The Cultural Aspects of North Korea
The importance and roles that culture has played throughout history has evolved since the beginning of time and has changed over the centuries, greatly influencing nations, specifically North Korea. North Korean society is regarded as mysterious, simply due to their cultural and idealistic values differing significantly from other countries. By exploring their cultural aspects, we can pinpoint the reasoning and thought processes behind their actions. Culture is influenced by factors such as weather, viable agriculture, terrain, history and societal interpretations caused by past conflicts. Culture is defined in the Oxford English dictionary as “The ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society” (Oxford Dictionaries). As these variables change, customs and ideas are directly affected. As a particularly idealistic culture, North Korea, is known to favor an enclosed environment, sealing itself from the rest of the world and establishing its mysterious nature. The country is widely known for their political dealings and highly regulates and filters the information that they release to the rest of the world. A recent spike of released information leads us to perceive an aggressive nature. However, by exploring the surveyed environment geographically, politically and religiously, we hope to better understand the culture of this isolated civilization.
North Korea lies north of the equator, sharing borders with both China and Russia. Most of the land is covered in forest, hills, and mountains; leaving only “14 percent arable land, and 2 percent permanent cropland” (Buzo., North Korea). These conditions along with irregular precipitation make farming difficult in certain areas. However, these conditions make rice an ideal crop for most of the fertile land. The most prominent strip of fertile land lies along the eastern seaboard, according to recent agricultural studies (U.S. Library of Congress, North Korea). Due to these conditions, seasonal growing makes food prices variable and self-sufficiency difficult to maintain. Food and agriculture in North Korea are constantly adjusting with technology and the raising of funds. They use the funds and advancements to do what is called “nature-remaking”, a process that is implemented to develop more suitable farming land. This is what is recognized as North Koreas continuous efforts to achieve self-sufficiency. That being said, the idea of self-sufficiency is what drives their lifestyle and efforts to avoid communication and importing of resources from other countries. These aspects greatly influence North Korean culture, while the system of agriculture also affects the concentration of a population. Areas that are devoted to farming contain a lesser population than other cities and has resulted in a steady decline in the population and reproduction rates. Due to this, housing space has declined and in turn reduced fertility and marriage rates, which impacts the overall culture of North Korea and can change their perspectives on the importance of family. Usually newly-weds apply for a house and must be accepted by authorities, however, high-ranking families receive special treatment.
Much like the geography and agriculture of the country, North Korea’s societal views play an important role in influencing culture. These societal views include topics such as religion, and language. Religion is very important in most cultures, however, is viewed very differently in the North Korean culture. The country is especially known for its leadership under the ideology of Juche and is not considered to be a country that practices freedom of religion. The Juche idea is built on the personality of Kim II Sung, and is “quite unlike Marxist historical materialism. Rather, it is a sort of idealism, placing emphasis on human belief” (Buzo., North Korea). Kim II Sung is worshipped as a god, while his son Kim Jong II is often referred to as the son of god. Religions other than Juche are not respected, definitely not tolerated and are not well documented as the country tries to keep certain aspects private. Since North Korea has isolated itself for many decades, the population remains mostly Korean and therefore the spoken language is the Korean script. The Korean script, known as Choson muntcha, has been altered to eliminate traces of Chinese, Western and Japanese vocabulary.
North Korea is widely known as having a command (centralized) economy, meaning the state is in charge of production and priorities. In 1950 the Korean War took place between North Korea and South Korea, as well as both of their allies. North Korea was advised by the Soviet Union to invade South Korea and was aided by China, while in return the United Nations (included the United States of America) joined South Korea. The war ended in 1953 and the boundary between North Korea and South Korea remains to this day, as neither country came to an agreement. North Korea from that point remained isolated. Although the country highly promotes self-sufficiency now, there was a time after the Korean War when the economy became poor and they became involved in foreign investment and trade. During this time Kim II Sung was in command of North Korea and demanded a personality cult centered on himself (Juche ideology) while “strengthening its military forces proceeded hand in hand with its continued focus on the development of a self-reliant economy” (Millett, 2017). Much like when Kim II Sung ruled, the goal of the country remains the same as before: to keep a strong military and successful economy, while focusing incredibly on the military. This shows how the war influenced the North Korean culture of today.
Although North Korea has been able to maintain a certain degree of self-sufficiency without much help from the outside world, these factors greatly impact the country’s ideas, beliefs and traditions; therefore impacting the country’s culture as a whole. Their agricultural system is successful enough to provide food, however, it reduces the amount of space that North Koreans are able to inhabit. Forcing North Koreans to adapt their beliefs on marriage and family, as their housing options decline. Past military conflicts have also shaped today’s culture, playing an important role in how today’s military is run and the allies of North Korea. These specific factors play a very important role with one another in guiding the direction of the country’s culture and will continue to influence it as long as these forces are present.
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