A South Korean scholar on Wednesday unveiled a survey of North Koreans – and not defectors – to learn more about changes in their identities and values due to the trend of marketization.
Yang Moon-soo of the University of North Korean Studies presented his recent research, conducted in March-June 2015, at an event entitled “North Koreans’ Mind,” organized by, the university.
“This research was conducted on 100 North Koreans who had been dispatched to a foreign country, in order to grasp the tendency toward materialization and individualization among North Koreans,” Yang said.
The research was conducted on these subjects rather than on defectors based on the supposition that defectors’ mentalities have been transformed as they settle down in South Korea or other foreign countries. For legal reasons the survey was conducted by a third party who were not South Korean.
Yang evaluated that the identities of North Koreans are changing, but the influence of marketization has not fully taken over their values.
Yang said that those surveyed, when asked whether they would be happier with goods that they don’t have now, answered overwhelmingly in the affirmative. However, they responded less positively to questions such as whether the goods they have signify their quality of life, and whether they are greatly interested in goods others own.
Yang analyzed that this indicates that North Koreans desire to be happy, but don’t particularly desire to be successful by owning more.
“The tendency to connect possessions and success is still weak in North Korea,” Yang said.
“North Koreans consider wealth the origin of happiness, but do not consider wealth the origin of success, and jealousy toward wealthy people was not considerable,” Yang said.
The idea of community still seems powerful among North Koreans, even though the survival of the individual is becoming more important these days.
“The question, ‘Each family member should be unified as a whole, regardless of the sacrifice necessary,’ scored highest,” he said. But such sentiments are becoming intermingled with a new sense of individualism, as the question “I depend on myself rather than other people” also prompted high responses.
Another researcher reported this type of mixed tendency, regarding private work independent of state supervision.
“I asked to one of the donju (wealthy class), ‘Is it proper to sell one’s labor?’ and he said no, even though he used to hire 20 people for his private factory,” said Yoon Chul-ki of Seoul National University of Education.
“Then I asked why, and he said ‘because of socialism’ they were doing it, even while saying no.”
Yang pointed out a lack of a representative sample, saying that 67 percent of respondents were from Pyongyang, and asked for a conservative interpretation of the data.
Panelist Lee Young-hoon said that the methodology employed was new, and therefore it was inevitable not to have enough samples.
Lee did suggest spending more time exploring how North Koreans interpret concepts like “success” or “happiness” through in-depth interviews with defectors in South Korea.
“It is the task for the future, comparing the mindsets of South Koreans and North Koreans in order to analyze North Koreans’ tendencies in more objective, systematic manner,” Yang said.
Featured Image: Pyongyang, DPRK (North Korea) by Matt Paish 2014 on 2012-10-09 05:06:47
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