In recent weeks, much has been written about George Orwell's admonitory fantasy ''1984'' in South Korea's print media. Four Korean-language editions of the celebrated novel have come out - to the delight of recession-plagued booksellers and the insatiable book-reading public alike.
To many South Koreans, the year of newspeak, thought police, doublethink, and Big Brother has arrived - not here but in the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. North Korean society today, they say, is much worse than the one the British author envisioned.
In many ways, the South Korean perspective of the North seems accurate. Kim Il Sung has ruled North Korea since 1948 (the year Orwell wrote his novel) and has built a totalitarian dynasty. All children from the ages of 5 to 16 are required to memorize ''the heroic exploits'' of Marshal Kim Il Sung and his son and heir apparent, Kim Jong Il. The concept communicated by those early exercises is that the two Kims ''will liberate the hungry, enslaved people in South Korea'' and that all economic achievements, all sporting victories, and all bountiful harvests are personal gifts from their ''benevolent and respected genius leader'' and his heir.
According to the North Korean school curriculum, World War II was won by Marshal Kim Il Sung and his ''revolutionary army,'' and his father and grandfather top the list of great patriotic figures in Korean history. Official accounts of the Korean war ignore the decisive role the Chinese ''volunteers'' played in the outcome of the tragic conflict.
One of the North's most popular children's songs is titled ''We have nothing to envy in the world.'' The North Koreans are taught to believe that everything they make is the best in the world. But North Koreans do not realize, for instance, that their tractor is modeled after a 25-year-old Soviet model.
Kim Il Sung's ''juche'' ideology of socioeconomic and political self-reliance is the basis of Pyongyang's ''unique'' communism. However, the North Korean regime often ignores its official ''juche'' party platform and buys industrial machinery and heavy equipment from Japan and Western Europe. The people in the North have not been told, among other things, that as a result of their purchase on credit of hardware from the West in the early 1970s, their country still owes some $3.5 billion to Western banks and manufacturers.
Kim Il Sung has purged all his political rivals, who represented the moderate and pragmatic elements within the North Korean Labor (Communist) Party, in the late 1950s and '60s, according to intelligence reports. By the early '70s, his son was already exercising considerable power as party secretary for organizational guidance and information. But the younger Kim has had to build his own ''revolutionary credentials'' to win support of the party rank and file. As one of his first ''revolutionary'' acts, Jong Il had North Korean diplomats take out full-page advertisements in such leading Western newspapers as the New York Times and the Times of London. The ads exalted the ''extraordinary'' words and deeds of Kim Il Sung or excerpts from his speeches and theoretical works.
These ads, full of ideological rhetoric and glowing superlatives, were then reprinted in the North Korean party organ, Rodong Shinmun, headlined as ''editorial comments . . . about our great and respected leader, the sun of mankind and the greatest Marxist-Leninist revolutionary the world has ever known , from the leading capitalist journals in the bourgeois world.''
Some analysts of North Korean affairs here believed the younger Kim was also responsible for the tragic incident at Panmunjom in 1976, in which some 30 North Korean border guards wielding axes and metal picks hacked to death two US Army officers. But they were puzzled, because the incident occurred while leaders of nonaligned countries were meeting in Sri Lanka to consider North Korea's pending proposal before the United Nations supporting the withdrawal of US troops from South Korea.
If the murders were committed to attract sympathy to the North Korean cause, the move backfired, especially at the Sri Lankan conference. For although the nonaligned nations did vote to back North Korea's troop withdrawal resolution, many also signed a statement deploring the ax-murder incident.
Furthermore, world opinion had crystallized against the murders to such a degree by the time the full UN General Assembly met that North Korea withdrew the resolution. Both Washington and Seoul regarded the atrocity as a grim reminder of the continuing need for a strong US presence on the Korean peninsula.
Having thus failed in his desperate attempt to rally public support and resolve the ongoing power struggle over the succession issue, Kim Jong Il was ordered to lie low for several years by his father. In recent years, he has resurfaced as the heir apparent - to the chagrin of North Korea's two communist allies, China and the Soviet Union - directing once again clandestine activities at home and abroad.
''In 1983,'' said a high-ranking South Korean government official who wants to remain anonymous, ''the North Korean communists, under the direction of Kim Jong Il, stepped up their provocations, culminating in the brutal massacre of our government leaders in the terrorist attack in Rangoon (Oct. 9) while President Chun Doo Hwan was on a state visit there.''
(The people in the North have been told that the bomb blast in Rangoon was ''plotted by the South Korean government to try to alienate (North Korea) from the rest of the world community.'')
''And their abortive schemes to infiltrate armed agents into South Korea continued to intensify in a psychopathic attempt to undermine our preparatory work to host the forthcoming Asian Games in 1986 and the Olympics in 1988,'' the government offical added. ''But quite a number of those North Korean infiltrators turned their backs on their communist rulers in Pyongyang upon arrival in the South, and a MIG fighter pilot landed to a nationwide welcome at one of our air bases in a daring flight to freedom.''
Meanwhile, despite the South Korean government's repeated calls for a dialogue last year, the Pyongyang regime responded by continuing to send armed infiltrators to the South. For this reason, the man in the street in Seoul and elsewhere in South Korea shudders to think what stunt Kim Jong Il will pull next.