The Culture Of North Korea

Traditional houses in the North Korean countryside.
Traditional houses in the North Korean countryside.

The East Asian country of North Korea is very different from countries in the rest of the world. North Korea describes itself as a socialist, self-reliant state. However, many human rights organizations have complained about the abuse of people's rights in the country. North Korea does not allow any form of outside influences to reach its people. All foreign media outlets and international social media platforms are banned in the country. Extreme censorship is applied to the publication of literary works and the production of art within the nation. Therefore, there is very little creative freedom in North Korea and its culture has little diversity.

6. Ethnicity, Language, And Religion

North Korea is home to a population of around 25,381,085 individuals. The population is almost completely racially homogenous. Only very small ethnic Chinese and Japanese minority communities live in the country. The Korean language is spoken uniformly throughout the nation. Although the Constitution grants religious freedom to the North Koreans, reports mention that it is hardly practiced. According to CIA World Factbook, autonomous religious activities in North Korea are almost nonexistent today. Only religious groups that are sponsored by the government are allowed to continue their activities. Reports also state that Christians have been persecuted in the past in large numbers in North Korea. Traditionally, most North Koreans were affiliated to Buddhism and Confucianism. Today, about 64.3% of North Koreans are irreligious, 16% practice Korean shamanism. Chondoism, Buddhism, and Christianity are the religions of 13.5%, 4.5%, and 1.7% of the population respectively.

5. Cuisine

North Korea and South Korea share many dishes and also have several differences in their cuisines which have evolved over centuries of social and political change. Some North Korean dishes are more varied in composition and less spicy than their South Korean counterparts. A specific tanginess is often associated with North Korean dishes. Rice and kimchi (salted and fermented vegetables) are the staples of the diet.

Meat consumption is rare. Most citizens have access to meats primarily during public holidays and other special celebrations when the government rations are extended to include extra meat. Chicken, pork, rabbit, and goat are the most common meats consumed in the country. Bindae-tteok (fried green bean pancake), Bibimbap (white rice with vegetables), Miyeokguk (a seaweed soup), Chinese cabbage stew, noodles, tofu, seafood, Injo gogi bap (rice cooked in the skin of leftover soybean paste), various dumplings, etc., are some common North Korean foods. Coffee, ginseng tea, soft drinks are the most popular non-alcoholic beverages. Drinking is part of North Korean culture and the legal age of drinking is set at 18. Bars and beer halls exist in the cities where North Koreans gather for drinking. Beer, Makgeolli (a rice wine), and soju (spirit prepared from barley or sweet potato) are widely consumed.

4. Literature And The Arts

Reading is a popular pastime activity for many North Koreans. Writers are held in great prestige in the country. Published literary works are, however, completely controlled and shaped by the state. They must not go against the government in any way. Writers who extol the North Korean leaders are given special privileges. Writers must be members of the Writers' Alliance of North Korea to have their works published. All literary works are passed through several censorship levels and are generally shaped to teach important values to the North Koreans. Fictional works are generally themed on the hagiography of the leaders.

Arts in North Korea is based on a mixture of traditional Korean drawing techniques and western watercolor. The state commissions such art. Like literature, artistic freedom in North Korea is also highly restricted and subjected to censorship. Large mural arts themed on leader worship can be seen in many of the government buildings in North Korea. Sculptures depicting the patriotic history of the nation like the North Korean war heroes and guerrilla fighters can also be seen throughout the country. Kim Il Sung, the North Korean leader, and his family are portrayed in a large number of artworks ranging from sculptures and paintings to even embroidery. These works are available for sale to the Korean public. Traditional Korean paintings using Korean ink paint or oil paint are sold to tourists in international hotel shops.

3. Performance Arts

Like literature and visual arts, the performance art scene in North Korea is also curtailed by the state. Revolutionary music and optimistic folk-based music are encouraged. Music, songs, and operas are almost always organized to spread ideological messages. Pop music became popular in North Korea the 1980s but is also associated with themes like nostalgia, patriotism, comradeship, etc. North Korean films are also subjected to strict censorship and only those favored by the government are allowed to reach the public. The print and audiovisual media is also state-controlled.

2. Sports

Sports education is an integral part of school life in North Korea. Most schools have facilities for football, basketball, boxing, table tennis, gymnastics, etc. The DPR Korea League is a popular domestic sporting event and attracts a large number of spectators. The national football team of North Korea has also made significant achievements in international football tournaments. North Korea first appeared in the Olympics in 1964 and has won a significant number of Olympic medals since then. North Korea is home to the world’s largest stadium, the Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, that has a capacity of 150,000.

1. Life In Society

Men and women usually enjoy equal rights and freedoms in society. A large section of North Korean women is part of the country’s workforce. They participate in agricultural labor in large numbers. Heavy industries in North Korea are mainly run by men while women work primarily in the light industries. While the government tries to provide canned food and electrical appliances to the citizens to reduce domestic work, a lot still remains to be done. Often, it is the women who execute the household and childcare duties even if they work while most working men do not participate in such activities. Working women suffer from double work pressures.

Marriages are solemn ceremonies involving only close family members and friends. No feasting, partying, and honeymoon takes place. Even wedding dresses are made from the rationed fabrics provided by the state. Upon marriage, the state provides a home to the married couple. An application needs to be made for the same and often couples from high-ranking families receive a home faster than the others. Houses are small in North Korea and most families are nuclear in nature.

Education is free and compulsory for 11 years. The collective farms and factories in the state usually have nursery schools where children are taken care of and taught the values of socialization while both their parents do their jobs.

The linguistic practice of North Korea is very different from that of other nations in the world. The extremely effective censorship of the print and audiovisual media means that most North Koreans are not exposed to foreign cultures and thought processes. They grow up idolizing their Supreme Leader and learning words like communism, socialism, anticapitalism, class struggle, patriotism, etc. Even romantic novels produced in the country depict lovers more like comrades on a mission to save the nation. Visitors to North Korea often comments on the homogenous vocabulary of the North Koreans.


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