한국어 | January 16, 2017
January 16, 2017
Finding your significant other in North Korea
Finding your significant other in North Korea
Can love overcome the songbun hierarchical system?
August 5th, 2016

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:
How do you look for spouses in North Korea? Do you have blind dates?
Written by Yoo-sung Kim Translation by Elizabeth Jae


I think finding a partner in North Korea is similar to wherever you may live.

Of course, cultural differences exist in different countries. However, when it comes to finding a spouse for marriage, I think the differences are very small worldwide.

Elites in North Korea normally think the songbun of a person is the most important factor in deciding whether that person is suitable to marry a son or daughter. If the songbun of a person is satisfactory, the elites look at the fortune and economic ability of that person. While songbun is considered to be the most important factor in choosing the spouse for the elites, ordinary North Koreans look at the economic ability of the prospective spouse.

In a nutshell, for the upper class of North Korea, the family background and songbun of the person is the most decisive factor and for ordinary North Koreans, economic ability comes before songbun of that person.

Of course, North Korea is also also a place on earth where human beings with pumping hearts live. North Koreans fall in love just like anyone else in other countries in this world. As such, some North Koreans would pledge to be with each other until death does them part, even if they’re living under unfavorable economic circumstances.

When you’re in love, it isn’t important to you even if the person you love is poor. So, like as I said, North Koreans will sacrifice much in their lives in order to be with someone they love.

That said, the elites of North Korea will never trade their songbun for love. They’ll make sure their sons and daughters marry people of immaculate songbun, because it’s an important social caste system.

If you come from the lower part of the songbun system, you’ll never succeed in life, no matter how highly qualified you are. As a result, if children of elites marry people of lower songbun, they’ll never get a promotion or succeed in life and the lives of their offspring will be miserable, as well.

For the future of their entire family and their grandchildren, North Koreans who are at the top of the songbun system will therefore make sure to marry people of flawless songbun.

Take Jang Song Thaek for example. Even though he didn’t come from rich family, according to rumors he was admitted to North Korea’s most prestigious Kim Il-sung University because he was born with good songbun. When he started dating Kim Kyong Hui, Kim Il Sung tried to tear the couple apart, since Jang Song Thaek came from a low-income family. However, Kim Il Sung gave in when his daughter, Kyong Hui, refused to break up with Jang Song Thaek. Eventually, Kim Il Sung allowed them to marry each other.

As you can tell from this story, for the elites of North Korea, the songbun system matters more than the fortune and income of your prospective spouse.

So, how do North Koreans find partners for themselves?

Some people begin dating and when they feel confident that they can spend the rest of their lives with the people they’re dating now, assuming they will get permission from their parents and finally get married.

Blind dates also exist in North Korea, as well. People go on blind dates for the purpose of meeting a future spouse and, often, they’ll marry the people they meet on blind dates after seeing them for a while. If they really like that person, of course. And no matter how and where they meet that person, “fortune, family background and songbun” are the three most important factors in deciding whether they want to marry them or not.

As for the legal age limit, people have to be 17 and over in order to be able to get married. However, the North Korean government encourages women to be at least 24-years-old and men to be at least 28-years-old before they get married.

In short, the North Korean government teaches about the negative effects of marrying at an early age, by urging people to refrain because it’s hard to maintain a happy marriage if you get married too early in your life.

When I was in North Korea, the government distributed educational videos in which they taught that it makes it harder for you to realize your dreams if you got married too young. Among the videos I watched was a movie in which the main character got married at an early age and regretted later in their life looking at classmates and friends who realized their dreams, while the main character had to sit at home cooking for family.

By screening films in which the main character felt sorry about getting married at an early age and getting behind their peers in society, the North Korean government tried to tell its people to refrain from marrying when they were still young.

In North Korea, a woman graduates from high school at the age of 17 and is encouraged to build her career and gain some experience for five to six years in society before marriage. The same expectation applies for women who attend vocational college for two years and university for four years.

Hence, North Korean women are encouraged to consider marriage from when they’re 24 years old at the very least.

Main picture: NK News

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