it is a discussion about north korea

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Abstract

This article is a research that surveyed and compared everyday customs, such as food, clothing and shelter, rites and seasonal rituals, and awareness of daily issues, such as views on family values, marriage, education and career, of South Koreans with that of North Korean defectors, in order to better understand the characteristics of living culture of South Koreans and North Korean defectors and to search for ways for the two groups to communicate better and culturally integrate. The results of the research show that, in relation to everyday customs such as clothing, food and shelter, rites and seasonal rituals, both South Koreans and North Korean defectors had transformed the traditional living culture to befit the lifestyles of the modern era. It seems that everyday customs of South Koreans had become more westernized while North Korean defectors maintained more traditional customs, but such difference decreased as defectors spent longer time in South Korea. One commonality in everyday customs found between the two was that customs acted as a mechanism maintaining a sense of community among South Koreans and among North Korean defectors, who had lived for a long time in different systems.

Due to inter-Korea tensions, and differing experience and habits formed under the different systems of capitalism and socialism, a large gap between the two groups was found in the area of day to day awareness and values. Differences were most pronounced in views on marriage and career. First of all, South Koreans were more negative toward marriage with a North Korean defector than

* This paper is a summarized and revised version of the article “Basic Research on Living Cultures of South Koreans and North Korean Defectors.” published in History and Culture Studies Vol.48(2013).
This research was implemented under the support from the National Research Foundation of Korea with a grant endowed by the government (Ministry of Education, Science and Technology) in 2009 (NRF-2009-361-A00008).

Received December 31 2015; Revised version received January 31 2016; Accepted February 15 2016

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with a Korean of another country whereas the defectors were more negative toward marriage with an overseas Korean and positive toward marriage with a South Korean. Secondly, for South Koreans, the higher the income, the stronger the pride they had over their jobs. However, for North Korean, those with lower income tended to be more proud of their jobs. South Koreans preferred becoming civil servants and professionals. North Korean defectors also added to the list, workers, as a job that made them proud. Thirdly, in choosing their jobs, South Koreans felt the thoughts and advice of their parents to be important while North Korean defectors were more reliant on state policy. The results of this study gives us important insight into how we can promote cultural integration of South Koreans and North Korean defectors. First of all, the negative perspective South Koreans have of North Korean defectors has to be fundamentally revisited. It is essential that the prejudice of equating ordinary North Koreans with the government be overcome and that North Korean defectors be seen with a sense of national solidarity. Secondly, South Koreans and North Koreans defectors need to share the advantages of individualism and collectivism that the two sides had acquired as a result of living under different systems, and be able to use those advantages as a driver of social development. Third, cultural integration between South Koreans and North Korean defectors must be a process of attaining diversity in national everyday customs while respecting the customs of the other, and also of heading toward further expanding and developing national everyday customs.

Keywords: South Koreans, North Korean defectors, living culture, communication, cultural integration

1. Introduction

In 1948, two regimes were established, one in the South and the other in the North of the Korean Peninsula. Although the two broadly shared a common living culture with a long history, after the division of the Peninsula, the culture in the South and that of the North started to diverge. The everyday living culture of each side underwent transformation under the complex influence of division, Korean War, compressed modernization and capitalism or socialism.

The objective of this study is to use the results of the survey to compare and analyze the living culture of South Koreans and that of North Korean defectors. Everyday living culture is bound to change according to time and place. Having gone through the destruction and influx of foreign aid as the result of the war in the 1950’s, cultural influence of the US and the USSR, compressed

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modernization under either capitalism or socialism during and after the 1960’s, and globalization, isolation and the Arduous March experienced during the 1990’s, South Koreans and North Korean defectors unknowingly started to lead very different lives. The main part of this paper will look into how traditional living cultures of South Koreans and North Korean defectors changed over the years, focusing on everyday customs and awareness on daily issues.

During the late 1990’s, North Korea went through a severe food shortage, leading to many North Koreans defectors1) to escape to the South. As of May 2013, there were a total of 25,560 North Korean defectors who had entered South Korea2). According to other previous research surveying North Korean defectors, differences in the mindset, culture and everyday customs were the main factors that made it difficult for the defectors to adapt to the South Korean society, and this difference did not decrease over time (Chŏn 1997, 109-167).

And because of this kind of experience, many North Korean defectors pointed out that they thought the differences in perspective, culture, daily habits and customs between South and North Koreans would become the biggest problem should the Peninsula become reunified (Chŏn 1997, 109-167). Such research results show that there is a need for scholars to properly research into the everyday living culture of South Koreans and that of North Korean defectors and to come up with a viable solution.

Until now, studies on the living culture of South Koreans and that of North Korean defectors had been performed separately. However, approaching the two groups separately will not be effective in coming up with new prospects. In order to promote understanding, communication and integration between the two, it is

1) Before 1990’s, South Koreans referred to the people who had fled North Korea and settled in the South as Kwisuncha (surrendering defectors)’ or ‘Kwisunyongsa (surrendering warriors)’. After 1990’s, with the growth in the number of people fleeing from the economic crisis in the North, the term T’alpukcha (people fleeing the North)’ was widely used. However, some in the South pointed out that the term T’alpukcha had a negative connotation in regard to the North and that another term should be used instead, at which South Korea’s Ministry of Unification created a euphemism of Saetŏmin (people of the new land) and announced it on 9th January 2005. However, the legal and official term referring to either Kwisuncha, T’alpukcha or Saetŏmin is still Pukhanitalchumin (North Korean defectors). This paper will use the term ‘North Korean defectors’ to refer to Pukhanitalchumin, the official legal term referring to “people who had defected from North Korea and gained residency in South Korea”.

2) Statistics from website of the Resettlement Support Division of Ministry of Unification (http://www.unikorea.go.kr, accessed 10thSep, 2013).

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necessary to historically compare similarities and differences between the living culture of South Koreans and that of North Korean defectors.

To understand the characteristics of the living culture of South Koreans and North Korean defectors, it is essential that, first of all, a basic survey be carried out to comprehensively understand the two cultures on the same level. Based on this kind of survey, the two cultures can be compared and analyzed, and their similarities and differences properly understood. This process will enable South Koreans and North Korean defectors to find a road to socio-cultural integration.

From 3rd January to 28th February 2011, the Konkuk University Institute of Humanities for Unification performed a survey on the living cultures of South Koreans and North Korean defectors. 501 South Koreans and 109 North Korean defectors residing in the areas of Seoul, Suwon and Namyangju participated3). Sampling was based on gender and age to decide on the target population, and the survey included basic questions on locality, place of birth, age, gender, nationality, generation, level of education, marital status, structure and composition of family, period of residence, form of housing and income (in the case of defectors, the year of entry into South Korea was added). In the section surveying everyday customs, there were questions in regard to language, food, clothing and shelter, and seasonal rituals, and in the section asking about awareness on daily issues, there were questions related to the idea of supporting one’s parents, preference for sons, and perspectives on marriage, education and career4).

  1. 3) As of August 2011, according to a study by the Ministry of Unification, place of residency for North Korean defectors were distributed as follows: 29.4% in Seoul City, 26.6% in Gyeonggi Province, 9.4% in Incheon City, 4.1% in Busan City, 3.7% in Gyeongnam Province, 3.8% in Choongnam Province, 3.1% in Daegu City, 3.7% in Gyeongbuk Province, 3.0% Choongbuk Province, 2.7% Gwangju City, 2.5% in Gangwon Province, 2.3% in Daejeon City, 2.2% in Jeonnam Province, 1.9% in Jeonbuk Province, 1.3% in Ulsan City and 0.6% in Jeju Island (Statistics from Resettlement Support Division of the Ministry of Unification, http://www.unikorea.go.kr,accessed 10th Sep,2013).
  2. 4) In the process of organizing the results into tables, duplicate answers and non-responses were excluded. This is why in some cases, the total does not add up to 100%. Unit is %.

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2. Everyday Customs: Traditional Customs Being Maintained

a) Food, Clothing and Shelter

In regard to the question on people’s perception of days that the Hanbok, Korean traditional costume, should be worn, South Koreans replied that they enjoyed wearing Hanbok ‘on special occasions’ and ‘on national holidays’. 30.5% replied that they don’t wear Hanbok. Only 2.6% replied that Hanbok was their everyday attire, showing that it had changed from an everyday clothing to a ceremonial costume.

<Table 1> Days Hanbok should be worn

South Koreans

North Korean defectors

Don’t wear Hanbok

30.5

45.0

On national holidays

40.1

36.7

Special occasions

40.7

17.4

Family gatherings

3.5

5.5

Everyday

2.6

0.9

As to the question of why respondents wore Hanbok, among South Koreans, the answer ‘because all should wear Hanbok on special occasions’ ranked first at 35.7%, ‘because Hanbok is beautiful’ ranked second (22.6%) and ‘because it makes me feel Korean’ came next (16.4%). On the other hand, in the case of North Korean defectors, 26.7% answered ‘because it makes me feel Korean’, 25.0% ‘because Hanbok is beautiful’ and 23.3% ‘because I want to proudly show I am Korean’, and 20.0% ‘because all should wear Hanbok on special occasions’.

Whereas South Koreans took it for granted that they wear Hanbok on special occasions because everyone had to, defectors wanted to show their consciousness and pride as Koreans by wearing Hanbok. Since the 1990’s in North Korea, Hanbok started to be referred to as national (minjok) clothing and people were encouraged to wear it (Kim, Seok-Hyang 2007, 84-88). Due to the influence of this kind of campaign, North Korean defectors also came to naturally consider the

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Hanbok as an attire that overtly manifested national identity.
In regard to the question Do you think you should always have kimchi with your meals? , 29.5% of South Koreans replied ‘very much so’ and 41.9% replied ‘yes’. So a total of 71.4% had replied positively to the question. When broken down according to age, respondents in their 20’s expressed the lowest preference for kimchi because they were the generation exposed the most to global cuisine and

enjoyed different tastes.

<Table 2> Do you think you should always have kimchi with your meals? : South Koreans

Total

Age group

Teens

20’s

30’s

40’s

50’s

60 and above

Very much so

29.5

34.9

26.7

20.2

39.2

28.6

29.3

Yes

41.9

38.1

33.7

51.0

31.4

44.6

56.0

No

13.8

14.3

14.9

19.2

14.7

10.7

5.3

Doesn’t matter

14.2

12.7

23.8

9.6

14.7

14.3

8.0

<Table 3> Do you think you should always have kimchi with your meals? : North Korean defectors

Total

Age group

Year of Entry into S.Korea

Teens

20’s

30’s

40’s

50’s

60 and above

Before 2006

2006 and later

Very much so

55.0

100

58.5

50.0

57.1

54.5

37.5

53.8

77.9

Yes

33.9

24.4

38.9

39.3

36.4

50.0

3.8

10.3

No

4.6

7.3

3.6

9.1

30.8

5.9

Doesn’t matter

6.4

9.8

11.1

12.5

11.5

5.9

For North Korean defectors, in all age groups, nearly 90% replied either ‘yes’ or ‘very much so’. The latter answer was 35% higher than that of South Koreans. The number of defectors who either replied ‘no’ or ‘very much no’ was half that of South Koreans, showing a high dependency on kimchi.5) The kimchi preference

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of North Koreans can be explained by the North’s emphasis on North Korean traditional foods6) as well as the influence of the typical simple diet of working class North Koreans basically consisting of rice, soup and kimchi, complemented by one or two vegetable dishes (Hwang and Chang 2001, 376). On the other hand, South Koreans showed a lower preference for kimchi because Korean food culture has become more diversified through westernization and globalization (Korean History Research Association 1999, 153-169).

On why kimchi should always be there with meals, majority of South Koreans replied ‘because it suits the Korean palate (50.3%)’, and ‘because it tastes good (19.2%)’. North Korean defectors replied similarly – ‘because it suits the Korean palate (70.1%)’, and ‘because it tastes good (7.2%). Both South Koreans and defectors alike were enjoying kimchi because it was a natural living culture. This kind of embodied kimchi-centered food culture does not easily change and both South Koreans as well as North Korean defectors were sustaining this culture and handing it down to younger generations.

b) Customs and Seasonal Rituals

In regard to the question, Do you think the coming of age, marriages, funerals and ancestral memorial rituals should be performed in the traditional way? , slightly more South Koreans answered negatively (‘not necessarily’ 53.8%) than positively (‘must’ 5.6% and ‘as much as possible’ 40.3%) whereas more North Korean defectors answered positively (‘must’ 22.0%, ‘as much as possible’ 37.6%) than negatively (‘not necessarily’ 39.4%). In short, 15% more North Korean defectors, in comparison to South Koreans, thought traditional rituals should be adhered to.

5) The same result was found in Song Chu-Un’s 2002 survey of 59 North Korean defectors (Song 2002, 141). 6) In an opinion article titled Arirang of the Sun Nationon July 11, 2002, Rodong Simun emphasized, All Koreans should be familiar with the pleasant kimchi taste. All Koreans love the chŏgori of Korean

skirts, Pyŏngyang-style cold noodles and the savory fermented soybean soup.

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<Table 4> Do you think coming of age ceremonies, marriages, funerals and ancestral memorial rituals should be performed in the traditional way?: South Koreans

Age group

Marital status

Gender

Teens

20’s

30’s

40’s

50’s

60 and above

Not married

Married

Men

Women

Must

7.9

6.9

1.0

6.9

3.6

8.0

7.1

4.7

8.8

3.2

As much as possible

27.0

28.7

52.9

45.1

48.2

37.3

29.9

46.5

46.1

35.7

Not necessarily

63.5

62.4

46.2

48.0

48.2

53.3

61.4

48.4

44.2

60.4

<Table 5> Do you think coming of age ceremonies, marriages, funerals and ancestral memorial rituals should be performed in the traditional way?: North Korean defectors

Age group

Gender

Year of Entry into S.Korea

Teens

20’s

30’s

40’s

50’s

60 and above

Men

Women

Before 2006

2006 and later

Must

22.0

27.8

10.7

36.4

37.5

18.5

24.5

6.9

26.9

As much as possible

100

36.6

33.3

35.7

36.4

37.5

37.0

39.6

51.7

33.8

Not necessarily

41.5

38.9

50.0

27.3

25.0

42.9

35.8

37.9

40.3

In the case of South Koreans, the younger the respondents and more women than men thought the four major rituals (coming of age ceremonies, marriages, funerals and ancestral memorials) did not have to be followed in the traditional way. Among the different age groups, people in their teens and 20’s recorded the highest for ‘not necessarily’ when it came to traditional observation of the four major rituals while people between the ages of 30’s and 50’s answered the highest for ‘must’. The difference between the former and the latter was nearly 20%. Those in their teens and 20’s tend to be critical toward adhering to traditional ways of performing the four major events.

As for North Korean defectors, the percentage for ‘not necessarily’ grew as

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respondents became younger, but the result for those in their 40’s stood out – 50% replied ‘not necessarily’. Defectors in their 40’s had spent their teenage years during the 1970’s in North Korea, which was when the single ideology system was established, and thus did not strictly follow traditional customs (Chu 1994, 494-495). Another reason could be that their awareness level for traditional rituals weakened because they were the ones who were breadwinners of their families during the difficult economic circumstances of 1990’s – referred to as the ‘Arduous March’ – during which it was hard to maintain traditional rituals (Kim and Chung eds. 2012, 136-137).

On the other hand, in regard to the question, Traditional holidays enjoyed by my family , South Koreans replied 97.4% for the ‘Lunar New Year’, 94.2% for ‘Thanksgiving (Ch’usŏk)’, 34.1% for the ‘First Full Moon’, 7.2% for ‘Hansik’ and 5.6% for ‘Tano’. For North Korean defectors, the order was ‘Lunar New Year’ 86.2%, ‘Ch’usŏk’ 78.0%, ‘First Full Moon’ 32.1%, ‘Hansik’ 32.1% and ‘Tano’ 26.6%. The ranking was the same, but a difference in the percentage could be observed. For South Koreans, the Lunar New Year and Thanksgiving were considered important holidays during which the entire family had to gather even if it meant large-scale, long distance traveling, but for North Korean defectors whose families have been separated, the significance of ‘holidays enjoyed by the entire family’ was inevitably weaker. However, it seems that North Korean defectors still observed traditionally holidays like Hansik and Tano7), which have relatively become less observed in South Korea.

These results reflect the holiday-related customs of North Korea. In May 1967, North Korea reduced the number of traditional holidays to be observed, under orders from President Kim Il Sŏng that Remnants of feudalism must be rooted out.However, during the late 1980’s some were revived and became a time for

7) In an agricultural society, the First Full Moon was a day bidding farewell to winter and ushering in the farming season, celebrated in the form of a festival praying for a good harvest. Hansik was the 105th day after the winter solstice. It was a day to prepare for the upcoming new farming season, planting trees or sowing vegetable seeds. Tano, since long ago, was considered the day when the yang force was the strongest and so was observed as one of the major holidays in Korea, Japan and China. During the agricultural period, it was a day farmers could rest, having finished sowing seeds of vegetables and rice, so farmers enjoyed themselves as much as they could on this day (Research Institute of Korean Studies 2001, 74, 83, 180).

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families, neighbors and co-workers to enjoy themselves (Chu 1994, 447-467).8) On Lunar New Year and Ch’usŏk, North Koreans perform simplified ancestral memorial rituals, and on the First Full Moon, eat traditional First Full Moon foods. On Hansik, they visit, or if necessary, move, the graves of their ancestors, and on Tano, workers spend the day playing sports or games together.9)

<Table 6> Traditional holidays enjoyed by my family (multiple response) : South Koreans

Total

Age group

Family structure

Teens

20’s

30’s

40’s

50’s

60 and above

Single

Nuclear family

2-genera tion family

3- generati on family

Lunar New Year

97.4

95.2

98.0

99.0

98.2

98.2

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