In North Korea, nine is the magic number
North Korea’s former leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il: fixated on the number nine? Photograph: Kyodo/Reuters
North Korea’s former leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il: fixated on the number nine? Photograph: Kyodo/Reuters
North Korea is a notoriously secret society, led by an equally secretive dynasty of Kims. But as hostilities with the west over the country’s nuclear programme escalate, revelations from deep within the regime might shed some light on what is guiding its leaders’ actions.
Apparently it’s the number nine.
It all started at the time of Korea’s liberation from Japanese occupation, when there were eight shamans representing the eight provinces of Korea. Out of these, the strongest shaman was thought to be the one from Pyongan-do. He is said to have told Kim Il-sung that the destiny of his bloodline was aligned with the ninth number, which is considered auspicious in east Asia.
Perhaps it was because of this that Kim Il-sung declared the founding date of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to be 9 September. Although there were five provinces at the time, he increased the number to nine. The Supreme Guard Command, Kim’s personal bodyguard corps, was named Unit 963 (double nine is an especially lucky combination).
The Kims have their own food chain, also using the number nine. Throughout North Korea you will find so-called No 9 farms and No 9 work details, specially assigned by the central party’s financial administration department. Their produce is used to feed the Kims, and these meals are called No 9 products.
The second Kim is said to have repeatedly stressed the fact that his birthday fell on 16 February (1+6+2=9). He decreed that the numberplates of his vehicles should read 2.16; and then, so as to disguise his personal vehicles, assigned this as a common numberplate for all of North Korea’s inner elite.
Kim Jong-il was appointed to the highest military post on 24 December (2+4+1+2=9). His appointment as party secretary, which effectively formalised his powers, was made three years and three months after the death of his father, Kim Il-sung.
Applying this to recent North Korean history, we note that Kim Jong-il gave his son, Kim Jong-un, his first public role as general of the Korean People’s Army on 27 September 2010 (2+7=9, plus the 9th month, equals double nine). On 11 April (20)12 (1+1+4+1+2=9) Kim Jong-un was appointed first secretary of the Workers’ party. Then on 18 July 2012, he was appointed to the rank of marshal.
When North Korea makes international news with an impending rocket launch or nuclear test, outside analysts often cite recent birthdays of the Kims, or other state anniversaries, as influencing the choice of date. But a closer look suggests it has more to do with the number nine.
The country’s first nuclear test took place on 9 October 2006. The second long-range rocket launch was on 5 April 2009 (5+4=9 and nine of 2009, double nine). The next one was successfully launched on 12 December 2012 (1+2+1+2+1+2=9). There was a nuclear test on 12 February (20)13 (1+2+2+1+3=9). A recent North Korean propaganda video released on YouTube, in which the east coast of the US is consumed in a “sea of fire”, features a rocket labelled No 9.
So, it all adds up. Three generations of the Kim family fixated on nines. On Friday the North Koreans announced that they could not protect foreign diplomats after 10 April (20)13. Now, do the maths.
<p>An analysis of the regime's significant dates shows a dynasty of Kims obsessed with the number nine. Watch out on 10 April 13</p>
Korea – Superstitions
Despite its world-class advancement in technology and manufacturing, South Korea – a country that was once rooted in shamanism – is awash with superstition. From selecting a spouse and naming a baby, to starting a new business and moving to a new home, Koreans go through convoluted rituals to invoke fortune-tellers, shamans, and diviners. Every culture has its own unique set of superstitions, and South Korea is no different.
Tetraphobia is the practice of avoiding instances of the number 4. In the USA, the number 13 is considered unlucky. In Korea the unlucky number is 4. Four has been deemed unlucky in Korea because it sounds like the Chinese word for “death.” (This refers to four in Sino-Korean numbers, which is pronounced “sah.”) Four is also considered unlucky in China and Japan as well. It will help understand why certain buildings in Korea don’t have a “fourth” floor. And it might be best to avoid groupings of things in fours, like when giving gifts. Hence it is tradition to avoid planning big events on the 4th day of the month. In Korea, all elevators have the letter “F” to indicate the fourth floor instead of the number 4.
There was a small stir among officials when the WONSAN class MLS (Minelayer, Support Ship) was decided to be ‘560’ – the Navy’s only ship ‘0’. It is because the warship that was constructed later than the first ship (MHC-561), which is the domestic No. 1 mine, has a faster ship, but the number ‘0’, which was forbidden, has been used. The Navy did not use the number of ‘0’ because it had a hit rate or a superstition that the operation performance was linked to ‘0’. A similar example is not used for the number 4, because the sound is the same as the death. Because of this, the ship number of ‘Masan Ham’, which is the fourth ship of the submarine class, is ‘955’ [rather than 954], and the number 9 of the 9th ship ‘Cheongju’ goes up to ‘961’ [rather than 960]. However, Wonsan has been writing ‘560’, which is an exceptionally zero term in the sense of ‘complete removal of mines’.
Do you have your own personal lucky number? If you are in Korea then add numbers 3, 7, and 8 to your lucky number inventory as these numbers determine many things. For example parents like to set weddings on any date with an ‘8’ in it, or couples that have a 3 or 7 year difference are considered to be the best match.
Yeot is a type of sticky and sweet Korean candy made from glutinous rice. Because it is so sticky it is believed that good fortune will stick. Also Koreans students usually eat this before an exam so that all the knowledge sticks into their heads! Korean traditional seaweed soup, even though it has good nutritional benefits, should never be eaten before taking an exam as it brings bad luck! Due to its slippery nature Koreans believe that knowledge will just slip right out of your brain.
Shaking your leg it ‘shakes’ off all the good fortune out of you. It’s also quite rude to shake your leg when talking to your elders.
In Korea it is believed that person born with big ears are able to hear the calling of every good fortune there are!
There are no such things as tooth fairies, so rather than hiding your tooth under your pillow, throw them over the tiles of your roof! It is believed by doing that you will get very good luck and fortune.
A symbol of wealth and fertility in Korean culture, pigs are said to be good omens. Dreaming about pigs is a lucky omen as they symbolise wealth in Korea. This might be because the word for money, don, and the Chinese character for pig are pronounced the same. In Korean culture dreaming about your own death means you receive good luck as soon as you wake up. Did you dream that something bad had happened to one of your friends? In Korea it is believed that when you wake up, if you talk about that dream to someone before noon, something bad will happen to that person in the dream. Test your patience and try to not talk about it until after lunch.
It is early morning and you immediately spot a crow as you walk out of the house. Crows in Korea are symbols of bad luck and spotting one in the morning will result in a bad day. In old folklore crows are seen as omens of death. Even though western magpies represent bad luck, if you see a Korean magpie in the morning it is considered to be very good luck. Magpies are seen as bringers of good news, so if you see one good things will happen to you on that day.
Wearing a white ribbon in your hair is considered very bad luck as the color white symbolises Korean funerals and death A long time ago the names of the deceased were written in red on registers, gravestones and plaques to ward off evil spirits, therefore writing someone’s name in red ink is very bad luck. By doing that it means they will die soon or you want them to die. Koreans believe that you shouldn’t wash your hair on New Year’s Day as you will wash away all the good luck and fortune down the drain. Also if you wash your hair before an exam you will wash away all your knowledge. It is believed that the droplets of rain symbolises droplets of fortunes, blessings, and wealth. If you clean everything the bad spirits will realise that you are moving they will cling onto you until you arrive at your new home. If you don’t clean up then you are tricking the spirits that you are still there and by the time you move it is already too late! In Korea it is custom to buy the host some presents when you enter their new home. By giving laundry detergent as a gift it will give them good luck. It is believed that the bubbles formed from the detergents symbolises many bubbles of blessings and good fortune.
Korean traditional masks make great house decorations but they also act as good luck talismans to bless your home. These masks are usually made from alder wood and are one of the most popular souvenirs to buy in Korea.
Do not buy someone a clock as a gift as it is very bad luck. As the two Chinese characters of ‘giving a clock’ actually mean tending to a wake and a funeral. Avoid sticking your chopsticks into your rice. In traditional Asian culture (not just Korean), people usually stick incense sticks upright in a bowl of sand at funerals for ancestor worship and it is believed to be food for the spirits. Sticking your chopsticks in a bowl of rice reminds people of that. Are you trying to say your friends at the table are already dead?
It is believed that you should only celebrate your birthday earlier or on your actual birth day. If you celebrate it after it is considered very bad luck. So when you decide to throw a belated surprise birthday party for your friend, think twice!
Pujok are yellow talisman papers which are used in old Korean traditional shamanism. These charms have two purposes involving good luck, and warding evil spirits and bad luck. Usually these talismans are stuck on walls or above doors so that the house can be protected. Korean superstition warns that if you touch a butterfly (or a moth) and then touch your eyes, you’ll go blind!
Giving shoes as gifts to a loved one in South Korea is a huge no-no. Superstition states that presenting a lover with a pair of shoes will make him or her run away. A woman should also refrain from feeding her boyfriend chicken wings, or he might “fly away,” so to speak. Specifically, he might have an affair. Koreans say that if you finish eating a meal and lie down in bed, you could become a cow.
While whistling is often associated with feelings of happiness, it is highly discouraged in South Korea, at least after the sun goes down. In fact, it has long been believed that whistling at night can summon spirits, ghosts, demons and other unearthly creatures. An alternative version of this superstition says that whistling at night will summon snakes instead of spirits. Night is also a bad time to cut your fingernails, because mice will eat your nail clippings, transform into a human that looks just like you, and then steal your identity and your soul.
Setting foot on a threshold can bring misfortune. This superstition dates back to the time of the Mongol invasion of Goryeo Korea, when the body of the deceased would remain in the home for some time. Afterward, he or she would be carried out of the house in a coffin. Once the coffin had crossed the threshold of the front door, the boundary between the living world and the afterlife too had been crossed. Therefore, it’s bad luck for a living person to step on the threshold.
Death from sleeping with an active fan in a closed room may seem like the stuff of fiction, but it’s no joke in South Korea. Seonpoonggi samangseol (“fan death”) is believed to be an actual cause of death, not just superstition. Fears about electric fans in Korea date back to 1927, when a story was published in a national newspaper warning readers that the new technology came with medical risks such as nausea, facial paralysis, and even asphyxiation – the theory being that the fan’s circulation of stale air causes its user to choke on their own carbon dioxide. Stories surrounding fan death continue to regularly crop up in the South Korean media, especially in the summer months.
Military Further Reading Resources Korea – Superstitions Despite its world-class advancement in technology and manufacturing, South Korea – a country that was once rooted in shamanism