Posts tagged with: north korea

Today at The Federalist, Acton associate editor Sarah Stanley penned an article profiling an artist from North Korea who goes by the name of Sun Mu. This profile is inspired by a recent documentary that highlights the life of the artist. Sun Mu defected from the oppressive state in the late 1990s and since then has been creating art that depicts the story of his life in North Korea.  In order to protect his family, Sun Mu can’t use his real name.  Stanley explains:

The most extraordinary thing about him is that the audience for his art mostly doesn’t know what he looks like, or what his real name is. Sun Mu still has family in North Korea, so he never shows his face in public. His real identity is a closely guarded secret. He insists hiding in plain sight is not a form of thrill-seeking. He puts himself in real danger simply because he was “destined” to become Sun Mu (a phrase meaning “no boundaries”).

When Sun Mu first defected from North Korea he made his way to China where he was first exposed to a society other than the tyrannical state of his home country. Stanley explains his experience:

The most surprising thing he noticed when he arrived in China was the lights. “The glittering lights,” Sun Mu says. “Plastic bags blowing in the winds. Is this rotten capitalism? Is this the rotten capitalism the North has been talking about? Why are so many lights on?” He even began to wonder if he was hallucinating. There couldn’t be that many working lights glittering all over. For at least a decade after he defected, he continued to believe the lies perpetuated by Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong Il, propaganda that said capitalism made other countries worse.

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 Photograph: Andy Wong/AP

Photograph: Andy Wong/AP

They faced potential starvation, imprisonment, torture, and made a dangerous journey to freedom only to discover new struggles that they never could have comprehended in their former lives.

Stories and reports of North Koreans fleeing their country aren’t particularly unusual. There are dozens of books written by or about North Korean defectors. Last week, thirteen North Koreans who worked for a restaurant fled to South Korea. It’s also been recently reported that a high-ranking colonel from North Korean military’s General Reconnaissance Bureau defected to the south sometime last year.

Writing for the Associated Press, Tim Sullivan profiles a man who, though relatively prosperous in North Korea, fled to South Korea seeking a life of ease and higher wealth. What he found was back-breaking labor and, he believes, discrimination by South Koreans. He was a policeman back in the north and he enjoyed the respect (as well as the handsome bribes) of the people around him. While he was fairly well-fed and even owned a TV, there was starvation and poverty all around him and he wanted to get away from it. A little over a year ago, he met with a smuggler and decided to try his fate in the South. He sneaked across a river into China and began a new life outside of the DPRK. (more…)

A North Korean soldier holds ammunition to blow up Capitol Hill in Washington, in this poster released by Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency, Jan. 31, 2003. The Korean Banner reads: "Ruthless Punishment to U.S. Imperialism." (Korea News Service/AP Photo)

Poster released by KCNA, Jan. 31, 2003. The Korean Banner reads: “Ruthless Punishment to U.S. Imperialism.” (Korea News Service/AP Photo)

North Koreans might not have food to eat this year, but their government has announced that it has successfully tested a miniaturized hydrogen bomb. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) released the following statement earlier today in Vienna:

“Our monitoring stations picked up an unusual seismic event in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) today at 01:30:00 (UTC). The location is very similar to the event our system registered on 12 February 2013. Our initial location estimate shows that the event took place in the area of the DPRK’s nuclear test site. The DPRK also claimed today that it has conducted yet another nuclear test, the fourth since 2006.

ABC News quotes a North Korean reporter on the activity:

“We have perfectly succeeded in testing our first hydrogen bomb,” an anchor said on North Korean state TV. “It was one hundred percent capable from our own wisdom, technology and power. We have now scientifically test-proved a miniaturized hydrogen bomb.”

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Do Google Earth satellite images point to more grim news from inside North Korea? According to an article from United Press International (UPI), Curtis Melvin of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University noticed a substantial difference in satellite images of a North Korean prison camp from 2013 to some taken last month:

[A]erial snapshots from Oct. 15 indicated considerable changes have been made to Camp No. 16.

Melvin said the new changes included dams, hydroelectric power plants, apartments for the camp’s guards, an athletic field, a mine and fish farms. These facilities were not visible in satellite imagery taken in 2013.

The latest construction appears to indicate that North Korea is planning for an increase in the population of inmates detained at Camp No. 16 … In 2014, Amnesty International said in a statement the camp imprisons about 20,000 people and the prisoners are forced to work in very treacherous conditions. [emphasis added]

Camp No. 16, also known as Hwasong or Myonggan concentration camp or Kwan-li-so (Penal-labor colony) No. 16. Camp No. 16 is a prison-labor colony where detainees are expected to work for life with no hope of being released and it is the largest of all the penal-labor camps in North Korea. The UPI piece points out that it was one of five political prisons where up to an estimated 120,000 people are punished for various “crimes against the state.” Despite testimonies of defectors who survived these camps and later escaped North Korea, Pyongyang denies the existence of camps and has officially accused all the witnesses of lying. (more…)

9780544373174_custom-65b05d09242abdf9624b6c53d7e29e6309aae9d9-s400-c85North Korea has been cut off from the rest of the world for nearly 70 years and few people outside of its borders – especially in the West – have a realistic picture of how life really goes on. Yes, we know it’s a horrible place, essentially a giant concentration camp, but how do North Koreans live their lives? Joseph Kim’s memoir, with contributions from Stephan Talty, Under the Same Sky: From Starvation in North Korea to Salvation in America (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2015) helps to paint a picture of the closed off nation and remind us what we should know – that North Koreans are all too human with real hopes, dreams, and struggles. Most importantly, the book paints a vivid picture of life inside North Korea that, despite the accounts of suffering, by turns surprises and enlightens.

Under the Same Sky could easily be broken into three parts: Joseph Kim’s life before the famine that ravaged North Korea in the 1990s; how Kim survived during the famine; and his life after escaping from North Korea. The book is episodic, with each chapter telling one particular story from Kim’s life. Within this format, at just short of 300 pages, and given the compelling themes in many chapters, it’s a quick read and is often hard to put down. The narrative spans little more than a decade, starting when Kim is four or so, and ending when he’s an older teenager. He does talk about his new life in America, but it’s not the focus. The majority of the action takes place during the North Korean famine, but an early section in the book paints the idyllic picture that life wasn’t always so bad in this nation, at least not when seen through the eyes of a young child. (more…)

Yeomni Park is a 21-year-old defector from the nation of North Korea. She and her mother (who was considered a criminal for moving without permission) escaped the brutal North Korean regime. They ended up in China…and things got worse. As we continue to hear more on the “war on women” in America’s political battles, it is good to remember that the terrible suffering of women (and men) in places like North Korea and China.

Earlier this month, I wrote a two part article for the Library of Law & Liberty, critiquing the uncritical condemnation of income inequality by world religious leaders.

In part 1, I pointed out that “while the Pope, the Patriarch, the Dalai Lama, and others are right about the increase in [global income] inequality, they are wrong to conclude that this causes global poverty—the latter is demonstrably on the decline. And that, I would add, is a good thing.”

F. A. Hayek

In part 2, drawing on the work of F. A. Hayek, I noted, “As societies learn to use their resources ‘more effectively and for new purposes,’ the cost of manufacturing luxury goods decreases, making them affordable to new markets of the middle class and, eventually, even for the poor.” I continue, “Such inequality not only accompanies the very economic progress that lifts the poor out of poverty, it is one essential factor that makes that progress possible.”

We may add to this two more ways in which focusing solely on income inequality can be misleading from article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday by Nicholas Eberstadt: increased equality in lifespan and education. He writes,

Given the close correspondence between life expectancy and the Gini index for age at death, we can be confident that the world-wide explosion in life expectancy over the past century has been accompanied by a monumental narrowing of world-wide differences in length of life. When a population’s life expectancy rises from 30 to 70, the Gini index drops by almost two-thirds—from well over 0.5 to well under 0.2.

This survival revolution—and the narrowing of inequalities in humanity’s life chances—is an epochal advance in the human condition. Since healthy life expectancy seems to track closely with overall life expectancy, a revolutionary reduction in health inequality may also have occurred over the past century. Improvements in global mortality for the poor have contributed to the very “economic inequality” so many now decry. This is another reason such measures can be deceiving.

The spread and distribution of education has had a similar impact. In 1950 roughly half of the world’s adults—and the overwhelming majority of the men and women from low-income regions—had never been exposed to schooling. By 2010 unschooled men and women 15 and older account for a mere one-seventh of the world’s adults, and about one-in-six from developing areas. (more…)