Despite a significant Chinese influence in the past, Korean culture has developed its own distinct identity. It was attacked during Japan’s reign from 1910 to 1945, when the country imposed a program of cultural absorption. Koreans were pushed to study and speak Japanese, adopt the Japanese family name system, and practice Shinto faith, while writing and speaking Korean was banned in schools, companies, and public places.
Following the division of the peninsula in 1945, two different cultures emerged from the shared Korean background. North Koreans are seldom exposed to outside influences. The revolutionary struggle and the leadership’s genius are two major topics in art. Traditional culture’s “reactionary” components have been eliminated, and cultural forms with a “folk” spirit have been restored.
The government protects and preserves Korean culture. Over 190 historical places and items of national importance are listed as North Korean National Treasures, while 1,800 lesser-valued relics are listed as Cultural Assets. Kaesong’s Historic Sites and Monuments, as well as the Goguryeo Tombs Complex, are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The aesthetics of Socialist Realism are prevalent in the visual arts. To develop an emotional allegiance to the regime, North Korean art blends the influence of Soviet and Japanese aesthetic expression. All North Korean painters are obliged to join the Artists’ Union, and the finest among them are granted official permission to depict the leaders. “Number One works” include portraits and sculptures of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and Kim Jong-un.
Mansudae Art Studio has dominated most areas of art since its inception in 1959. It employs approximately 1,000 artists in what is perhaps the world’s largest art factory, producing paintings, murals, posters, and statues. The studio has marketed its art and sells it to collectors in a number of countries, including China, where it is quite popular. Mansudae Overseas Projects is a subsidiary of Mansudae Art Studio that specializes in large-scale monument building for overseas clients. The African Renaissance Monument in Senegal and the Heroes’ Acre in Namibia are two of the projects.
Throughout much of the twentieth century, the government promoted upbeat folk music and revolutionary song. Massive orchestral works, such as the “Five Great Revolutionary Operas” based on traditional Korean ch’angguk, are used to communicate ideological themes. By using traditional instruments in the orchestra and eliminating recitative passages, revolutionary operas vary from their Western counterparts. Sea of Blood is the most frequently performed of the Five Great Operas, having been performed over 1,500 times since its debut in 1971, and its 2010 tour in China was a huge success. The State Symphony Orchestra and student orchestras play Western classical music by Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, and other composers.
The Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble and Wangjaesan Light Music Band introduced pop music in the 1980s. Following the Inter-Korean Summit, improved ties with South Korea resulted in a decrease in blatant ideological statements in pop songs, although themes like comradeship, nostalgia, and the building of a strong nation persisted. The all-girl Moranbong Band is now the country’s most popular band. North Koreans have also been exposed to K-pop, which is widely distributed via underground marketplaces.
In contrast to the old Soviet Union, there is no literary underground and no recognized dissident authors. Because publishing houses are regarded an essential instrument for propaganda and agitation, they are all controlled by the government or the WPK. The Workers’ Party of Korea Publishing House is the most reputable of the group, publishing all of Kim Il-writings, sung’s as well as ideological teaching materials and party policy papers. North Korean versions of Indian, German, Chinese, and Russian fairy tales, Tales from Shakespeare, and certain works by Bertolt Brecht and Erich Kästner are examples of restricted international literature.
Kim Il-personal sung’s works are referred to as “classical masterpieces,” while those produced under his direction are referred to as “models of Juche literature.” The Fate of a Self-Defense Corps Man, The Song of Korea, and Immortal History, a series of historical books portraying Koreans’ suffering during Japanese rule, are among them. Between the 1980s and the early 2000s, more than four million literary pieces were produced, although nearly all of them fall within a small number of political genres, such as “army-first revolutionary fiction.”
Because it deviates from the conventional norms of comprehensive descriptions and metaphors of the leader, science fiction is regarded as a minor genre. The tales’ exotic locations provide writers greater leeway in depicting cyberwarfare, brutality, sexual abuse, and criminality, all of which are missing from other genres. Through portrayals of robots, space travel, and immortality, science fiction works exalt technology and promote the Juche notion of anthropocentric life.
Government regulations on cinema are similar to those that apply to other arts – motion pictures are used to achieve “social education” goals. Some of the most significant films are based on historical events (An Jung-geun shoots It Hirobumi) or folk stories (An Jung-geun shoots It Hirobumi) (Hong Gildong). The majority of films contain predictable propagandist plot lines, making cinema an unattractive form of entertainment. Viewers will only watch films starring their favorite actors. Although the 1997 Titanic is often presented to university students as an example of Western culture, Western productions are only accessible during private showings to high-ranking Party members. In border regions, smuggled DVDs and television or radio transmissions provide access to foreign media goods.
North Korea’s media is subject to some of the most severe government censorship in the world. According to a Reporters Without Borders assessment, freedom of the press ranked 177th out of 178 nations in 2013. According to Freedom House, all media outlets act as government mouthpieces, all journalists are members of the Communist Party, and listening to foreign broadcasts is punishable by death. The Korean Central News Agency is the primary news source. The capital publishes all 12 newspapers and 20 magazines, including Rodong Sinmun.
There are three state-owned television channels in the country. Two of them exclusively broadcast on weekends, while Korean Central Television broadcasts every evening. Uriminzokkiri and its related YouTube and Twitter accounts provide government-issued images, news, and video. In Pyongyang, the Associated Press established the first full-time Western all-format office in 2012.
As a consequence of North Korea’s isolation, there has been bias in foreign reportage on the country. Despite the absence of a reliable source, stories like Kim Jong-un having surgery to appear like his grandpa, killing his ex-girlfriend, or feeding his uncle to a pack of starving dogs have been disseminated by international media as fact. The Chosun Ilbo, a right-wing South Korean daily, is the source of many of the allegations. “Almost every report [about North Korea] is regarded as generally trustworthy, no matter how absurd or poorly sourced,” writes Max Fischer of The Washington Post. The problem is further complicated by North Korean institutions’ occasional intentional misinformation.
Korean food has changed throughout the ages as social and political conditions have changed. It has evolved from old agricultural and nomadic traditions in southern Manchuria and the Korean peninsula, and has been subjected to a complex interplay of the natural environment and many cultural tendencies. Korean staples include rice dishes and kimchi. They go with both side dishes (panch’an) and major meals like juk, pulgogi, or noodles in a typical dinner. The most well-known traditional Korean spirit is soju.
Okryugwan in Pyongyang, North Korea’s most renowned restaurant, is famed for its raengmyeon cold noodles. Gray mullet soup with boiling rice, beef rib soup, green bean pancake, sinsollo, and terrapin meals are among the other foods available. Okryugwan sends research teams to the countryside in order to gather information on Korean cuisine and offer new dishes. Branches of the Pyongyang restaurant chain may be found in several Asian cities, where waitresses perform music and dance.
North Koreans have an almost fanatical sports mindset, with daily practice in sports such as association football, basketball, table tennis, gymnastics, boxing, and others taking place in most schools. The DPR Korea League is well-known in the nation, and its games are often shown on television. Chollima, the national football squad, participated in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, losing all three matches against Brazil, Portugal, and Ivory Coast. Its 1966 participation was much more successful, with a 1–0 win against Italy and a 3–5 quarter-final defeat to Portugal. A national team also competes in international basketball tournaments on behalf of the country. After developing a relationship with Kim Jong-un, former NBA player Dennis Rodman traveled to North Korea in December 2013 to assist in the training of the national team.
North Korea competed in the Olympics for the first time in 1964. The summer games made its debut in 1972, with five medals, one of which was gold. North Korean athletes have won medals in every summer games since then, with the exception of the boycotted Los Angeles and Seoul Olympics. At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, weightlifter Kim Un-guk broke the world record in the Men’s 62 kg division. As a reward for their accomplishments, the state provides luxurious residences to successful Olympians.
The Arirang Festival has been named the world’s largest choreographic event by Guinness World Records. 100,000 athletes execute rhythmic gymnastics and dances in the front, while another 40,000 construct a massive animated screen in the backdrop. The event pays tribute to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il and is an artistic depiction of the country’s history. The Festival is held in Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, the world’s biggest stadium with a capacity of 150,000 people. Another noteworthy sporting event is the Pyongyang Marathon. It is an IAAF Bronze Label Race open to amateur runners from all over the globe.