The Politics of Toys: What Potential for Inter-Korean Reconciliation?

Virginie Grzelczyk*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article focuses on toys that are associated with war, weapons and violence (‘conflict toys’), which hold particular salience in parts of the world that have undergone conflicts, such as the Korean peninsula. Using sources ranging from economic reports to defector testimonies and field research in both South and North Korea, the article shows that despite largely different economic and political paths, the two Koreas have developed toy markets that address shared histories. The article suggests that conflict toys can perform an important function in inter-Korean relations: they allow the two Koreas to experience and potentially transcend the status quo. The article further argues that both Koreas can polarise their populations quickly through a controlled propaganda machine in the North, and an omnipresent globalised culture in the South: in both cases, a political message of either conflict or reconciliation could reach many children quickly via toys, and thus be a driver for change for anyone who was willing to use such levers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)668-684
JournalAsian Studies Review
Issue number4
Early online date17 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 9 Oct 2022

Bibliographical note

© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Funding Information:
This research as well as the field work in the ROK and DPRK has been supported by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship for the year 2018–2019 (Reference RF-2018-635\8).


  • Conflict
  • Korean peninsula
  • North Korea
  • security
  • South Korea
  • toys


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