Understanding North Korea – A Must Read

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Written and Photographed by Nile Bowie Editor’s note by Nile Bowie: After years of fascination, I had the opportunity to spend eight days in North Korea in September 2011. At the moment, it is only possible to visit North Korea through a highly organized government-sanctioned tour. Perhaps the most incredible thing about my time there was the genuine authenticity of the emotions displayed in ordinary people towards their leaders, who are viewed with the utmost piety. The degree to which the Korean people are motivated and inspired by the State’s official media and mythology is unparalleled in contrast to any other country. I wrote this article in an attempt to define their worldview as I have come to understand it, because it remains one of the world’s least understood (and most fascinating) societies.  Nile Bowie NileBowie.blogspot.com December 28, 2011 The recent political transition in North Korea has once again focused the world’s attention towards the least accessible society on earth. Its epitaphic spectacle of mourning for the Father Leader, the Great General Kim Jung il, has invited a torrent of conjecture and analysis from the peering spectators of the outside world. While the majority of experts speak of issues such as the possibility of a failed succession, followed by a military coup d’état or a “Pyongyang Spring”, it becomes apparent that so few outlets take the domestic North Korean worldview into account. While all parties exchange wild rhetoric, Washington’s insistent stance on denuclearization is a clear demonstration of its incoherency in diffusing tension, reaching a common resolution with Pyongyang and most importantly, understanding how the regime views itself.

Portraits of leaders to be hung in every home by law

While the country is referred to as the twenty first century’s last bastion of Stalinism, the internal propaganda to which the domestic population is exposed suggests an antipodal ideology intrinsically irreconcilable with the worldview of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. Under the surface of immense concrete monuments espousing Communism and the rambling doctrine of Juche Thought, North Korea’s domestic propaganda suggests that its identity is derived from a staunchly race-based brand of nationalism, at times channeling a rhetoric of ethnic superiority, similar to that claimed by the Nazis. While the propaganda designated to foreign scrutiny dryly champion’ principles of self-reliance in vague humanistic themes, as found within the Juche doctrine, the least accessible propaganda intended for internal consumption is a uniquely Korean brand of racist orthodoxy.

Mono-ethnic features of Korean race
While some dismiss the hysterical outpour of sorrow displayed at the mourning ceremonies of Kim il Sung and Kim Jung il as “dramatized acting”, the intimacy of the people’s emotional attachment to their exalted Parent Leaders is genuine and unparalleled in it’s fanaticism, even in contrast to the fervor displayed in other devoutly religious cultures. Great pride is derived from the unique homogeneity of the Korean race and with that, a heightened sense of innately inborn ethics and lofty virtues. The characteristic virginal innocence of the Korean people is stressed incessantly in its propaganda, necessitating the guidance of an unchallenged parental overseer to protect the race. The internal apparatus of Korean pedagogy is unique in its portrayal of the ruling Kim as a hermaphroditic entity espousing both maternal concern and paternalistic authority. In Korea’s brand of unique Theocratic National Socialism, Kim il Sung is the nation’s Phallic Mother.
“Mono-ethnicity is something that our nation and no other on earth can pride itself on. There is no suppressing the nation’s shame and anger at the talk of ‘a multi-ethnic, multi-racial society’, which would dilute even the bloodline of our people.”
For centuries prior to the peninsula’s division, Korean civilization was firmly grounded in the staunch Confucian ideology of China, a worldview that espouses total compliance to the fatherly authority figure within royal dynasties and individual families. The Korean Peninsula has been historically referred to as “The Hermit Kingdom” because of its self-imposed isolation from mainland China in the seventeenth century, as a means to safeguard it’s internal Confucianism (Koreans saw themselves as superior Confucian practitioners when equated to the Chinese themselves). For centuries, the xenophobic kingdoms of the Korean Peninsula upheld a repressive brand a Confucianism that oversaw virtually no intramural innovation, while the accounts of many historians indicate diminutive loyalty paid towards the concept of a distinct Korean race or nation-state.
The unwavering proudness of the Korean ethnic distinction, displayed today in both nations, was cultivated in part under the decree of Japanese fascism during their brutal thirty-five year occupation of the peninsula beginning in 1910. As certain regimes of that period justified their supremacy through the prepotencies of racial pseudo science, which exhorted a claim of predominance due to their hereditary characteristics and epistatic genealogy, the Japanese asserted that their Korean subjects shared a common bloodline and were products of the same racial stock. These racial proclamations sought to imbue its Korean subjects with a strong sense of national pride, suggesting the common ancestry of a race, morally superior to all others. Following the independence of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the internal propaganda apparatus further mythicized their inherent claims to racial superiority and exploited the Korean people’s traditional tendency to conform.

“Thousands of years ago, on a beautiful peninsula in the center of East Asia, there emerged one of mankind’s first distinct races, the Korean race. While still evolving from the early Korean to the modern Korean man, the Koreans settled the whole peninsula and much of northeast Asia. All they lacked was a strong leader. At last, in the third millennium BE, a great emperor named Tan’gun united Koreans into a state named Choson, taking Pyongyang as it’s capital. Koreans were thus the first Asians to achieve nationhood, a crucial first stage of civilization. Though Old Choson shared the peninsula with other, smaller kingdoms, the Koreans were always one people with the same blood, language, culture and lofty morals. In the year 918 they were united once more. Alas, foreign aggressors, resentful of Korea’s autonomy and greedy for it’s natural riches, refused to leave the peace-loving people alone. Only by repeatedly driving back invading forces – from Chinese tribes to Japanese Samurai to American war ships – was the Korean race able to preserve its unique integrity up to the present day. From the start Koreans were marked by a strong sense of virtue and justice, and their exemplary manners earned then country renown as “The Land of Politeness in the East.” No less famous were their clothes, which were as white as the snow-capped peaks of Mount Paektu. Kind-hearted and well featured, Koreans lived in harmonious villages, respecting the people above them and loving those beneath them. Unfortunately, the effete ruling classes, having fallen under the sway of Confucianism, Buddhism and other pernicious foreign ideologies, proved no match for the imperialists’ schemes, and in 1905 Korea became a Japanese colony. Burning with righteous anger, the masses rose up on March 1, 1919 to demand national independence. The demonstration was brutally suppressed. Fortunately a great leader had already been born who would guide the nation to its proper place on the world stage…”

Peak of Mount Paektu
 Much emphasis is placed on the purity of the race, its homogeneity and its virtuous accomplishments, including defending the motherland against reviled foreign invasion. Unlike modern South Korea, which still remains strongly influenced by Confucian values, the official line in the North rebukes these social systems, branding them as trappings of an over refined ruling class. The personality cult itself is built into the story of racial origins, mythicizing Kim il Sung into a messianic entity, destined to lead to Korean people to independence through Korean Socialism and self reliance. Like the mysticism around Japan’s Mount Fuji during the time of the Japanese occupation, Korea’s highest peak, Mount Paektu, was designated a sacred place and given a central role in official mythology. Kim Jong il’s birth supposedly took place on the peaks of Mt. Paektu beneath twin rainbows in a log cabin during the armed struggle against the Japanese occupiers. His biography reads, “Wishing him to be the lodestar that would brighten the future of Korea, they hailed him as the Bright Star of Mount Paektu.”
“The snowstorm rendered Pyongyang – this city steeped in the five thousand year old, jade-like spirit of the race, imbued with proudly lonely life-breath of the world’s cleanest, most civilized people – free of the slightest blemish… covering everything in a thick white veil of purity.”
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea may have a communist exterior, however it bares little resemblance to a Marxist-Leninist state in its commitment to improve material living standards; economics are nowhere near a central priority. Its emphasis is on maintaining an ideological state focused on personifying Korean virtues, as embodied in the state’s ruling family. Unlike the communist models of the past, which strove to educate the masses to empower the working classes, the Korean model encourages quite the opposite. Alternatively, the Korean model encourages its subjects to remain in their natural state of intellectual juvenescence and innocence, under the watch of the Great Parent. Official media would often refer to Kim il Sung under theandrogynous title of Parent Leader (아버지수령 aboijee seulyong), as his portrayal depicted him as a nurturing maternal figure, fussing over the food his soldiers consumed and making sure they had warm clothing. Internally, there is a stronger effort on indoctrinating the masses with the official fantasy biographies of the Leaders (furthering their messianic character), than there is a serious application of the leaders teachings, such as Juche Thought.
propaganda posters in DPRK
It becomes more likely that the Juche doctrine’s existence, in addition to Kim il Sung’s reputation as a playwright,… Continue reading from source.