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Recorders against the regime

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“No matter how much the regime attempts to seal off the [South] Korean Wave, North Korean people continue to find new ways to penetrate the walls. One of the devices that allow North Koreans to break through the barriers is the recorder,” says Jang Chuljin, a Musan-native who defected through the Tumen River in July 2014.

A “recorder” is what North Koreans collectively call VHS, CD and DVD players. North Korea produces its own DVD players, notably by Hana Electronics, but North Korean recorders are more expensive, supposedly more prone to malfunction, and suitable only for regime-approved DVDs. Chinese recorders, smuggled in from the border, are more popular in the marketplace and subject to stricter surveillance.

North Korea’s border with China is critical for both legal and illegal cultural osmosis. The border is the pivotal line that determines the direction of North Korea’s economy and culture; it is the only way North Koreans can communicate with the outside world. During Kim Jong-il’s regime, surveillance was strengthened to stop the infiltration of capitalist influences from China. Soldiers on active duty guarded the border regions. With the Kim Jong-un regime, the guard has been intensified through strengthened fortification of key regions. At present, border regions are not only patrolled by border security guards, but also by agents from the Ministry of State Security’s civilian surveillance branches, who patrol designated sections.

One of the agents’ greatest causes for concern for is the smuggling of South Korean DVDs into North Korea. Since the mid-’90s, Chinese CDs and recorders have been entering North Korea through the border, unveiling the previously hidden outside world to North Korean citizens. With the dissemination of foreign culture, including South Korean culture, the DPRK regime formed “crackdown groupas” to monitor and prevent the consumption of South Korean soap operas (groupa is …read more

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