Northern Exposures: A Primer
to Language in the DPRK
- Provincial Attitudes

Old provincial stereotypes in northern Korea

Lesson 3 - Provincial Attitudes

The territory of the DPRK covers four traditional Korean provinces: Pyong’an, Hwanghae, Kangwon, and Hamgyong. There are stereotypes for each province written in four characters idioms of literary Chinese. Not all of these stereotypes are complimentary.

The people of Pyong’an Province, home to the city of Pyongyang, are nobly described as ‘a fierce tiger from the forest’ (맹호출림-猛虎出林). Pyong’an people have the reputation of fighters and have played a prominent role in opposing foreign armies from the Chinese Sui and Tang Dynasties to the Khitan, Mongols, and Manchus and later the Japanese during the Imjin War and March 1st Movement and the United States during the Korean War. Traditionally the murder rate in Pyong’an Province has been the highest in Korea.

The people of the Hwanghae Province in the agricultural southwest of the DPRK have two stereotypes. ‘A cow plowing a rocky field’ (석전경우-石田耕牛) describes a slow or dull nature, while the more complimentary ‘throwing a rock into Spring waves’ indicates a soft response to situations. The people of this region are also often considered stingy, especially in citizens of Kaesong and Haeju. (Haeju people supposedly make Kaesong people look generous).

The people of Kangwon living among the mountains above the sea, own the wonderfully tranquil description of ‘an old Buddha sitting below a rock’ (암하로불-岩下老佛). There is a semi-traditional folk song about the Mt. Kumgang region of Kangwon that fittingly goes ‘the scenery is good and the living is too’.

Lastly the people of Hamgyong in the northeast are unflatteringly known as ‘savage dogs fighting in the mud fields’ (’니전투구-泥田鬪狗). The last region incorporated into the Korean realm and formally shared with semi-nomadic Jurchen peoples, Hamgyong has traditionally been the home of soldiers, exiles , and refugees from other parts of Korea. It has also long been a hotbed of rebellion against central authority.

In the next lesson, we'll look at some characteristics of the Yanbian dialect of Korean, which is closely related to the dialect spoken in Hamgyong province.

'Northern Exposures' is a primer to the language of today’s DPRK and northern Korea. It aims to introduce useful vocabulary, phrases, and grammar relevant to the region and related context to students of the Korean language. It assumes basic knowledge of Korean script.

Interested in studying in Pyongyang? Check out our three-week Pyongyang Summer School Korean Language Programme from July 12-August 4, 2018.

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