Every week we ask a North Korean your questions, giving you the chance to learn more about the country we know so little about.
This week’s question is:
What do North Korean schools teach about China, Japan, and South Korea?
If you’ve read or studied a little bit about North Korea, you’d know the United States military is who North Korea considers the main enemy. The North Korean government is supposed to distribute equal amounts of pie to everybody in the country. But since it’s failing to do so, it strives to test its nukes and develop weapons of mass destruction. The North Korean government finds justification for this under the cause of protecting the nation against the United States – the hero North Korea standing tall against the world hegemony called the United States, which imposes its power on innocent weak countries around the world!
North Korean government strives to educate (or brainwash!) its people by providing educational material showing war crimes the U.S. military committed against unarmed Koreans during Korean War. This is quite successful and it works on them every single time. The main logic behind these educational materials is straightforward – imperialist states such as United States and Japan are bigger in size and have a better economy than that of North Korea. Hence, we – North Korea – need to do our best to maintain our national security against those nations. We can live without bread but we can’t live without weapons (to protect ourselves).
What is most commonly found in North Korea after the prevalent statues of Kim Il Sung? The answer is war memorials and museums exhibiting the war crimes and atrocities the United States and Japan committed against innocent Koreans during Korean War and the rule of Japan. From second or third grade, North Korean students go to those war memorials and museums on excursions. This is how young North Koreans learn the importance of national security. When they see the photos and archives of Americans and Japanese torturing innocent, unarmed Koreans, these students are supposed to realize that it is even more severe than what they learned from textbooks.
North Korea focuses on the importance of maintaining its national security against the U.S. But young North Koreans feel more anger toward Japan. The Korean War lasted for three years (1950-1953). But Korea was annexed by Japan for 35 years, which is a lot longer than the Korean War. More evidence and historical archives about the ruthless Japanese imperialism exist than those about Korean War. Hence, despite the fact that North Korea works so hard to make its people hate America, young North Koreans feel more anger and resentment towards Japan and what they did to Koreans during the annexation and World War II. In this sense, the North Korean historical education system has been successful.
So the North Korean government and its people have negative opinions of America and Japan. But North Koreans do not have a bad opinion about South Korea. What North Korea always says is, “South Koreans are the poor people we share blood with who are suffering and agonizing under the American military rule and we shall be a savior to them soon!”
When two teenage South Korean girls were run over and killed by the U.S. armored vehicle also known as Yangju Highway Incident, a public demonstration was also held in North Korea, too. The main cause for this demonstration was to help drive the U.S. military out of South Korea and make sure it didn’t happen again in South Korea. I’m not sure why the North Korean government staged such a demonstration but most North Koreans felt anger and sympathy for these teenage South Korean girls who lost their lives.
North Koreans can tell immediately that South Koreans are better dressed and look better off
However, there are hardly any North Korean who believes that South Koreans are suffering hunger under U.S. military rule. North Koreans are not dumb enough to believe that! North Korean TV broadcasts and reports about demonstrations and protests staged by South Koreans and North Koreans pay more attention to how South Koreans dress rather than why they’re protesting or going on a strike. North Koreans can tell immediately that South Koreans are better dressed and look better off – they have far better clothes and shoes and are often, very stylish people! Most North Koreans know South Koreans are wealthier and have freedom to protest against their own government and voice their opinions.
Anyway, North Koreans don’t have a bad opinion of South Koreans because the North Korean government educates North Koreans that South Koreans are the people North Korea needs to save and help! North Koreans have a great interest in South Korean pop culture as its dramas, movies and comedy programs spread across North Korea. In fact, there are many young North Koreans who think they would escape from North Korea if they could see South Korean actors once in their lifetime. South Korea is like a heaven where most young North Koreans want to visit.
Now, what do North Koreans think of China? I’m not sure about what the North Korean government thinks of China. But most ordinary North Koreans don’t like China that much. North Koreans know that China has better economy than that of North Korea. But North Koreans think Koreans are more civilized and cultured people with better manners than the Chinese. North Koreans have this notion that Chinese people take a bath only once a year, they don’t keep their houses clean, they wear shoes inside their house and such – for these reasons, North Koreans think Chinese are filthy and therefore, Koreans are more civilized than the Chinese.
While South Korea is a heavenly place to North Koreans, North Koreans wouldn’t want to live in China ever. Most times, North Koreans think China is worse than North Korea. In North Korea, one can find derogatory terms and racial slurs referring to the Chinese and Japanese. But no derogatory terms about South Koreans exist in North Korea. Among South Korea, China and Japan, the North Korean government may hate the South the most. But ordinary North Koreans? They hate Japan the most, and China is second only to Japan. But oh boy, North Koreans love South Korea and its pop culture and they want to live there!
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Translation by Elizabeth Jae
Artwork by Catherine Salkeld
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