Village Life

North Korea Table of Contents

A land reform law enacted in 1946 confiscated the holdings of big landowners and distributed them to poor farmers and tenants. The consequences of this compulsory redistribution were as much social as economic. Many rich farmers fled to the United Statesoccupied half of the peninsula south of the thirty-eighth parallel.

Rural collectivization, carried out in three stages between 1945 and 1958, had profound implications for a society consisting mainly of farmers living in small hamlets scattered throughout the countryside. The new class of individual landholders--whose holdings could not exceed five chngbo in lowland areas, or twenty chngbo in mountainous ones--had little time to enjoy their status as independent proprietors because the state quickly initiated a process of collectivization. In the initial stage, "permanent mutual aid teams" were formed in which landholders managed their own land as private property but pooled labor, draft animals, and agricultural tools. This stage was followed by the stage of "semisocialist cooperatives," in which land, still privately held, was pooled. The cooperative purchased animals and tools out of a common fund, and the distribution of the harvest depended on the amount of land and labor contributed. The third and final stage involved the establishment of "complete socialist cooperatives" in which all land was turned over to collective ownership and management. Cooperative members were paid solely on the basis of labor contributed.

The 1959 edition of the North Korea Central Yearbook reported that approximately 80 percent of all farmers had joined socialist cooperatives by December 1956 and that by August 1958 all had joined. A land law passed in 1977 stipulated that all land held by cooperatives would be transferred gradually to state ownership or "ownership by the entire people."

The state encouraged the merging of cooperatives so that they would coincide with the ri, or ni (village). The number of cooperatives with between 101 and 200 households increased from 222 cooperatives in 1954 to 1,074 cooperatives in 1958. The number of cooperatives with between 201 and 300 households increased from twenty cooperatives in 1955 to 984 cooperatives in 1958.

The merging process had important implications for kinship and family life: it broke down the isolation of the single hamlet by making the socialist cooperative the basic local unit and thus diluted p'a ties. The traditional kinship system and its strict rules of exogamy worked best in the isolation of hamlets. With the passing of the hamlets, the traditional kinship system and its strict rules of exogamy were seriously undermined.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress