WONSAN, NORTH KOREA -- George Orwell would have felt at home in Li Kyung Hee's one-room apartment. Attached to a wall is what appears to be a radio, blaring official pronouncements and leaden music. But it is not a real radio because there is no way to change the channel or station; it receives only a special program broadcast by the North Korean government. There is a single knob that Li, 26, a housewife, can use to turn the instrument on or off. The "speaker," as they call it, is an important element in President Kim Il Sung's 41-year-old effort to inculcate North Koreans with government propaganda while isolating them from the outside world. Except for a privileged elite, mostly in the capital of Pyongyang, North Koreans cannot own radios that would allow them to hear broadcasts from other countries. This strategy of creating information-blind followers -- forecast 40 years ago by Orwell's novel "1984" -- appears to have worked stunningly well. "People don't feel the need for radios," said Kim Ok Don, a member of the ruling Korean Workers' Party who is responsible for ensuring that Li's residential unit in this port town is tidy. "They prefer the speaker." Here in one of the world's most reclusive nations, the Stalinist leadership appears intent on resisting political change that is sweeping much of the communist world. Kim, called the "great leader," is an apparently healthy 77 years old, and he has anointed one of his sons to succeed him in what will amount to the first communist dynasty. The son, Kim Jong Il, is called the "dear leader," and he runs the country's day-to-day affairs, according to sources in Pyongyang. Whether the young Kim will remain in power once his father passes away is an open question, followed closely by the United States government, which is still technically at war with North Korea. There are 43,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, and the Korean peninsula is regarded as volatile. Kim Jong Il's prospects for succession will depend partly on the resiliency of the unique political and social system built by his father. A rare visit to North Korea this month by Western journalists revealed something about the system, even though the visitors were constantly escorted by official guides and permitted to see only a few model areas of the country. Even the handful of foreign diplomats, journalists and businessmen living in Pyongyang know relatively little about the society or the political system. According to North Koreans, overt disagreement with the elder Kim is unthinkable. At least on the surface, there is unanimity on even the most trivial of matters and no outspoken complaints about the country's economic difficulties or the lack of basic human rights. Sources in Pyongyang said Kim's four-decade hold on the hearts and minds of the 20 million North Koreans depends on three factors: indoctrination, isolation and oppression. A visit to the Kochang cooperative farm outside Pyongyang provided an illustration of the cradle-to-grave indoctrination. Inside the cooperative's concrete kindergarten building, a dozen children, aged 6 or 7, sat stiffly around a large mock-up of the rural setting where the president was born and raised. The teacher barked out questions, and the children shot out of their chairs to respond. "Where did the great leader take his walks?" the teacher asked like a drill sergeant. "What did the great leader do at this rock? Where did the great leader study?" After each question, a student briskly answered in a voice that was shrill and robotic. The regimentation continues in universities. Talking in a shady picnic area with a visiting correspondent, half a dozen university students were taken aback when asked whether there was premarital sex in North Korea. After a few moments of silence, a young woman said, "There is only pure, revolutionary love," meaning spiritual devotion to the great leader and physical devotion to no one until marriage. North Koreans cannot escape the many tributes made to the great leader and his son. In rice fields and machinery factories across the mountainous country, the government has placed outdoor loudspeakers that broadcast news and music programs -- the same Orwellian propaganda heard by housewife Li in Wonsan. It is for the enjoyment of the peasants and workers, government officials explained. It is impossible to live outside of the government's eye. Every North Korean belongs to a neighborhood cell, which consists of about 30 families living in an apartment building or farming cooperative. Ration tickets for food and consumer goods are distributed through the chief of the cell, and if any cell member is causing trouble or acting unnaturally, the group has a "collective discussion" to set the offender back on the right path, according to officials. The regulation of daily life does not stop there. Despite its broad boulevards, Pyongyang is nearly devoid of bicycles -- and the same holds true in Wonsan, a three-hour drive from the capital, and other cities visited by Western journalists this month. Pyongyang sources agreed with the contention by human rights advocates that the apparent ban on bikes is part of a political program to restrict the movement -- and interaction -- among people here. Although North Korean officials deny it, sources in Pyongyang also said that individuals need permission to travel outside the city or village where they live. The most elusive aspect of North Korea is the allegation, documented in a voluminous report released earlier this year by two U.S. human rights groups, that the government operates a gulag containing between 115,000 and 150,000 political prisoners. The report also said the government has identified 4 million "hostile" citizens who, although not imprisoned, are assigned to hard labor on the margins of society. North Korean officials deny the existence of gulags or prisons, saying that the country has no crime and, because individual liberties are respected, no political prisoners. The officials admitted the existence of "education centers" for people who "commit crimes by mistake," such as drunk-driving accidents and financial mismanagement at factories or farms. Without specifying, the officials said the number of inmates is small and the length of incarceration brief. Sometimes, however, cracks appear in North Korea's monolithic political facade, hinting at official fears over the true extent of the people's loyalty. For example, according to a source in Pyongyang, the newspapers reported the deaths of Swedish premier Olaf Palme in 1986 and Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1984, but did not mention both had been assassinated. The omission, the source said, indicated that the government was afraid to advertise the fact that a disgruntled person or group can quickly end a leader's term in office. The same source also said the police presence in Pyongyang was reinforced after the student-led popular uprising in China this spring, apparently because the government wanted to ensure that nothing similar erupted here. A Japanese news report said about 500 North Korean students studying in China were called home because the government was concerned about their exposure to pro-democracy activism. That report, like occasional reports of failed coups and high-level purges, could not be confirmed. In such a closed society, it is difficult to judge the succession prospects for Kim Jong Il. Despite his undisputed position as political heir since the early 1980s, little is known about him or the reaction of influential government and military figures to his planned succession. Kim, 47, holds three top positions in the Workers' Party, the key one said to be his post as a member of the Presidium of the Politburo. The other two Presidium members are his father and the defense minister. Sources in Pyongyang said the younger Kim has worked behind the scenes to put his allies into important government and military positions. The younger Kim has created his own personality cult -- his pictures, books and slogans are almost as numerous in Pyongyang as his father's -- and party officials refer to him almost as often as they refer to his father. The officials said the two men work together, with the younger Kim striving to uphold the policies set by his father. There are questions about his prospects. His father has built an enduring personality cult based on the sometimes wild exaggeration of his record as an anti-imperialist fighter against the Japanese and Americans. Although North Korea lags far behind South Korea in economic terms, it nonetheless has emerged from the ruins of the Korean War under the elder Kim. The younger Kim, though, has no military background or economic achievements to use as a base for political or popular support. Some experts have theorized that senior military or government figures who fought in the 1950-53 Korean War are annoyed about the younger Kim's effortless succession and may oppose him once his father passes away. Rumors of failed coups and occasional military reshuffles have been interpreted as possible signs of discord over the younger Kim. Some experts said they see Kim Jong Il taking over and steering North Korea toward economic reforms in the same way that Deng Xiaoping took China on a pragmatic course after Mao Zedong died in the 1970s. Other experts, though, said Kim Jong Il will continue his father's policies. "He will take over but will face some serious problems," said a Pyongyang source. "If he fails to show success, it will be very difficult for him."