Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Book Review: North Korea's Hidden Revolution (2016) by Jieun Baek

North Korea's Hidden Revolution:
How the Information Underground is Transforming a Closed Society
by Jieun Baek

After conference at Incheon, South Korea, I and my friends stayed for two more nights at Seoul. As I walked around the city area, I stumbled upon second-hand bookstore and bought this book (after I browsed books for only God know how long!). One of the talks that I could never forget during the conference is when a student shared about some issues in North Korea. I’ve watched documentary about North Korea before, but this personal story goes deeper into my soul. Since that day, I wanted to know more about North Korea… and thank God I found this book. Lord, saves North Koreans!

 This book is an insightful look into North Korea today and how the people are slowly getting information about the outside world at the risk of harsh punishment. The author also interviews some North Koreans who have defected to South Korea and a few to the U.S. It is fairly easy to cross at certain times at narrow points of the Tumen River into China, but there are armed guards on both sides (Google it!). Some of the guards can apparently be bribed to look the other way, though (because of the economic crisis).

‘The Information Underground’ refers to the illegal radios that allow North Koreans to listen to broadcasts from South Korea and other parts of the world in addition to USBs and DVDs that are smuggled in from China into NK with South Korean movies and television shows that have enlightened many to the fact that they have been brainwashed and not allowed to know anything about the rest of the world. Young people like the fashions that they see on South Koreans in the movies and soap operas, but dare not be caught trying to emulate them.

A bit of capitalism has entered the country in the form of small markets where people sell food, clothing and other items, even illegal ones. These black markets are far from Pyongyang, the capital city, place where most elite citizens live. During the famine in the 1990s, housewives would make anything they could such as rice cakes or cookies, and sell them to make money to buy more food for their own families. These little home-grown markets have become bigger with more items for sale and the author tells about one woman who gets used clothes in bulk from China to sell.

Overall, most people in North Korea are living in fear, communism/dictatorship and delusions (for examples, a defector once believe that “Kim Il-Sung was the greatest ruler in the world” or that “our Dear Leader will save us”). But not without hope. The people – especially young people – are becoming more open minded and more connected to the world as ever before.

Jieun makes an interesting observation that there are no experts on North Korea, and she considers herself a North Korea watcher. The country is so closed off from the rest of the world that it's impossible for an outsider to study it from the inside. The prison camps are still in operation and school children are taken to watch public executions. The Kim regime governs with fear. But there is hope. Kim Ha-Young, a student-defector, told the author:

People say mountains change in about 10 years. If something as stubborn and mammoth as a mountain can change in a decade, the hearts of ordinary North Koreans can change. I’m sure of it. I’m living proof. I’m from North Korea. North Korea is my home, and I revere the soil that my family tilled. But I grew to embrace democracy over time as I settled in my new home in South Korea. It’s hard, and lots of things are still confusing in a democratic country. But if mountains can change, humans can change. North Koreans are humans too, you know. Just like me, and the reader. North Koreans can and will adapt to newer, better circumstances. I’m sure of it.”

Oh, pray for North Koreans!


#1 Immortal Gods: Why North Korea Is Such a Durable Regime
#2 Cracks in the System: An Information Revolution
#3 "Old School" Media: From Trader Gossip to Freedom Balloons
#4 The Digital Underground
#5 A New Generation Rising
#6 Implications, Predictions, and a Call to Action

[This is quite a well-written book and allows the reader to learn about a changing society whether the regime knows it or not]
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