Wednesday, April 20, 2005

North Korea - General Backgrounder

I'd always thought middle school wasn't over until you could assemble an AK-47.

I've been meaning to post something on North Korea for awhile now, so here's the first post, a general backgrounder. This will be followed by posts on recent changes in North Korea, North-South relations and North-US relations (aka the 'nuclear issue').

Some useful pages worth checking out:

For up to date news on North Korea specifically, NKzone is a good place to go. Bloggers Marmot and Oranckay, provide a great deal of coverage regarding North Korea and its relations with the South and the US, in addition to their news about South Korea in general. Mainstream online newspapers worth checking out include Asia Times (good for long pieces and analysis), the Chosun Ilbo, (good because it doesn't take down its older articles) and the Korea Times.

The Korea Times (one of the two 'tourist disinformation rags', as Oranckay likes to call them) is notable for its inclusion of Andrei Lankov's articles about both North Korean and South Korean history and society. Lankov lived in the North years ago and has examined the Soviet archives on North Korea, and so his articles provide a great deal of information about both countries. Some articles of note include ones about social strata in North Korea, prestigious jobs, police informers, collectivization, North Korea's information blockade, and the early signs of capitalism which have appeared over the past decade. Lankov also recently published his latest book, which examines the clashes within the North Korean leadership in 1956 which led to the North distancing itself from the Soviets and pursuing the Juche philosophy. The introduction can be found here.

Beyond these general links to entire sites, here are some more specific pages worth reading:

To begin with, some required reading: B.R. Myers Mother of All Mothers', an essay and review of 4 recent books about North Korea. Myers studies North Korean literature, and so has a rather unique insight into North Korean society and propaganda.

While we're on the topic of literature, several short stories by North Korean writers can be found here, along with some essays by foreign translators (note - 'Memories of Lily-Colored Photographs' and the poetry are South Korean).

Moving from the literary to the visual, hundreds of North Korean propaganda posters can be found here, and information about visual propaganda in North Korea can be found here. Best of all is the gallery of paintings from a book called 'The Peoples Great Leader', which should give some idea of Kim Il-Sung's god-like stature in North Korea. The religious iconography in these paintings is astounding - about the only thing missing is the 'miracle of the loaves and the fish'.

There are some excellent documentaries about North Korea available as well. 'A State of Mind', a documentary about two girls who take part in mass gymnastics games, is notable for its unprecedented access to the girls' family lives, while 'Children of the Secret State' features hidden camera footage of children starving in the streets of cities near the Chinese border. Both of these (and others, such as the 1989 documentary from which the above photo was taken) can be found by searching on emule.

Hidden cameras have brought all sorts of interesting images out of North Korea lately, but I'll save those for the next post.


  1. That picture is rather provacative Matt. Do you think it is fake? That kind of mobilization doesn't seem to be a part of NK society, don't you think?

  2. Oh, one other thing, glad you finally got something up! Good work!

  3. I'm trying to get the font to work right, it had some errors so I changed it and fixed them but now it's small. Grrrrr...

  4. OK, I managed to completely screw it up at work, and then tried to figure out why yours was different; I went into the html on one of your posts and realized you weren't using any special font, and then proceeded to spend more than a few minutes editing all the unnecessary html coding from my post. It worked though...

    Btw, that photo is a screenshot from a 1989 documentary I have called 'The Parade' (Defilada) by Polish Filmmaker Andrzej Fidyk. It was the first time an outsider was allowed to film in the DPRK. There's another image here.