Propaganda in North Korea

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This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
North Korea
Foreign relations

The standard view of propaganda in North Korea sees it as based on the Juche ideology and on the promotion of the Workers' Party of Korea.[1]

Many pictures of the national leaders are posted throughout the country.[2] News reports in 2007 suggested that North Korea spent 40% of its national budget on the "idolization" of leaders.[3]


Cult of personality

In previous decades, North Korean propaganda was crucial to the formation and promotion of the cult of personality centered around the founder of the totalitarian state, Kim Il-sung.[4] The Soviet Union began to develop him, particularly as a resistance fighter, as soon as they put him in power.[5] This quickly surpassed its Eastern European models.[6] Instead of depicting his actual residence in a Soviet village during the war with the Japanese, he was claimed to have fought a guerilla war from a secret base.[7]

Once relations with the Soviet Union were broken off, their role was expurgated, as were all other nationalists, until the claim was made that he founded the Communist Party in North Korea.[8] He is seldom shown in action during the Korean War, which, if it was presented as a glorious victory, nevertheless devastated the country; instead, soldiers are depicted as inspired by him.[9] Subsequently, many stories are recounted of his "on-the-spot" guidance in various locations, many of them being openly presented as fictional.[10]

This was supplemented with propaganda on behalf of his son, Kim Jong-il.[11] The "food shortage" produced anecdotes of Kim insisting on eating the same meager food as other North Koreans.[12]

Propaganda efforts began for the "Young General", Kim Jong-un, who succeeded him as paramount leader of North Korea on Kim Jong-il's death in December 2011.[13]

Foreign relations

Early propaganda, in 1940s, presented a positive Soviet–Korean relationship, often depicting Russians as maternal figures to childlike Koreans.[14] As soon as relations were less cordial, they were expurgated from historical accounts.[8] The collapse of the USSR, without a shot, is often depicted with intense contempt in sources not accessible to Russians.[15]

Americans are depicted particularly negatively.[16] They are presented as an inherently evil race, with whom hostility is the only possible relationship.[17] The Korean War is used as a source for atrocities, less for the bombing raids than on charges of massacre.[18]

Japan is frequently depicted as rapacious and dangerous, both in the colonial era and afterwards. North Korean propaganda frequently highlighted the danger of Japanese remilitarization.[19] At the same time, the intensity of anti-Japanese propaganda underwent repeated fluctuations, depending on the improvement or deterioration of Japanese-DPRK relations. In those periods when North Korea was on better terms with Japan than with South Korea, North Korean propaganda essentially ignored the Liancourt Rocks dispute. However, if Pyongyang felt threatened by Japanese-South Korean rapprochement or sought to cooperate with Seoul against Tokyo, the North Korean media promptly raised the issue, with the aim of causing friction in Japanese-ROK relations.[20]

Friendly nations are depicted almost exclusively as tributary nations.[21] The English journalist Christopher Hitchens pointed out in the essay A Nation of Racist Dwarfs that propaganda has a blatantly racist and nationalistic angle:[22]

North Korean women who return pregnant from China—the regime's main ally and protector—are forced to submit to abortions. Wall posters and banners depicting all Japanese as barbarians are only equaled by the ways in which Americans are caricatured as hook-nosed monsters.[22]

South Korea

South Korea was originally depicted as a poverty-stricken land, where American soldiers shot Korean children, but by the 1990s, too much information reached North Korea to prevent their learning that South Korea had a higher living standard, and so propaganda admitted it.[23] The line taken was that this had not prevented the South Koreans from yearning for unification and purification.[24]

Racial pride

North Korean propaganda often invokes Koreans as the purest of races, with a mystical bond with the natural beauty of the landscape.[25] The color white is often invoked as a symbol of this purity, as in a painting of the "Homeland Liberation War" (or Korean War) which depicts female partisans washing and hanging out white blouses, despite the way it would have made them visible to attack.[26]

In contrast to Stalinist depictions of people steeling themselves, preparing themselves intellectually, and so growing up and becoming fit to create Communism, the usual image in North Korean literature is of a spontaneous virtue that revolts against intellectualism but naturally does what is right.[27]

Stories often have only mildly flawed Korean characters, who are easily reformed because of their inherently pure nature. This device has resulted in problems which lack conflict and hence dullness.[28]

South Korea is often depicted as a place of dangerous racial contamination.[24]

"Military first"

File:Fahey DSCF2839 (6074653969).jpg
Songun, or "military first", propaganda

Under Kim Jong-il, a major theme was the need of Kim to attend to the military first of all (in North Korea, this policy is called Songun), which required other Koreans to do without his close attention. This military life is presented as something that Koreans take spontaneously to, though often disobeying orders from the highest of motives.[29]

Devotion to the state

Romance is often depicted in stories as being triggered solely by the person's model citizenship, as when a beauty is unattractive until a man learns she volunteered to work at a potato farm.[30]

Food shortage

The North Korean famine was admitted within propaganda to be solely a "food shortage", ascribed to bad weather and failure to implement Kim's teachings, but unquestionably better than situations outside North Korea.[31]

The government urged the use of non-nutritious and even harmful "food substitutes" such as sawdust.[32]


Every year, a state-owned publishing house[which?] releases several cartoons (called geurim-chaek (Chosŏn'gŭl그림책) in North Korea), many of which are smuggled across the Chinese border and, sometimes, end up in university libraries in the United States. The books are designed to instill the Juche philosophy of Kim Il-sung (the "father" of North Korea)—radical self-reliance of the state. The plots mostly feature scheming capitalists from the United States and Japan who create dilemmas for naïve North Korean characters.

The propaganda in North Korea is controlled mainly by the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Workers Party of Korea.


Posters depict the correct actions for every part of life, down to appropriate clothing.[16] North Korean Propaganda posters are very similar to the messages portrayed by other communist countries. North Korean propaganda posters focus on military might, utopian society and devotion to the state, and the leader's personality.[33] Propaganda posters are also used to depict the opposite of what is really happening in the country to the outside world. Kim Jong-il is credited with using propaganda art and posters to make the Kim family's identity inseparable from the state.[34]


Fine art often depicts militaristic themes.[35]

The Flower Girl, a revolutionary opera allegedly penned by Kim Il-Sung himself, was turned into a movie, the most popular one in North Korea.[36] It depicts its heroine's sufferings in the colonial era until her partisan brother returns to exact vengeance on their oppressive landlord, at which point she pledges support for the revolution.[37] Art is based on Socialist realism, which is the official school of artistic expression and was designed for propaganda purposes to begin with (at odds with Marx, Engels and even Trotsky's own liberal views on art and culture).[citation needed]


The country's supreme leaders have had hymns dedicated to them that served as their signature tune and were repetitively broadcast by the state media:


North Korea has a prolific propaganda film industry.

The Korean government also runs a film industry. North Korean movies depict the glory of North Korean life and the atrocities of Western Imperialism,[citation needed] with a key role of providing on-screen role models.[38] The film industry is run through Pyongyang University of Cinematic and Dramatic Arts.[39] Kim Jong-Il was a self-proclaimed genius of film.[39] In 1973, he authored On the Art of the Cinema, a treatise on film theory and filmmaking.[40] He was rumored to own over 20,000 DVDs in his personal collection. Kim believed that Cinema was the most important of the arts. Domestically, these films are given lavish receptions. International critics cite the films as propaganda, because of their unreal depictions of North Korea.[41] Recently, there has been an increase in animated films. The animated films carry political and military messages aimed at the youth of North Korea.[38]


The North Korean government is known for dropping Propaganda leaflets to South Korean soldiers, just across the Demilitarized Zone. The leaflets are dropped across in a floating balloon. The leaflets criticize the South Korean government and praise North Korea.[42]

Social media

North Korea made its first entry into the social media market in 2010. The country has launched its own website,[43] Facebook page,[43] YouTube channel,[44][45] Twitter account[45] and Flickr page.[46] The profile picture of all social media accounts, according to the official Korean Central News Agency, is the Three Charters for National Reunification Memorial Tower, a 30 metres (98 ft) monument in Pyongyang that "reflects the strong will of the 70 million Korean people to achieve the reunification of the country with their concerted effort."[43]

  • Uriminzokkiri: Uriminzokkiri is a website that provides Korean-language news and propaganda from North Korea's central news agency. The website offers translation in Korean, Russian and English. Uriminzokkiri means "on our own as our nation".[47][not in citation given] The site includes articles entitled "South Korea's Pro-US/Japan Corporate Media: Endless Demonization Campaigns Against DPRK", "The Project for New American Century: The New World Order & The US's Continued CRIMES" and "Kim Jong-un Sends Musical Instruments to Children's Palaces". The website also contains a page for tv.urminzokirri. This page contains videos showing news clips criticizing imperialist movements, clips showing the bravery of Korean people and the power of its military.[48]
  • Facebook: The North Korean Facebook account appeared a week after the South Korean government blocked the North Korean Twitter account.[43] The Facebook account is named Uriminzok (English: "Our race").[43] The page represents "the intentions of North and South Koreas and compatriots abroad, who wish for peace, prosperity and unification of our homeland". There were over 50 posts on Uriminzokkiri's wall, including links to reports that criticize South Korea and the U.S. as "warmongers", photos of picturesque North Korean landscapes and a YouTube video of a dance performance celebrating leader Kim Jong-il, "guardian of the homeland and creator of happiness".[49]
  • YouTube: The channel named "Uriminzokkiri" was opened in July 2010.[44] It has uploaded over 11,000 videos, including clips that condemn and mock South Korea and the U.S. for blaming North Korea for the sinking of a South Korean warship in March 2010. The account has posted videos dubbing United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a "Maniac in a Skirt".[50] The account had over 3,000 subscribers and over 3.3 million views as of November 28, 2012;[44] by early 2015, numbers had grown to over 11,000 subscribers and more than 11 million views.[51] On February 5, 2013, a propaganda film that featured New York in flames was blocked and then taken down after Activision pointed out that the video used copyrighted footage from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.[52] It currently has around 12,000 subscribers and 12,600,000 views.[citation needed]
  • Twitter: The government's official Twitter account is also named Uriminzok (English: "Our race"). It gained 8,500 followers in the first week.[43] As of November 28, 2012, the account had almost 11,000 followers and had sent out almost 5,000 tweets;[53] by early 2015, the account had sent almost 13,000 messages and had close to 20,000 followers.[54] In January 2011, the Korean-language account was hacked and featured messages calling for North Korean citizens to start an uprising.[55] In April 2013, the country's Twitter account was hacked by the online activist group Anonymous.[56]
  • Flickr: The Flickr account was started in August 2010 and deactivated in April 2013. The site included many pictures of Kim Jong-un receiving applause from the military; children eating, in school, and enjoying life; booming agriculture; and modern city life.[57] The Urminzokkiri Flickr account was hacked by Anonymous in April 2013, as part of the group's attack on North Korea's social media accounts.[58] As of April 2013, the Flickr account is deactivated.

Propaganda village

Kijŏngdong, Kijŏng-dong or Kijŏng tong is a village in P'yŏnghwa-ri (Chosŏn'gŭl: 평화리; Hancha: 平和里), Kaesong-si, North Korea. It is situated in the North's half of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and is also known in North Korea as "Peace Village" (Chosŏn'gŭl: 평화촌; Hancha: 平和村; MR: p'yŏnghwach'on).

The official position of the North Korean government is that the village contains a 200-family collective farm, serviced by a childcare center, kindergarten, primary and secondary schools, and a hospital. However, observation from the South suggests that the town is actually an uninhabited Potemkin village built at great expense in the 1950s in a propaganda effort to encourage defections from South Korea and to house the DPRK soldiers manning the extensive network of artillery positions, fortifications and underground marshalling bunkers that abut the border zone.[59]

See also




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  2. Szilak, Illya (November 4, 2012). "Meeting, Everywhere, The Rulers Of North Korea". The Huffington Post.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Han Young Jin (2007-01-10). "North Korea's Idolization - 40% of National Budget". Daily NK. Seoul: DailyNK. Retrieved 2016-05-28. Seeing American news reports that 40% of North Korea's national budget is spent on Kim Father and Son idolization propaganda, South Korean citizens are asking themselves if that much money could really be spent on that.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  5. Becket 2005, p. 51.
  6. Myers 2010, p. 37.
  7. Myers 2010, pp. 36–7.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Becket 2005, p. 53.
  9. Myers 2010, pp. 101–2.
  10. Myers 2010, p. 103.
  11. "Chinoy, Mike (March 1, 2003). "North Korea's propaganda machine". International CNN: Asia. Panmunjom, South Korea: CNN.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Becket 2005, p. 40.
  13. Myers 2010, p. 65.
  14. Myers 2010, p. 35.
  15. Myers 2010, p. 130.
  16. Myers 2010, p. 135.
  17. Myers 2010, pp. 136–7.
  18. Myers 2010, p. 131.
  19. Szalontai, Balázs (Winter 2013). "Instrumental Nationalism? The Dokdo Problem Through the Lens of North Korean Propaganda and Diplomacy". The Journal of Northeast Asian History. Northeast Asian History Foundation. 10 (2): 105–162.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Myers 2010, p. 129–30.
  21. 22.0 22.1 Hitchens, Christopher (2010-02-01). "A Nation of Racist Dwarfs: Kim Jong-il's regime is even weirder and more despicable than you thought". Fighting Words. Slate. Retrieved 2012-12-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Myers 2010, p. 152.
  23. 24.0 24.1 Myers 2010, p. 155.
  24. Myers 2010, p. 72.
  25. Myers 2010, p. 78.
  26. Myers 2010, p. 81.
  27. Myers 2010, pp. 90–1.
  28. Myers 2010, pp. 83–4.
  29. Myers 2010, p. 88.
  30. Myers 2010, p. 119.
  31. Becket 2005, pp. 36–7.
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  35. Myers 2010, p. 91.
  36. Myers 2010, p. 92.
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  54. "North Korea's Twitter account hacked to call for uprising: The North Korean government's official Twitter account appears to have been hacked, with the feed calling for an uprising to remove the leaders from power". The Telegraph. 8 January 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  55. Rodriguez, Salvador (April 4, 2013). "North Korea's Twitter, Flickr accounts hacked; Anonymous speaks up". Los Angeles Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  57. "Anonymous 'hacks' North Korea social network accounts". BBC News. 4 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  58. Tran, Mark (6 June 2008). "Travelling into Korea's demilitarised zone: Run DMZ". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 5 July 2009. Kijong-dong was built specially in the north area of DMZ. Designed to show the superiority of the communist model, it has no residents except soldiers.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


Further reading

  • Portal, Jane (2005). Art Under Control in North Korea. Reaktion Books. ISBN 978-1-86189-236-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>