North Korea

Propaganda on Paper: A Look At North Korea’s Literary Fiction

No, this isn’t going to be an article about the worrying ongoing back and forth between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un on Twitter. Instead, it is about how, since Kim Jong Un took power in September 2010, the regime has demonstrated a marked thematic shift with emphasis on targeting youth, creativity and innovation; this includes state produced literary fiction.



Kim Jong Un

Image Via The Japan Times


Outside observers such as you and I can now access some of this propaganda via regime-sponsored websites. The stories in circulation are written in highly stylized prose which, according to Meredith Shaw, Ph.D. student of politics and international relations at the University of Southern California, is hard even for South Koreans to understand. Luckily for us, Meredith has created a blog inspired by her studies of North Korea on which she showcases her translations of the state sanctioned fiction. Through interviews with North Korean defectors living in Seoul, Shaw found that most North Koreans don’t spend their leisure time reading these journals. Many, however, told her that they “had been exposed to these stories at some point in school.”



Literary Fiction From North korea

Image Via Library Guides


This new literary fiction is published in monthly magazines and journals and falls under categories such as Korean literature, children’s literature, and youth literature. The writers behind this fiction belong to organizations within the ruling Korean Workers Party. The Chosun writer’s union is the organization with direct control over what is written about, who is trained to write and what themes are covered.


The stories that Meredith has translated include dramatic stories of the Leader’s lives, morality tales showcasing those who embody certain socialist ideals and sometimes, even American leaders make an appearance, for example Bill Clinton during a nuclear crisis cowering under a table, and Jimmy Carter losing his wife Rosalynn to Kim Il Sung after she becomes smitten with him.


Korean Woman

Image Via The Japan Times



More recent stories reference the luxurious recreational facilities the Leader has put in place which are meant to mirror Western-style amusements such as ski resorts and water-parks. “Teacher” is a short story published in 2013 and is about a family of schoolteachers who are delighted to hear they have been given a spacious new apartment in the Changjŏn complex, one of Pyongyang’s fancy new sky rises, complete with luxury amenities which North Korea has promised to innovators, creatives, and educators alike.


New Sky Rise Apartments in Pyongyang

Image Via The Japan Times


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