N. Korea steps up efforts to prevent spread of S. Korean pop culture


North Korea has intensified efforts to stem the spread of South Korean pop culture in the communist state, even as South Korean movies and TV dramas gain popularity there, informed sources said Thursday.

“This year, North Korean authorities waged what they call ‘psychological warfare’ against ‘exotic lifestyles’ by cracking down on South Korean pop culture,” a senior government official said, asking to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the issue.

According to a survey conducted on recent North Korean defectors to the South, South Korean video tapes and CDs enter North Korea via China. North Koreans having TVs, video players or personal computers at home watch them, and then swap the programs among peers or friends, another source said.

The popularity of South Korean media has been so great that a lead actress’s line in the hit South Korean movie “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” became a household word in the North, while some North Korean youth are glued to such mega-hit TV dramas as “Fall Fairy Tale” and “Immortal Admiral Yi Sun-shin,” the sources said.

They further explained that the wave of South Korean pop culture does not stop at movies and videos. North Korean youth also enjoy sporting South Korean hairstyles and fashion, preferring tight pants and long front hair.

Since the 1950-53 Korean War, about 9,300 North Koreans have defected to South Korea, including about 1,578 in 2006 alone. The sealed border between the two Koreas has nearly 2 million troops deployed on both sides.

Wave of South Korean Trends in North Korea
Daily NK
Park Hyun Min

A wave of South Korean actors and trends such as Jang Dong Gun, Bae Yong Joon and Won Bin which has washed throughout China, Japan and Taiwan has finally hit North Korean shores. Consequently, North Korean authorities are racking their brains trying to find a solution to this problem.

This wave of South Korean trends in North Korea comes from an influx of foreign movies and dramas in the form of VCD’s and videos. In particular, the phrase “worry about yourself!” from a Korean movie “Sympathy of Lady Vengeance” has become the latest catchphrase to spread throughout the country.

Regarding this, a South Korean government official said on the 31st “North Korean youths are becoming infatuated with popular South Korean dramas such as “Autumn in my heart” and “General Lee Soon Shin’” and revealed “Defectors say that people who do not watch South Korean dramas are treated as outcasts.”

In fact, according to a survey from Hanawon, an educational training centre for defectors, a growing number of travelers now cross the boarder possessing video tapes and C.D.’s. These goods then circulate amongst families in possession of T.V.’s videos and computers, particularly Pyongyang, where South Korean dramas and music are often heard.

Popular South Korean dramas have gradually infiltrated North Korea since the late 90’s. At the time, dramas such as “The Sandglass” describing the S. Korean Kwangju affair in 1980 and “Asphalt man” gained much popularity and since 2000, dramas such as “Winter Sonata” and “Stairway to heaven” have caught the attention of North Korean youths.

These South Korean movies and dramas do not stop at mere entertainment but rather are influencing the hairstyles and fashion of young North Koreans. Nowadays, many North Korean youth adopt “knife hair,” a hairstyle with thin sharp fringe points and “drainpipe trousers” are also a hit item.

A defector who entered South Korea in 2004 said “If a person is caught circulating any copies of capitalist materials, he or she may be dragged to the political gulags. However, if a person is found to be a viewer, then he or she may receive re-education or sent to the labor training camp or the re-educational camp for 6 months.”

In response to foreign culture which is finding its way into North Korea, authorities are aiming to strengthen public propaganda in order to block foreign ideologies. In particular, North Korean authorities have began considering mobilizing its groups of military youths for rearmament.

North Korea is concerned about the balance of its regime with the demands of the whole society increasingly changing. In preparation for this, it seems that North Korea is actively investing more in the light industry in an effort to stabilize public welfare.


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