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A Rite of Passage: Crimson Neckties in North Korea

By Anonymous

Read this in Korean


In North Korea, crimson neckties symbolize the Chosun Young Pioneer Corps. The crimson necktie is said to turn wearers into “followers of the red ideology.” The “red ideology” here refers to the “self-rehabilitation and solitary struggle,” “the spirit to protect the suryeong or leader,” and the “spirit of revolutionary optimism” that anti-Japanese fighters demonstrated to Kim Il Sung during the period of resistance against Japan in the early to mid-20th century.When students enter the second grade at the age of seven, they join the Young Pioneer Corps and participate as members until the fourth year of junior high school, at the age of 14.

There are three enrollment dates: the first ceremony is scheduled on February 16, the birthday of Kim Jong Il; the second on April 15, the birthday of Kim Il Sung; and the last on June 6, the founding day of the Young Pioneer Corps. Those who become members on the first enrollment date share a sense of pride, as they are the first group to be recognized. On the other hand, those who enter on the last enrollment date are subject to feelings of inferiority.

There are several criteria that must be met before one can become a Young Pioneer Corps member.

  1. They must be a second-year sohakyo (소학교: equivalent to elementary schools in South Korea) student
  2. They must submit three pieces of rabbit leather to the admission committee
  3. They must pass the exam that consists of reciting the oath and the genealogy of Kim Il Sung

Students must satisfy these set criteria to join the Young Pioneer Corps and wear the crimson necktie. Then, why are there three designated enrollment dates? Students who satisfy all three criteria described above are qualified to enroll on February 16 – they are the first group to be accepted into the Young Pioneer Corps. If a student cannot submit the rabbit leather by the first deadline, their enrollment is postponed until April 15. Rabbit leather is typically used to make military equipment, such as vests, earplugs, and stomach bands. Those who fail to pass the exam that covers the oath and Kim Il Sung’s routine, can enroll on June 6. On that day, all second graders become members of the Young Pioneer Corps, regardless of their will. That is, they can become members of the corps even if they do not meet the second and the third criteria.

China also an organization similar to North Korea’s Young Pioneer Corps, but several differences exists between the two.

While Chinese Young Pioneer Corps members wear crimson neckties, they are called Hong-ring-Jin (紅領巾). The necktie symbolizes the Chinese Young Pioneer Corps and one’s loyalty to the nation. The Chinese corps is composed of children from the ages of seven to 14. Enrollment in the corps is mandatory in North Korea; however, it is optional in China. Interested candidates submit their application forms to the corps office in their school. These applications are then reviewed by a committee. Once candidates become full members, they have the right to vote and to be elected to positions in the organization. Unlike in North Korea, Chinese Young Pioneer Corps members may also present their opinions and make requests in regards to the organization’s activities.