North Korean literature

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A shelf of books with Korean writing on them
Books on display at the Grand People's Study House in Pyongyang
This article deals with the literature of the northern half of the Korean peninsula following the proclamation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in 1948. For the literature of Korea before that date, see: Korean literature.

The partition of Korea following the Second World War led to a considerable cross-border movement, which included writers moving from North to South or from South to North.

North Korea's subsequent literary tradition was shaped and controlled by the State. "Guidelines for Juche Literature" published by the official Choson Writers' Alliance [조선 작가 동맹] emphasised that literature must extoll the country's leader, Kim Il-sung, and, later, Kim Jong-il. Only members of the Writers' Alliance are authorised to have their works published.

North Korean writers abroad[edit]

The DPRK Ministry of Culture promoted North Korean literature in Russia and China during the Cold War era. Several Soviet Koreanists published studies on DPRK literature and translations in Russian. Among the novelists translated into Russian and Chinese were:

Works published in Choson Munhak, the Choson Writers' Alliance's monthly literary journal, are accessible by subscription abroad.

Contemporary literature[edit]

As Ha-yun Jung puts it, "[i]f there is an underground network of dissident writers secretly circulating their writings under the watchful eyes of the Workers' Party, the world has not heard from them yet". In 2006, Words Without Borders included the works of four North Korean writers, translated into English, in its anthology Literature from the "Axis of Evil". Kang Kwi-mi's short story "A Tale of Music", published in Choson Munhak in February 2003, tells the tale of a young Zainichi Korean who discovers he is skilled at playing the trumpet, moves to North Korea, and relinquishes music in favour of stonemasonry. His passion for the "music" of stones is caused by the greatness of Kim Jong-il as expressed through stone monuments. Lim Hwa-won's short story "The Fifth Photograph" is told from the perspective of a North Korean woman who visits post-Soviet Russia in the early 1990s, and finds a country in a state of moral turmoil for having turned its back on socialism. The narrator blames insidious American influence for Russia's woes, and emphasises the need for strong ideological commitment in North Korea. Byungu Chon's poem "Falling Persimmons" evokes the emotional suffering caused by the partition of Korea, and hopes for reunification.

The anthology also contains an excerpt from Hong Seok-jung's 2002 novel Hwangjini, which received the 2004 Manhae Literary Prize – the first time the South Korean literary award had been conferred upon a North Korean writer. Hwangjini is a historical novel set in the sixteenth century.

Two recent autobiographies portray a dark view of life in North Korea; Kang Chol-hwan's "The Aquariums of Pyongyang" (2000) and Hyok Kang's "This is Paradise!" (2005).[5][6]

North Korean literary awards[edit]

According to "court poet" and now defector Jang Jin-sung, prior to 1994, when Supreme Leader Kim Il-sung was alive, the art of the novel was preeminent.[7] Nearly all the top state honors such as the Kim Il-sung Medal, the Order of Heroic Effort, and the title of Kim Il-sung Associate were awarded to the state's novelists.[7] The novel's length was a perfect medium to expose on the great deeds of Kim Il-sung, who was himself both an avid reader and writer of novels.[7] After his death in 1994, the novel was replaced by poetry, which was largely due to the countries economic problems which made paper very expensive and poetry about the deeds of Dear Leader could be reproduced easily in a single newspaper page.[7] Shorter poetry was most common, while the longer epic genre was restricted to just six poets, who were also the poets laureate of North Korea.[7] Epic poetry became the chief vehicle of political propaganda under Kim Jong-il.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ivanov, Viktorina Ivanovna (b. 1929) A creative way to Lee Ki-Yong. 1960. The life and work of Lee Ki-Yong. 1962. New Fiction of Korea. Nauka. 1987
  2. ^ Grave of North Korean Writer Ri Ki Yong
  3. ^ Grave of North Korean Writer Hong Myong Hui
  4. ^ Grave of North Korean Writer Han Sorya
  5. ^ Kang Chol-hwan (2001). The Aquariums of Pyongyang. Basic Books. 
  6. ^ Hyok Kang (2007). This is Paradise!. Abacus. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Jang Jin-sung (2014). "Chapter 1: Psychological Warfare". Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee--A Look Inside North Korea. 37 Ink. ISBN 978-1476766553. 

by Tatiana Gabroussenko; ISBN 978-0-8248-3396-1