Published By: Mumpy Chakraborty

Cultural Differences between North and South Korea

Though part of the same peninsula, both the countries are the polar opposite of each other.

Once a single unit, Korea was divided into two parts after the Korean war in 1950. After World War II,  when Japan surrendered to allied powers and retreated from Korea, The United States and the Soviet Union agreed to divide Korea, with the US taking the southern part and the Soviet Union the north. The countries were divided based on their ideologies, where the northern part supported the soviet union’s communist ideologies, the south was more inclined towards the democratic republic model of the USA. After 70 years, the countries have gone through enormous changes, while one raced towards development, the other tried to engrave their orthodox traditions deep into their people. Where there are significant differences between the form of government and military, there are few cultural differences that can be noticed among the people of South and North Korea. Here are some of the following.


Although both were part of the same culture, the clothing of these two countries is poles apart. Where in North Korea, people are seen mainly wearing their traditional dresses, South Korea is the hub for fashion all over the world. It is known for its trendy line of western clothing styles and is very liberal about its fashion. On the other hand, North Korea has banned skinny jeans and short skirts, and are very particular about their dress.


As North Korea is under a dictatorship, rules and regulations are very strict under that rule. There is a proper system of hierarchy known as the Songbun Caste System. This system is divided into three primary categories and 51 gradations starting with the Supreme Leader and his family at the top and filtering down to the ‘criminal’ class at the bottom. On the other side, Hierarchy is present, but a very liberal one, where great respect is shown to elders and those of a higher organisational position.  However, the hierarchy goes hand in hand with meritocracy enabling individuals through study and development to progress through organisational hierarchical positions like any other democratic country.


Individualism is almost negligible in the case of North Korea rather they believe in collectiveness. Anything that is done for the sake of the government is appreciated whereas anything to satisfy people’s own needs, if against the government, is highly criticised.   Even the innocent wearing of clothing not worn by others (such as brightly coloured clothing) can invite criticism. Whereas in South Korea people have a sense of collectiveness but they give importance to individualism more. Like if someone wants to indulge in music,  as a career option or trying out something in an unconventional way is always appreciated.


Both North and South Korea speak their traditional Korean language but with time one has evolved and another has not. Although grammar remains the same, almost a third of words are now different. The North Koreans use the traditional form of the Korean language and do not combine it with other English words like their southern counterparts. Whereas South Koreans are very flexible and their language too got influenced by the western part of the world.