Every week, we ask a North Korean your questions, giving you the chance to learn more about the country we know so little about.
Today’s question is: I heard that you don’t use the western solar calendar but count the years from the day on which Kim Il Sung was born. Is that true?
Yes, it is true that we count the years from the birthday of Kim Il Sung, but we don’t exclude the solar calendar used in the West. When we count the years from the day Kim Il Sung was born, we add “Juche year” to differentiate it from the western solar calendar. For example, when we talk about the year 2017, we refer to it as the Juche 105th year. Pretty easy, right?
I’m not sure if it is because I was brainwashed by the North Korean regime from an early age, but, as a young girl, I always thought that referring to the year as the Juche year seemed more elegant and sophisticated.
For instance, it always seemed elegant to say “We are now in Juche 88, the year 2000” rather than to say “it is the year 2000.”
Occasionally, I ran into a friend or two who couldn’t remember exactly what Juche year it was even though that person knew what year it was according to the western calendar. To me, it always made them look dumb.
Still, I didn’t know what Juche exactly meant. Without fully understanding the ideology, I just thought that I should embrace everything associated with Juche without questioning it.
However, from the time I entered Elementary school, I began to learn little by little the meaning of Juche and why we should regard the Juche calendar with more dignity than the western solar calendar. It was in Elementary school that I learned that we count the years from the day Kim Il Sung was born when we reference the Juche year.
I finally learned that “Juche” meant self-reliance, the idea Kim Il Sung supposedly embraced while fighting against the Japanese and U.S. imperialists. While learning about the great achievements of Kim Il Sung, I found myself immersed in the Juche Ideology gradually. I was still too young to fully understand it, but I could sense that it meant something bigger and more profound than most people can imagine.
In North Korea, the birthdays of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are the most important days of the year. North Korea has the planned economy, and the government likes to plan everything in time for the birthdays of Our Great Leaders.
For instance, the regime likes to plan something under the slogan of ‘Let us complete the construction of highways in time for the 60th birthday of the General’ or under the the slogan of ‘Let us boost the rate of the production of steel to 100% in time for the 50th birthday of the General.’
For this reason, people are constantly reminded of the age of the two past leaders of North Korea. In schools, students are often asked by their teachers how old the General is this year. If a student cannot answer right away, people’s responses will be like “how can you not remember it when you’re told all the time in this country?”
As long as you remember what Juche year it is, you do not need to do the math ‘2017-1912’ (1912 is the year Kim Il Sung was born). 2017 is the Juche 105th year. Hence, Kim Il Sung would’ve been 104 years old this year. (Caution: you need to subtract one from 105)
Now that I think about it, it is all ridiculous. When I first arrived in South Korea and went through interrogation by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) agent, I kept referencing the Juche year instead of the western solar calendar. I remember that it pissed off the agent quite a bit.
I grew up my entire life using the Juche year. I couldn’t break the old habit overnight. Back in North Korea, I never learned about AD and BC. In history class in North Korea, they never taught me about the origin of the solar calendar.
I finally learned that BC stands for Before Christ after arriving in South Korea. It has been years since I arrived in South Korea. It makes me chuckle to even say the word ‘Juche’ nowadays. But while I was growing up in North Korea, it was natural to use it all the time. It’s hard to shake old habits.
Written by Je-son Lee
Translation by Elizabeth Jae
Featured image: Adam Westerman
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 771 words of this article.