The North Korean authorities are currently employing various means to encourage frugality, an idea which has recently come to include ‘kwanhonsangje’ (the four ceremonial occasions; coming of age, marriage, funeral and ancestral rites).
In recent years there has been official criticism of the fact that engagement ceremonies, wedding gift exchanges between families and even the table for ancestral rites have become occasions full of over-spending, empty formalities and vanity.
Recently, Daily NK obtained a copy of the October issue of monthly magazine ‘Socialist Cultural Life’, to which social studies scholar Jang Seong Nam submitted a piece, ‘Let’s Perform Kwanhonsangje the Socialist Way’, in which he declared, “kwanhonsangje should be performed according to the demands of the Party and social development.”
The article emphasized, “We are taking the lead, seeing kwanhonsangje performed in the socialist way as a valid and unavoidable problem in the establishment of the new military-first socialist life.”
“Because old, feudalist, superstitious, empty formalities and bizarre foreign customs are not disappearing, we are strongly demanding action on this problem,” it went on, adding, “Rejecting bizarre foreign customs crushes the Imperialists’ policy of ethnic extermination under the banner of ‘globalization’.”
The article also looked in more detail at problem issues surrounding kwanhonsangjae.
“A sufficient engagement,” it proclaimed, “has two people and their parents meeting to confirm the marriage, and wedding ceremonies should be a gathering at someone’s home.”
Regarding funeral arrangements and ancestral rites, it recommended, “Commemorate a death by placing a medal or honorary certificate before an image of the deceased along with flowers, while the various commemorative services on the 3rd day or the birthday of the deceased should be eliminated.”
Getting into minutae, it added of a groom’s suit color, “Discard the convention of wearing a black or dark blue suit; men should wear bright colors according to season.”
In these ways, the article asserted, kwanhonsangjae becomes an aesthetic and modern set of customs with a uniquely Chosun ethnic color.
The piece appears to show both the state’s desire to restrain consumption but also to reassert ‘socialist’ attitudes and encourage nationalist attitudes, thus pushing back against the impact of foreign ideas coming in via overseas media, South Korean dramas and so on.
‘Socialist Cultural Life’ is distributed monthly to all official organs and enterprises. Its publisher, Labor Group Publishing House, publishes various other magazines including ‘Chosun Women’, ‘Worker’ and ‘Agricultural Worker’. As a part of the Party Propaganda and Agitation Department, its various publications are among the state’s most ubiquitous propaganda weapons after the daily Workers’ Party mouthpiece, ‘Rodong Shinmun’.