NORTH KOREA CONFIDENTIAL: Private Markets, Fashion Trends, Prison Camps, Dissenters and Defectors
by Daniel Tudor & James Pearson
Tuttle Publishing, Rutland, Vermont, U.S., 2015
Hardback: 224 pages
Reviewed by Luke J. Portelli
When we think of North Korea (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), we think of nuclear weapons, totalitarianism and the political differences between it and the Western world. Tudor and Pearson’s 2015 book, North Korea Confidential, is a look at present-day North Korea using a political, economic and sociological lens to observe the building blocks that make North Korea what it is today and what it represents in a global society enveloped by “democracy”.
Kim Jong-un’s modern North Korea is a nation comparable with a third-world country, though this side is rarely seen by the outside world, in that its people are affected by poverty, severe totalitarian disadvantages and religious subjugation. Certain examples of this status are North Korean civilians still ride timeworn bicycles loaded up with fresh vegetables through heavy pedestrian traffic and their women (ajumma) sell goods to the public in “illegal, yet tolerated markets” (jangmadang).
Because of the repressed lifestyle of its citizens, of which Tudor and Pearson expressively speak, the DPRK has a fascination with Western culture, albeit in the form of South Korean music and entertainment. But behind these noticeable frailties and fixations is a state whose uncompromising leaders yearn for political power, social acceptance from its people, and economic stability such as its affluent southern neighbour, South Korea, enjoys – although the North is continuously at war with it.
Charles K. Armstrong (2014) describes the DPRK as “an isolated, impoverished, heavily armed, and highly nationalistic Marxist-Leninist regime”; and for those who have never been to North Korea, this description would certainly not encourage the common tourist to visit the place anytime soon. South Korea, by contrast, according to Armstrong, “on its own has become an important country in the global economy, ranking 12th in the world in overall national GDP”.
Tudor and Pearson’s tidily written book also examines the confounding effects of communism in this nation where privately owned companies and even the growing and selling of vegetables are illegal. Facts such as these would normally be motivation for change to a person who seeks to improve himself, but for the proud of heart, no facts can be enough motivation for Kim Jong-un and his lackeys. The DPRK is bereft of Christian standards at political and social levels and is in constant pursuit of supreme control of its people, of Asia and possibly the world, if its previous taunts at the United States are anything to go by.
Like Muslims who are at the mercy of terrorist attacks from their own people and who do not understand the need for cultural and religious change, the North Korean monarchy casts fear and ignorance over the population in exchange for complete command of its people. So much so, that if a citizen of the DPRK is caught communicating with anyone in neighbouring China or South Korea, he or she may be subject to public execution. Yes, you read right; though on most occasions the paying of a bribe will suffice. I presume it depends on the importance of the information being communicated.
On the topic of technology and communications, every person who has ever used a smartphone or a similar device knows that it is likely to have been made somewhere in Asia, most probably in Korea or China. Tudor and Pearson claim nevertheless, that “very, very few North Koreans have ever used the internet”. This is a result of “the state seeing information control as a critical means of monopolising power”.
How severe is this, to deprive the people of an item that would help in education, business and indeed government, but the imperious hand of Kim Jung-un does not allow it for despotic motives. If you grumble about your freedom in Australia, think of the North Koreans, as this book clearly demonstrates their lack of freedom in every sense of the word. No vegetable growing and no internet – welcome to the communist variety of the Korean Peninsula established in 1948.
Overall, the book is an analytical look at the current state of the DPRK and how it functions under an insensitive tyrant, a communist system that has closed its doors on rational thought and has embraced Marxism; whereas in South Korea, the economy is growing swiftly and its people readily receive the Christian message by the thousands.
That the book conveys sometimes alarming details of the ethos of a nation growing in political and military strength and opposed to democracy should be food for thought in the current climate, where every debate is monitored. Is the West that much different in regards to Christians who refuse to affirm same-sex “marriage” and other anti-God developments?