Reports coming out of North Korea indicate that Pyongyang has enacted further crackdowns on culture throughout the country, with sources inside the communist dictatorship saying the government has now banned piercings and “Western” clothing.
Numerous anonymous reports from Radio Free Asia, the North Korea-focused Rimjin-Gang, and the Korea Times indicate that the bans have also triggered crackdowns on regions bordering China, where Chinese tourists often inadvertently inform North Koreans as to the fashions or preferences of those in the outside world. Jeans have become a particular target of the crackdown, The Telegraph notes, quoting a Rimjin-Gang report noting that police are targeting “supposed capitalist tendencies such as length of skirts, the shape of shoes, T-shirts, hairstyles, and clothes.”
The reason for this crackdown appears to be May’s legislative assembly of the 7th Congress of the Workers’ Party next month. The event is being touted by the North Korean government as more of an assembly to celebrate dictator Kim Jong-un than a session of a legislature expected to achieve any goals outside of Kim’s desires for how the government should run. In anticipation of the major event, North Korea’s military has striven to reach Kim’s goals for weapons development, hoping to build momentum upon the alleged hydrogen bomb test North Korea announced in January.
The most recent attempt at attracting attention from the international community through the threat of weapons testing occurred last week, when Kim chose to celebrate the birthday of his grandfather and “eternal president” Kim Il-Sung with the test launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile. The missile, which experts believe was a Musudan BM-25 intermediate-range ballistic missile, either failed to fly to its destined target or never got off the ground. According to one U.S. government official, American and South Korean intelligence found no evidence to believe the weapon “ever got off the launch pad, instead burning into flames on the ground.”
North Korea is also facing the humiliation of mass defections by citizens believed to be among the most loyal to the Kim dynasty. Last week, South Korea announced that thirteen workers at a North Korean-owned restaurant in China had chosen to flee and arrived in South Korea. North Korean citizens allowed to work outside of North Korea — particularly female entertainers at restaurants, as most of this group was — are typically the children of high-ranking government officials and among the most well-off in the communist country. Their defection is being publicly reprimanded in North Korean media as a “mass abduction” by South Korea; Pyongyang is demanding they be returned to North Korea as soon as possible.
These recent humiliations have made South Korean officials warn that another nuclear bomb test may be imminent, orchestrated as a way to distract from the negative news for the Kim dictatorship. “Given recent [North Korea] movements, an underground nuclear test is likely,” Moon Sang-kyun, a spokesman for Seoul’s defense ministry, told reporters this week. President Park Geun-have made a similar statement emphasizing the importance of her country’s “internal readiness.”
Restrictions of fashion are not uncommon in North Korea. The government in Pyongyang allows only 28 different hairstyles; others are punishable by law. A year later, a report began circulating that a new decree limited men only to sporting Kim Jong-un’s haircut. While no evidence surfaced to refute the report, no evidence confirmed it, either, leaving many skeptics believing the limits on hair fashion remained unchanged.