Kim Jong-un jokes: what do North Koreans think?

Saturday 1st December, 2012


Our informants returned to China from Pyongyang with interesting news: subversive jokes are all the rage in North Korea, and the leader Kim Jong-un has become the butt of today’s most popular Pyongyang jokes.

Kim Jong-un’s birthday, falling on the 8th of January, could not be celebrated by the regime in 2012 because it followed too closely in the wake of Kim Jong-il’s death. On 8th January 2013, however, celebrations are poised to take place in Pyongyang and throughout North Korea to mark the day for the first time.

The entire population of North Korea is being mobilized in the run-up to these celebrations by means of compulsory ideological lectures and enforced participation in events such as ‘Apple-Picking for the Leader’s Birthday’ or ‘Street-Cleaning for the Leader’s Birthday’.

Fines for non-attendance at these state-sponspored programs have been doubled. In addition, companies involved in foreign trade have been ordered to focus their resources on activities which rake in foreign-currency income.

January 8th is pronounced in Korean as ‘ilpal’ (one-eight). Coincidentally, the Korean word for eighteen is a homophone of the swear-word ‘sippal’ (ten-eight), which can be translated as ‘f**king’.

Taking advantage of this pun, Pyongyang residents are apparently referring to Kim Jong-un’s birthday as the ‘f**king celebrations’ and compulsory state programs as ‘f**king Apple-Picking Day’. Many other spin-offs have arisen: f**king events, f**king mobilisation day etc.

In fact, anyone and anything related to Kim Jong-un’s birthday celebrations is said to be prefixed in such a way.

Among trusted friends, Kim Jong-un is even being referred to as ‘f**king comrade’, ‘f**king General’ or ‘f**king Kim the Third’.

This is not merely a humorous symptom of discontent. Studies based on interviews with North Korean defectors have consistently shown that the deification of the Kim family cult has been extremely effective: to the extent that such ‘blasphemous’ puns were never even used in private conversation by North Koreans.

In this context, it is significant that ‘Kim Jong-un humour’ is not an isolated phenomenon. Other trusted informants have reported such jokes becoming frequent in the past year or so.

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