North Korean authorities in South Pyongan Province have recently stepped up crackdowns on young people and students over dyed hair, clothing and other aspects of their outward appearance, Daily NK has learned.

“The provincial Youth League [Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist Youth League] recently issued an order on ‘proper’ hairstyles and clothing,” a source in the province told Daily NK on Aug. 19. “The authorities are cracking down on dyed hair, earrings, jeans and clothing with foreign lettering.” 

The authorities view dying one’s hair or wearing tight clothes as part of the “yellow wind of capitalism” and have labeled such conduct “anti-socialist behavior.” 

At the Fifth Plenary Meeting of the Seventh Central Committee held in late July, the authorities had decided that stronger action would be taken against anti-socialist behavior. Following the decision, the authorities had made efforts to crack down on the behavior along with propaganda activities aimed at the population. 

According to the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons, the latest move is part of measures to carry out the plenary meeting’s decision and to tackle “waning discipline” within the country caused by disease control measures aimed at combating the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The source noted that the latest campaign has singled out students in particular. 

“The latest order to crack down on anti-socialist elements was handed down by the Party’s Education Department,” the source explained. “Stronger controls on students are being implemented at elementary-middle schools [middle schools] and high-middle schools [high schools].” 

North Koreans in Pyongyang around the time of the Pyongyang Summit in 2018. / Image: Pyongyang Photography Joint Reporting Group

Some students were reportedly publicly shamed for walking outside with dyed hair or earrings. 

“Early this month, the South Pyongan Province and Pyongsong Youth League hosted an ‘ideological struggle’ meeting in which ten or so students caught by the campaign were brought on stage and publicly shamed by officials and teachers from youth leagues at various schools,” the source said.

The public shaming reportedly included harsh criticism from attending officials and teachers, who berated the students and called them “human trash that has no place in North Korean society.” This is the same rhetoric used in North Korean protests denouncing defectors. 

The source told Daily NK that the targeted campaign against students is based on the view that young people are actively accepting foreign culture such as the Hallyu (the Korean Wave), making them less obedient to the regime than older generations. Believing that young people lie at the heart of the spread of anti-socialist culture, North Korean authorities are trying to clamp down harshly on them. 

The crackdown has led to a strong backlash against the authorities among students, according to the source. 

“Students think it’s unfair that they are not allowed to dye their hair when even Ri Sol Ju does it,” the source said, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s wife. “The campaign to educate students is actually backfiring.”

The contradiction students are referring to is based on images of Ri Sol Ju when she appeared alongside Kim during 2019’s first Sino-North Korean summit. During the summit, her hair appeared to have been dyed brown, although whether she actually dyed her hair for the event has never been confirmed.  

According to the source, many students simply refer to Ri by her name instead of using the honorific term “First Lady” promoted by authorities. Young people also reportedly use informal pronouns to refer to Kim Jong Un on a frequent basis, demonstrating that they have not been won over by the regime’s attempts to deify its leaders. 

In May, Rodong Sinmun published an editorial titled “The Importance of Strengthening the Stronghold of Ideology and Culture in Every Way.” This article claimed that other socialist nations’ failure to pay attention to the education of younger generations “has caused [the young people in those countries] to become addicted to the punkishness spread by imperialists” and that “progress of the revolution and the fate of socialism hinges on [the success] of educating young people.”

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