North Korea Confidential: Private Markets, Fashion Trends, Prison Camps, Dissenters and Defectors
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**Named one of the best books of 2015 by The Economist**
Private Markets, Fashion Trends, Prison Camps, Dissenters and Defectors.
North Korea is one of the most troubled societies on earth. The country's 24 million people live under a violent dictatorship led by a single family, which relentlessly pursues the development of nuclear arms, which periodically incites risky military clashes with the larger, richer, liberal South, and which forces each and every person to play a role in the "theater state" even as it pays little more than lip service to the wellbeing of the overwhelming majority.
With this deeply anachronistic system eventually failed in the 1990s, it triggered a famine that decimated the countryside and obliterated the lives of many hundreds of thousands of people. However, it also changed life forever for those who survived.
A lawless form of marketization came to replace the iron rice bowl of work in state companies, and the Orwellian mind control of the Korean Workers' Party was replaced for many by dreams of trade and profit. A new North Korea Society was born from the horrors of the era—one that is more susceptible to outside information than ever before with the advent of k-pop and video-carrying USB sticks. This is the North Korean society that is described in this book.
In seven fascinating chapters the authors explore what life is actually like in modern North Korea today for the ordinary "man and woman on the street." They interview experts and tap a broad variety of sources to bring a startling new insider's view of North Korean society—from members of Pyongyang's ruling families to defectors from different periods and regions, to diplomats and NGOs with years of experience in the country, to cross-border traders from neighboring China, and textual accounts appearing in English, Korean and Chinese sources. The resulting stories reveal the horror as well as the innovation and humor which abound in this fascinating country.
few North Koreans have ever used the internet. Those who have are firmly within the elite, and even they tend to use Yahoo! e-mail addresses rather than official ones.20 Considering that the state sees information control as a critical means of monopolizing power—and that South Korean TV and the USB stick are already breaking that monopoly—it is unlikely that North Koreans’ internet deprivation will be rectified anytime soon, despite persistent rumors to the contrary that began in the early
criticize themselves publicly, and encouraged others to join in. Team members were also tasked to spy on those they visited, and pass any pertinent information back to the center. Even the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party could not resist Three Revolutions inspections. Three Revolutions members who proved adept at ratting on others were fast-tracked to positions of power by Kim Jong Il.7 They were thus highly incentivized to participate in building a climate of fear in which even the
summation and natural extension of what Kim Jong Il learned during the early stages of his rise to power, particularly the Three Revolutions period. Through surveillance and the re-routing of information and reporting structures, the OGD has come to be the only part of the state that sees and knows everything. Though many famous figures have been ousted following Kim Jong Il’s death—including General Ri Yong Ho and Jang Song Thaek—the OGD leadership is essentially unchanged. The OGD has existed
at the camp.7 The completion of one’s sentence may also be expedited if one’s relatives have money to pay a bribe, or political influence. Political Imprisonment: How it Differs At all levels of the MPS system, brutality is commonplace. Below-subsistence rations, torture, and beatings are all standard practice. Public execution of those who attempt to escape a gyohwaso is considered a normal and effective means of discouraging others from trying. Kuryujang interrogators can do almost whatever
great lengths to control the rise of private market activity. There are occasional crackdowns on marketplaces, for instance. And in 2009 came the bluntest move of all. That November, it was announced that the national currency, the North Korean won, would be redenominated via the cancellation of the last two zeroes on every banknote. A 1,000 won note needed to be exchanged for a new 10 won note, and so on. Citizens were given one week to trade in their old zero-heavy notes for new ones.