reputable positions. Relatives of those who had fled to South Korea are especially looked down on and considered "bad elements." Persons with unfavorable political backgrounds are often denied admission to institutions of higher education, despite their intellectual qualifications.

With the exception of disabled Korean War veterans, physically handicapped people appear to be subject to special discrimination, according to international human rights organizations. For example, they are not allowed to enter P'yongyang, and those who manage to live in the capital are periodically sought out by the police and expelled. These sources also allege that persons of below-normal height (dwarfs) have been forced to live in a special settlement in a remote rural area. South Korean sources also cite examples of single women over forty years of age who are considered social misfits and are thus harassed.

North Korea

North Korea - Urban Life

North Korea

According to reports by defectors from North Korea and information gleaned from the limits imposed by "revolutionary tourism," urban life in P'yongyang probably resembles that in other East Asian cities, such as Seoul or Tokyo, in that living space is extremely limited. Little remains of traditional, however; architecture with its modern-style, high-rise buildings, P'yongyang appears to lack lively neighborhoods, as well as the local festivals and bustling market life of other Asian cities. Spacious highways span the metropolis, but seem devoid of traffic except for military vehicles. Unlike the residents of Tokyo and Seoul, however, residents of P'yongyang have access to expansive parks and green spaces.

Beginning in the 1980s, several high-rise apartment complexes were built in P'yongyang, some of them reaching forty stories. The Kwangbok New Town, opened in 1989 as housing for representatives to the Thirteenth World Festival of Youth and Students, has been described as accommodating 25,000 families of the KWP elite. A sympathetic Japanese visitor reports that units are 110 square meters in area, with a kitchen-dining room and three or four additional rooms. Maintenance fees (not rent) for the housing of manual workers and office workers constitute 0.3 percent of their monthly income; utilities, including heating, cost about 3 percent of monthly income. Heating in rural areas during the frigid winters seems to be supplied primarily by charcoal briquettes.

Although urban standards of living--at least in P'yongyang-- appear to be better than rural standards of living, observers note that city shops have limited supplies of necessities. Visitors to the capital during the celebration of Kim Il Sung's eightieth birthday (and as well at other times), however, have toured department stores full of goods. One widely repeated rumor suggests that crowds of local residents are paid by the day to throng department stores but that virtually the only goods actually on sale for them are soap and special consignments of notebooks. Otherwise, access to most department stores in P'yongyang is limited to KWP members and foreigners.

North Korea

North Korea - Village Life

North Korea

A land reform law enacted in 1946 confiscated the holdings of big landowners and distributed them to poor farmers and tenants. The consequences of this compulsory redistribution were as much social as economic. Many rich farmers fled to the United Statesoccupied half of the peninsula south of the thirty-eighth parallel.

Rural collectivization, carried out in three stages between 1945 and 1958, had profound implications for a society consisting mainly of farmers living in small hamlets scattered throughout the countryside. The new class of individual landholders--whose holdings could not exceed five chngbo in lowland areas, or twenty chngbo in mountainous ones--had little time to enjoy their status as independent proprietors because the state quickly initiated a process of collectivization. In the initial stage, "permanent mutual aid teams" were formed in which landholders managed their own land as private property but pooled labor, draft animals, and agricultural tools. This stage was followed by the stage of "semisocialist cooperatives," in which land, still privately held, was pooled. The cooperative purchased animals and tools out of a common fund, and the distribution of the harvest depended on the amount of land and labor contributed. The third and final stage involved the establishment of "complete socialist cooperatives" in which all land was turned over to collective ownership and management. Cooperative members were paid solely on the basis of labor contributed.

The 1959 edition of the North Korea Central Yearbook reported that approximately 80 percent of all farmers had joined socialist cooperatives by December 1956 and that by August 1958 all had joined. A land law passed in 1977 stipulated that all land held by cooperatives would be transferred gradually to state ownership or "ownership by the entire people."

The state encouraged the merging of cooperatives so that they would coincide with the ri, or ni (village). The number of cooperatives with between 101 and 200 households increased from 222 cooperatives in 1954 to 1,074 cooperatives in 1958. The number of cooperatives with between 201 and 300 households increased from twenty cooperatives in 1955 to 984 cooperatives in 1958.

The merging process had important implications for kinship and family life: it broke down the isolation of the single hamlet by making the socialist cooperative the basic local unit and thus diluted p'a ties. The traditional kinship system and its strict rules of exogamy worked best in the isolation of hamlets. With the passing of the hamlets, the traditional kinship system and its strict rules of exogamy were seriously undermined.

North Korea

North Korea - Family Life

North Korea

The family is regarded by North Korean authorities as a "cell," or basic unit of society, but not an economic entity. A person participates in production in a cooperative, factory, or office and individually earns "work points." Although on a socialist cooperative payment for work points earned by family members goes to the family unit as a whole, the family head--the father or the grandfather--no longer manages and organizes the family's economic life.

Both in urban areas and in socialist cooperatives, family size tends to be small--between four and five people and usually no more than two generations, as opposed to the three generations or more found in the traditional "big house." Parents often live with their youngest, rather than oldest, son and his wife. Observers discovered, however, that sons are still more desired than daughters for economic reasons and for continuing the family name. The eldest son's wedding is a lavish affair compared with those of his brothers. But the traditionally oppressive relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law common to East Asian countries seems to have been fundamentally transformed. A South Korean source reported that an overly demanding mother-in-law might be criticized by a local branch of women's organizations such as the Korean Democratic Women's Union.

A Korean-American scholar learned in discussions with North Korean officials in the early 1980s that a wife's inability to bear a son still gives a husband grounds for divorce. If a man desires a divorce, he has to obtain his wife's permission. A woman, however, is able to divorce without her husband's consent. A South Korean source reported the opposite--that it is easier for a husband to obtain a divorce than it is for a wife. Divorce from those branded "reactionaries," or "bad elements," is granted rather easily in the case of either gender and in fact often is strongly encouraged by the authorities. In general, the authorities seem to discourage divorce with the exceptions noted above. Eberstadt and Banister, using statistics provided by the Central Statistics Bureau, indicate that the number of divorces granted annually between 1949 and 1987 ranged between 3,000 and 5,000 (a low of 3,021 in 1965 and a high of 4,763 in 1949).

The legal age for males to marry is eighteen years; for females, seventeen years. Marrying in one's late twenties or early thirties is common because of work and military service obligations; late marriage also affects fertility rates. Most marriages seem to be between people in the same rural cooperative or urban enterprise. Traditional arranged marriages have by and large disappeared, in favor of "love matches"; nevertheless, children still seem to seek their parents' permission before getting married. The taking of secondary wives, a common practice in traditional times, is prohibited.

Wedding ceremonies are much simpler and less costly than in traditional times. However, they still contain such practices as meetings between families of the bride and groom, gift exchanges, formal letters of proposal, and wedding feasts. Among farming families, weddings usually take place after the fall harvest and before the spring plowing; this is when families have the most resources to invest and the bride can bring her yearly income from work points to her new household.

In 1946 the North Korean regime confiscated the remaining lineage land, and the elaborate ceremonies of the past lost their economic base. Since that time, the traditional ceremonies surrounding death and veneration of the ancestors have been simplified. The remains are no longer carried in a special carriage, but, in rural areas, in a cart or tractor. One Korean source reported that at the funeral of his grandmother in North Korea incense was offered in front of a photograph of the deceased; the source also said that the ceremony generally retains the outlines of the traditional rites. Relatives and neighbors apparently still donate some money to the family of the deceased. Some "revolutionary" content has been added to funeral practices. One traditional chant has been rewritten to include the phrase "though this body is deceased, the spirit of the revolution still lives." Widowers frequently remarry, but widows rarely do.

Gravesites are still preserved and remain a common feature of the North Korean landscape. According to one observer, if construction projects necessitate disturbing graves, relatives are notified beforehand, and graves are carefully relocated. If no relative claims the graves, they are still relocated elsewhere. The custom of visiting graves at certain times of the year apparently continues, even though large kinship groups cannot meet--not because the state has prohibited it, but because the groups are scattered across the country and travel restrictions make it difficult for them to get together.

In households in which both parents work and no grandparents live nearby, infants over three months usually are placed in a t'agaso (nursery). They remain in these nurseries until they are four years old. Although t'agaso are not part of the compulsory education system, most families find them indispensable. In the early 1970s, North Korean statistics counted 8,600 t'agaso. The nurseries not only free women from child care but also provide infants and small children with the foundations of a thorough ideological and political education. A South Korean source reported that when meals are given to the infants, they are expected to give thanks to a portrait of "Father Kim Il Sung."

North Korea

North Korea - The Role of Women

North Korea

In the Chosn Dynasty, women were expected to give birth to and rear male heirs to assure the continuation of the family line. Women had few opportunities to participate in the social, economic, or political life of society. There were a few exceptions to limitations imposed on women's roles. For example, female shamans were called on to cure illnesses by driving away evil spirits, to pray for rain during droughts, or to perform divination and fortune-telling.

Few women received any formal education in traditional Korean society. After the opening of Korea to foreign contact in the late nineteenth century, however, Christian missionaries established girls' schools, thus allowing young Korean females to obtain a modern education.

The social status and roles of women were radically changed after 1945. On July 30, 1946, authorities north of the thirtyeighth parallel passed a Sex Equality Law. The 1972 constitution asserted that "women hold equal social status and rights with men." The 1990 constitution stipulates that the state creates various conditions for the advancement of women in society. In principle, North Korea strongly supports sexual equality.

In contemporary North Korea, women are expected to fully participate in the labor force outside the home. Apart from its ideological commitment to the equality of the sexes, the government views women's employment as essential because of the country's labor shortage. No able-bodied person is spared from the struggle to increase production and compete with the more populous southern half of the peninsula. According to one South Korean source, women in North Korea are supposed to devote eight hours a day to work, eight hours to study (presumably, the study of chuch'e and Kim Il Sungism), and eight hours to rest and sleep. Women who have three or more children apparently are permitted to work only six hours a day and still receive a full, eight-hour-a-day salary.

The media showcases role models. The official newspaper P'yongyang Times, in an August 1991 article, described the career of Kim Hwa Suk, a woman who had graduated from compulsory education (senior middle school), decided to work in the fields as a regular farmer in a cooperative located in the P'yongyang suburbs, and gradually rose to positions of responsibility as her talents and dedication became known. After serving as leader of a youth workteam, she attended a university. After graduating, she became chairperson of her cooperative's management board. Kim was also chosen as a deputy to the Supreme People's Assembly.

Despite such examples, however, it appears that women are not fully emancipated. Sons are still preferred over daughters. Women do most if not all of the housework, including preparing a morning and evening meal, in addition to working outside the home; much of the responsibility of childrearing is in the hands of t'agaso and the school system. The majority of women work in light industry, where they are paid less than their male counterparts in heavy industry. In office situations, they are likely to be engaged in secretarial and other low-echelon jobs.

Different sex roles, moreover, are probably confirmed by the practice of separating boys and girls at both the elementary and higher middle-school levels. Some aspects of school curricula for boys and girls also are apparently different, with greater emphasis on physical education for boys and on home economics for girls. In the four-year university system, however, women majoring in medicine, biology, and foreign languages and literature seem especially numerous.

North Korea

North Korea - The Role of Religion

North Korea

Koreans are traditionally pragmatic and eclectic in their religious commitments. Their religious outlook is not conditioned by a single, exclusive faith but by a combination of indigenous beliefs and creeds, such as Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. Belief in a world inhabited by spirits is probably the oldest Korean religion. Daoism and Buddhism were introduced from China around the fourth century A.D., the latter becoming predominant during the Silla Dynasty (668-935), but reaching its height during the Kory Dynasty (918-1392). Buddhism suffered a decline, however, and Buddhists were persecuted to some extent during the Chosn Dynasty. For the average Korean in late traditional and early modern times, the elaborate rituals of ancestor veneration connected to Confucianism were generally the most important form of religious life. Korean neo-Confucian philosophers, moreover, developed concepts of the cosmos and humanity's place in it that were, in a basic sense, religious rather than philosophical.

In 1785 the first Christian missionary, a Roman Catholic, entered Korea. The government prohibited the propagation of Christianity, and by 1863 there were only some 23,000 Roman Catholics in the country. Subsequently, the government ordered harsh persecution of Korean Christians, a policy that continued until the country was opened to Western countries in 1881. Protestant missionaries began entering Korea during the 1880s. They established schools, universities, hospitals, and orphanages, and played a significant role in the modernization of the country. Before 1948 P'yongyang was an important Christian center; one-sixth of its population of about 300,000 residents were converts.

Another important religious tradition is Ch'ndogyo. A new religion that developed out of the Tonghak (Eastern Learning) Movement of the mid- and late nineteenth century, Ch'ndogyo emphasizes the divine nature of all people. A syncretic religion, Ch'ndogyo contains elements of shamanism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and Catholicism.

Between 1945, when Soviet forces first occupied the northern half of the Korean Peninsula and the end of the Korean War in 1953, many Christians, considered "bad elements" by North Korean authorities, fled to South Korea to escape the socialist regime's antireligious policies. The state co-opted Buddhism, which had weakened over the centuries. P'yongyang has made a concerted effort to uproot indigenous animist beliefs. In the early 1990s, the practices of shamanism and fortune-telling seem to have largely disappeared.

Different official attitudes toward organized religion are reflected in various constitutions. Article 14 of the 1948 constitution noted that "citizens of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea shall have the freedom of religious belief and of conducting religious services." Article 54 of the 1972 constitution, however, stated that "citizens have religious liberty and the freedom to oppose religion" (also translated as "the freedom of antireligious propaganda"). Some observers argued that the change occurred because in 1972 the political authorities no longer needed the support of the much-weakened organized religions. In the 1992 constitution, Article 68 grants freedom of religious belief and guarantees the right to construct buildings for religious use and religious ceremonies. The article also states, however, that "No one may use religion as a means by which to drag in foreign powers or to destroy the state or social order. North Korea has been represented at international religious conferences by state-sponsored religious organizations such as the Korean Buddhists' Federation, the Christian Federation, and the Ch'ndogyo Youth Party.

Many churches and temples have been taken over by the state and converted to secular use. Buddhist temples, such as those located at Kmgang-san and Myohyang-san, are considered "national treasures," however, and have been preserved and restored. This action is in accord with the chuch'e principle that the creative energies of the Korean people in the past must be appreciated.

In the late 1980s, it became apparent that North Korea was beginning to use the small number of Christians remaining in the country to establish contacts with Christians in South Korea and the West. Such contacts are considered useful for promoting the regime's political aims, including reunifying the peninsula. In 1988 two new churches, the Protestant Pongsu Church and the Catholic Changchung Cathedral, were opened in P'yongyang. Other signs of the regime's changing attitude toward Christianity include holding the International Seminar of Christians of the North and South for the Peace and Reunification of Korea in Switzerland in November 1988, allowing papal representatives to attend the opening of the Changchung Cathedral in OctoberNovember of the same year, and sending two North Korean novice priests to study in Rome. Moreover, a new association of Roman Catholics was established in June 1988. A North Korean Protestant pastor reported at a 1989 meeting of the National Council of Churches in Washington, D.C., that his country has 10,000 Protestants and 1,000 Catholics who worship in 500 home churches. In March-April 1992, American evangelist Billy Graham visited North Korea to preach and to speak at Kim Il Sung University.

A limited revival of Buddhism is apparently taking place. This includes the establishment of an academy for Buddhist studies and the publication of a twenty-five-volume translation of the Korean Tripitaka, or Buddhist scriptures, which had been carved on 80,000 wooden blocks and kept at the temple at Myohyang-san in central North Korea. A few Buddhist temples conduct religious services.

Many if not most observers of North Korea would agree that the country's official religion is the cult of Kim Il Sung. North Korean Christians attending overseas conferences claim that there is no contradiction between Christian beliefs and the veneration of the "great leader" or his secular chuch'e philosophy. This position does not differ much from that of the far more numerous Japanese Christian communities before and during World War II, which were pressured into acknowledging the divine status of the emperor.

North Korea


North Korea

In terms of ethnicity, the population of the Korean Peninsula is one of the world's most homogeneous. Descended from migratory groups who entered the Korean Peninsula from Siberia, Manchuria, and Inner Asia several thousands of years ago, the Korean people are distinguished from the neighboring populations of mainland Asia and Japan in terms of ethnicity, culture, and language, even though they share many cultural elements with these peoples.

Since the establishment of the Han Chinese colonies in the northern Korean Peninsula 2,000 years ago, Koreans have been under the cultural influence of China. During the period of Japanese domination (1910-45), the colonial regime attempted to force Koreans to adopt the Japanese language and culture. Neither the long and pervasive Chinese influence nor the more coercive and short-lived Japanese attempts to make Koreans loyal subjects of the Japanese emperor, however, succeeded in eradicating their ethnic, cultural, and linguistic distinctiveness. The desire of the North Korean regime to preserve its version of Korean culture, including many traditional aspects such as food, dress, art, architecture, and folkways, is motivated in part by the historical experience of cultural domination by both the Chinese and the Japanese.

Chuch'e ideology asserts Korea's cultural distinctiveness and creativity as well as the productive powers of the working masses. The ways in which chuch'e rhetoric is used shows a razor-thin distinction between revolutionary themes of self-sufficient socialist construction and a virulent ethnocentrism. In the eyes of North Korea's leaders, the "occupation" of the southern half of the peninsula by "foreign imperialists" lends special urgency to the issue of culturalethnic identity. Not only must the people of South Korea be liberated from foreign imperialism, but also they must be given the opportunity to participate in the creation of a new, but still distinctively Korean, culture.

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North Korea

North Korea - Contemporary Cultural Expression

North Korea

The role of literature and art in North Korea is primarily didactic; cultural expression serves as an instrument for inculcating chuch'e ideology and the need to continue the struggle for revolution and reunification of the Korean Peninsula. There is little subtlety in most contemporary cultural expression. Foreign imperialists, especially the Japanese and the Americans, are depicted as heartless monsters; revolutionary heroes and heroines are seen as saintly figures who act from the purest of motives. The three most consistent themes are martyrdom during the revolutionary struggle (depicted in literature such as The Sea of Blood), the happiness of the present society, and the genius of the "great leader."

Kim Il Sung himself was described as a writer of "classical masterpieces" during the anti-Japanese struggle. Novels created "under his direction" include The Flower Girl, The Sea of Blood, The Fate of a Self-Defense Corps Man, and The Song of Korea; these are considered "prototypes and models of chuch'e literature and art." A 1992 newspaper report describes Kim in semiretirement as writing his memoirs--"a heroic epic dedicated to the freedom and happiness of the people."

The state and the Korean Workers' Party control the production of literature and art. In the early 1990s, there was no evidence of any underground literary or cultural movements such as those that exist in the Soviet Union or in China. The party exercises control over culture through its Propaganda and Agitation Department and the Culture and Arts Department of the KWP's Central Committee. The KWP's General Federation of Korean Literature and Arts Unions, the parent body for all literary and artistic organizations, also controls cultural activity.

The population has little or no exposure to foreign cultural influences apart from performances by song-and-dance groups and other entertainers brought in periodically for limited audiences. These performances, such as the Spring Friendship Art Festival held annually in April, are designed to show that the peoples of the world, like the North Koreans themselves, love and respect the "great leader." During the 1980s and the early 1990s, the North Korean media gave Kim Jong Il credit for working ceaselessly to make the country a "kingdom of art" where a cultural renaissance unmatched in other countries was taking place. Indeed, the younger Kim is personally responsible for cultural policy.

A central theme of cultural expression is to take the best from the past and discard "reactionary" elements. Popular, vernacular styles and themes in literature, art, music, and dance are esteemed as expressing the truly unique spirit of the Korean nation. Ethnographers devote much energy to restoring and reintroducing cultural forms that have the proper "proletarian" or "folk" spirit and that encourage the development of a collective consciousness. Lively, optimistic musical and choreographic expression are stressed. Group folk dances and choral singing are traditionally practiced in some but not all parts of Korea and were being promoted throughout North Korea in the early 1990s among school and university students. Farmers' musical bands have also been revived. Kim Il Sung condemns such cultural expressions as plaintive p'ansori ballads. Kim also condemns the sad "crooning tunes" composed during the Japanese colonial occupation, although he apparently has made an exception for songs that indirectly criticize the injustices of the colonial society.

P'yongyang and other large cities offer the broadest of a necessarily narrow selection of cultural expression. "Art propaganda squads" travel to production sites in the provinces to perform poetry readings, one-act plays, and songs in order to "congratulate workers on their successes" and "inspire them to greater successes through their artistic agitation." Such squads are prominent in the countryside during the harvest season and whenever "speed battles" to increase productivity are held.

North Korea

North Korea - Literature, Music, and Film

North Korea

Literature and music are other venues for politics. A series of historical novels--Pulmyouui yoksa (Immortal History)-- depict the heroism and tragedy of the preliberation era. The Korean War is the theme of Korea Fights and The Burning Island. Since the late 1970s, five "great revolutionary plays" have been promoted as prototypes of chuch'e literature: The Shrine for a Tutelary Deity, a theatrical rendition of The Flower Girl, Three Men, One Party, "A Letter from a Daughter, and Hyolbun mangukhoe" (Resentment at the World Conference).

"Revolutionary operas," derived from traditional Korean operas, known as ch'angguk, often utilize variations on Korean folk songs. Old fairy tales have also been transformed to include revolutionary themes. As part of the chuch'e policy of preserving the best from Korea's past, moreover, premodern vernacular works such as the Sasong kibong (Encounter of Four Persons) and the Ssangch'on kibong (Encounter at the Two Rivers) have been reprinted.

Musical compositions include the "Song of General Kim Il Sung," "Long Life and Good Health to the Leader," and "We Sing of His Benevolent Love"--hymns that praise the "great leader." According to a North Korean writer, "Our musicians have pursued the party's policy of composing orchestral music based on famous songs and folk songs popular among our people and produced numerous instrumental pieces of a new type." This music includes a symphony based on the theme of The Sea of Blood, which has also been made into a revolutionary opera.

Motion pictures are recognized as "the most powerful medium for educating the masses" and play a central role in "social education." According to a North Korean source, "films for children contribute to the formation of the rising generation, with a view to creating a new kind of man, harmoniously evolved and equipped with well-founded knowledge and a sound mind in a sound body." One of the most influential films, "An Chung-gn Shoots It Hirobumi," tells of the assassin who killed the Japanese resident-general in Korea in 1909. An is depicted as a courageous patriot, but one whose efforts to liberate Korea were frustrated because, in the words of one reviewer, the masses had not been united under "an outstanding leader who enunciates a correct guiding thought and scientific strategy and tactics." Folk tales such as "The Tale of Chun Hyang," about a nobleman who marries a servant girl, and "The Tale of Ondal" have also been made into films.

North Korea

North Korea - Architecture and City Planning

North Korea

Arguably the most distinct and impressive form of contemporary cultural expression in North Korea is architecture and city planning. P'yongyang, almost completely destroyed during the Korean War, has been rebuilt on a grand scale. Many new buildings have been constructed during the 1980s and 1990s in order to enhance P'yongyang's status as a capital.

Major structures are divided architecturally into three categories: monuments, buildings that combine traditional Korean architectural motifs and modern construction, and high-rise buildings of a totally modern design. Examples of the first include the Ch'llima Statue; a twenty-meter high bronze statue of Kim Il Sung in front of the Museum of the Korean Revolution (itself, at 240,000 square meters, one of the largest structures in the world); the Arch of Triumph (similar to its Parisian counterpart, although a full ten meters higher); and the Tower of the Chuch'e Idea, 170 meters high, built on the occasion of Kim's seventieth birthday in 1982. According to a North Korean publication, the tower is covered with 25,550 pieces of granite, each representing a day in the life of the "great leader."

The second architectural category makes special use of traditional tiled roof designs and includes the People's Culture Palace and the People's Great Study Hall, both in P'yongyang, and the International Friendship Exhibition Hall at Myohyang-san. The latter building displays gifts given to Kim Il Sung by foreign dignitaries. In light of Korea's tributary relationship to China during the Chosn Dynasty, it is significant that the section of the hall devoted to gifts from China is the largest.

The third architectural category includes high-rise apartment complexes and hotels in the capital. The most striking of these buildings is the Ryugong Hotel, still unfinished in the early 1990s, and noted by some observers to be clearly leaning and perhaps not able to be completed. Described as the world's tallest hotel at 105 stories, its triangular shape looms over north-central P'yongyang. The Kory Hotel is an ultramodern, twin-towered structure forty-five stories high.

A flurry of construction occurred before celebrations of Kim Il Sung's eightieth birthday, including the building of apartment complexes and the Reunification Expressway, a four-lane road connecting the capital and the Demilitarized Zone. According to a journalist writing in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the highway is "an impressive piece of engineering" that "cuts a straight path through mountainous terrain with 21 tunnels and 23 bridges on the 168 kilometers route to P'anmunjm." As in many other construction projects, the military provided the labor.

North Korea

North Korea - The Korean Language

North Korea

There is a consensus among linguists that Korean is a member of the Altaic family of languages, which originated in northern Asia and includes the Mongol, Turkic, Finnish, Hungarian, and Tungusic (Manchu) languages. Although a historical relationship between Korean and Japanese has not been established, the two languages have strikingly similar grammatical structures. Both, for example, employ particles after nouns to indicate case (the particle used to indicate "of" as in "the wife of Mr. Li" is no in Japanese and ui in Korean).

Both Korean and Japanese possess what is sometimes called "polite" or "honorific" language, the use of different levels of speech in addressing persons of superior, inferior, or equal rank. These distinctions depend both on the use of different vocabulary and on basic structural differences in the words employed. For example, in Korean, the imperative "go" can be rendered kara for speaking to an inferior or a child, kage to an adult inferior, kao or kaseyo to a superior, and kasipsio to a person of still higher rank. The proper use of polite language, or of the levels of polite language, is extremely complex and subtle. Like Japanese, Korean is extremely sensitive to the nuances of hierarchical human relationships. Two people who meet for the first time are expected to use the more distant or formal terms, but they will shift to more informal or "equal" terms if they become friends. Younger people invariably use formal language in addressing elders; the latter use "inferior" terms in "talking down" to those who are younger.

The Korean language may be written using a mixture of Chinese characters (hancha) and a native Korean alphabet known as han'gl, or in han'gl alone. Han'gl was invented by scholars at the court of King Sejong (1418-50), not solely to promote literacy among the common people as was sometimes claimed, but also, as Professor Gari K. Ledyard has noted, to assist in studies of Chinese historical phonology. According to a statement by the king, an intelligent man could learn han'gl in a morning's time, and even a fool could master it in ten days. As a result, it was scorned and relegated to women and merchants. Scholars of linguistics consider the script one of the most scientific ever devised; it reflects quite consistently the phonemes of the spoken Korean language.

Although the Chinese and Korean languages are not related in terms of grammatical structure, a large percentage of the Korean vocabulary has been derived from Chinese loanwords, a reflection of China's long cultural dominance. In many cases, there are two words--a Chinese loanword and an indigenous Korean word--that mean the same thing. The Chinese-based word in Korean often has a bookish or formal nuance. Koreans select one or the other variant to achieve the proper register in speech or in writing, and to make subtle distinctions in accordance with established usage.

There is considerable divergence in the Korean spoken north and south of the DMZ. It is unclear to what extent the honorific language and its grammatical forms have been retained in the north. However, according to a South Korean scholar, Kim Il Sung "requested people to use a special, very honorific deference system toward himself and his family and, in a 1976 publication, Our Party's Language Policy, rules formulated on the basis of Kim Il Sung's style of speech and writing were advocated as the norm."

During the colonial period, large numbers of Chinese character compounds coined in Japan to translate modern Western scientific, technical, social science, and philosophical concepts came into use in Korea. The North Korean regime has attempted to eliminate as many of these loanwords as possible, as well as older terms of Chinese origin; Western loanwords are also being dropped.

P'yongyang regards hancha, or Chinese characters, as symbols of "flunkeyism" and has systematically eliminated them from all publications. Klloja (The Worker), the monthly KWP journal of the Central Committee, has been printed exclusively in han'gl since 1949. An attempt has also been made to create new words of exclusively Korean origin. Parents are encouraged to give their children Korean rather than Chinese-type names. Nonetheless, approximately 300 Chinese characters are still taught in North Korean schools.

North Koreans refer to their language as "Cultured Language" (munhwa), which uses the regional dialect of P'yongyang as its standard. The "Standard Language" (p'yojuno) of South Korea is based on the Seoul dialect. North Korean sources vilify Standard Language as "coquettish" and "decadent," corrupted by English and Japanese loanwords, and full of nasal twangs. Two documents, or "instructions," by Kim Il Sung, "Some Problems Related to the Development of the Korean Language," promulgated in 1964, and "On the Development of the National Language: Conversations with Linguists," published in 1966, define basic policy concerning Cultured Language.

North Korea

North Korea - EDUCATION

North Korea

Formal education has played a central role in the social and cultural development of both traditional Korea and contemporary North Korea. During the Chosn Dynasty, the royal court established a system of schools that taught Confucian subjects in the provinces as well as in four central secondary schools in the capital. There was no state-supported system of primary education. During the fifteenth century, state-supported schools declined in quality and were supplanted in importance by private academies, the swn, centers of a neo-Confucian revival in the sixteenth century. Higher education was provided by the Snggyungwan, the Confucian national university, in Seoul. Its enrollment was limited to 200 students who had passed the lower civil service examinations and were preparing for the highest examinations.

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed major educational changes. The swn were abolished by the central government. Christian missionaries established modern schools that taught Western curricula. Among them was the first school for women, Ehwa Woman's University, established by American Methodist missionaries as a primary school in Seoul in 1886. During the last years of the dynasty, as many as 3,000 private schools that taught modern subjects to both sexes were founded by missionaries and others. Most of these schools were concentrated in the northern part of the country. After Japan annexed Korea in 1910, the colonial regime established an educational system with two goals: to give Koreans a minimal education designed to train them for subordinate roles in a modern economy and make them loyal subjects of the emperor; and to provide a higher quality education for Japanese expatriates who had settled in large numbers on the Korean Peninsula. The Japanese invested more resources in the latter, and opportunities for Koreans were severely limited. In 1930 only 12.2 percent of Korean children aged seven to fourteen attended school. A state university modeled on Tokyo Imperial University was established in Seoul in 1923, but the number of Koreans allowed to study there never exceeded 40 percent of its enrollment; the rest of its students were Japanese. Private universities, including those established by missionaries such as Sungsil College in P'yongyang and Chosun Christian College in Seoul, provided other opportunities for Koreans desiring higher education.

After the establishment of North Korea, an education system modeled largely on that of the Soviet Union was established. The system faces serious obstacles. According to North Korean sources, at the time of North Korea's establishment, two-thirds of school-age children did not attend primary school, and most adults, numbering 2.3 million, were illiterate. In 1950 primary education became compulsory. The outbreak of the Korean War, however, delayed attainment of this goal; universal primary education was not achieved until 1956. By 1958 North Korean sources claimed that seven-year compulsory primary and secondary education had been implemented. In 1959 "state-financed universal education" was introduced in all schools; not only instruction and educational facilities, but also textbooks, uniforms, and room and board are provided to students without charge. By 1967 nine years of education became compulsory. In 1975 the compulsory eleven-year education system, which includes one year of preschool education and ten years of primary and secondary education, was implemented; that system remains in effect as of 1993. According to a 1983 speech given by Kim Il Sung to education ministers of nonaligned countries in P'yongyang, universal, compulsory higher education was to be introduced "in the near future." At that time, students had no school expenses; the state paid for the education of almost half of North Korea's population of 18.9 million.

Educational Themes and Methods

As in other communist countries, politics come first in the education system. In his 1977 "Theses on Socialist Education," Kim Il Sung wrote that "political and ideological education is the most important part of socialist education. Only through a proper political and ideological education is it possible to rear students as revolutionaries, equipped with a revolutionary world outlook and the ideological and moral qualities of a communist. And only on the basis of sound political and ideological education will the people's scientific and technological education and physical culture be successful." Education is a "total experience" encompassing not only formal school education but also extracurricular "social education" and work-study adult education. According to the "Theses on Socialist Education," the socialist state should not only organize and conduct comprehensive educational programs, eliminating the need for private educational institutions, but should also "run education on the principle of educating all members of society continuously--the continued education of all members of society is indispensable for building socialism and communism."

Chuch'e is a central theme in educational policy. According to Kim Il Sung, "in order to establish chuch'e in education, the main emphasis should be laid on things of one's own country in instruction and people should be taught to know their own things well." In his 1983 speech to education ministers of nonaligned countries, Kim also emphasized that chuch'e in education was relevant to all Third World countries. Kim asserted that although "flunkeyism" should be avoided, it might be necessary to adopt some techniques from developed countries.

Closely tied to the central theme of chuch'e in education is the "method of heuristic teaching"--a means of developing the independence and creativity of students and a reaction against the traditional Confucian emphasis on rote memorization. "Heuristics give students an understanding of the content of what they are taught through their own positive thinking, and so greatly help to build up independence and creativeness." Coercion and "cramming" should be avoided in favor of "persuasion and explanation," particularly in ideological education.

Primary and Secondary Education

In the early 1990s, the compulsory primary and secondary education system was divided into one year of kindergarten, four years of primary school (people's school) for ages six to nine, and six years of senior middle school (secondary school) for ages ten to fifteen). There are two years of kindergarten, for children aged four to six; only the second year (upper level kindergarten) is compulsory.

In the mid-1980s, there were 9,530 primary and secondary schools. After graduating from people's school, students enter either a regular secondary school or a special secondary school that concentrates on music, art, or foreign languages. These schools teach both their specialties and general subjects. The Mangyngdae Revolutionary Institute is an important special school.

In the early 1990s, graduation from the compulsory education system occurred at age sixteen. Eberstadt and Banister report that according to North Korean statistics released in the late 1980s, primary schools enrolled 1.49 million children in 1987; senior middle schools enrolled 2.66 million that same year. A comparison with the total number of children and youths in these age brackets shows that 96 percent of the age cohort is enrolled in the primary and secondary educational system.

School curricula in the early 1990s are balanced between academic and political subject matter. According to South Korean scholar Park Youngsoon, subjects such as Korean language, mathematics, physical education, drawing, and music constitute the bulk of instruction in people's schools; more than 8 percent of instruction is devoted to the "Great Kim Il Sung" and "Communist Mora1ity." In senior middle schools, politically oriented subjects, including the "Great Kim Il Sung" and "Communist Morality" as well as "Communist Party Policy," comprise only 5.8 percent of instruction. However, such statistics understate the political nature of primary and secondary education. Textbooks in the Korean language, for example, include titles such as We Pray for "Our Master," Following Mrs. Kim, Our Father, Love of Our Father, and Kim Jong Il Looking at Photos. Kindergarten children receive instruction in "Marshal Kim's Childhood" and "Communist Morality." Park noted that when students read Kim Il Sung's writings in the classroom, they are expected to do so "loudly, and slowly and with a feeling of respect." They also are taught a special way of speaking toward Kim, in terms of pronunciation, speed, and a special deference system and attitude."

Social Education

Outside the formal structure of schools and classrooms is the extremely important "social education." This education includes not only extracurricular activities but also family life and the broadest range of human relationships within society. There is great sensitivity to the influence of the social environment on the growing child and its role in the development of his or her character. The ideal of social education is to provide a carefully controlled environment in which children are insulated from bad or unplanned influences. According to a North Korean official interviewed in 1990, "School education is not enough to turn the rising generation into men of knowledge, virtue, and physical fitness. After school, our children have many spare hours. So it's important to efficiently organize their afterschool education."

In his 1977 "Theses on Socialist Education," Kim Il Sung described the components of social education. In the Pioneer Corps and the Socialist Working Youth League (SWYL), young people learn the nature of collective and organizational life; some prepare for membership in the Korean Workers' Party. In students' and schoolchildren's halls and palaces, managed by the SWYL Central Committee, young people participate in many extracurricular activities after school. There also are cultural facilities such as libraries and museums, monuments and historical sites of the Korean revolution, and the mass media dedicated to serving the goals of social education. Huge, lavishly appointed "schoolchildren's palaces" with gymnasiums and theaters have been built in P'yongyang, Mangyngdae, and other sites. These palaces provide political lectures and seminars, debating contests, poetry recitals, and scientific forums. The Students' and Children's Palace in P'yongyang attracted some 10,000 children daily in the early 1990s.

Although North Korean children would not seem to have much time to spend at home, the family's status as the "basic unit" of society also makes it a focus of social education. According to a North Korean publication, when "homes are made revolutionary," parents are "frugal . . . courteous, exemplary in social and political life," and children have proper role models.

Higher Education

Institutions of higher education in the early 1990s included colleges and universities; teachers' training colleges, with a four-year course for preparing kindergarten, primary, and secondary instructors; colleges of advanced technology with twoor three-year courses; medical schools with six-year courses; special colleges for science and engineering, art, music, and foreign languages; and military colleges and academies. Kim Il Sung's report to the Sixth Party Congress of the KWP in October 1980 revealed that there were 170 "higher learning institutions" and 480 "higher specialized schools" that year. In 1987 there were 220,000 students attending two- or three-year higher specialized schools and 301,000 students attending four- to sixyear colleges and university courses. According to Eberstadt and Banister, 13.7 percent of the population sixteen years of age or older was attending, or had graduated from, institutions of higher education in 1987-88. In 1988 the regime surpassed its target of producing "an army of 1.3 million intellectuals," graduates of higher education, a major step in the direction of achieving the often-stated goal of "intellectualization of the whole society."

Kim Il Sung University, founded in October 1946, is the country's only comprehensive institution of higher education offering bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. It is an elite institution whose enrollment of 16,000 full- and part-time students in the early 1990s occupies, in the words of one observer, the "pinnacle of the North Korean educational and social system." Competition for admission to its faculties is intense. According to a Korean-American scholar who visited the university in the early 1980s, only one student is admitted out of every five or six applicants. An important criterion for admission is senior middle school grades, although political criteria are also major factors in selection. A person wishing to gain acceptance to any institution of higher education has to be nominated by the local "college recommendation committee" before approval by county- and provincial-level committees.

Kim Il Sung University's colleges and faculties include economics, history, philosophy, law, foreign languages and literature, geography, physics, mathematics, chemistry, atomic energy, biology, and computer science. There are about 3,000 faculty members, including teaching and research staff. All facilities are located on a modern, high-rise campus in the northern part of P'yongyang.

Adult Education

Because of the emphasis on the continued education of all members of society, adult or work-study education is actively supported. Practically everyone in the country participates in some educational activity, usually in the form of "small study groups." In the 1980s, the adult literacy rate was estimated at 99 percent.

In the early 1990s, people in rural areas were organized into "five-family teams." These teams have educational and surveillance functions; the teams are the responsibility of a schoolteacher or other intellectual, each one being in charge of several such teams. Office and factory workers have two-hour "study sessions" after work each day on both political and technical subjects.

Adult education institutions in the early 1990s include "factory colleges," which teach workers new skills and techniques without forcing them to quit their jobs. Students work part-time, study in the evening, or take short intensive courses, leaving their workplaces for only a month or so. There also are "farm colleges," where rural workers can study to become engineers and assistant engineers, and a system of correspondence courses. For workers and peasants who are unable to receive regular school education, there are "laborers' schools" and "laborers' senior middle schools," although in the early 1990s these had become less important with the introduction of compulsory eleven-year education.

North Korea


North Korea

North Korea claimed a dramatic improvement in the health and longevity of its population with the creation of a state-funded and state-managed public health system based on the Soviet model. According to North Korean statistics, the average life expectancy at birth for both sexes was a little over thirty-eight years in the 1936-40 period. By 1986 North Korean statistics claimed life expectancy had risen to 70.9 years for males and 77.3 years for females. According to UN statistics, life expectancy in 1990 was about sixty-six years for males and almost seventy-three years for females. North Korean sources reported that crude death rates fell from 20.8 per 1,000 people in 1944 to 5 per 1,000 in 1986; infant mortality, from 204 per 1,000 live births to 9.8 per 1,000 in the same period. Eberstadt and Banister report that these mortality figures were probably understated (they estimate infant mortality at around 31 per 1,000 live births in 1990); they conclude, however, that the statistics "suggest that the mortality transition in North Korea over the past three decades has not only improved overall survival chances but reduced previous differences in mortality between urban and rural areas."

North Korean statistics reveal a substantial increase in the number of hospitals and clinics, hospital beds, physicians, and other health-care personnel since the 1950s. Between 1955 and 1986, the number of hospitals grew from 285 to 2,401; clinics increased from 1,020 to 5,644; hospital beds per 10,000 population from 19.1 to 135.9; physicians per 10,000 population from 1.5 to 27; and nurses and paramedics per 10,000 population from 8.7 to 43.2. There are hospitals at the provincial, county, ri, and dong levels. Hospitals are also attached to factories and mines. Specialized hospitals, including those devoted to treating tuberculosis, hepatitis, and mental illness, are generally found in large cities.

Preventive medicine is the foundation for health policies. According to the Public Health Law enacted on April 5, 1980, "The State regards it as a main duty in its activity to take measures to prevent the people from being afflicted by disease and directs efforts first and foremost to prophylaxis in public health work." Disease prevention is accomplished through "hygiene propaganda work," educating the people on sanitation and healthy lifestyles , and the "section-doctor system." This system, also known as the "doctor responsibility system," assigns a single physician to be responsible for an area containing several hundred individuals. In general, medical examinations are required twice a year, and complete records are kept at local hospitals. According to one source, persons are required to follow the orders of their assigned physician and can not refuse treatment. In the countryside, medical examination teams (kmjindae) composed of personnel from the provincial central hospital make rounds to investigate health conditions; local doctors also make frequent rounds.

North Korean statistics reveal that the major causes of death are similar to those in developed countries; 1986 figures showed that 45.3 percent of reported deaths were caused by circulatory ailments such as heart disease and stroke, 13.9 percent by cancer, 10.4 percent by digestive diseases, and 9.4 percent by respiratory diseases. Infectious diseases and parasitism, major causes of death in earlier decades, were a relatively insignificant cause of death and accounted for only 3.9 percent of reported deaths in 1986. As of 1990, the latest year for which data were available, no cases of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) had been reported.

Although shamanistic medicine has been repudiated as superstition, herbal medicine, known as Eastern Medicine (Tonguihak), is still highly esteemed. Practitioners of Eastern Medicine not only give preparations orally, but also practice moxibustion (burning herbs and grasses on the skin) and acupuncture. The high value accorded traditional herbal medicine reflects not only its efficacy but also the chuch'e emphasis on using native products and ingenuity. Moreover, in 1979 Kim Il Sung published an essay entitled "On Developing Traditional Korean Medicine." Central Eastern Medicine Hospital in P'yongyang, the Research Institute of Eastern Medicine in the North Korean Academy of Medical Sciences, and many pharmacies deal in traditional herbal remedies.

Over the centuries, Korean physicians have developed an extensive pharmacopeia of curative herbs. North Korean sources claim that herbal medicines are superior to Western medicines because they have no dangerous side effects. According to a 1991 article in the P'yongyang Times, "[t]he combination of Korean medicine with Western medicine has reached 70 percent in the primary medical treatment," and "[t]he native system is popular among the people for its effectiveness in internal and surgical treatment, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics and other sectors of clinical treatment and health and longevity." Natural products with medical properties distributed by pharmacies include extracts of insam (ginseng), deer's placenta, and a "metabolism activator" called tonghae chongsimhwan, a mixture of herbs, and animal and mineral products collected around Kwanmo-san and along the coast of the East Sea.

Physical education is an important part of public health. Children and adults are expected to participate in physical exercises during work breaks or school recesses; they are also encouraged to take part in recreational sports activities such as running, gymnastics, volleyball, ice skating, and traditional Korean games. Group gymnastic exercises are considered an art form as well as a form of discipline and education. Mass gymnastic displays, involving several tens of thousands of uniformed participants, are frequently organized. Some of the largest were held in commemoration of the eightieth birthday of Kim Il Sung and the fiftieth birthday of Kim Jong Il, both celebrated in 1992.

North Korea

CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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