Chuch'e and Contemporary Social Values

North Korea Table of Contents

Chuch'e is a significant break with the Confucian past. Developed during the period of revolutionary struggle against Japanese imperialism, chuch'e is the product of Kim Il Sung's thinking. Chuch'e emphasizes the importance of developing the nation's potential using its own resources and reserves of human creativity. Chuch'e legitimizes cultural, economic, and political isolationism by stressing the error of imitating foreign countries or of becoming excessively "international." During the 1970s, Kim Jong Il suggested that chuch'e ideology be renamed Kim Il Sung Chuui (Kim Il Sungism). Kim Il Sungism, epitomizing chuch'e, is described as superior to all other systems of human thought, including (apparently) Marxism.

Chuch'e thought is not, at least in principle, xenophobic. P'yongyang has devoted considerable resources to organizing chuch'e study societies around the world and bringing foreign visitors to North Korea for national celebrations--for example, 4,000 persons were invited to attend Kim Il Sung's eightieth birthday celebrations.

The government opposes "flunkeyism." Kim Jong Il, depicted as an avid student of Korean history in his youth, was said to have made the revolutionary proposal that Kim Yushin, the great general of the Silla Dynasty (668-935), was a "flunkeyist" rather than a national hero because he enlisted the aid of Tang Dynasty (618-907) China in order to defeat Silla's rivals, Kogury and Paekche, and unify the country. Chuch'e's opposition to flunkeyism, moreover, is probably also a reaction to the experience of Japanese colonialism.

Apart from the North Korean people's almost complete isolation from foreign influences, probably the most significant impact of chuch'e thought and Kim Il Sungism with regard to daily life is the relentless emphasis on self-sacrifice and hard work. The population is told that everything can be accomplished through dedication and the proper revolutionary spirit. This view is evident in the perennial "speed battles" initiated by the leadership to dramatically increase productivity; another example is the bizarre phenomenon called the "drink no soup movement," apparently designed to keep workers on the factory floor rather than going to the lavatory. Moreover, chuch'e provides a "proper" standpoint from which to create or judge art, literature, drama, and music, as well as a philosophical underpinning for the country's educational system.

Custom Search

Source: U.S. Library of Congress