North Korea’s Youth Grow Increasingly Critical of Socialist System

Email story
Comment on this story
Print story
A group of young men watch synchronized swimmers at gala event in Pyongyang, Feb. 15, 2017.
A group of young men watch synchronized swimmers at gala event in Pyongyang, Feb. 15, 2017.

The youth of North Korea are more likely to be critical of the country’s political system than older generations and frequently crack jokes about the failings of the Kim Jong Un regime, despite the threat of arrest, according to sources.

Pyongyang recently responded to U.S. President Donald Trump’s increasingly hawkish policy towards North Korea by saying that the Kim regime “will not shy away from the opportunity to defend socialism,” according to a statement in the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

But sources told RFA’s Korean Service that the country’s youth regularly mock the failings of the political system, which they believe is socialist purely in name, referring to how “China alone is a socialist country with its own characteristics, while ours is a capitalist country with North Korean characteristics.”

“The younger generation today is different from the older generation, which dared not make critical remarks about the North Korean system,” said a resident of Pyongyang who spoke to RFA under condition of anonymity while traveling in China.

“They are more open-minded and critical than the older generation. When they meet up, these young people tend not to hesitate to criticize their supreme leader Kim Jong Un and the [ruling] Workers’ Party.”

North Koreans who make disparaging statements about the government are subject to severe punishment at the hands of the authorities. Earlier this month, sources told RFA that seven railroad workers heard criticizing a recent missile test by the regime were arrested by authorities in Jagang province at the end of March.

But according to the source, not only are younger North Koreans unafraid of mocking the government, but they go out of their way to retaliate against anyone who informs the authorities about the things they say.

“If they get into trouble because their secret conversations were leaked by some whistleblower [to the authorities], they will chase him or her down and get their revenge in one way or another,” he said.

When asked why the youth had become so critical of North Korea’s political system, the source told RFA that there is a prevailing sentiment among them that life under the regime is a hypocrisy.

“Although the central government keeps praising the lack of an income gap as a merit of socialism, while saying that a large gap between the rich and poor is why the capitalist system doesn’t work, they don’t believe it,” he said.

“Instead, they point out that North Korea has become just as capitalist, with a growing divide between the haves and have-nots.”

A second source in North Pyongan province, near the border with China, told RFA that some young people are showing their dissatisfaction with the Kim regime by altering the lyrics of patriotic songs meant to express admiration of the North Korean leader.

“There is a song praising Kim Jong Un’s walk, called ‘ChokChokChok,’ and they sometimes sing the song by changing the lyrics ‘Kim Daejang (General Kim)’ to ‘Kim Ttungbo (Fatty Kim),” said the source, who also asked not to be named.

A former resident of Pyongyang who has since defected to South Korea surnamed Lee told RFA that few North Koreans understand the concept of socialism and capitalism, and what differentiates the two political systems.

“But these young people, who can be called part of the ‘jangmadang’ (private markets) generation, seem to be very critical of the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, and have to vent their dissatisfaction because they have better access to information about the outside world.”

Authorities have long tried to block various forms of information from entering North Korea in an attempt to keep unwanted foreign influences from seeping into the isolated nation.

Leader Kim Jong Un is believed to be particularly sensitive about news of the outside world getting into the North because of its ability to undermine his regime’s propaganda efforts and threaten his support base—made up largely of the country’s elite.

Reported by Junho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Changsop Pyon. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.





More Listening Options

View Full Site