Posted on 11 March 2011.
Postage stamps are more and more an anachronism these days. In South Korea if you go to the post office you are more likely to get an EMS barcode or a computer printed pre-paid sticker than a stamp.
But in North Korea, arguably a land of anachronisms, people still send letters, since the accessibility and reliability of electricity, let alone computers and The Dear Leader Comrade General™ Kim Jong Il’s version of the intranet, are not all that great.
Like all state published documents in dictatorships stamps fulfill an important and distinct propaganda role – after all it is stamps that are most likely to reach “the outside world” unfiltered by news agencies like Yonhap or commentators and academics.
And indeed this is the case with a set of four stamps issued by North Korea earlier this month meant to reflect The Korea Worker’s Party (KWP) annual statement of intent, known as the New Year’s Editorial. Yonhap reports:
March 2, SEOUL, South Korea — Seen here is one of the North Korean stamps recently issued to reflect the message of the communist country’s Jan. 1 New Year’s joint editorial, calling for improvement in light industry, agriculture and living standards, strengthening defense and easing inter-Korean tensions. The editorial, jointly released by North Korean papers, including the Rodong Sinmun of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, is considered a blueprint for Pyongyang’s policy goals.(KCNA-Yonhap)
And here they are:
Looking at some of the elements in each of the postage stamps, the red flag, top left indicates the stamp’s association with the New year Editorial. (공동 사설 literally means “Editorial”) Across the top “농업부문에서는 당의 종자혁명방침 두벌농사방침 감지농사혁명방침콩농사방침을 철저히 관철하자” refers tot he actually text of The Editorial (as far as I can make out) and talks about implementing agricultural policies. interestingly I translate 당의 종자혁명방침 as “Seeding party policies”. Of course I beg someone with more Korean skills to correct me, but I wonder if the pun using “seed” is actually in he Korean?
Notwithstanding the ample harvest of corn and sweet potato (which is obviously bullshit) it is ironic and perhaps a jab at donors like South Korea that there are plentiful sacks of fertilizer (비료) in the scene.
Across the well dressed, tanned and smiling farmer reads 농업전선은 인민생활문재해결의 생명선 or something about upholding the lifeline of the people etc etc. Contrast it with a recent picture of the North Korean countryside, especially the absence of shiny new tractors.
Across the bottom: 조선 (Should be familiar to readers – Chosun) 우표 (Post so together 조선우표 is Korea Post)주체 100 (The 100th year of Juchae) (2011) 30원 30 won.
The 70 won stamp reflect the ongoing military first policy of North Korea or 선군 in Korean. I have some issues with the translation of this one in that there is the North Korean use of a funky looking ㅌ, but the upshot is that the official Editorial says something along the lines of “We are badass, we are awesome, blah blah blah we will crush the American capitalist running dogs blah blah blah”
At 10 won the cheapest of the stamps depicts North Korean industry. I didn’t go as far as to try and translate the policy on this one – as it w=is probably all crap. But of interest is the prominence of CNC화. As far as I can tell, and from what I remember reading North Korea Economy Watch, CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control and is supposed to be the holy grail that will launch North Korean industry into the 21st century. Pity it sounds like (and is probably in real life) something to do with giant computers, back up tapes and punch cards.
Note also the jars of 된장 in the corner. I have a feeling that the same art assets are being used here as in some other recent propoganda pictures including one that I used as a header for this site recently.
The erstwhile North Korean worker holds a copy of the 로동신문 (Rodong Shinmun) North Korea’s state controlled newspaper. The skyscrapers and apartment blocks in the background really do look like something out of the 50s and I am a little disappointed that the recently completed Ryugyong hotel isn’t seen looming in the background.
The most expensive stamp at 112 won deals with unification of the Korean peninsula and says something along the lines of “The North and South Nations projecting overseas power, let’s open a new phase of independent reunification!” “북과 남 해외의 온 민족이 힘을 함쳐 자주통일의 새 국면을 열어나가자!”
And then the youth of the combined Korea smashing a missile with a big ‘N’ on it which I can only take to mean American nuclear arms, given along the bottom 북침전쟁연습 무력증강책동 refers to war games and maneuvers.
So next time you are at the Pyongyang post office be sure to pick up a couple of these stamps as souvenirs. (They are bound to actually be worth more than their face value).
(And a big thank you to anyone who would like to add to or correct my Korean in the comments.)