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North Korean culture, customs and etiquette

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❶The participation in political organizations occupies an important place in the everyday lives of North Koreans.

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The people are taught from a young age about North Korea, the country's leadership, and the outside world, as viewed from the government's perspective. As no outside opinions or viewpoints exist in the country, most people believe what they are taught and are unlikely to question that which the government says, especially publically.

Life in North Korea is consumed by the government as nearly every adult works a full schedule and once children are old enough to enter day care most do.

These are government-run and once children are about 5 years old they go to a government-run boarding school until the age of During this time there is no possible way parents can be a greater influence than their teachers who spend every day with them.

And the teachers are appointed by the government and overseen by the government so their perspectives and information is likely in line with official government opinion. Your Guide to North Korea: After years of boarding school it is difficult for any parent to believe their child could have any doubts of the government. Even if parents disagree with the government privately, it is unlikely they would pass those opinions on to their children since their children spend more time in government-run education facilities than with their parents.

None-the-less, parents care deeply for their children and want to see them succeed, human nature can't be completely removed no matter how much time is spent in biased educational facilities. Upon reaching adulthood, which appears to be in the upper teen years, young North Koreans are expected to marry, start a family, and begin working.

At this time the cycle repeats itself as these young people enter the work force. Nearly a third of the population works in agriculture, with everyone else in the industrial and services sectors. Hours are long in North Korea and conditions could be in any number of places as there is no outside source to guarantee worker safety or properly operating machinery.

Despite all the hard work, the pay in North Korea is likely very poor, although the government provides that which the people need to survive.

This makes the people even more reliant on the government, the underlying theme in North Korean culture and their daily way of life. During the s and s, the peak of P'yongyang's reconstruction after the Korean War, the basic austere style and layout of the city was established. These are mixed with the more tradition-inspired architecture of the s, including the People's Study Hall and the city gate. A majority of P'yongyang's residents live in apartments.

Individual houses with their own electricity and heating systems are reserved for high-ranking party members and army officers. In the late s, individual dwellings became popular among postwar repatriates from Japan, who, through financial support from their families remaining in Japan, are able to purchase houses. The majority of North Korean citizens do not own a car. Apart from the capital and a very few cities that are comparable to it, the national landscape is divided into semi-urban, undeveloped, and agricultural areas.

As visitors are not allowed, not much is known about the agricultural areas. North Korean nature reserves can be extremely beautiful.

National resorts such as Mount Myohyang and Mount Kumgang are magical in their charm and grandiose beauty. North Korea has constructed a revolutionary pilgrimage route, marking important locations connected to Kim Il Sung's anti-Japanese resistance. These include the Mount Paektu and the forest surrounding it, Hyesan city in the central north and its vicinity, and other areas mainly concentrated on the Chinese border.

Another pilgrimage site is Kim Il Sung's birthplace in Man'gyongdae, near P'yongyang, where the cottage where he grew up is preserved. Food in Daily Life. White rice and meat soup was once a symbol of good food in the North Korean rhetoric. It is not certain whether the population still eats white steamed rice due to the severe food shortage that became clear only in recent years.

The visitors from overseas are normally given abundant food to eat, including meat, vegetables, dairy products, and fruits. However, ordinary citizens do not eat such a variety of food.

Also, the North Korean diet does not include spicy food using chili and garlic, traditional in the Korean diet: There is no kimchee as found elsewhere. Another point to stress is that they do not seem to have candies or sweets for children: Education in North Korea is geared toward furthering the influence of state socialism.

Only when one visits the ranking officers' stores where one can use foreign currency is there a poor variety of sugary sweets. Basic food is rationed, while one can buy canned meat or a small amount of vegetables either from a store or farmers' market. Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. All the food is state regulated, and this precludes obtaining any special food. For state-sponsored banquets, food is supplied abundantly, accompanied with nearly endless supply of wines and liqueurs.

However, for ordinary people's ceremonies, such as the sixtieth birthday that is traditionally celebrated as a commemoration of longevity, it would not be the case. The Korean War — and the almost total destruction of the northern infrastructure by the allied bombing that flattened P'yongyang and napalmed the civilians paved the way for North Korea to emerge as a new, fresh, and truly heroic nation of Koreans.

The destruction of economy was thorough, while the war casualties reached a phenomenal number and millions fled to the south as refugees. With Soviet and Chinese aid, reconstruction began immediately after the war. In the process of reconstructing the economy, the North Korean government collectivized agriculture, reinforced state and public ownership of heavy and light industries, and nationally unified education and the arts and sciences.

By , North Korea had a typical Soviet-style socialist economy and the party's hegemony had been consolidated. In this process, a new form of leader-subject relations emerged, referred to in Korean as hyonjichido —on-the-spot teaching or guiding.

Film footage and photographs from the post-Korean War economic reconstruction period show numerous scenes of Kim Il Sung visiting steel mills and factories. In the s and s, Kim visited the workplaces nationwide, encouraging people to participate more vigorously in production. Kim's presence carried weight and the people were impressed that the country's top man had visited their home-town; the visits boosted morale and enhanced national pride. As a result, the North Korean economy recovered at a remarkable speed.

Following the three-year post-Korean War reconstruction, the North Korean government launched a five-year economic plan in Two years later, the socialist reform of production was declared complete and agriculture and industry became publicly owned and managed. Some key industries were placed under state ownership. In , another economic plan was initiated; in November , the party's Fifth Congress declared North Korea to be a socialist industrial state.

These were the high times for the North Korean economy, and in April , North Korea abolished all taxes. The same session elected Kim Il Sung president of North Korea for the first time; he was reelected in and , and remained president until his death in The famine of the late s, caused by floods and other natural calamities, revealed the shortcomings of the North Korean economy.

The world had known for some time that North Korea's economy lagged far behind South Korea's, but the news of the famine was alarming to the West. Following massive floods in and , a dry summer accompanied by typhoon damage in devastated North Korean agriculture. In , the per capita daily grain ration fell from The ration distribution also became intermittent. Because of the increasing deaths by starvation and undernourishment, funerals were allowed only in small scale and in the evening, and were attended only by the immediate family.

As poverty increased and the lack of food intensified, there were reports that crimes related to the situation were on the increase—from petty theft to organized gang robbery, often involving murder. Since the beginning of , North Korean publication has placed more emphasis on economy than on military affairs. It was scheduled to receive , tons of rice from Japan as of March as a result of the newly activated contact between the North Korean and Japanese governments.

This and other aids from foreign governments is contributing to North Korea's slow recovery from a serious food shortage. Land Tenure and Property. All land is state-owned or owned collectively, in the case of agricultural farms. Individuals do own movable goods such as furniture.

All the houses are de jure state-provided; although it is said to be possible to buy off good housing, that would be through a personal connection rather than buying the property itself. Material goods are scarce in North Korea and generally people do not have opportunities to be exposed to expensive commodities. This works to suppress any desire to own something. There are stores and even department stores in the big cities if one wishes to buy anything. However, basic goods are provided by the state either through ration or as a "gift" from the government e.

In this sense, commercial activities among the ordinary citizens are minimal. In recent years, collaboration between Korean merchants in Japan took off with restaurant and hotel operation, but such ventures ran into serious difficulty since North Korea's food shortage became clear. There is an ongoing project of building a free trade zone in the northeastern region of North Korea, with collaboration of South Korean and Chinese capitals.

This again is a tardy project and contrary to initial hopes, little success is expected. North Korea's major industries are geared toward its domestic resources, and so include iron and steel production, mining, machinery, and other heavy industries.

Its light industry also revolves around the domestic supply and lacks variety in products. In the past, North Korea confined its trade counterparts to socialist states third world countries, particularly Africa. However, since the end of the Cold War, it has been trying to establish more stable relationships with Japan and the United States, while its former trade partners are shifting the emphasis from friendship-based trade to a more business-minded attitude.

One of its major imports is weapons imported from Russia and China. Heavy industry is assigned to men, light industry to women. Jobs are assigned by the state in accordance to its judgment of family rank, ability, and qualifications.

It is highly unlikely for the family of high-ranking party officers to work as a manual laborer or miner, for example. It is not acceptable for one to freely change occupation: Everything must be decided by higher authorities. Although the government officially claims that North Korea is a classless society that has done away with the remnants of feudalism People attend the funeral and cremation of a Buddhist monk.

Though there are Buddhist monks and nuns in the country, North Koreans do not have much religious freedom. The highest ranking people in North Korea are Kim Il Sung's family and relatives, followed by his old comrades and their families, who used to be referred to as revolutionary fighters, denoting their participation in the anti-Japanese armed resistance.

The next stratum is made up of the families of Korean War veterans and anti-South Korea sabotage officers. The children of this class typically are educated in schools for the bereaved children of the revolutionaries and face better career opportunities. Women generally lag behind men in high-status positions in society, but a daughter of an established revolutionary can rank very high in both the party and the government. The vast majority of North Koreans are ordinary citizens who are divided and subdivided into ranks according to their family history and revolutionary or unrevolutionary origin.

Status is regularly reviewed, and if any member of the family commits an antirevolutionary crime, other members of the family are also demoted in status. North Korea's government is made of a presidency, a central government that is divided into various departments, and local governments. The equivalent to the United States Congress, for example, is the people's congress.

The Supreme People's Congress passes the laws, which are carried through by local people's committees that are organized in a top-down fashion following the administrative units such as province, county, city, and agricultural collectives and co-ops.

Offices for the People's Congress and committees are based on the election that takes place every five years. There is normally only one candidate per office and the turn-out rate for voting marks near percent every time, according to the official media report. Leadership and Political Officials. The ruling Worker's Party of Korea has the largest decision-making power.

The party is not just a political organization, but a moral and ethical icon for the people. The party is also divided top-down from the central committee to the local party offices. Kim Jong Il is also the supreme commander of the army. He is so deemed in not only North Korea but by the South Korean government. When in June the South Korean president Kim Dae Jung visited North Korea to meet with the northern leader for the first time in the fifty years of Korea's division, Kim Jong Il appeared in person to greet Kim Dae Jung and the meetings between the two leaders took place in a highly cordial and mutually respectful atmosphere.

It has been decided that Kim Jong Il will pay the return visit to the south, which will confirm his authority in the eyes of the South Korean citizens. The north-south meetings put forth some measures for reuniting the families that were separated during the Korean War and cultural collaboration between the two Koreas, ultimately aiming at reunification. The North Korean leadership enhanced its legitimacy through this recent move.

Social Problems and Control. The participation in political organizations occupies an important place in the everyday lives of North Koreans. By definition, every citizen in North Korea belongs to at least one political organization and this replaces a system of social control: Technically, all those who live on North Korean soil are North Korean citizens except for those who already have foreign citizenship, such as diplomats and visitors.

North Koreans have citizens' certificates identifying their class origin and current address. No one in North Korea is allowed to change their residence at will: Not even weekend journeys or holidays are left to individual discretion; one has to apply for such a trip through the appropriate authorities.

Family holidays must be approved by the authorities, and normally families have to wait for their vacation quota. Sometimes individuals who distinguish themselves in devotion to the party and the state are rewarded with a family vacation.

Contrary to the traditional registration system of Korea, which was based on family registration, North Korean registration is based on individual identification. Each individual is subject to regular investigation by the authorities for the purpose of classification and reclassification according to class origin. For example, a person who commits a crime might be reclassified in terms of "soundness" of origin. Although it has been said that in North Korea, the military has the ultimate say in decision making, it is hard to determine the degree of exercise of power by the military.

In , it became known that North Korea's military launched a missile across the Japanese archipelago into the Pacific. The incident is still being debated, but it is evident that North Korea's expenditure on military affairs is severely constraining its economy. The conscription is not mandatory, but many gifted young men and women join the army in order to obtain a ticket to the higher education through the army's recommendation after several years' service.

The duration of the service is not clearly defined. Some stay five to six years, others less; women tend to stay shorter than men do.

To go to the army even for a couple of years is an honor in North Korea, since it is a demonstration of one's readiness to devote one's life to the motherland. All citizens in North Korea join one or more of the following political organizations in the course of their lives: In addition, there are three political parties: The latter two, however, have disappeared from North Korea's public politics since the s.

The local headquarters and branches of these organizations form the basis of political life of individuals. Rather than home or family, the political organizations one belongs to are, in principle, the primary basis for social identification and the most important vehicle for socialization for North Koreans. Also, if one comes from an ordinary background, to do well in these organizations would create better opportunities.

Division of Labor by Gender. In North Korea it is widely accepted that men run the heavy industry and women work in light industry. Beyond this, the division is highly diverse. For example, agriculture is not necessarily regarded specifically as a man's or Gables of a Zen Buddhist monastery. When it comes to the domestic division of labor, although the state and the party try to minimize the work by introducing canned food and electrical appliances, it remains that women do most of the housework and child rearing even while working as many hours as men outside of the home.

This effectively doubles women's burdens in society. The Relative Status of Women and Men. Women's status is not equal to that of men. Men have a far better chance in advancing in politics, while women, particularly after marriage, are seen as "done" with a political career. This is different for women from the high-ranking families, whose background and connections would outmaneuver handicaps that ordinary woman would have to bear. In North Korea, women are supposed to have certain mannerisms that are regarded as feminine.

They are not supposed to wear trousers unless they are factory workers or agricultural laborers. In professional settings, however, women are often as assertive as their male counterparts. The only occupation where behavior is sometimes flirtatious or subservient is as a waitress, but for women it is an honor to hold this position as they are selected for their beauty, good family background, and educational qualifications.

Individual registration has had a significant effect on the North Korean marriage system. In Korean tradition, marriage between a man and a woman who share the same family origin is not allowed. Since all Koreans were required to keep family records since the time of the Yi dynasty, everyone can trace their family origin. If two people share the same ancestral name, they were regarded as brother and sister, and hence subject to the incest taboo.

Since North Korea abolished the family registry, marriages between individuals from the same ancestral clan—as long as they are not direct relatives—are lawful. A primary consideration in marriage is the compatibility of class origins. If a man comes from the family of a high-ranking party member, and a woman from a family that does not have a comparable sociopolitical status, a marriage between the two would not be approved of by the society.

If a man comes from a family that was originally repatriated from Japan in the postwar period and a woman comes from a family that is "native" North Korean, a marriage between the two is considered difficult since, generally speaking, repatriates are regarded with suspicion and distrust due to their ongoing connection with families in Japan.

Hence, classes tend to marry within themselves just as in capitalist societies. Upon marriage, a couple is given a house or, if they live in an urban area, an apartment. Ordinary couples, however, often have to wait until their application for a residence is approved by the authorities. The case of a couple from high-ranking families will be different: Normally, newlyweds conduct a small ceremony, inviting close friends, neighbors, and family members, take a photo if they can afford it, and register their marriage.

There is no feast or party and no honeymoon. Even wedding dresses are made from state-rationed fabrics, and therefore brides of a certain period all look more or less alike.

The domestic unit is a nuclear family with some degree of stem family practice, i. Houses are small throughout the country and this restricts having large families as a norm. Adoption takes place through orphanages. Child Rearing and Education. The process of economic recovery following the Korean War was also the process by which the population was successfully turned into members of the newly emerging nation. Compulsory education and the general literacy program played a decisive role in forming individuals into new subjects of state socialism, subjects capable of reproducing the state-coined, politically correct vocabulary and revolutionary rhetoric.

Starting on 1 November , all education up to middle school became compulsory and free of charge. By , North Korea had extended this to eleven years of free compulsory education, including one year in a collective preschool. In addition, factories and collective farms have nursery schools where children are introduced to socialization and taken care of collectively away from home, since mothers are usually full-time workers.

In North Korea's linguistic practice, Kim Il Sung's words are frequently quoted as a gospel-like reference point. People learn the vocabulary by reading publications of the state and the party. Since the print industry and the entire publishing establishment are strictly state-owned and state-controlled, and no private importation of foreign-printed materials or audiovisual resources is permitted, words that do not conform with the interest of the party and the state are not introduced into the society in the first place, resulting in efficient censorship.

The vocabulary that the state favors includes words relating to such concepts as revolution, socialism, communism, class struggle, patriotism, anti-imperialism, anticapitalism, the national reunification, and dedication and loyalty to the leader.

By way of contrast, the vocabulary that the state finds difficult or inappropriate, such as that referring to sexual or love relations, does not appear in print. Even so-called romantic novels depict lovers who are more like comrades on a journey to fulfill the duties they owe to the leader and the state. Limiting the vocabulary in this way has made everyone, including the relatively uneducated, into competent practitioners of the state-engineered linguistic norm.

On the societal level, this had an effect of homogenizing the linguistic practice of the general public. A visitor to North Korea would be struck by how similar people sound. In other words, rather than broadening the vision of citizens, literacy and education in North Korea confine the citizenry into a cocoon of the North Korean-style socialism and the state ideology. Higher education is regarded as an honor and a privilege, and as such, it is not open to the general public at will.

Men and women who have served in the military would be recommended to subsequent higher education. There are also "gifted" entries to the universities and colleges, where the candidate's intellectual merit is appreciated. Normally, however, it depends on one's family background in determining whether or not one obtains the opportunity of learning at a college for years at the state's expense. Hence, for ordinary men and women, the military is a secure detour.

Sometimes, candidates are recommended from factories and agricultural collectives, with the endorsement of the due authorities. What most characterizes North Korean socialism is its leadership, built on the basis of the cult of personality of Kim Il Sung. Through the state-engineered education system, Kim and his family are introduced as role models for men and women, young and old.

By the time they are in kindergarten, children can recite stories from Kim's childhood. Moral ideological education in North Korea is allegorically organized, with Kim Il Sung and his pedigree as protagonists.

Kim Il Sung's name is ubiquitous in North Korea. For example, if one is asked how one is, the model answer would be "thanks to the Great Leader Kim Il Sung, I am well," and the North Korean economy is remarkably strong "thanks to the wise guidance of Marshal Kim Il Sung. Juche literally means "subject" and is often translated as self-reliance. In North Korea, slogans such as "Let us model the whole society on the Juche idea!

The Juche idea is quite unlike Marxist historical materialism. Rather, it is a sort of idealism, placing emphasis on human belief; in this sense, it resembles a religion rather than a political ideology.

Under the ideology of Juche, North Korea achieved many remarkable goals, including the economic recovery from the ashes of the Korean War.

In the name of loyal dedication to Kim Il Sung, national unity was accomplished and national pride instilled North Korean citizens. But North Koreans hardly have freedom of religion. The monks and nuns that tourists meet may not have any public followers; indeed, they themselves may be loyal followers of the leader. Traditionally, northern Korea had strong centers of Christianity, and Christianity played an important role in organizing anti-Japanese resistance during the colonial period.

Similarly, the Ch'ondo religion that emerged in the nineteenth century as an indigenous Korean religion was strengthened in the process of anti-Japanese resistance.

In fact, many Ch'ondo leaders were included in the initial state-building of North Korea. Decades of Kim Il Sung worship transformed the religious plurality, though; with the leader's ascendancy, non- Juche ideas came to be regarded as heterodox and dangerous, or as bourgeois and capitalist.

Korean culture has an age-old Confucian tradition, although this heritage does not exist in today's North Korea as it did in the past. Rather, its form and direction changed due to the intervention of leader-focused socialism. Kim Il Sung often is depicted in a paternalistic manner, personified as a benevolent father and at times, father-mother, asexually or bisexually who looks after the whole population as children and disciples. Kim Il Sung created the notion of a family state with himself as the head of the nation.

Indeed, a popular North Korean children's song includes this refrain: Some of these celebrations are carried out with a Soviet-style military parade, while others are commemorated with art festivals and official congregations in local and central government units.

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The contemporary culture of North Korea is based on traditional Korean culture, but developed since the establishment of the Democratic People's Republic in Juche ideology asserts Korea's cultural distinctiveness and creativity as well as the productive powers of the working masses.

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North Korea shares borders with China and Russia to the north and the military demarcation line with South Korea in the south. The total area measures 46, square miles (, square kilometers), .

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North Korea - Cultural life: The compound religious strains of shamanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism have deep roots in Korean culture. Although the country has received continuous streams of foreign cultural influence mainly from China, Koreans have kept their identity and maintained and developed their unique language and customs. -Yalu and Tumen rivers separate North Korea from China.-The area around Pakistan along with the Chinese North Korean border is mainly a volcanic belt with lava plateau's scattered around, situated at a height of 1, and 2, meters above sea level. -The North Eastern part of the Korean penninsula is filled with high mountain peaks.

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"Nobody who lives in Pyongyang is an ordinary person. This is the top five to 10% of the population," points out Barbara Demick, whose book Nothing To Envy offers a vivid account of ordinary life in North Korea. On top of that, we have arrived amid unusual celebrations. North Korean culture, customs and etiquette It is important to emphasize that the government of the DPRK — in particular the leaders Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un — are, publicly, very highly revered in North Korean culture.