Visit WIDE ANGLE on pbs.org
Video Help Video Bank
One Party (1:24) Excerpt from film "A State of Mind" September 2003
North Korea is a one-party state, with its citizens divided among three "equal" classes.

Country: North Korea
Related Lesson Plan:
  • I'm Watching You 24/7

  • Download video:
    (PC: right click & select Save Target As) (Mac: hold down CTRL button & click)
    Quicktime (5140k) Realplayer (5760k) Windows Media (5050k)

    Guiding Questions
    1. What adjectives would you use to describe the objectives of social organization in North Korea? (For example, would you use diversity, unity, or another adjective?)

    2. Can you name other societies that have featured organizational principles similar to those of North Korea? What have been the strengths and weaknesses of such societies?

    Background Essay
    North Korea is a one-party state, with the ruling Worker's Party nominating all candidates for office and holding all seats in the legislature. All North Koreans are divided among three allegedly equal classes: the workers, the peasants, and the intellectuals. Aside from the countries' highly revered founding leader, Kim Jong Il, and his predecessor, Kim Il Sung, there are no special privileges for members.

    In 1945, following World War II, a line was drawn on the 39th parallel dividing Korea into two states: North Korea and South Korea. North Korea was headed by Kim Il Sung and the communist Korean Workers' Party. The structure of North Korean government has persisted unchanged since the death of Kim Il Sung in 1994 and the transference of power to his son, Kim Jong Il. The North Korean government is often referred to as a totalitarian dictatorship due to its single-party rule and the control exercised by the state over many aspects of life in the country.

    The Korean War, that lasted from 1950-1953, was one of several attempts during the last half century to reunify Korea under either Southern or Northern leadership. During this conflict, which in North Korea is referred to as the Fatherland Liberation War, North Korea was unsuccessful in its bid to take over the southern part of the peninsula by force. The war ended up involving many different nations, and killed an estimated 4 million Koreans, nearly 1 million Chinese, 33,700 U.S. troops, and few thousand international UN troops.

    In recent decades, North Korea has suffered great economic hardship. The country's industry has fallen into ruin following the withering of trade arrangements with the USSR and China. Agricultural prospects are poor and the country relies heavily on foreign food aid. Several recent periods of severe deprivation and famine in the country have left the North Korean people in a struggle for daily survival. In 1995, horrible floods created conditions so bad that it is estimated that close to 3 million people died. In addition, international concern about North Korea's military efforts deepened considerably in the first decade of the 21st century following its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its announcement in 2006 of its first successful nuclear test.

    While North Korea outwardly struggles with isolation, famine, and economic collapse, the state expends considerable energy to produce ideological unity and pride among its population. The film A STATE OF MIND follows two young North Korean gymnasts as they prepare for the Mass Games, a massive state-sponsored event glorifying North Korea's leaders. This display of pageantry and governmental control involves tens of thousands of participants manipulating large colored cards and performing perfectly synchronized gymnastics routines. It is considered a great honor to participate in the Mass Games, and requires year-round practice.

    North Korea's population of 22 million is ruled by the Workers Party of Korea.

    Membership in the Party is open to all of society. The Party tells us that there are no special privileges for members, but they must be ready to devote their lives to the party and the leader.

    Kim Il Sung, known as the Great Leader, led the country from its foundation in 1948 until his death in 1994. North Korea's current leader is his son, Kim Jong Il, known as The General since taking charge of the Army in 1991.

    All adult North Koreans wear lapel badges, given to them by their work units, depicting either Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il.

    Socially, North Korea is divided into three classes -- the workers, represented by the hammer, the peasants, represented by the sickle, and the intellectuals, represented by the calligraphy brush. All three classes are officially defined as equals in society.

    Related Links
    A State of Mind on PBS.org

    North Korea's Official Site

    National Geographic: Dangerous Divide

    Korean Central News Agency

    South Korean Ministry of Unification

    Print Classroom Tips