For those interested in North Korea, this English language documentary from Japan is rather enlightening.
The journalists involved interviewed former North Korean officials who once carried out the orders of the glorious leader to bring money into the aptly named “Royal Court Economy”. I have said for years that North Korea is more like a Feudal system than a Communist one. I suspect a Teutonic Knight would understand the system straight away.
Life in New Malden is just unimaginably better than in that in North Korea
– North Korean defector Kim Joo-il, stating the obvious from (where else) suburban London.
Some of these claims are false. Some reveal more truth than the writers intended:
Lowest labour cost in Asia.
Highly qualified, loyal and motivated personnel. Education, housing and health service is provided free to all citizens. As opposed to other Asian countries, worker’s will not abandon their positions for higher salaries once they are trained.
Lowest taxes scheme in Asia. Especially for high-tech factories. Typical tax exemption for the first two years.
No middle agents. All business made directly with the government, state-owned companies.
Stable. A government with solid security and very stable political system, without corruption.
Full diplomatic relations with most EU members and rest of countries.
New market. Many areas of business and exclusive distribution of products (sole-distribution).
Transparant legal work. Legal procedures, intellectual rights, patents and warranties for investors settled.
… or however that name would best translate into Korean… Just make sure there is not a thick table leg between the briefcase and the psychotic dictator in need of urgent removal from the material plane of existence.
I mean seriously guys, forget the wacko ideology for a moment… if you are anyone who is anyone in North Korea, and you would quite like to still be smelling the fragrant aroma of kimchi this time next year, how much of a hint do you need that it is long past time that Chubby Chops went to meet his ancestors?
One of the saddest recent facts about the world, and especially the twentieth century world is that the Devil has tended to have the best tunes, the best pictures and the best public sculpture.
By the middle of the twentieth century, World War 2 having been at least partly won by some of the Good Guys, many officially encouraged Artists in the rich West had come to associate all tunefulness and all pictorial or sculptural communicativeness with evil, and to shun artistic communicativeness on purpose. Is this picture telling a story? Does that symphony have lots of tunes? Is this sculpture of something or of someone, and does it speak to the best in us? To hell with that, said many of the more serious and educated sorts of Artists, because such glories reminded them that Artistic glory had just been and was typically then still being used, by Hitler and by Stalin and by their numerous imitators around the globe, to glorify wickedness.
Meanwhile, the horribly numerous and influential supporters within the better bits of the world of the still persisting and Communistic sort of evil went out of their way to encourage these mostly dismal and arid Artistic tendencies, in order to make the best bits of the world seem far more uninspiring than they really were, and hence ripe for conquest by the Communistically evil bits. Artistic glory continued, well into the late twentieth century, when the very worst of the twentieth century’s greatest horrors were politically and economically in retreat, to glorify the dreary and still decidedly evil aftermath of the horrors, in the USSR and in all the places it continued to subjugate or influence, such as in China and nearby despotisms. The rule was, still, that the better the mid-to-late twentieth century place was and the more it was contributing, despite all its corruptions and blunders and disappointments, to the ongoing advance of humanity out of mass poverty and into mass comfort and even mass affluence, the duller and more uninspiring its officially sponsored Art was.
Thank heavens for the less official, small-a art, like advertising and the more commercialised parts of cinema and television, and like pop music. Above all, thank heavens for rock and roll. If Official Art refused to celebrate the escape, in the rich countries, of the poor masses from their poverty, then the enriched paupers would buy electric guitars, form ten million pop groups and celebrate their newly emancipated lives for themselves. The rock-and-rollers didn’t “build this city on rock and roll”. The city was already built. But by God they cheered it up. And this despite all the efforts of Official Art people to make rock and roll dismal too.
These thoughts were provoked by me recently having been steered towards pictures of this, I think, rather splendid piece of public sculpture on a hill in Africa, just outside Dakar, Senegal:
This gigantic and inspiring celebration of human progress and traditional family values was erected by the sculptural propaganda arm of the abominable state of North Korea, that classic after-echo-of-horror relic that still now staggers on into the twenty first century.
To the exact degree that Africa is now starting seriously to shun the follies of North Korean style murder-suicide-statist political-economic policies, Africa is indeed now starting to make some serious economic progress, thanks to things like free trade, mass literacy and mobile phones. Well fed African go-getters with adoring wives and happily well fed babies are now multiplying across the continent, busily exploiting the potential of such things as mobile phones to stir up affluence, for others as well as for themselves, perhaps some of them even inspired in their capitalistic endeavours by sculptures like the one above.
I personally believe that the famously colourful and inspiring Chinese posters that were among the very few pleasing things created during the otherwise wholly dreadful and destructive Mao-Tse-Tung era in China may have had a similarly inspiring impact upon China’s subsequent generation of capitalistic go-getters. Communists had a minus quantity of knowledge about how to create the good life, but they at least had a clue about what the good life looked like and felt like, and got other and less crazed persons thinking about how actually to contrive it.
Meanwhile, public sculpture in the old rich parts of the world has, for some time now, been on the up and up, or so I think. It may not be gloriously inspiring, but at least it has started to be – has for some time actually been, I think, some of it – fun, at least quite often. Official Art still can’t quite bring itself to be as brashly optimistic about humanity and its future as those North Koreans, but at least the baleful representation-equals-Hitler-and-Stalin equation is sinking into the cultural history books. Good riddance.
Personally, and in company with many other people who are not usually very attracted by or admiring of contemporary Art, I particularly like the works of Antony Gormley. There was recently a show about Gormley on BBC4 TV, which illustrated only too vividly that Gormley emits the same drone of vacuous and pretentious Art-Speak nonsense that most other Artists seem to. The contrast between the educated verbal gropings that Gormley talked on TV last night with the down-to-earth clarity achieved by the comic book artist Frank Quitely, who starred in an earlier BBC4 show in the same series, was extreme (see my remarks above about the redemptively inspirational contribution of popular art to Art). But ever since Gormley stumbled into popular acclaim with his Angel of the North, which proved a whole lot more inspiring to the wider public than he probably thought it would, he has specialised in doing public sculpture that is of something (typically his own very average naked body but never mind), and which many people, me included, often enjoy looking at. His actual work is, I think, as often as not, brilliantly eloquent, and he is now finding it easier to do it, what with the new technology of 3D computer scanning and visualisation and 3D printing. Gormley’s actual Art makes me want to say, not so much that his spoken words are silly (even his sculpture titles tend to be Art-Speak meaninglessness), but that words are just not Gormley’s thing.
I still remember fondly the time in London, in the summer of 2007, when the dreary concrete of London’s South Bank Arts district and nearby parts was invaded by a small army of naked metallic Gormleys. The many identical Gormleys were not, in themselves, especially inspiring. But look on the bright side. Nor were these Gormleys bent-out-of-shape semi-abstract grotesques, mid-twentieth-century style. And although in themselves ordinary, the Gormleys were often standing in very interesting and inspirational places, high above the streets, up on the roofs of tall buildings:
Stick anyone on a pedestal – in general, look up at them – and they look more impressive. They look like they deserve to be looked up to. This positioning of all those South Bank Gormleys suggested (yes yes, to me – I admit that all this is very personal) ordinary men at least looking, very admirably, towards less ordinary and more inspiring far horizons. Some of the Gormleys were looking downwards, but most were looking out ahead. What all these Gormleys were not doing was just standing in Art galleries, staring miserably at their own feet, with signs next to them full of demoralising Art-Speak drivel. They raised the spirits of almost all of those who gazed up at them. Only those Art People who hated what a popular hit the Gormleys were and who still want Art to just moan about the horrors of capitalist consumerism, instead of actually making a positive contribution to this excellent trend in human affairs, were seriously offended by all these Gormleys, which for me is of course just another reason to love them and to treasure the memory of them. I and most other Londoners and visitors to London who saw them regretted only the moment when they migrated elsewhere.
If and when the ghastly government of North Korea is overtaken by the collapse that in a wholly just world would immediately engulf it, I wonder what will happen to these North Korean sculptors. I now like to conjecture that, despite all the barbarism that they now go through the motions of glorifying, they might yet have some kind of civilised future, glorifying people and things that truly deserve to be glorified.
Mick Hartley, who has been watching North Korea closely for years, senses that things may be about to explode, sooner rather than later:
Under the departed Dear Leader, there was at least some measure of balance. The Songun military-first principle held sway then as now, of course, and the level of vitriolic rhetoric aimed at South Korea and the US and Japan was constant and unrelenting, but there was some sense of a cunning plan; of a canny political operator at work.
Now, though, with the new Fat Controller Kim Jong-Un, there’s a strong feeling that it’s all getting out of control. As a sign of his weakness and insecurity, and doubtless under all kinds of internal pressures, and in-fighting within the top brass which we don’t know about, he just keeps pressing the same buttons that worked for his father, but he has to press them harder and harder. Up with the militarisation; up with the vicious rhetoric; up with the provocations and the bluster. He doesn’t know what else to do. Now the whole country’s on a war footing, the economy – such as it was – is imploding, and maybe for the first time in the history of the DPRK there’s a sense that the suffering people may not be prepared to tolerate this increased hardship much longer.
The logic of his position, then, may force him into some reckless action. He’s backed himself into a corner. South Korea’s western islands are looking increasingly vulnerable. If he doesn’t do something he’s going to look weak, and all that hardship is going to look like it was all for nothing to the wretched populace. And, as the economy tanks, he has to do something sooner rather than later….
I recommend also reading Hartley’s earlier piece, linked back to there, which does indeed link in its turn to reports about the vulnerability of some South Korean islands, but which is itself a copy-and-paste posting about what China is preparing to do about all this. Preparing to invade North Korea, basically, and racing against time. As always, when states like China build railways (in fact when almost any state has ever built a railway), the thinking is not just economic; it is also military.
China was and remains content to sponsor a North Korea that is vicious and strong. But a North Korea that is vicious and weak, to the point of recklessness, is a serious threat to China’s interests.
It says everything about the state of life for regular people in North Korea that if and when the Chinese do invade, the Chinese may well be greeted as liberators rather than as another bunch of predators.
Kim Jong-un is looking at things, just like his father!
The Kim is dead, long look the Kim!
– commenter Alisa
You have probably read of the North Koreans shamelessly ripping off a suite of Disney characters in one of their infamous stage shows.
Why all the pageantry? OK, it’s North Korea, silly question. But why now? Well, it may have something to do with the young leader Kim Jong-un being freed from Dad’s shackles and finally being able to get his leg over recently married (not to Fatty Kim, as the Chinese call him) new mother and former popstar, Hyon Son-wol.
But she’s an interesting one, is Madame Comrade Hyon. An accomplished musician in her own right, she has a string of hits as long as your bayonette, such as Footsteps of Soldiers, I Love Pyongyang, She Is A Discharged Soldier, and We Are The Troops Of The Party. Real toe-tapping stuff. However, her star rose highest when she embraced her fans in the countryside with the 2005 chart-topper Excellent Horse-Like Lady.
Something lost in translation, or a manifestation of the severe shortage of tractors?
Update: by popular demand, Youtube clips provided. No translations, sorry. And I am unable to verify whether the clips match the actual songs, not being versed in Korean.
Further update: call that pop music?? This is pop music. (And no I don’t expect you to sit through that atrocious K-Pop; just trying to make a point…) That being said, it is worth noting how freaking massive K-Pop is throughout Asia, a market of 2 billion+.
Comparing the vigour of South Korean K-pop with its nothern counterpart as churned out by the likes of Kim Jong-un’s latest squeeze reminds me of this well-known photo. God bless capitalism!
We haven’t here done a Kim Jong Il is dead posting until now, probably because what else is there to say besides Kim Jong Il is dead? A new Kim Jong has been installed. Un. From Il, to Un. In English it sounds like going from sick to nothing. North Korea, presently terrible, will either get a bit better, or a bit worse, or a lot worse, or stay much the same. Or, if it gets really lucky, a lot better! Will paid North Korea watchers, experts in North Korean things, do any better than that? I doubt it.
I have called Kim Jong Il Kim Jong Il. Others call him Kim Jong-Il with a hyphen, or Kim Jong-il, with a small i for il. Until today I never knew of this confusion. Blog and learn.
My favourite of the Kim Jong Il is dead postings that I have seen so far is this one, at Mick Hartley’s blog, which features the very last Kim Jong Il picture: King Jong Il looking at toilet paper.
I wrote all that last night, but Mick Hartley now has another Kim Jong Il is dead posting up, in which he quotes somebody called Simon Winchester saying this:
India’s attempt to go it alone failed. So, it seems, has Burma’s. Perhaps inevitably, North Korea’s attempt appears to be tottering. But seeing how South Korea has turned out – its Koreanness utterly submerged in neon, hip-hop and every imaginable American influence, a romantic can allow himself a small measure of melancholy: North Korea, for all its faults, is undeniably still Korea, a place uniquely representative of an ancient and rather remarkable Asian culture. And that, in a world otherwise rendered so bland, is perhaps no bad thing.
Or then again, perhaps … not. No bad thing? Competition for commenters: concoct morally disgusting sentences which begin with “For all its faults …”. You’ll struggle to top that one. These obscene ravings are currently behind the Times pay wall, hence no link, although Hartley does supply one.
Better a starving slave state, it seems, than this ghastly modern Americanised culture.
Conservative romanticism raised to a truly idiotic level.
Commenter Martin Adamson adds:
And it’s not even remotely true on its own terms. The architecture of Pyongyang is Moscow 1952. The mass displays are China 1964. Painting is Soviet Academy 1936. Music is Gang of Four Operas 1974. Dress is Bucharest 1988 etc etc.
Assuming this is the Simon Winchester in question, it seems that:
Simon Winchester is a best-selling British author living in Massachusetts and New York City.
Heartfelt apologies from Britain to Massachusetts and New York City. Apparently American culture is itself sufficiently un-Americanised for Winchester to find it livable in. Winchester has a new book out, which looks rather creepy. Let’s all not buy it.
NickM has a nice piece up today at Cats about a website called Kim Jong-il looking at things. He picks out a picture of Kim looking at some fruit:
What fascinates me about that image in particular is that whilst the side of the fruit stand facing Kim is laden with produce the side facing us looks a bit sparse. The Russians might have had Potemkin villages but it takes the true Juche lunacy of North Korea to have created the Potemkin fruit stand.
What fascinates me about these pictures is what often fascinates me about Potemkinity of all kinds, which is how it so often achieves the opposite of the desired effect. It presents what its presenters, now themselves probably living quite close to starvation (never mind all the regular people of this wretched country), imagine to be a miracle. But when the rest of us, out here in non-Kim world, look at their sad little picture, we merely shrug and note that capitalism of the most feeble and emaciated sort can do that with one arm tied behind its back, on a wet Thursday morning in an economically depressed inner suburb of a city that has been in relative decline for a century. We look at it, and we say: is that the best you can do?
For me, the obvious thing about Kim’s faked up fruit stand is that there is so very little fruit on it, compared to what there is room for. My local market, just the other side of Vauxhall Bridge Road from me, is a cornucopia by comparison.
So when Hilary Clinton states that maintaining stability on the peninsula was “critical”, surely a solution seems to be staring everyone in the face.
- Keeping tens of thousand of US troops in South Korea is expensive for the hapless US taxpayer
- China would rather not have US forces stationed anywhere in Korea
- North Korea will soon be capable of actually delivering nuclear weapons
- North Korea has an antiquated military and a busted economy and therefore no ability to fight a long war
- North Korea is clearly lead by deranged madmen prone to attack South Korea (i.e. torpedo their ships) for no good reason
- South Korea has a formidable and modern military
Bite the bullet, so to speak. Give South Korea a nudge and whatever backing it needs to blow the living shit out of the North and reunify the country. They have the wherewithal to do most of the heavy lifting themselves and the casus belli is a legal slam dunk.
Result? Short term death and misery, for sure… but long term geopolitical stability for the region because:
- The most repressive regime on the entire planet will be history
- No longer any justification for stationing significant US forces on China’s doorstep
The backroom deal is obvious: China throws North Korea to the wolves and US promises to get out of the post-unification Korean peninsula.
This has the making of a win-win-win-win for China, the hapless occupants of that open air prison called North Korea, nuclear threatened South Korea and the ever burdened US taxpayer. Extra added ‘win’ can also be added to the scenario if the leadership in Pyongyang end up on meat hooks (but eating a laser guided 500 kg bomb also works).
I recommend this short illustrated talk given by an American academic (no: businessman – see comment) who taught at Beijing University and who went with his family on a trip to North Korea. Here is part of what he says:
This is a woman that was directing traffic with great resolve and military precision outside the front door of our hotel. We watched her for at least ten minutes, as she moved and rotated with complete control of her little domain, and we didn’t see a single car go by. [Laughter] I mean, you do have to wonder what they think. …
He then sees one of those giant stadium displays, done with thousands of big hand-held squares which keep changing.
This big display, which sat opposite most of the people is just a huge communist video monitor, one person per pixel. The resolution of this screen was about seventy by four hundred. The frame rate was one to two hertz, and you could get up to two frames a second, before muscle fatigue set in.
And then we see this screen in action. It is actually rather impressive, especially when you consider how much the poor bastards doing it probably get to eat each day. And they’re the lucky ones.
It often happens that people who report not on “the situation” in wherever it is, but simply on what they happen themselves to see, can supply an extraordinarily vivid feeling of what it must be like there. They don’t tell the whole story. But then again, they don’t pretend to.
Meanwhile, the latest “news” from North Korea, is that they are building a huge underground fighter runway, right near the border with the hated South, Thunderbirds style. It is supposed to be invulnerable to military attack. Fat chance. I wonder how many people will die while making it.