A few days ago I finished reading a book “A Kim Jong Il Production” by Paul Fisher. North Korea as a state or country has very less visibility to the outside world. We don’t know what’s going inside the country and we can’t travel to the country not because their government don’t allow but because we are scared of our lives. The country still runs on dictatorship.
So, this book is based on two people – Choi Eun-hee, an actress and Shin-Shan-Ok, a director who were kidnapped by the dictator of North Korea in the late 1970s.
While living in the States for past one year I have seen many Korean War memorials but never understood the significance of it or its connection with America but after reading the book a lot of things made sense to me. The book depicts an era of 1970s to 1980s in North Korea.
Korea and China was ruled by Japanese in the early 1900’s. With the end of World War 2 when atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan evacuated Korea hurridly it is so close to Korea and left everything as it was – there was no hand-over, take-over done. With Japan’s evacuation while a part of Korea was celebrating it’s freedom the other part wanted to have a Supreme leader and follow the path of communism.
While the people in the South were celebrating they were attacked by military who marched from the North led by Kim-Il-Sung, their new leader who was also supported by the Soviet and shared their country’s borders. Kim-Il-Sung wanted the whole of Korea to be under one path of communism and under his rule.
On an average 20,000 people were killed in Seoul alone everyday during that time (late 1940s). All the buildings in Seoul were attacked and destroyed and people were killed. Not just Seoul but in the nearby villages houses were burned and the farmer families were killed. With so much of bloodshed going on finally U.S.A. entered the war scene with their soldiers capturing Seoul and fighting against the North. Military from South marched towards the North supported by the U.S.A. government and entered Pyongyang marching towards further North where Soviet and China entered in unison to fight against the U.S. China entered to save North Korea for its indebtedness as North Korea had helped China for it’s war in Manchuria. Though Pyongyang was destroyed but U.S. army lost and retreated towards the South.
Civilians from both the sides were killed. People who ran from North towards South were killed by North Korean army and people who ran from South towards North were killed by the South Korean army. Civilians were not given any choices to pick sides. They lost everything – families, wealth, property. Finally a line was drawn across 38th Parallel and the country was divided.
Though the Korean War had officially ended with the line drawn to separate the countries but it actually continued. The North Korean leader still made attempts to enter and capture South Korea.
South Korea followed the path of democracy elected their first Prime Minister. The country opened its borders for globalization allowing the products and services to be imported and exported from other countries, foreign companies to setup their offices and factories in their lands.
But on the other hand North Korea chose its Supreme Leader who will rule until his death and will be succeeded by his abled sons. The country also divided their civilians into three Song-buns or castes. The first category who is considered to be loyal to the Kims and was made the ruling class and were offered government jobs. The second category with whom the Kims had no threat as they were neither loyal nor hostile towards the Kims. And a third category who were considered to be hostile towards the Kims and were chosen for farming and mining. The third category also consisted of people who were loyal towards the Japanese and enjoyed higher positions and status during the Japanese-era in Korea. The Songbuns were inherited by the children of the family members.
Quotas for things like food grains, electricity, clothes, shoes, cooking coal were fixed and were given to its common people as subsidy. People were divided in groups of fifteen families and in every community people were encouraged to work as a watch-dogs for Kims. Those people who reported of others as thoughts against the Kims were rewarded heavily and those who were reported were sent to the mountains.
The leader – Kim Jong Il who initially had a Russian name (as he was born under the Soviet rule) gave up his name and focussed on creating a story for its common people depicting his parents as freedom fighters against the Japanese and him being born on a very snowy day in a village while his parents were fighting. Also according to the stories (created by himself) he started speaking when he was 2 weeks old and walking when 8 weeks old. He also liberated Korea from China when he was 3 year old and had understood Korea’s map and ordered the soldiers to fight against the Japanese. His orders were taken by god seriously and Japan was destroyed with attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. All these stories were printed on the text books of children and were taught to them.
Also, every household in Korea should have a poster of their leader – Kim Il Sung in their drawing/living rooms. These posters were distributed to the houses by the government along with a cloth to specially clean the poster. The government officers also inspected all the houses once a month to check if the posters are clean or not. And if dirt was found on the posters then people living in the house would be punished.
Children were given toys and school dresses as gifts on the birthday of their Supreme leader Kim Il Sung. Children studied in schools unto the age to fifteen after which they were employed by the government for the next fifteen years and were paid minimum for the reason being – the government provided them education.
The age at which a man can marry was fixed to 30 and for woman it was 28. Before that age people were not allowed to marry and for marriage purpose they needed to inform a government officer where he would fix a venue which would be under a giant statue of Kim Il Sung where the couple would be announced man and wife by a government officer. No priest or Religious person was needed. People were not allowed to date and for the ruling class the spouses were specifically chosen by the Kims and they were not allowed to not follow the orders.
People from South Korea, Japan, China, Europe were kidnapped under Kim Jong Il’s time and were hired to purposes like teaching Japanese language, Japanese culture in spy schools, producing and directing films, teaching in universities and aiding in research.
People who obeyed were spared and who disobeyed were sent to the mountains or camps where they were deprived of food, medicine, sleep, beaten and tortured. Often people in the second category died of torture and in first category committed suicide.
Most of the people lived their lives being poor struggling to gather resources such as food, clothing and shelter. But people from loyal Song-buns enjoyed everything right from lavish lifestyle, good and unlimited food, designer clothes, luxury villas, Rolex watches, Mercedes Cars, weekend parties, prostitutes, alcohol and what not (alcohol was banned for the normal public).
Choi Eun-Hee and Shin Sang-Ok who were kidnapped from China and brought to North Korea stayed for a period of eight years and made several films of international recognition until they planned and executed their own escape by seeking asylum from U.S.
After their escape started the downfall of North Korean Empire when they could not repay the loans they had taken from Soviet and other countries. They had already exhausted all of their natural resources and their gold mines had run dry. Then started a series of floods and droughts when all the hospitals had run out of medicine supplies. Then started coming reports of people killing other people for food, parents eating their kids, people found dead in metro stations, on streets. There were reports the meat market was filled with human meat. All this because food which was scarce was only given to people with loyal Songbuns. Others were left to die. The count of people who died is not known to the outside world.
In the midst of all these came the news death of Kim Il Sung. Whose body was then mummified from specialists from Soviet Union. The news was then broadcasted on the state’s television. People were shocked, the streets were all vacant, nobody knew what to do. Then there were a few people who came out to share grief or may be in confusion what to do and were offered rice cakes by the government. Then came more and more people for those rice cakes and cried, sobbed for their leader’s death. Then came a time when people who genuinely cried and showed grief were only offered rice cakes by the officers. So they cried, screamed and wailed more to show their loss. All this continued for a period of ten days. Later on the leader’s body was kept in his own residence which was converted to a memorial place known as Kumsusan Place of the Sun.
Choi Eun-Hee and Shin Sang-Ok though escaped North Korea but lived in the States only for the next thirteen years. Their inner calling took them back to the country where they grew up, started their careers and were known by everyone – South Korea. Unlike U.S. they were not welcomed by their country at first and were accused of defecting. People didn’t believe in their stories and had their own logic or stories behind everything. They became poor in their own country and lived life like commoners – travelled by bus, lived in a rented apartment. But it only lasted for a very short time as they did not live long.
The book intrigued me to know more about the country and it people. And thus I would encourage you too to read it if you like knowing about the culture and history of other nations like me.
PS: I do not hold any opinions about the country or its leaders. Being an avid reader the data or facts shared has been purely on the basis of the book’s content.