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By Sang-Hun Choe
Seoul - North Korea's communist government is waging war against men with long hair, calling them unhygienic anti-socialist fools, and even leader Kim Jong Il has trimmed his famous bouffant locks.
The hair campaign comes as North Korea's dictatorship struggles to tighten its control over information, monitor its population and dictate cultural tastes.
It is directing men to wear their hair "socialist style," deriding shabbily coiffed men as "blind followers of bourgeois lifestyle."
North Korea's state-run Central TV even identifies violators by name and address, exposing them to jeers from other citizens.
"We cannot help questioning the cultural taste of this comrade, who is incapable of feeling ashamed of his hair style," the station said on Monday, showing a Mr Ko Gwang Hyun, whose unkempt hair covered his ears.
"Can we expect a man with this dishevelled mind-set to perform his duty well?" the announcer asked.
The government, which demands unquestioning allegiance and controls all publications and broadcasts, is growing wary of outside influence seeping in.
Foreign broadcasts penetrate the country through smuggled transistor radios. As North Korea's economic woes persist, more North Koreans are travelling to China to seek food - and are exposed to the rapidly spreading capitalist culture there. CDs containing South Korean songs and TV dramas - popular in most of Asia - are reportedly smuggled into the North.
The hair campaign, which began in October and is dubbed "Let's trim our hair according to socialist lifestyle," requires that hair be kept no longer than five centimetres (two inches). But the state trendsetters allowed an exception: old men can grow hair up to seven centimetres to hide balding.
The campaign claims that long hair hampers brain activity by taking oxygen away from nerves in the head. It doesn't explain why women are still allowed to grow long hair.
In November, a North Korean broadcast chastised men with long hair as "fools who abandon our own lifestyle and mimic other people's model."
Short haircuts fit with Kim Jong Il's "songun" - or army-first -philosophy, which focuses on military strength and exhorts the people to follow the example of the 1.1 million-member Korea People's Army, the loyal backbone of Kim's rule.
Kim himself for many years wore a bouffant hairstyle - reportedly to boost his height - but recently set an example by trimming it.
He shares his intolerance for a bohemian look with South Korea's late dictator, Park Chung-hee.
In the 1970s, at the height of Park's authoritarian rule, police banned miniskirts. Long-haired male college students were dragged into police stations for forced haircuts and were only released after writing letters of repentance.
In reaction to the pressure to conform, more young South Koreans took to long hair, blue jeans and guitars - and demonstrating. The government considered the trend rebellious and closed down schools and banned songs deemed "harming the public morals."
Park was murdered by his own spy chief in 1979, and long hair - dyed in a variety of colours - is now widely accepted in South Korea. - Sapa-AP