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North Korea - Culture

North Korea Culture

Kim Il Sung promoted traditional Korean arts and culture vigorously, though his motives for doing so are debatable. He was a fierce nationalist who was convinced of the superiority of Korean culture: North Koreans were told that they were ethnically superior, that their country was the best in the world and Kim Il Sung was the greatest man who ever lived. What that all means is that if you have an interest in traditional Korean arts, North Korea is the place to see them. You can view exhibitions of traditional or modern pottery, sculpture, painting and architecture on request, and your guide will take you to films or the theatre for a reasonable charge.

Traditional music is similar to that of Japan and China, with an emphasis on strings. The two main forms are the stately chongak and the folksier minsogak. Among the folk dances are drum dances (mugo - a hectic, lively court dance where the participants wear drums around their necks), mask dances (talchum), monk dances (seungmu) and spirit-cleansing dances (salpuri). Korea is also strong in the visual arts. Traditional painting has Chinese calligraphic elements, with the brush line being the most important feature. Most traditional sculpture is Buddhist.

The most important work of Korean literature is Samguk Yusa, written in the 12th century by the monk Illyon. Koreans consider their language an art form, and are particularly proud of their script, hangeul. While the Korean of the North is essentially the same as that of the South, the North has developed a different accent and vocabulary, influenced by China and Russia rather than Japan and America, and it has become difficult for citizens of both sides to understand each other's casual speech.

Traditional Korean society was based on the tenets of Confucianism, a system of ethics developed in China around 500 BC. Confucianism is big on devotion and respect - for parents, family, friends and those in positions of authority. Confucius also emphasised justice, peace, education, reform and humanitarianism. All traditional religion in North Korea, however, is regarded as an expression of 'feudal mentality', an obsolete force opposing political revolution, social liberation, economic development and independence. Some important Buddhist temples and shrines still exist, mostly in rural or mountainous areas; most of them function only as tourist drawcards or museums. Showcase Christian churches have also been exhibited to foreign visitors in the past in an effort to claim that North Koreans enjoy religious freedom, but they may well be just that: showcases.

Despite reports of severe food shortages, foreign visitors with US dollars can eat very well. Your guide orders your food, so if you have any special requests, such as vegetarian meals, you need to make them known in advance. Meat, fish and poultry is normal, although North Koreans tend to assume you will want western food, so you'll have to specify if you want to eat local food. Try the local insam-ju (Korean vodka infused with ginseng root) which is probably the best of the hard liquors, or the very passable Korean beer.

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