North Koreans use solar-powered mini-TVs to watch South Korean dramas

Popular KBS drama "The Wang Family"
Popular KBS drama “The Wang Family” Image: KBS

The North Korean authorities are focused on preventing the spread of foreign media throughout the country, but North Koreans continue to sidestep the crackdowns in order to  watch South Korean dramas.

“Almost everyone watches foreign dramas, and they watch them repeatedly – 10 to 20 times,” said a South Hwanghae Province-based merchant. “The young and old watch dramas even if they’re not getting enough to eat.”

The source reported that the most popular South Korean dramas these days include: “The Three Musketeers,” “Autumn in My Heart” and “The Wang Family.”

“People will hum the theme songs to these dramas without even knowing it sometimes,” he said.

Foreign media is popular among North Koreans because the country lacks stimulating entertainment and people are curious about South Korean society. The “Korean Wave” is also a major force among the country’s upper-class.

“Even a Ministry of State Security (MSS) agent who comes over to our house asks for the latest dramas on a memory stick because he wants to watch them,” the source said.

The country’s lack of electricity, however, makes it difficult for people to watch TV. Most have nonetheless learned to adapt.

“There’s so little electricity that people generally watch dramas on a small-screen television (screen size: 182mm to 257mm). You can put a battery into these mini-TVs and recharge the batteries during the day with solar power,” a source in North Pyongan Province reported.

“There are even people who use SD cards and watch dramas on their smartphones. Members of the Youth Alliance and other government outfits sometimes conduct surprise checks of kids’ phones.”

He added that Group 109 and the MSS conduct raids on houses and are suspicious when groups of people are found. “They also use moles to identify people watching foreign dramas,” he explained.

Group 109 is a joint task force between local police agencies and the Ministry of State Security (MSS) aimed at suppressing the viewing and distribution of foreign movies on compact discs and flash drives.

The North Korean authorities have used undercover agents to monitor students and others who enjoy watching foreign entertainment. Those caught face severe punishment.

The spread of the “Korean Wave” has not led to a weakening in government crackdowns. Instead, North Koreans are finding new ways to avoid getting caught.

“People watch dramas with others they trust because it’s such a big problem now. They don’t tell anyone they don’t trust about dramas they have in their possession,” said a source in North Hamgyong Province

“Being in possession of Korean movies and dramas can lead to expulsion from their place of residence. People are taking more precautions to avoid getting caught.”

Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time reporters and covers North Korean technology and human rights issues, including the country's political prison camp system. Mun has a M.A. in Sociology from Hanyang University and a B.A. in Mathematics from Jeonbuk National University. He can be reached at