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December 20th, 2011


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10:28 pm - North Korea.
So yesterday Kim Jong-il of N. Korea died.  I'm sure many celebrated and thought good riddance.  I never really gave too much thought to N. Korea since I'm a little biased in the issue.  When the Korean War happened it was N. Korea and China vs. USA and UN forces.  The first time I heard about it my reaction was wtf was the USA doing halfway across the world starting wars on China's border, so you can see where my bias laid.

But with the news yesterday a lot of the articles on news websites switched to N. Korea and it got me thinking about some things.

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First up, what N. Koreans living conditions are "really" like based on accounts by defectors;
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/8720870.stm

There's a glaring problem with depending on defectors of a country to talk about that country. First, since they're speaking of their experience from their point of view, it's completely subjective not objective. Second, considering they hated the place enough to want to defect then I'd say we know which way their bias leans. So every experience they had and speak about regarding life in N. Korea is coloured by that lens.

Now I don't really know what life in N. Korea is like since I've never been there. I'd imagine after several decades of international isolation it's probable that the living standards are quite low and the lives of the citizens quite different then those in other. more open countries. But I have a problem with only hearing the stories of defectors and not being able to hear those who might think differently of living in that country.

Granted I understand we only have access to those who defect and considering humans are curious creatures by nature we want to know what's going on in such a secretive country. But it's like we use these defectors stories to satisfy our already-formed opinion that N. Korea is this horror house run by this demon family from whom we must rescue them from (except they have these nuclear weapons so we're kind of not so gun-ho as we were in invading other countries that require a "regime change").

We don't actually want to know about the country. We don't really care if the majority of the people love it, hate it, or really don't care. Our opinions have been formed that N. Korea's rulers are bad. They are a symbol of problems for the country and for the region, so we just need some ego boosts to insure our views are validated. We can point to these defectors and say "See! Even the people living in N. Korea hate it, so our hatred of their rulers is totally justified and so would an invasion if we had the balls for it!!".

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Second, accusations that the outpouring of grief by N, Koreans over their leader's death were fake/forced/acted.

Here's my two cents on it. In Western countries, crying over politicians isn't really well-documented. Politicians are generally considered lying cockroaches that need to be kept in line using our checks and balances in the democratic political system. We don't trust our politicians, thus, we check them and their powers.

Now that, of course, has many benefits, the biggest being it prevents the abuse of political power (granted that is on the condition that the checks and balances work properly).

In other countries, and here I'm going to assume N. Korea falls into this category with Kim Jong-il, and also looking back to China's past with the first generation of CCP leaders (Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and also Deng Xiaoping), the attachments of the people to the leaders are much more...intricate. Some would say it's that personality cult whereby the citizens worship the leader and idolize him/her. So in that sense, if one's idol dies, then it's not so far-fetched to imagine an outpouring of grief by citizens.

When Mao, Zhou and Deng died, many Chinese shed tears. I've only seen my mother cry twice, once when her mother died, once when Deng Xiaoping died and we heard it on the news in the U.S. 十里长城送总理..."10km Great Wall to bid farewell to the Premiere". This saying was coined because people lined the streets of Changan Ave. in Beijing to bid goodbye when Zhou Enlai's body was taken to be buried after he died. I'm sure in Western eyes the tears and grief of the people who waited alongside the street could easily be reported as having been faked, forced, acted, but Chinese people know they weren't.

I don't know how N. Koreans truly felt about Kim Jong-il, I'm not one of them and I have no contact with any of them, but I don't think it's so hard to believe that at least some, if not all, of the tears they shed for their leader were real. After all, he was their leader, for better or for worse, regardless of how we, the outside world felt about him and his reign, he was THEIR leader, and they are the only ones with the true authority to judge him.
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Whew, hectic year leadership-wise.  Not sure if it was good or bad, but here's to hoping things settle down a little next year (and our economy stops throwing us curve balls).

(5 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:sanada
Date:December 20th, 2011 03:33 pm (UTC)
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hrmm well there was a huge famine in the 90s in which even North Korean officials said several hundred thousand people died of starvation, and the agricultural system still isn't self-sufficient. And there was a public execution in 2007 of someone who had only been convicted of making a phone call. Defectors have to cross a heavily militarized border to get out, and they publicly execute people who don't make it. I'm sure there's a lot of US bias in news reporting, but that stuff is pretty well documented by neutral sources. Virtually all of the North Koreans who are allowed to talk to outsiders are government/military workers and their families, and they're always under supervision, so there's really no way to know how average people live. But just from the things that are known to be true, it sounds pretty bad there.
[User Picture]
From:koneko_desu
Date:December 20th, 2011 09:07 pm (UTC)
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Right, but it doesn't mean that every North Korean citizens hates it there as much as our medias make it out to be. My point is it's problematic to use defectors as sources because their bias is not only apparent but extreme. Especially coming from a news agency where they're suppose to be objective and neutral, using defectors is not exactly professional when there's no one from the other side to balance out the two sides.

There was a time when those conditions were quite similar in China. Looking in from the outside one can easily make comparisons of our reactions to N. Korea's leadership today to the CCP's leadership back in the days of the Cold War. China experienced the famine due to the Great Leap Forward, people were jailed and humiliated during the Great Cultural Revolution for simply owning historical items like qi pao or jade, a slip of the tongue against the government's policies could have you jailed or executed if your neighbour or eavesdropper reports you. But again, it didn't mean the Chinese people all despised the CCP, not only were not all of them against the CCP but they actively took part in these activities.

The only difference really is that over the years China managed to develop a nuclear program to protect itself and banking on that self protection began economic reforms to open up under Deng. With the large market China provided too tempting to ignore foreign investors came in despite the CCP's insistence on having nuclear weapons.

North Korea's unlucky enough to be too small as a market to really attract foreign companies, yet small enough to bully about their nuclear arms program. So developing their nuclear program they created a stalemate with the foreign governments isolating them and their own government not really showing signs of wanting to open their doors economically as Deng had done.
[User Picture]
From:nijibug
Date:December 20th, 2011 04:03 pm (UTC)
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I don't for a minute doubt the terrible living conditions within North Korea, but that BBC video was equally unbelievable on both sides. The North Korean government was putting up an obvious facade for the British journalists, while the alleged refugees they interviewed in South Korea appeared to be living better than your average middle-class South Korean who had never had their lives uprooted. Unless the BBC only chose to interview women who had somehow managed to marry into very wealthy families upon escaping. In which case their credibility takes a further blow because that demographic is hardly a representative sample.

I just think the BBC should have made more of an effort to interview more believable sources. The resulting documentary left me the feeling of having just watched a very halfhearted propaganda video...
[User Picture]
From:koneko_desu
Date:December 20th, 2011 09:25 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Right, horrible as it may be in our eyes, as I said in my reply to the comment above, it doesn't mean all N. Koreans hate their government as much as we make it out to be.

There was a time when those conditions were quite similar in China. Looking in from the outside one can easily make comparisons of our reactions to N. Korea's leadership today to the CCP's leadership back in the days of the Cold War. China experienced the famine due to the Great Leap Forward, people were jailed and humiliated during the Great Cultural Revolution for simply owning historical items like qi pao or jade, a slip of the tongue against the government's policies could have you jailed or executed if your neighbour or eavesdropper reports you. But again, it didn't mean the Chinese people all despised the CCP, not only were not all of them against the CCP but they actively took part in these activities.

Of course the countries are not exactly the same and the leaders are not exactly the same. When Mao died his successor was not his son, and so it was a family-run empire and with fresh blood at the helm it allowed fresh ideas to flow, causing China's policies to evolve and change. But my point is, if a country of over a billion people can live with those kinds of conditions under their leadership and not start a revolution to overthrow them, and even still to an extent still respect that generation of leaders, it's not so hard to believe that in N. Korea now where the population is much lower the people don't at least share some similar sentiments. It's like having an abusive parent. To outsiders that parent is horrid and we think it's not so hard for the other family members to escape or seek help. But the relationship of the family complicates things which outsiders are not prone to and in the end it doesn't really matter what outsiders think.

And while N. Korea is an extreme example, I'd be prone to wondering exactly what constitutes as "terrible living conditions" and not so terrible living conditions. That's another quite subjective standard. How much should we as outsiders change another's country for that country to be considered as having not so terrible living conditions? Food on the table, clothes on the back, roof over one's head? Tap water, flush toilets, electric stoves? TVs, computers, cars, houses? Free education, access to hospitals, employment guarantees? I'd say there're people in every country whose living conditions don't meet all those standards.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 21st, 2011 04:25 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I've only seen my mother cry twice, once when her mother died, once when Deng Xiaoping died
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At the time we were in US and Canada. So no one forced her to cry.

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