North Korea Cracks Down on Car Window Tinting to Stop ‘Capitalist Influence’

Younger North Koreans said to consume South Korean media behind tinted windows.
2021-02-04
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North Korea Cracks Down on Car Window Tinting to Stop ‘Capitalist Influence’ A car carrying North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un leaves the opening ceremony for the Ryomyong Street housing development in Pyongyang on April 13, 2017.
AFP

North Korean police are cracking down on vehicle window tinting, labeling the practice as part of the “yellow wind of capitalism” when many in the North use the screens to watch South Korean videos, sources in the country told RFA.

People who own vehicles with windows tinted to obscure the inside are ordered to replace the windows or be fined for violating the Rejection of Reactionary Thought and Culture Act, a set of laws promulgated in Dec. 2020 that aim to remove foreign cultural influences from the country.

“These days, on National Route 1, which connects Sinuiju and Pyongyang, the security department and police are stopping vehicles with tinted windows,” a resident from Sinuiju, just across the border from China, told RFA’s Korean Service Tuesday.

“No matter if the windows are blue or brown, drivers are fined for embracing the yellow capitalist culture, regardless of the reason for tinting the windows,” said the source, who requested anonymity for safety reasons.

The yellow wind is a North Korean term dating back to the 1990s that refers to “anti-socialist” influences society, especially cultural imports from capitalist countries. Most often it is used to describe the spread of South Korean culture to the North through music, movies and TV shows.  

Crackdowns on other “capitalist” influence separate from the Korean Wave are common. RFA reported in May 2020 that authorities were checking students’ text messages for South Korean spellings and slang, for example.

But this latest attempt to stop the yellow wind by banning window tinting is rubbing drivers the wrong way.

“Until now, all the guard posts on Route 1 only checked travel certificates and the volume of goods on vehicles, or they inspected the vehicle’s maintenance status,” the Sinuiju resident said.

“Drivers find the crackdown ridiculous, so many argue with the police and security agents. They want to know how tinted car windows are part of capitalist yellow culture. The police argue that only people tainted by the yellow wind of capitalism would want to obscure the inside of their vehicles,” the source said.

Another source, in South Pyongan province, north of the capital Pyongyang, confirmed to RFA the same day that police assigned to traffic control duty there are cracking down on tinted windows.

“They issue fines of 200,000 to 350,000 won (U.S. $30-50) and order them to immediately replace the windows,” said the second source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

“Vehicles caught with tinted windows a second time are confiscated by the local transportation department,” the second source said.

The second source said that tinted windows are a sudden target because young people in large cities are watching South Korean movies and music from the privacy of taxis or their cars, by connecting USB drives to their mobile phones. Clear windows would make such activities easier for police to spot.

“Since the second half of last year, authorities said that the party’s ideological position and the rest of society would collapse if we do not root out capitalist culture, which is spreading so rapidly among the youth,” the second source said.

“Authorities enacted the Rejection of Reactionary Thought and Culture Act in December, and have intensified crackdowns on outside culture,” said the second source.

But a crackdown on windows will do nothing to stop young people’s enthusiasm for South Korean, Japanese and American pop culture, according to the second source.

“The residents mock the authorities for the crackdown, saying that they are so nervous about the regime that they have resorted to turning car windows into an enemy of the state.”

The crackdown does not extend to vehicles used by senior party, government, or military officials, easily distinguishable by license plates that start with the number 727, a reference to the July 27, 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement that put an end to hostilities in the 1950-53 Korean War. The 727 vehicles usually use an exceptionally dark tint to completely obscure the insides.

Local sources say that the residents are angry at this double standard and complain that if window tinting is really part of the decadent yellow wind, the crackdown should extend to all vehicles.

Reported by Hyemin Son for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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