North Korean National Identity, Expressed Through Postage Stamps, 1948-1970 (Abstract / Introduction)

Science / Archives

[David Hall’s undergraduate thesis “North Korean National Identity, Expressed Through Postage Stamps, 1948-1970” is published in full on the KSS website. This part contains both the “Abstract” and the “Introduction”.]  

Abstract

This paper assess how North Korean national identity has been presented through the country’s postage stamps, 1948-1970. It identifies four main themes of national identity; nationalism, anti-imperialism/Americanism, Kim Il-sung’s cult of personality, and Juche ideology. By contextualising these themes in North Korea’s history, this paper explores the complex but interesting nature of identity, as shown through postage stamps. In addition to postage stamps, this paper makes use of documents in the Wilson Centre Digital Archive and Kim Il-sung’s Selected Works to build the historical narrative. The political imagery and language present on North Korea’s stamps is critically assessed to argue how each of these themes have been presented over time.

Furthermore, this paper challenges existing historiography on North Korea which is western-centric and orientalist. This scholarship tends to marginalise or ignore Korean identity in favour of demonising the regime. This paper begins with an explanation and critique of this, while also offering evaluations of historiography on Korea outside of this trend. This paper also assesses works on philately and more specifically works on North Korean philately, to explore historiography on this topic to date and identify key areas of weakness in the current literature. This paper therefore collates philatelic theory and works on Korean history to form an assessment of the postage stamps.

This paper concludes that all four themes of national identity exist in North Korean postage stamps, 1948-1970. An evaluation is conducted on how these themes emerged, their significance, and presence on postage stamps. How these themes changed over time and influenced each other is also evaluated. Finally, this paper offers a brief concluding insight into the further development of North Korean identity post-1970 and how North Korea eventually became the world’s first and only hereditary socialist state, with the proclamation of Kim Jong-il as successor in 1980.


Introduction

The liberation and subsequent division of Korea, 1945-1948, between America and Russia caused a considerable effect on Korean national identity. South Korea became an authoritarian anti-communist state supported by America. Meanwhile, North Korea became an authoritarian socialist state backed by Russia and China. 

Due to the opposing political ideologies adopted by both Koreas, this influenced national identity; how Koreans on both sides of the divide collectively view themselves, their government, and the wider world. North Korean national identity is a topic ever present in government propaganda. Film, music, public performance and art are some ways in which North Korea has utilised methods of propaganda to spread their political ideology and messages. Weather a reflection of actuality or an idealistic portrayal of the nation and people, one understudied way in which North Korea has expressed this national identity is through postage stamps.

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David Hall
MA History and Korean student at SOAS. Collecting interests are North Korea 1945-present. Undergraduate dissertation written on North Korean postage stamps, 1948-1970.

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