The best selling trilogy The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins depicts a fictional dystopian world that has survived and rebuilt after a horrific war. In this fictional country called Panem, there are 12 districts and the Capitol. The government is a dictatorship, ruled by a President where those living in the Capitol are surrounded by prosperity and comfort. In each district though, life is the total opposite. The districts work to produce something specific for those in the Capitol, such as coal, agriculture, fishing, etc.
While Panem is a fictional world, there are many striking similarities to the very real country of North Korea. Called “the hermit country”, North Korea has essentially isolated itself from the vast majority of the world. With nearly 25 million people living in North Korea, this nation experiences many of the hardships as the people in Panem from The Hunger Games.
North Korea is very secretive and any images or information about the country is kept inside. Getting that information out is quite difficult, but journalists and documentary filmmakers have worked over the years to gather as much information as possible to share with the world. Rules are very strict and the government is tightly controlled by their leader Kim Jong-un. No one who has read The Hunger Games has looked to Panem’s societal structure positively. Here are 15 ways that North Korea is like Panem.
15. Leader With Total Control
In the fictional country of Panem, President Snow has total and complete control over the country. He is waited on hand and foot and is absolutely ruthless when it comes to self preservation and keeping things exactly in balance. North Korea operates in much the same way. While they have the appearance of a more cooperative government with a legislative assembly and even elections (there is always only one candidate on the ballot), leader Kim Jong-un is in complete authority.
The Workers’ Party of Korea controls every aspect of government, with Kim Jong-un in complete control of the party. He rose to this power when his father Kim Jong-il died. It is in a sense, a monarchy with the same family holding power. People in North Korea are expected to pay certain reverence even when standing in front of a picture or statue of their leader and even deceased leaders.
14. Everything Serves The Capitol
North Korea shows off its capital Pyongyang as proof that it is a thriving society. Citizens of Pyongyang are elite in the country and have access to more conveniences and amenities as compared to the rest of the population. In fact, to keep up appearances to the rest of the world that North Korea is much stronger than it actually is, the rest of the country provides resources for the benefit of Pyongyang and its citizens.
In Panem, things work very much the same way. Resources are provided by the districts for the benefit of the Capitol and its privileged citizenry. As is discussed in The Hunger Games, the people of each district work long hours in difficult and unsafe conditions, only to continue living in extreme poverty. While the districts have a social structure among themselves, no one lives the life of opulence as those living in the Capitol.
13. Military Control To Keep Order
In Panem, the districts are controlled by a militaristic force called Peacekeepers. These Peacekeepers are officially in place to maintain law and order. In actuality, they are present to demonstrate the power of the Capitol. Peacekeepers act hastily and with little or no consistency. Speaking out against the Capitol is punishable by corporal punishment or even death.
North Korea operates very similarly to the fictional country of Panem. It is a country of nearly 25 million people, but has the fifth largest active military on earth and the largest, when reserves are included. The military is used as a show of force to the citizens of North Korea itself, as well as the rest of the world. Soldiers hold a more important function and are treated better than most other citizens in the country.
12. Extreme Hunger
North Korea underwent a mass famine from 1994 to 1998 when approximately 3 million people reportedly died of starvation. Even recently, the government instructed people to prepare for famine conditions. In North Korea’s prison camps, they are known to maltreat prisoners with a lack of food and extremely inhumane conditions. The system of imprisoning people is also quite unfair, with many sent to camps as simple guilt by association.
Panem works the same way with most of its districts (especially the outer districts), starving to a point of death or near death. The book tells that extra rations are available if those eligible for “the games” place their name in the lottery extra times, making the drawing of their name even more likely. While those that are able, will hunt to provide extra food for their families, this is similar to practices used to make ends meet in North Korea.
11. Controlled Access To Information
Citizens of North Korea do not have access to the internet in the same sense we know the internet. Most citizens do not have access to computers, although some of the more privileged will have one at their home or access to them in their schools. In North Korea, everything is controlled by the government. They have their own internet with allegedly only about 30 websites available for people to see and they are not for the rest of the world. News, television and radio are all also strictly run by the government and release information accordingly.
In Panem, the citizens have “required viewing” of each year’s Hunger Games, which indicates that they strictly control media activity. There is frequent dialogue in the books as well as the films where the President is being advised to craft a message around what is shown on television. In a sense, the same as in North Korea, where the citizens will see and hear what their leader wants them to see and hear.
10. Rationed Food
The famine was discussed earlier in the list in North Korea. In Panem, from The Hunger Games, it works in a similar way. Rations are distributed to citizens in each of the districts. It’s made clear that the livelihood of district citizens is dictated by the Capitol’s rationing generosity. If more is needed or “wanted,” then children’s names must be added extra times to the pool for selection of “Victors” in the next year’s Hunger Games.
While North Korea has no event like the Hunger Games, there are striking similarities with their rationing system. Citizens receive their rations from the Public Distribution System where almost everything is given. This system of rationing is a sliding scale based upon the work or status of a person. The system provides for distributing everything beyond food as well.
9. Healthy Military
The members of the military in North Korea are well fed and healthy. This is apparently by design and for reasons of vanity more than practicality. Military officials (especially those working at the demilitarized zone) must show the strength and prosperity of North Korea. They cannot stand the idea of showing weak or malnourished people to any other part of the world, or their own citizenship. A healthy looking military is important for morale internally and their show of strength to everyone else.
In Panem, while the citizenship of the districts barely survive, the Peacekeepers have no lack of food or what they need. These are people working for the Capitol and doing the work of the Capitol. Therefore, it’s important that they are seen by all as a symbol of the strength of the Capitol. It is also important that the Peacekeepers remember who keeps them well fed.
8. Grand Celebrations
The Hunger Games has no lack of grandiose when in the Capitol. Lavish parties with more food than most people in the districts see in a whole year are thrown all the time. In addition, large ceremonies with the President front and center are held to mark special occasions, such as the beginning of the annual Hunger Games. These are always well received by the citizens of the Capitol and of course, is mandatory viewing for citizens in the districts (watching on the Capitol controlled television).
North Korea is known for its perfectly timed parades and grand events. Everyone cheers wildly at the same time and the military is frequently marching in perfect lockstep. All the seats are full (often by members of the military in uniform) and everyone takes their cue from the mood of their leader Kim Jong-un, who is always in his prominently displayed place of honor.
7. Liberal Executions
North Korea has long been criticized for its policies regarding the persecution and execution of its citizens. Information as to these practices has been reported by people that have escaped North Korea. Apparently, capital punishment (execution) is used for a variety of minor crimes including even watching media not sanctioned by the government. North Korea still carries out public execution and is one of the last countries in the world to do so.
Panem does the same thing very publicly. Peacekeepers publicly persecute and even execute citizens in the districts that show defiance to the Capitol. The President even shows his support of the practice throughout the trilogy. Much like in North Korea, it is all done in the name of unity and patriotism, where the public believes that this is done for their own protection against radicals.
6. Respect For Tradition
The beginning of The Hunger Games shows Panem’s 74th annual Hunger Games. By this time, the games are for the amusement and entertainment of those living in the Capitol. In reality, they are constitutionally required after the great war as a way to continue to remind the districts of the power of the Capitol. People participate willingly and often by design because that’s just how it’s done. People in the Capitol go about their daily lives and don’t think about the inhumane treatment of other citizens in the districts because it’s just how it’s always been.
North Korea operates similarly, with people going through their daily lives believing all that is told to them and soaking it in because they have never seen differently. They respect the traditions of their country and show great reverence to photographs and statues of their eternal leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. This is tradition and is never questioned, because those who have ever questioned this tradition have done so at great peril.
5. Beautiful Country
The country of North Korea is quite beautiful with rich flora and fauna. There are beautiful mountain ranges and natural resources that many of the countries of the world simply do not have. Much of this beauty is wasted because citizens rarely have the opportunity to enjoy and partake in this landscape.
Panem also has a great deal of beauty and natural resources. There’s mention of beautiful forests where the book’s main character goes hunting, as well as winding hills and gorgeous countryside. People in the Capitol would never see it though, as they don’t go out into the districts. Whether this is by design or not is in question. One has to wonder if perhaps Kim Jong-un restricts the elite from going beyond Pyongyang, so as not to see the horrific poverty.
4. More Privileged Districts
In The Hunger Games, some time is spent discussing the different districts. These districts are autonomous from one another and there is no communication between them. This is likely to prevent an uprising against the Capitol. But there is mention of more civilized and affluent districts, depending upon their district resource provided to the Capitol. The outlying districts are seen as less civilized.
In North Korea, anyone not in Pyongyang seems to be at a disadvantage. But there are parts of the country that are more prosperous than others. Larger cities that are close to the Chinese border house a more elite and affluent class of people than other parts of the country. This is because there are far more business opportunities and partnerships granted to China from North Korea.
3. Isolation From The Larger World
North Korea is called “the hermit kingdom” because of its chosen isolation from the majority of the world. While in recent years, they have begun to experiment with the addition of private markets, it is still very much a government controlled country. Everything they see and experience is by design and dictated by the government. Their citizens even refer to the United States as “American Imperialists” and have been taught to look at the United States through a negative lens.
Panem is also isolated from the rest of the world. In fact, Panem may be the whole world. It is unclear what became of other global societies after the war, but to just about everyone, that is their world and there is nothing and nowhere else. Perhaps this is all purposely done to keep the citizens from exploring and potentially leaving?
2. Reverence To The Leader
President Snow in The Hunger Games is seen as an all powerful, almost god-like person. He is ruthless and never challenged because of his willingness to execute anyone that he perceives as a threat to him or his way of life. Most in the Capitol view him as a benevolent leader that is the reason for their peace and prosperity. Those in the districts may hate him and what he stands for, but are too afraid to say so publicly.
This is identical to the way the people of North Korea see not only their leader Kim Jong-un, but also the memory of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. Failure to show the proper reverence is punished severely and most are so terrified of this possibility that they don’t dare question the requirement. The prosperous citizens of Pyongyang attribute their station in life to the leader and the poor are too frightened of persecution for themselves and their families to protest.
1. Black Markets
Black markets are a necessity in North Korea. In times of famine and economic hardship, they popped-up so much that it is virtually impossible to shut them all down. For this reason, the government has relaxed their policies and enforcement against the black markets. Without them, there would be even more starvation and hardship.
Panem also has black markets in the districts. In District 12, “The Hob” is where people go to purchase or barter for wild game, liquor or virtually anything else seen as either a necessity or an amenity. The Peacekeepers overlook most of the activity in these black markets (with many even making purchases themselves), very much the same way the government of North Korea overlooks them. Shutting down the black markets is a step taken to further tighten government control and persecute the people.