North Korean Human Rights Museum

The Echo Never Stops 

낯선 말, 표현의 그림자

PART 2: The Echo Never Stops

`Strange Words Transforming North Korea

                                               and the Shadow of Expression`

Whereas the rest of the world becomes increasingly interconnected through various modes of transportation for North Koreans, both international and domestic travel is heavily restricted. In 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, a "shoot-to-kill" order issued by official North Korean authorities against residents who attempt to cross the border without permission causing an international outrage.

In addition to restricted movement, North Korean prohibit accessing information beyond state-sanctioned news. North Korean authorities run a proprietary software to filter illegal content, and render sever punishments (e.g., death sentence) for watching or disseminating prohibited content. Ordinary citizens have no access to the state's intranet called "Kwangmyong". A survey of the Internet World Stats found that only 20.000 individuals in North Korea were using the intranet in mid-2022 constituting only 0.7% of the country's total population.

As seen in Part 1, the North Korean system tries to enforce a fortress-like system around its people where even small movements against the main-stream are cruelly punished including the death penalty. 

However, as witness Kang Cholhwan states in his interview, even though not being big, slight change and resistance are noticeable within the North Korean society regarding the consumption and the use of words representing cultures and thoughts outside of North Korea.

This is evident in recent laws proclaimed by the North Korean government restricting certain ways of talking which as been on the rise in North Korean due to smuggling of foreign content into the country.

§ Reactionary Ideology and Culture Rejection Act (2020)

Forbids any way of contact with foreign cultures outside of North Korea. 

This includes the consumption, storing as well as the import of foreign content.

The death penalty is one of the stipulated punishments.

§ Youth Education Guarantee Act (2021)

Distributed in 5 Chapters (Regulation and distribution of any kind of media products (II); Prevention of the addiction to internet games (III); regulation of drug businesses and use (IV); implementation of programs to protect the youth (V)) the Act sets up principles to foster the understanding of a socialist lifestyle among the North Korean youth. It also puts significant responsibility on the families and the general society to monitor the youth.

§ Pyongyang Cultural Language Protection Act (2023)

Aims at reinforcing the North Korean language and culture especially against the growing influences of South Korean language and accents <strange words> that has been spread among North Koreans in their daily life. 

Evidently, the Act of 2020 was in need to be backed up with the additional Act in 2023, and reveals an unconcealable reality of outside influences through words echoing in North Korea.

`What we must tell: What we must know

<Strange Words>

In this section, the visitors can exhibit various leaflets and a set of camouflage books and bibles that contain information about South Korea and other countries. 

North Korea ranks among the world's most severe persecutors of religious beliefs. Bibles sent into the country are disguised as North Korean books, appearing to contain information about the actions of the Supreme Leader.

The exhibition displays various portable digital media devices that North Koreans use to watch videos, listen to South Korean radio, or consume other kinds of media from the outside. The devices support formats like CDs, DVDs, and USBs. There are also small mobile phones available that support SD cards to access South Korean video content.


With the enactment of the “Reactionary Ideology and Culture Rejection Act” in 2020 the North Korean government officially prohibited leaflets crossing the Military Demarcation Line separating the North and the South which increased the level of censorship and control over the inflow of outside information.

The exhibited leaflets vary in writing style but predominantly feature personal narratives of defectors. These narratives delve into their newfound understanding of the true history of the Korean War, their genuine sentiments towards China, the actual living conditions in South Korea, and the sense of peace and purpose they have discovered through religion.

Radio broadcasts are equally very important for reaching a broad range of North Koreans that do not have the opportunity to directly access foreign media. Through various broadcasts worldwide they are able to gain information about foreign countries but also about the dynamics within their country. In many cases, North Koreans decided to flee the North upon listening to foreign broadcasts.

Examples from the leaflets sent to North Korea

<When I came to South Korea, I found out that everyone buys a house, owns a car, and has a college admission of 83%. The world’s no. 1 in ship production, semiconductors etc.>

<In 1957, the leader said “We promise rise and meat soup to a strong and prosperous nation in 2012!”. Did that even come true?!>

<Don’t lose hope! There is a prosperous Republic of Korea and our compatriots in the South will never forget you.>

<Unexpectedly, the most widely read and sold international book is not the Juche ideology, but the bible that records Jesus. Regardless of whether you believe or not, compare how much greater Jesus is than the leader.>

Once again, it becomes evident that spoken as well as written words can lead into freedom for North Korean refugees, on both sides. Those who expressed their thoughts in the South and those who received and resonated with the words in the North.

<They never stopped crying out>

The board hung on the exhibition wall presents a collection of “language reactionary (mal bandong)” cases spoken by North Korean residents. On the front of each note, the visitor finds the exact words spoken and on the back one can see the consequences and punishments for their “misplaced words”.

Also, the visitors find a handwritten note written by a North Korean escapee after participating in a human rights investigation with NKDB and being asked what message he or she would want to leave to the international community. 

Example notes:

<The w o r d s they longed to say>