North Korea Traditions and Literature

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The whole Korean world has undergone an evolution since the early years of the century. XX: traditions and customs, which for centuries remained inert even in the face of Chinese cultural penetrations, have undergone rapid modifications and alterations under the pressure of the political events that have affected the country. In the countryside there are residues of an ancient family behavior, dictated by Confucian ethics, in respect of the elderly and in marriage. The position of subjection of woman to man also resisted, as well as the differentiation of classes on the basis of religion: according to thereligionfaqs, among the educated classes there are habits and customs connected to Confucianism, among those middle traditions derived from Buddhism; among the most popular strata, pagan traditions and beliefs predominate, mixed with Buddhist influences. The funeral rites refer to ancient traditions, modified in recent times by Japanese and Western influences. Among the individual feasts, the one that every man celebrates at the age of sixtieth takes on the greatest importance. Traditional clothing is characterized by the prevalence of white and a certain simplicity. Koreans are avid gamers, especially of cards (made of strips of thick and yellow wax paper 14 centimeters long and 2 wide, with writing signs and progressive numbering). Among the children’s games the preference goes to the kite. Widespread sport is archery; wrestling is also very popular. Football, basketball and boxing are very successful. One of the activities promoted by the government is that of mass games, in which thousands of actors, dancers and gymnasts follow the Arirang Festival). The handicraft produces inlaid works of mother of pearl, dolls, objects in brass, amber, leather, silk. The cuisine is very spicy and centered on rice and millet. Typical dishes include dog meat cooked with vinegar or boiled and kimchi (set of small quantities of vegetables with red pepper). Among the non-alcoholic drinks, rice boiling water is preferred; among the alcoholic ones an infusion of juniper root and a rice brandy. The Korean is also an avid pipe smoker.


The oldest text, transmitted to us in a Chinese work of the century. IV d. C., is the Kong-hu-in (The lament of the lute). The introduction of writing dates back to the “Three Kingdoms Period”. Among the writers are mentioned Chŏngbŏp (6th century) and Ǔlchi Mundŏk (7th century) from the kingdom of Koguryo; among the works, the Chŏng’ŭpsa (Song of Chŏng’ŭp), the only fragment of the poetry of the kingdom of Paekche, and the Samdaemok (Catalog of the three periods), a collection of hyang’ga from the kingdom of Silla. Historiography and biographies of Buddhist monks also developed in Silla, mostly attributed to the “ten sages”, including Sŏl Ch’ong. Chinese influence peaked in the “Koryŏ Period” (918-1392). Two important historical works, the Samguk sagi (Annals of the three kingdoms) of the century. XII and the Samguk yusa (Traditions of the three kingdoms) of the century. XIII have handed down the myth of the formation of the Korean kingdom. They also document many of the poetic genres that will later have major development. In this period the short story (sosŏl) with educational intent and the first forms of theater were also born. Far from conspicuous was the production of the “ Choson Period ” (1392-1910), due to the continuous struggles and invasions that devastated the country. In 1446 the official use of the Korean alphabet was introduced, which allowed the translation and dissemination of various Chinese classics. The earliest work in this alphabet is the Yongbi ŏch’ŏn ka (1445; Hymn of the Dragons Ascending to Heaven). The kasa was formed and developed, the first sure example of which is the Sangch’un (Song in Praise of Spring) by Chŏng Kŭgin (1401-81); master of the genre was Chŏng Ch’ŏl (1536-93). But the greatest achievement was the novel, starting with Hong Kiltong-Jon (The story of Hong Kiltong) of hö Kyun (1569-1618). The famous is ascribed to the fabulous genre Ku-un mong (The Dream of the Nine Clouds) by Kim Manjung (1637-92). The “Modern and Contemporary Period” is characterized by the grafting of Western cultures, as is evident in the sinsi, the new genre of poetry. Many import trends joined the traditional ones, the most important of which was the Marxist current; a fierce nationalism in defense of traditional genres eventually prevailed, represented above all by Yi Kwangsu (1892-1950). After the Second World War, two literary currents were formed. The first was formed by authors from the North, such as Im Hwa (1908-1953), who remained faithful to the motifs of the proletarian literature of the early twentieth century. The other instead tends to safeguard the traditional values ​​of Korean culture, according to a concept of “pure literature” free from political alignments. After the civil war of 1950-53, Korean poets and writers also found themselves divided between North and South, some by ideological choice, others by necessity. In North Korea, however, literature was inevitably reduced to a mere propaganda tool for the regime. As evidence of this are some historical novels that appeared during the decades of Kim-Il-Sung’s rule, such as The Flower Girl, indicated as prototypes of national literature. Some of the themes also take up folk stories or traditional songs adapted in a “revolutionary” key in the service of propaganda.

North Korea Traditions

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