GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 430 November 23, 2011

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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[Intro] Finding Confidence in the Regime Comes Before Banning South Korean Goods
Tough Crackdown on South Korean Goods
Young Women Sport Bolder Hairstyles and Fashion
Popularity of European goods in the Upper Class

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[Intro] Finding Confidence in the Regime Comes Before Banning South Korean Goods
The news of tough crackdown on South Korean goods brought a scene from the flim J.S.A: Joint Security Area (2000) back to mind, in which the North Korean Sergeant Oh Kyongpil becomes friends with Sergeant Lee Suhyuk and his men from the South, and together they share the music and food from the South, listening to Kim Kwangsuk’s songs, and sharing Choco Pie. Lee tells Oh that he could have as many Choco Pies as he wants if he defects to South Korea. Upon this comment, Oh spits out the snack from his mouth, and tells Lee that his dream is to see the day that his country makes a better Choco Pie than that from the South. Although it was a scene from a movie, there was something admirable about the pride that the North Korean soldier had about his country. However, if that pride about one’s country is only a product of constant crackdowns and inspections, maybe it would not be so admirable after all. Even putting the crackdown on South Korean goods aside, from the way that the North Korean state scolds young women about the way they dress claiming that it reflects their poor ideological moral, it seems clear that the state feels insecure about maintaining the regime. Before admonishing young women, the North Korean state must find confidence in its own regime. The only way to do so is to seek economic development through the cooperation with the South. A South Korean Choco Pie factory built in the North and its products being exported to Russia is an entirely possible dream. In that case, the North Korean public will support the regime, notwithstanding whatever clothes or hairstyle that they choose to have.


Tough Crackdown on South Korean Goods
In Pyongyang, since Jaunary of this year there has been a crackdown on South Korean goods, films, and video clips. It seemed to come to an end in June, but it re-started again in September and it is continuing on. This time, the crackdown effort was focused on border areas where there are customs. An official from Pyongyang says that it is a measure initiated by the concern that South Korean culture may spread wider. Not a long ago, the Central Party stated that the most powerful threat to domestic political stability, next to the food shortage and economic crisis, is the spread of South Korean ideas, culture, and goods, and that for the next three years, the crackdown on South Korean goods must be taken as seriously as the crackdown on border crossers. The Central Party is also meticulous about regulating the public’s fashion and appearance, cracking down on “the phenomenon of exotic clothes and hairdos.” Choi Yoonjong from Kwanghwa-dong, Haeju, South Hwanghae Province was caught by an officer “wearing an indecently twisted shirt, and pants that hideously cling to the body,” and had to endure a sermon that lasted for a long time. Soyong Kim, who works at a textile mill in Sinuiju, North Pyongan province was admonished for her long hair worn loose, and baggy trousers without pleats. The offier scolded her: “Do you not understand that one’s clothes and hairstyle reflect the person’s ideological moral? How am I to think of your ideological moral, with your exotic clothes and hairstyle that reflect no national pride?” The Central Party states that “To open the doors to the future as a Strong and Prosperous Nation, everyone has to work with a revolutionary fervor, and even in choosing their clothes and hairstyle, they must do it while being conscious about the societal demands of our time.” The abovementioned official said that the reason that the North Korean government orders that the crackdown on South Korean goods should taken as seriously as the watch on border crossers is that it is concerned about the ideological effect of the Korean culture and goods that came in during the time of active North-South cooperation on the younger generation.


Young Women Sport Bolder Hairstyles and Fashion
The recent strengthening of clothing regulation can also be attributed to increase in women’s desire for self-expression. The Station 3 and the neighborhood unit lectures also express frustration toward the women who adamantly refuse to obey the societal dress code. “We were lectured about not wearing exotic clothes yesterday. They started the lecture saying that ‘we shall discuss about the evil trend engulfing the women nowadays,’ so I thought it would be about something really serious. Then, they talked about a woman who was caught growing her hair to her waist and dying it brown. After the lecture, older women seemed astonished at the strange things done by the youth, but younger women were complaining about the ridiculousness of these regulations. The lecturer seemed so frustrated that women wouldn’t get rid of their exotic hairstyle and clothes,” said Han Mi-ok, a recent graduate of Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies.

Han says such lectures are counterproductive because they give young women ideas about the latest trends in fashion. Young women take note of the examples of dress code violations as a way to find out what is in trend these days, using them as fashion inspiration. They are also put at ease knowing that there are those who make more bolder fashion choices.

“We come across many strangely dressed women during crackdowns. Their numbers have gone up. I usually patrol the Botong-kang area, and once I caught a woman wearing skin tight pants and black rimmed glasses that weren’t made in our country. At first I thought she was a foreigner so I let her go. But I took a second look at her and found out that she was indeed Korean. Other officers were deceived by her appearance too. She told me she lived in Moranbong. I admonished her, asking her if she was out of her mind, but she showed no signs of remorse, claiming other women dress like her too,” said a police officer in Pyongyang. Joo Miyong, a resident of Seosung was also caught wearing tight pants and a shirt with English writing. She was harshly scolded for lying the police that she’s from the overseas. The police officers claim that they were almost tricked into believing her at first, because she spoke in a Japanese accent. Still in doubt, they continued to question her until she eventually told the truth. “She was released with only a warning, but she would have faced harsher penalty if she pretended to be from South Korea,” added the police, and said that South Korean accent is widely spread among the young women as well.


Popularity of European goods in the Upper Class
The recent trade inspects has had the effect of changing the variety of imported goods in the North Korean market. The difficulty importing Chinese goods from the trade inspections created market for goods from other countries. According to Jang Haksung (alias), a traveling salesman supplying imported goods to business in the Jung district, Pyongyang, the ratio of goods from Europe and Southeast Asia has gone up with the difficulty in importing Chinese goods. European goods are expensive, but their high quality attracts mid- and high-level officials in Pyongyang into purchasing them. Goods from Thailand used to be considered as the better ones among those imported from Southeastern Asian countries, but the damage from the recent flood in Thailand put a halt to the import, causing a shortage in Thai goods. Jang added that the lower middle class households are the main consumers of Chinese goods, which are cheap but of a poor quality. Some middle class families purchase goods from Southeast Asia, while upper class families purchase European goods, which are the most expensive. European goods, even a simple bucket, have a better design, quality, and durability. They are, however, far too expensive, and only a few can afford them. According to a law enforcement officer in the market, there had been no order to restrict the circulation of goods from Europe or Southeast Asia, meaning that they are freely traded in local markets. However, compared to Chinese goods, there are fewer imports from these regions, making them not easy to find in markets. Some government officials voice the idea that the Central Party might be trying to expand the number of countries from which North Korea imports goods, as a measure to prevent Chinese good overtaking the domestic market, and to reduce the North Korean dependence on China in general. The analysis on this rise of European and Southeast Asian goods is that they are filling the gap created by the complete ban of South Korean products and the import of Chinese goods limited by the active trade inspection these days.

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