Department Store Shopping in North Korea: Propaganda Video Gives Viewers a Glimpse of the High Life in the DPRK Capital Pyongyang (평양)

Stories about North Korea often focus on the hardships endured by its people. Whether it is from famine or persecution, deprivation or political oppression, rarely does a bright light shine out of North Korea. This is perhaps because what few bright lights there are in North Korea mainly glow in Pyongyang (평양), where it seems most, if any, perks to being in the DPRK are found.

The capital of Pyongyang is a showcase city constructed with Soviet aid in the aftermath of the Korean War. It has wide boulevards, apartment complexes that span blocks, and absolutely no traffic lights or commercial advertisements. Monumental structures and propaganda are in abundance and the city is awash in the cult of Kim.

Those who live in the capital of Pyongyang are the lucky few – the chosen of North Korean society. No undesirables from questionable songbun live in Pyongyang. Indeed, it is mostly occupied by the families of high political and military officials as well as Korean Workers’ Party (KWP – 조선로동당 / Chosŏn Rodongdang) party officials, scientists, and academics. This video shows a department store in Pyongyang, likely filled with cheap Chinese goods, that is meant to demonstrate how life in North Korea is not that bad.

One small thing to note, however, prior to watching the video: Notice in the beginning of the video that the reporter checks her purse in to a central front desk, which tags it and, presumably, keeps it behind the counter for her. There could be no real reason for this other than to deter theft. It’s just an interesting little blip in an otherwise effusively pro-DPRK propaganda reel.

If the needs of life are met in the DPRK, and especially in the showcase capital, then what need would the stateowned department store have of a theft-deterrent system? It’s not that it is irrational for them to have such a thing in place – it’s just that, normally, such unpleasant things like theft or any criminal behavior for that matter are not discussed in North Korea, nor even intimated.

It’s as if they don’t even exist. Such are the extremes that old-style Soviet school propaganda would go to: The complete sacrifice of reality at the altar of the ideal.