Drawings in the North Korean Magazine Hwalsal/Hwasal

I’ve been watching Twitter not-so-slowly go into decline and it has made me reflect on  how, increasingly over the last decade, I’ve been sharing fun sources by twitter thread than on the Frog in a Well blog here. I’ve since made the move to Mastodon (@konrad@coop.social) but for whatever reason, that new home seems like a better place to share links to blog entries instead than confusing threads with short posts. I’ve downloaded a backup of all my old tweets and thought I would start picking out some of the source related threads I’ve posted there to share again here in the form of blog posts.

This first post will share a series of images I came across back in May, 2021 while browsing the issues of the North Korean journal Hwalsal (활살)/Hwasal (화살) or “The Arrow”, which can be found in the wonderful Library of Congress digitized North Korean Serials collection. This publication (looks like Hwalsal 활살/弓矢 is a variant and was common in Hamgyŏng dialect, the journal switched to Hwasal in 1959) is full of political artwork and slogans, a few of which I have shared below.

The reactionary author (활살 1956.5):

Taking out the paperwork-ist’s compost (활살 1957.3):

The blindness of the “Empiricist’s planning” (화살 1959.4):

The subjectivist puts together its agricultural plan (화살 1960.3):

Making imperialism puke out its colonies (화살 1959.2):

North and South Korea compared (화살 1961.9):

At the new Pyongyang zoo, the animals will tell you if they are gifts from the Soviet Union, China, or Mongolia (화살 1959.8):

An employer who doesn’t understand the Juche ideology. All these books, and yet not a single volume on Korean history (활살 1956.4):

Things detrimental to agriculture: locusts, sparrows, weeds, and idlers (활살 1958.4):

“The Dogmatism Machine” (활살 1956.5)

“Life changes with every step.” (활살 1956.2):

Aesop’s ant and the grasshopper fable put to work (활살 1955.9):

Beware the poisonous bourgeois thought found in reactionary literature (활살 1956.2):

Self criticism will save you from carrying your bureaucratism bundle off the cliff into the jaws of capitalist thought. (활살 1955.5):

Stopping floods and drought by planting trees. (활살 1954.3):

Heading to work. Yesterday vs today. (활살 1958.12):


  1. Striking – thank you for sharing! I can’t read the script so I can’t tell if the one titled “Life Changes with Every Step” is supposed to be ironic. I just feel kind of sorry for the woman who is increasingly burdened (blessed?) with more and more responsibilities and things to carry…or are they supposed to be markers of plenty? Could that actually be a cornucopia in her arms??

  2. Thanks Karen! I wish I could say it was being used ironic, but that was not one of the stronger features of the humor in these cartoons. If they wanted to depict the increasing burden on the women, I strongly suspect they would have, at least, robbed the figure of her smile in the later years. One thing that is fun with these depictions is how amenable they are to us using them ironically or redeploying them in unintended or critical fashions.

    Two reasons why I don’t think it was being used ironically. The first is that this would imply that things are getting worse for women in the DPRK, and the magazine critiques only the enemies of the DPRK, not itself. Secondly, the positive image here fits the pro-natalist and gendered depictions of women from the same period in another journal available in the same collection: 조선 녀성 Chosŏn yŏsŏng (= 朝鮮女性) where women are simultaneously revolutionaries, industrial workers, but also Hanbok-wearing mothers and guardians of the home.

    If I had to guess what was going on here (and the small text at bottom right seems unrelated), it is depicting the contrast between the austere reality of life (생활=生活) faced by the woman (and perhaps the woman is a symbol of the Korean people in the north as a whole) as the Korean war ends in the summer of 1953 and ever increasing material abundance of the present day of the cartoon. Ever onward and upward!

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