[Feature] The secret item found in every North Korean home

North Korean home

Inside a North Korean home.

‘South Korean’ at home, ‘North Korean’ outside the home

Many North Korean families keep a secret item at home, whose discovery may lead to harsh punishment. Away from prying eyes and in the privacy of their homes, North Koreans enjoy using items forbidden by the state, according to North Koreans who have recently escaped from the country.

“In every North Korean home, there is at least one secret item” says Jung Young-chul* (age 34), who left Korea in 2012. He had a short-wave radio in the house and the family would secretly listen to South Korean broadcasts. To avoid being caught, they kept the radio hidden under a container for keeping rice.

They were not the only ones with a hidden radio. Jung explains, “Once, a friend described a story that I had heard the night before while listening to a South Korean broadcast. I brought it up with him one night in drink, and he confided that his family too had a radio. We laughed about it together.”

Kim Hee-young is from Chongjin, and she too left North Korea in 2012. She tells us, “We secretly traded South Korean TV shows in the markets and they always went very quickly. We ran out of stock on most days.”

She adds how outside the home, North Koreans dutifully obey the cultural restrictions enforced by the state. But inside the home, Hee-young says everything is different. “Where I lived, I would guess that almost every family owned a South Korean TV show. You can’t borrow what you want to watch if you don’t have something to trade it for, so everyone liked to keep at least one show at home.”

The secret items are not restricted to radios and DVDs. In areas where South Korean television programming can be picked up, families usually keep two television sets.

One set has pre-defined state channels that show only propaganda, for when authorities come to make an inspection. The other set is an illegal one that can receive South Korean programming. This is the one that is actually used by families. Hee-young offers another reason for keeping two television sets: “Some people make copies of South Korean shows and share them with friends, while others sell them in the black markets.”

Other North Korean families regularly listen to South Korean music and wear South Korean clothes at home, which is also forbidden by the state. Although a visitor to North Korea may see only North Koreans complying with regulations set by the regime, they enjoy breaking the rules in the safety of their homes. They behave like ‘North Koreans’ outside the home but become ‘South Koreans’ at home.

The North Korean state wants its people to know only loyalty to the Kim family. But under this coercive system, they are finding ways to transform the country from within. One North Korean refugee tells us, “Kim Jong-un is going to start a war? Who will pick up his gun to fight when Kim Tae-hee (a South Korean actress) is so beautiful?”

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  • http://www.facebook.com/aaron.kaiserchen Aaron Kaiser-Chen
    • NewFocusINTL

      No, but thanks for sharing the link with us – it looks really interesting!

  • http://twitter.com/sarahmorrigan Sarah Morrigan

    south korean tv is NTSC (and probably transitioning into digital by now), dprk tv is PAL. chinese tv is i think also PAL, and russian TV is SECAM. channel frequency ranges are also different. how do they smuggle tvs in from either south korea or from japan (also NTSC)? or, are there people who clandestinely build NTSC television sets domestically?

    • NewFocusINTL

      The TVs acquired from China all have NTSC capability. Regarding the digital transition, you can have a look at this piece: http://newfocusintl.com/north-korean-television-sets/

    • http://www.facebook.com/flubaluba.billandben Flubaluba Billandben

      15″ led tv can be smuggled in easily, as can tv decoders. I would say it should not be a major problem to get tv, but with everyone ratting on everyone else it is a problem with trusting friends and family.

      Hopefully if they get more tv from the rest of the world they will start planning or just thinking of revolution, and that would be a good thing.

    • Mike Stevens

      Amazon prime free shipping

      • brad

        Ah so North Korea gets Amazon prime but Canada still doesn’t? Sounds about right.

        • bryan


    • evilfish

      western propaganda exposed as usual

  • brett

    i can’t blame them kim tae hee is really beautiful *_*

  • adamhs

    I read an article a while back that many North Koreans who defect/escape to the south quickly become disillusioned because the South Korean soap operas/TV shows they watch mislead them to think that all South Koreans enjoy a lavish lifestyle portrayed on TV. Having said that, I’m sure their lives are better outside of North Korea regardless.

    • Jan Ligudziński

      Well, any country is lavish compared to NK. The ones who go back usually do this because of brainwashing/fear of getting punished.

    • Name

      So in a way, SK is providing NK with their own form of propaganda. Brilliant.

  • LostIsFound

    “Kim Jong-un is going to start a war? Who will pick up his gun to fight when Kim Tae-hee (a South Korean actress) is so beautiful?”

    • jackthesmack

      It’s funny because she looks average.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christopher.s.jannette Christopher S. Jannette

    My thoughts are with the North Korean people suffering under the jackboot of tyranny.

    Sic Semper Tyrannus. Thus always to tyrants. (death to tyranny)

  • http://www.facebook.com/christopher.s.jannette Christopher S. Jannette

    My thoughts are with the North Korean people suffering under the jackboot of tyranny.

    Sic Semper Tyrannus. Thus always to tyrants. (death to tyranny)

  • http://www.facebook.com/christopher.s.jannette Christopher S. Jannette

    My thoughts are with the North Korean people suffering under the jackboot of tyranny.

    Sic Semper Tyrannus. Thus always to tyrants. (death to tyranny)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Zoe-Ellen-Brain/1036085884 Zoe Ellen Brain

    The article describes the “outer party”. The proles don’t live as well as that.

    You can’t understand the DPRK except in terms of “1984”.

    • NewFocusINTL

      Thanks for commenting. According to our information, this article applies just as well to ordinary North Koreans in the regions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=742905400 K Dol Kan

    things we take for granted…

  • Sirius

    For anybody who has access to a computer, very small $10-20 DVB-T USB dongles based on the RTL2832 chipset which use the e4000 (52-2200 MHz) or R820t (24-1700 MHz) tuner chip (they are called by the nickname “rtlsdr”) can be used as super-tunable radios, which are around the size of a finger or even smaller. In addition to being able to receive many countries digital TV (DVB-T). Combined with an upconverter they can make a great all-band shortwave to UHF software-defined radio (SDR) that can fit in a mint tin or similar. Using free software like SDRsharp (SDR#) or Gnuradio, they can receive FM, police, fire, all kinds of digital modes, walkie talkies, pretty much everything radio-related.









  • Sirius

    SDR# (a Windows program for SDR) can also be used to receive analog PAL and NTSC tv with two RTL2832 dongles See the plugin list at http://www.rtl-sdr.com/tag/sdrsharp/page/2/ There are youtube videos showing how its done.

    A user on the SDR# Google Groups forum has posted a program based on ADSB# called TVSharp, which can be used to watch analogue PAL and NTSC TV using the rtl-sdr RTL2832 USB digital TV dongles. Download TVSharp directly here https://disk.yandex.com/public/?hash=mWEnrYyUZXGEF9VII1LvdbuxKgJvC6O134JAcUywXbU%3D or http://sdrts.amoti.ru/download/view.download/4/8 (Mirror 1) or (Mirror 2 (with source) https://mega.co.nz/#!a0YmjRDI!KEEuThsq4lKdHRzEbkFtG1RZxe0ZljKTkuFFf2QUonM ).

    > “The rtl-sdr as a software defined radio actually does not have enough bandwidth to receive a PAL or NTSC signal properly. PAL and NTSC signals require more than double the 2MHz typical bandwidth of the rtl-sdr. But, a decent black and white signal can still be obtained by using some of the luminance part of the signal. As only part of the signal is sampled, resolution will be lost. Also, as sound is broadcast on a separate frequency, a second rtl-sdr dongle will be required to receive the matching audio.”

    >”On YouTube, users Superphish and ek6rc have posted videos showing TVSharp in action.”

    To receive video from South Korea in North Korea use of a low noise amplifier MMIC and a Yagi, bowtie/corner reflector or log-periodic antenna made out of aluminum foil may be required.

  • Sirius

    North Korea must be in a quandary because all of the digital TV systems in use now all are used somewhere near NK so they either have to invent their own format – and build their own TVs, or put up with North Koreans being able to receive other countries sometimes (especially in the summer with sporadic E)

  • Leon Davis

    The last sentence in the article really hit home. “Who will pick up his gun to fight when Kim Tae Hee is so beautiful?” I was smacked with the exact same feeling regarding the DPRK. Until early last spring, I shared the same hostile feeling towards the DPRK most everyone has. And then, I stumbled across a YouTube video of the Moranbong Band and for the first time I saw Sonu Hyang Hui, the leader and First Violin. What an exquisitely beautiful and highly-talented young woman. My first thought was, “how can I be angry at a country that produced this lovely creature?” The only answer is, “I cannot.” You know something, folks? We may have just discovered the secret to world peace.