Juche or Chuch'e () is a Korean word meaning "main subject." In the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), "Juche" refers specifically to a political thesis of Kim Il-sung, the Juche Idea, that identifies the Korean masses as the masters of the country's development. From the 1950s to the 1970s Kim elaborated the Juche Idea into a set of principles that the government uses to justify its policy decisions. Among these are independence from great powers, a strong military posture, and reliance on Korean national resources. "Juche" has sometimes been translated in North Korean sources as "independent stand" or "spirit of self-reliance", and has also been interpreted as "always putting Korean things first."[1] According to Kim Il-sung, the Juche Idea is based on the belief that "man is the master of everything and decides everything."


The first known reference to Juche was a speech given by Kim Il-sung on December 28, 1955, titled "On Eliminating Dogmatism and Formalism and Establishing Juche in Ideological Work." In this speech, Kim urged party propagandists not to import ideas and customs from the Soviet Union, but to portray Korea as a revolutionary nation in its own right. He stated, "To make revolution in Korea we must know Korean history and geography as well as the customs of the Korean people. Only then is it possible to educate our people in a way that suits them and to inspire in them an ardent love for their native place and their motherland".[2] Kim focuses on the importance of education and learning Korean history. Through the education of Korean people's own history will it "stimulate their national pride and rouse the broad masses to revolutionary struggle".[3] Kim talks throughout his speech bulleting monumental events of the past and how certain outcomes could have been prevented. He stresses the importance of remembering their struggle, and that not learning their past, or denying it would "mean that our people did nothing.[4] Hwang Jang-yeop, Kim's top adviser on ideology, discovered this speech later in the 1950s when Kim sought to develop his own version of Marxism–Leninism and began to craft the idea birthing it into the society defining credo it became.[5] By 1958, Kim Il-sung had established himself as "the unrivaled ruler in North Korea" and thus started the language used to reference the people's devotion to Kim. This resulted in building a personality cult around him to glorify Kim Il-sung and his families history and legitimacy as leaders[6]. Even following Kim Il-sung's death he remains the eternal president and even those critical of his son Kim Jung-il still passionately revere him. The rewritten history of Korea goes as far back as 1866 when the "heroic" Kim family and his great-grandfather had fought against American imperialism. This is an example of the way in which the North Korean political machine began to mythologize Kim's history and abilities. The cult of personality surrounding the Kim family has both legitimated and helped garner support for the Juche ideology. Kim Il-sung was revered as the "supreme leader and the sun" of all people.[7]

The Juche Idea itself gradually emerged as a systematic ideological doctrine under the political pressures of the Sino-Soviet split. After the ideology was pushed aside for almost a decade, in 1963 when Kim spoke of the chuch'e principles to the Korean People's Army, the idea emerged again.[8] Kim Il-sung outlined the three fundamental principles of Juche in his April 14, 1965, speech "On Socialist Construction and the South Korean Revolution in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea":

  1. "independence in political work" (chaju)
  2. "self-sustenance in economic endeavors" (charip)
  3. "self-reliance in national defense" (chawi).

Current North Korean leader Kim Jong-il officially authored the definitive statement on Juche in a 1982 document titled On the Juche Idea. He has final authority over the interpretation of the state ideology and incorporated the Songun (army-first) policy into it in 1996.

A closer inspection of the word Juche

The idea of Juche was developed by Kim Il-sung as the guide and foundation of all conduct in North Korea. The meaning of Juche is "self-reliance" and "independence" in politics, economics, defense, and ideology. Juche emphasized independence in political work, self-sustenance in economic endeavors, and self-defense in national defense. Chajusong (self-reliance), minjok tongnip (national or ethnic independence), charip kyongje (independent economy), the common factors that all the colonized peoples wanted at mid-century, are the synonyms of Juche and can be the antonyms of sadaejuui, which means serving and relying upon foreign power. The second character of Juche, che, is found in the late-nineteenth century self-strengthening movement of Li Hung-chang’s term. Che of Juche is same as ti of ti-yung in Chinese learning and tai of kokutai in Japanese learning.[9] The Koreans use Juche in their case with the goal of creating a subjective, solipsistic state of mind, the correct thought that must precede and that will then determine correct action but also as a means of defining what is simultaneously modern and Korean.[10]

Practical application


According to Kim Jong-il's On the Juche Idea, the application of Juche in state policy entails the following:

  1. The people must have independence (chajusong) in thought and politics, economic self-sufficiency, and self-reliance in defense.
  2. Policy must reflect the will and aspirations of the masses and employ them fully in revolution and construction.
  3. Methods of revolution and construction must be suitable to the situation of the country.
  4. The most important work of revolution and construction is molding people ideologically as communists and mobilizing them to constructive action.

The Juche outlook requires absolute loyalty to the revolutionary party and leader. In North Korea, these are the Workers' Party of Korea and Kim Jong-il, respectively.

In official North Korean histories, one of the first purported applications of Juche was the Five-Year Plan of 1956-1961, also known as the Chollima Movement, which led to the Chongsan-ri Method and the Taean Work System. The Five-Year Plan involved rapid economic development of North Korea, with a focus on heavy industry, to ensure political independence from both the Soviet Union and China. The Chollima Movement, however, applied the same method of centralized state planning that began with the Soviet First Five-Year Plan in 1928. The campaign also coincided with and was partially based on Mao's First Five-Year Plan and the Great Leap Forward. North Korea was apparently able to avoid the catastrophes of the Great Leap Forward.

Despite its aspirations to self-sufficiency, North Korea has continually relied on economic assistance from other countries. Historically, North Korea received most of its assistance from the USSR until its collapse in 1991. In the period after the Korean War, North Korea relied on economic assistance and loans from "fraternal" countries from 1953–1963 and also depended considerably on Soviet industrial aid from 1953-1976. Following the fall of the USSR, the North Korean economy went into a crisis, with consequent infrastructural failures contributing to the mass famine of the mid-1990s. After several years of starvation, the People's Republic of China agreed to be a substitute for the Soviet Union as a major aid provider, supplying over US$400 million per year in humanitarian assistance.[11] Since 2007, North Korea also received large supplies of heavy fuel oil and technical assistance as scheduled in the six-party talks framework.[12] North Korea was the second largest recipient of international food aid in 2005, and continues to suffer chronic food shortages.