North korea-Summarize the reading that are uploaded in the files in 750 words minimum.

North korea-Summarize the reading that are uploaded in the files in 750 words minimum.


Poet) Spy) Escapee- A Look Inside North Korea

Jang Jin-sung

Translated by Shirley Lee



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Library of Congress Cataloging- in -Publication Data

jang, lin-sung. Dear Leader: poet, spy, escapee: a look inside North Korea! Jang lln-sung ;

translated by Shirley Lee. pagescm 1. [ang, [in-sung. 2. Korea (North)-Politics and government-1994-201 L

  1. Kim, Chong-il, 1942-2011. 4. Propaganda-Korea (North). 5. Political refugees-Korea (North)-Biography. 6. Poets-Korea (North)-Biography.
  2. Korea (North)-Biography. 1. Title. DS935.7773.j36A32014 951.9305’1092-dc23 [B1 2014010236

ISBN 978-1-4767-6655-3 ISBN 978-1-4767-6657 -7 (ebook)


Map vii Prologue lX


1 Psychological Warfare 3 2 Going Home 25 3 My Hometown Transformed 41 4 The Crime of Peering over the Border 60 5 A Farewell Sin 73 6 In the Rifle Sight 84


1 Yanbian Looks to the World, the World to Yanbian! 95 2 Framed for Murder 106 3 “Annals of the Kim Dynasty” 125 4 Criminal Operations 142 5 North Korean Women Sold as “Pigs” 161 6 At a Loss 178 7 Farewell, Young-min 190


1 From Yanji to Shenyang 205

2 A Fateful Meeting with Wang Cho-rin 224

3 Becoming a Piano Teacher 239

4 The Kim [ong-il Strategy 252

5 Meeting Cho- rins “Intended” 266

6 A Murderous Regime 281

7 Long Live Freedom! 293

Epilogue 309

Afterword 315

Translator’s Note 319

Glossary 323

Index 325






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ALITTLE after midnight, just as I’m settling into bed, the phonebegins to ring. I decide not to answer before the fifth ring, and hope it will stop before then. When it rings a sixth time, I imagine my parents waking up, disturbed, and I pick up. I am ready to give whoever is on the other end a good telling-off. “Hello?” In the silent house my voice sounds more intrusive than

the ringing phone. “This is the first party secretary.” At these words, I jerk upright and jar my skull against the

headboard. “I am issuing an Extraordinary Summons. Report to work by one

a.m. Wear a suit. You are not to notify anyone else.” Although in this country we are accustomed to obeying even

the strangest command as a matter of course, it’s disconcerting that the first party secretary himself has just given me an order. He is the Central Party liaison for our department. Under normal circumstances, I would expect to receive orders from the party secretary of Division 19 or Section 5, in keeping with my position in the party’s organizational hierarchy. On top of that, he has used the term “Extraordinary Summons:’ , This usually refers to the mobilization of troops. When the United

States and South Korea perform joint military exercises on the Korean peninsula, our nation responds by conducting nationwide mobilization drills. The call to take part in these is referred to as


an “Extraordinary Summons:’ But we are usually notified through deliberate leaks in advance of such a call. Individual Workers’ Party units and sections, under fierce pressure to outperform their rivals, are always seeking to gain an edge: employees of those well connected enough to be in the know remain at work on the specified day, reporting for duty ahead of those who unwittingly went home for the evening. However, if this were a standard military mobilization summons,

I would not have been asked to wear a suit. We cadres who belong to the Central Party, unlike ordinary North Koreans attached to regional or departmental Party branches, know that an “Extraordinary Summons’ can also lead to an encounter with Kim Iong-il, our “Dear Leader.” When someone is summoned to meet him, there is no advance

notification. Not even the highest-ranking generals are made awareof the operational details of these meetings. An invitation to meet Kim is relayed through a first party secretary, who is summoned to a party committee room that has been placed under lockdown by the Dear Leader’s personal bodyguards. Under their close surveillance, the first party secretary receives a list of names and issues the individual summons for each cadre, with the logistics of the encounter carried out in strict secrecy. In this situation, the term “Extraordinary Summons’ is the code phrase that sets this clandestine process in motion. But the same phrase can have a third, more perturbing meaning.

The Ministry of State Security uses it when carrying out secret purges of high-ranking officials. On receiving an “Extraordinary Summons’ at night, a cadre might leave his house alone, taking care not to wake his family, before disappearing into a prison camp or being executed. Thankfully, I am confident that the third scenario will not apply to

me. In fact, I can’t wait to leave the house. Only a few days ago, the first party secretary dropped a subtle hint of glory to come.


As instructed, I put on my best suit and tie. In Pyongyang, there are no taxis available after midnight, and motor vehicles must have a special night license to travel after this time. So although it is pitch dark outside, I hop on my bicycle and pedal to work. Bicycles are one of the main forms of transport, but unlike most bikes, mine is brand new and has been specially shipped to me by a relative stationed overseas. Outside, there are no streetlights lit. The silence of the capital city

is so absolute that I can only sense the presence of passers-by before their dark shapes loom into my vision. The electricity supply is in a perpetual state of emergency, even though there are two power stations serving the city. The ageing Pyongyang Thermoelectric Plant was built with Soviet support in 1961, and the East Pyongyang Thermoelectric Plant was built in 1989, but neither produces enough power to supply more than one district of the city at a time. So, like a roaming ghost, power settles in rotation on sections of Pyongyang for about four hours a day. One area of the city is always bright, though: the Ioong-gu area,

which lies at the heart of Pyongyang. This is where Central Party offices, senior cadres’ residential areas, and buildings for foreigners, such as the Koryo Hotel, are located. My workplace, Office 101 of the United Front Department (UFD), lies at the heart of this bright central district. Nearing the compound, I notice that it is more brightly lit than usual, with the grounds as well as the usual guard posts lit up. As I enter the gates, I exclaim to myself, “Yes!I am going to meet the General!” In the courtyard stand thirty or more soldiers dressed in the dark

mustard -colored uniform of the Dear Leader’s personal guards. They wear the characteristic X-shaped leather harness that supports a pistol on each side. Three beige Nissan vans with curtained windows are parked one behind the other, each big enough for a dozen passengers. The party secretary for South Korean Affairs greets


me in person, beside whom the prestige of the first party secretary, who phoned me earlier, pales in comparison. He leads me toward a two-star general with a clipboard, who seems to be supervising the operation. The other soldiers refer to the man as Comrade Deputy Director.

After briefly looking me up and down, the general barks, “Stand him over there!” I look over to where he ispointing and see the nation’s most senior cadres in the sphere of inter- Korean relations standing in line: the party secretary for South Korean Affairs Kim Yong-sun, UPD First Deputy Director Im Tong-ok, UPD Policy Director Chae Chang-guk, UPD Policy Deputy Director Park Young-su, and two other cadres from the Department for the Peaceful Unification of the Homeland. The atmosphere is tense, and with six powerful men standing in line like schoolchildren, I feel uncomfortable about greeting them. I go to stand at the end of the line.

“Are we meeting the General?” As I whisper to the man in front of me, a voice yells, “Don’t talk! Understand?”

I look indignantly at the soldier, about to demand that he speak to me in a more respectful way, but the vicious light in his eyes quickly puts me in my place.

One by one, Comrade Deputy Director checks our identification documents against his list. We climb in silence into the middle vehicle according to our position on the list. We take our assigned seats. The soldier who yelled at me for whispering is the last to step into the van. I’d thought he had treated me condescendingly because I am only in my twenties, but now I hear him speaking in a rude, officious manner even to Central Party cadres who are twice his age.

“Don’t open the curtains! Don’t get out of your seat! Don’t talk!” he barks. Even more alarming than his insolence is the fact that my comrades meekly reply, “Yes, sir.” Even Kim Yong-sun and Im Tong-ok, two of the most senior cadres in the country, are lowly men in the presence of the Dear Leader’s personal guards.


Through the open door of the van, I watch the remaining soldiers scramble into the other two vehicles. Soon, the door is pulled shut and the engine starts. As the van begins its journey, my stomach churns with anxiety, but I know that an encounter with the Dear Leader is a wondrously momentous event. Thick brown curtains seal off the windows and separate us from

the driver. Unable to see out of the van, I begin to feel a little carsick. After a two-hour journey in silence, and much to my relief, we finally arrive at a railway station. It is around 4 a.m. We climb out of the van and as I regain my bearings I realize we have come to Yongsung, a First Class station. In a population of over 20 million, there have only been two First Class Citizens: Kim II-sung and Kim Iong-il, First Class stations are reserved exclusively for their use, and there are dozens of these stations scattered across the country. The station roofs are camouflaged in green to make them difficult to spot through satellite imagery. At ground level, the buildings are unmarked, but heavily armed guards patrol them and they are enclosed by high walls. Yongsung Station is in the northern outskirts of Pyongyang,

usually less than half an hour away from where we began our journey. I recognize my surroundings because I have passed by the place on several occasions. At first, I’m puzzled that it has taken so long to get here, but I can’t suppress a grin when I realize that the vans have tried to confuse us by taking a deliberately circuitous route. As we move from the van to a train, we go through another series of identity checks. The special train reserved for this occasion is different from

ordinary trains. The sides of the carriage are painted grass green and the roof is white. From the outside, the markings suggest that it was made in China: above the door handles the word “Beijing” is painted in bright red Chinese characters. But when I step into the carriage, I spot prominent Mitsubishi logos that betray its true origin in Japan. The seats in the carriage have been replaced by single beds and




everything is arranged open-plan, presumably so that the guards can keep watch over us.

As at the start of the journey, the rules are barked out: “Don’t touch the curtains. There are blankets under the beds. Remain in your bed throughout the journey. Sleep until the train comes to a stop. Notify us if you wish to use the toilet. Break any of these rules and you’ll be removed from the train-immediately.”

The guard takes care to put added emphasis on that final word. I feel that if I make one wrong move, I might be thrown off this train and out of my privileged existence altogether. During the long night ride no one speaks a word, not even to ask to use the toilet. There is only the sound of the train rattling along the tracks. I close my eyes and count the rhythmic beats, trying hard to fall asleep.

The special train dispatched for just seven civilians comes to a halt at around six in the morning. We have stopped at Galma, a First Class station in Gangwon province. When I step down from the carriage, the cool dawn air on my face is refreshing. I realize how tense I’ve been in the presence of the soldiers. Policy Director Chae Chang-guk elbows me as he overtakes me and flashes a grin. He’s like a child, unable to contain his excitement.

We are transferred once again, to another waiting van. After an hour’s drive, again in silence, we climb out at a small pier surrounded on all sides by cement barriers, where we board a waiting launch. The waves lap gently, but the brackish smell of seawater is overwhelming.

The boat starts with a lurch and a deafening roar as the engine sparks into life. A moment later, I absorb the fact that I am on a boat for the first time in my life. It accelerates recklessly, seemingly intent on tossing me into the waves. I lean forward to hold on to the railing, but a soldier suddenly puts his arms around me from behind and pins down my hands. A shiver runs down my spine. I tell myself that the closer we get to the Dear Leader, the stronger must be our show of faith in him. I glance around and see that each of the six other


passengers is similarly held in place by a soldier acting as a human safety belt. Staring back into the distance, where the two strands of white foam in our wake merge into one continuous stream, I shout at the top of my voice over the engine’s roar, “Is this a Navy boat?” My guard smirks, even as his forehead wrinkles with the effort of

understanding what I am trying to say above the racket of the engine. “The Navy? Hah! The Navy doesn’t have a boat as speedy as this. This one’s ours. It belongs to the Guards Command. It’s pretty fast, isn’t it?” The Guards Command is responsible for the protection of Kim’s household. It comprises one hundred thousand infantry, seamen, and pilots. Although he has to shout, I notice how my guard has abandoned

his officiousness and talks conversationally, perhaps because we are speaking without an audience. This makes me feel a little more at ease. The boat is very fast: a cap blows off the head of one of the guards and flies off into the sea, where it lands on the water. I watch it grow smaller among the waves and then disappear. After about twenty minutes, we slow down near a tree-covered

island. I wonder if we have been going round in circles within a small area, just as we had done on the journey to Yongsung Station. The bow of the boat drops and the island comes into clear view. From the pristine wharf to the manicured woods on either side of the pavement, everything is spotless. It looks as though the place was completed yesterday. I realize I had been expecting to find our Dear Leader waiting for us on the pier with wide-open arms, just as he does in the revolutionary movies. It is a bit startling to see that no one is here to greet us. The guards lead us to a large hut, where we take our seats in a

room that is about three-fifths of a square mile. We are told to remain silent. Everything is white: the chairs, the floor, the walls. There are no windows. Instead, there are squares of green-tinged light shining from built-in wall panels.



At half past noon, more than four hours after we arrived on the island, there is a sudden burst of activity around us. Guards wearing white gloves spray something onto the chair where the Dear Leader will sit.

Comrade Deputy Director makes us stand in line again. We are ordered to take off our watches and hand them in, as part of the security procedure. Each of us is then handed a small envelope. The outer packaging has Japanese characters printed on it. Inside, there is a small cotton wipe that smells of alcohol. Comrade Deputy Director instructs us: “You must clean your hands before shaking hands with the General.” He then comes forward, singling me out for a stern instruction: “You must not look into the General’s eyes.” He gestures to the second button of his uniform jacket and says, “You must look here. Understand?”

I wonder whether this is intended to impress on me my inferiority to Dear Leader, but the thought quickly passes. We continue to wait as Comrade Deputy Director finalizes seating arrangements. Again, I’m at the back of the line. There are seven civilians in the room, and more than twenty guards around us. We stand rigidly, staring in silence at a pair of closed gates for perhaps ten more minutes. They are large and white, and decorated with gilded flowers.

When the gates finally open, a guard with the rank of colonel marches through and stands to attention. “The General will now enter the room,” he announces.

Everyone and everything turns to stone. Keeping my head still, I focus my gaze on a point halfway up the arch where Kim·Jong-irs face will soon appear.

Another minute seems to pass. Unexpectedly, a small white puppy tumbles into the room. It is a Maltese with a curly coat. An old man follows, chasing after the puppy that belongs to him. We raise our voices in unison to salute Dear Leader.

“Long live the General! Long live the General!” Our combined cheer hurts my eardrums, but the puppy is


unperturbed by the noise, probably used to such fanfare. However, the Dear Leader must be pleased that his puppy has shown such courage, because he bends down to stroke it. He then mutters something into its ear. I feel let down when I see the Dear Leader up close, because I

am confronted by an old man who looks nothing like the familiar image of the People’s Leader. Even though we are clapping fervently and cheering for him, he doesn’t respond or even seem to notice. He continues to play with his puppy, as if resentful of being surrounded by men who are younger than him. Seeming to read my mind, he looks up and my heart skips a beat. As ifwe had all been waiting for this moment, we cheer even more loudly. “Long live the General! Long live the General!” He glances round the room, then strides in my direction. I prepare myself for the glorious encounter, but he walks straight

past me, halting before a slogan displayed on the wall behind us. In yellow letters on a red background, it reads: Let’s Serve Great Leader Comrade Kim long-it by Offering up our Lives! He calls out, “Kim Yong-sun!” Party Secretary Kim Yong-sun

hurries to his side. Kim Iong-il asks him, “Is this hand-painted? Or is it printed?” In this close proximity, his voice indeed belongs to a great leader. Every syllable resonates with absolute authority. Seeing Kim Yong-sun falter, the comrade deputy director answers

in his place: “Sir, it’s hand-painted.” Kim Jong-il says, “This looks good. When I went somewhere last

week, I saw slogans printed on enamel. But this hand-painted one looks much better, don’t you think?” This time, Kim Yong-sun is ready with his answer. “Yes,sir, I agree.

In fact, I already made inquiries about this. But I was informed that we will continue to produce enameled slogans, as hand-painted slogans require the use of costly imports.” Kim Iong-il ignores him. He steps back a few paces, inspects the

slogan for a few more seconds, and gives an order with a quick wave



of his hand: “Replace existing versions of this slogan throughout the country with hand-painted ones.”

I attempt some mental arithmetic. How much would this project cost? At that very moment, the General wheels round, catching me off guard, and thunders, “You, boy! Are you the one who wrote that poem about the gun barrel?”

I bark my carefully worded response: “Yes,General! I am honoured to be in your presence!”

He smirks as he approaches me. “Someone wrote it for you, isn’t that right? Don’t even think about lying to me. I’ll have you killed.”

As I begin to panic, the Dear Leader bursts into hearty laughter and punches me on the shoulder. “It’s a compliment, you silly fool. You’ve set the standard for the whole Songun era.”

I find myself unable to respond, and it doesn’t help that Kim Yong-sun is glaring at me. Before the General takes his seat, Kim Yong-sun finds an opportunity to scold me. “You stupid bastard. You should have thanked him. You should have responded by offering to write poems of loyalty even from your grave,” he hisses into my ear.

When he is done with me, he puts his joyous face back on and rushes to attend to Kim Iong-il. Returning to his own seat, he gently smoothes his hands over his buttocks before they touch the chair, just as a woman does with her dress as she sits down. The other cadres are no less formal. Instead of real people sitting on chairs, it is as if sculptures are set around the room, incapable of movement. The Dear Leader’s Maltese puppy is the most active being in the room, whimpering excitedly and pacing around its owner’s feet.

Kim Iong-il seems not to be interested in small talk and the white Maltese puppy holds his attention. The General remains focused on what the dog is doing, what it might be thinking. But every now and then he shouts, “Hey, Im Tong-okl” or “Hey, Chae Chang-guk!” and the chosen man rushes toward him to be consulted. It makes for a strange scene, in which he holds the puppy in higher esteem than any of his most loyal men.



Ten or fifteen minutes later, a pair of double doors opens. Men in white dinner jackets and red bow ties appear with salvers held high. At the other end of the room technicians are bent double, humbly moving to and fro on the stage, adjusting the microphone and lighting. The band are seated and strike up; the feast is about to begin. I can’t help but feel it’s all a bit of an anticlimax, having expected to hear a sublime new saying or pearl of wisdom from the Dear Leader. But as the food and music get under way, I lose myself in the occasion. I become mesmerized. Every time a new course is brought into the room, the lights in the

wall panels change to an eerie new color. When the vegetable dish comes out, the lights go from a vivid grass green to light purple; with the meat dish, the lights go from pink to a deep red. It is astonishing to discover that lighting can be part of a meal’s presentation. As for the fish course, the platter it is presented on glitters so spectacularly that I can’t taste the food. Tiny spotlights are set around the big gray serving platter, making the fish scales shimmer. The wine is slightly tangy. My steward, who like all Kim Iong-ils

staff belongs to the Guards Command and has a military rank, points to a label on the bottle that reads Baedansul. He describes its contents as an 80 percent-proof liquor developed by the Foundational Sciences Institute. This is the academic body devoted to the study of the Dear Leader’s health, and as such also falls under the Guards Command. Three thousand researchers work there, planning and preparing medicines and dishes specifically designed to extend Kim Iong-ils longevity. In order to test the effects of different medicines and foods, they operate a testing unit made up of men selected from a nationwide pool that shares his illnesses and physique. I am proud to understand more than most about this important work, as a friend’s older brother works at the institute. The climax of our banquet is dessert. I am presented with a glass

containing a large scoop of ice cream, over which the steward pours clear liquor. He lights the spirit and the flames dance blue and wild.


‘I II I’


As I scoop some of it up with a small spoon, flames rise with it. Kim Yong-sun taps me on the shoulder and advises me, “Blow it out first, then eat it. Don’t have too much, though. It’s very strong stuff.” He shares the information boastfully.

I lose myself momentarily in the contradictory sensations of heat and cold in my mouth. Then Kim Iong-il waves me over.

When you visit the house or workplace of a cadre who has had the privilege of attending a banquet hosted by the Dear Leader, the wineglass that clinked against his in a toast is always kept in pride of place in a display cabinet. I realize that the Dear Leader wants to provide me with such a treasure. The steward, who has been lingering close by for this moment, quickly hands me a large wineglass. Unprepared, I hastily take it over to Kim Iong-il, who fills it with dark red wine, saying, “Keep up the good work.”

As I stand bent double at the waist in a deep bow, my eyes cast down, I can see his feet under the tablecloth. He has taken off his shoes. Even the General suffers the curse of sore feet! I had always thought him divine, not even needing to use the toilet. That’s what we were taught at school and that’s what the party says: our General’s life is a continuous series of blessed miracles, incapable of being matched even by all our mortal lifetimes put together. With this glorious invitation into his circle, I had thought I would enter and partake of a divine dimension in time.

But here I am, looking into his shoes, which have high heels and an inner platform at least two and a half inches high. Those shoes have deceived his people. Although his thin, permed hair adds to the illusion of height, the Dear Leader can’t be more than five feet three inches without those shoes.

After his earlier majestic commands, the way the General speaks at the table confounds me too. He uses coarse slang. In all the books and lectures quoting his words that I’ve read and heard since my childhood, his words serve not only as examples of perfect usage, but also reveal the truth of our homeland. The Dear Leader’s speech is


always elegant, beautiful, and, above all, courteous to his people. Yet tonight he muddles subject and predicate. He doesn’t even call anyone Comrade, but addresses cadres as “You!” or “Boy!” It’s disconcerting. Towards the end of dessert, the colored lights dim. A woman

appears onstage wearing a Western-style white dress that reveals her shoulders. The band starts to play an instrumental prelude, and she begins to sing a Russian folk song. As she sings, Kim Iong-il starts to twitch. Although the spotlight

is on the woman, the protocol of the occasion dictates that we should focus our attention on him alone. We watch as he draws out a gleaming white handkerchief. I blink, and the cadre sitting next to me reaches for his own handkerchief. Oddly, others also begin to withdraw their handkerchiefs. Then the General bows his head a little and starts dabbing at the corners of his eyes. I cannot believe what I am seeing. Here am I, beholding his tears! What will become of me after witnessing such an intimate thing? My eyes shut tight in awe and terror. When I open them, I see the most extraordinary thing I have

ever seen in my life. My comrades, who have been beaming with the joy of feasting with the Dear Leader, have begun to weep; How did this happen? Can I escape this banquet with my life intact? But before I can think any further, my own eyes feel hot and tears begin to flow down my cheeks. Yes, I must cry. I live my life in loyalty to the General. Loyalty not merely in thought and deed, but loyal obedience from my soul. I must cry, like my comrades. As I repeat these words in my heart, I must cry, I must cry,my tears grow hotter, and anguished shouts burst from somewhere deep within me. Amid my uncontrollable shaking, the song comes to an end. There

is no applause, but the room has filled with the sound of wailing. As the lights are slowly turned up, our crying quickly diminishes to whimpers, as if we had practiced together in advance. Wiping my eyes, I glance round, to look at the faces of the cadres

around me. They were crying only moments ago, but they are now


watching the Dear Leader intently, awaiting instructions for the next act of synchronicity. For the first time in my life, loyal obedience makes me cringe.

On my journey back home, I find myself haunted by seeing the General cry. I am aware that North Korea’s Propaganda and Agitation Department chose to portray him as full of tears after his father Kim II-sung’s death in 1994, when the state distribution system fell apart all over the country. By early 1995, the rumors that people were starving to death in the provinces were made plausible by what was happening in Pyongyang itself.

When food distribution centers started shutting their doors and the numbers of people absconding from work to find food increased like a virus, the party slogan “If you survive a thousand miles of suffering, there will be ten thousand miles of happiness” was introduced. The state of food emergency was officially referred to as the “Arduous March” and the population was urged to follow the example set by our General, at the forefront of the struggle.

As evidence, the song “The Rice Balls of the General” was played over and over again on television. The song’s lyrics claimed that the Dear Leader was traveling hundreds of miles around the country each day to offer support to his people, all while sustained by just one rice ball. Before the Arduous March, television broadcasts had only ever shown the smile of our Leader, as he led us towards a socialist victory. So when they saw the tears of our divine Dear Leader for the first time on television, people began to cry spontaneously, uncontrollably, and en masse.

As I continue on my way homewards, I am profoundly unsettled by my reaction to seeing Kim Jong-il’s tears in the flesh. A distressing thought grips me, and it is hard to shake off: those were not the tears of a compassionate divinity but, rather, of a desperate man.





II I , ,



IWAS loyal and fearless. I didn’t have to live in terror of theconsequences of being late for work. Nor did I need to keep my head down like other cadres in an attempt to be invisible at Party meetings, for fear of becoming the next target of criticism. I had immunity, thanks to the Dear Leader, who had sanctified me after being moved by a poem I wrote in his honor. The world might damn North Korea as a ruthless regime that

kills its own people, claiming that the system is oppressive and run by physical force. But this is only a partial view of how the country is governed. Throughout his life, Kim long-il stressed, “I rule through music and literature.” Despite being the commander in chief of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and chairman of the National Defense Commission, he had no military experience. In fact, he began his career as a creative professional, and his preparation for his succession to power began with his work for the party’s Propaganda and Agitation Department (PAD). To express this in the language of “dictatorship’ understood by the

outside world, Kim Iong-il wielded a double-edged sword: yes, he was a dictator by means of physical control, but he was also a dictator in a more subtle and pervasive sense-through his absolute power over the cultural identity of his people. As with socialism, where ideology is more important than material goods, he monopolized the media and the arts as a crucial part of his ambit of absolute power. This is why every single writer in North Korea produces works according


to a chain of command that begins with the Writers’ Union Central Committee of the Party’s Propaganda and Agitation Department. Anyone who composes a work that has not been assigned to

the writer through this chain of command is by definition guilty of treason. All written works in North Korea must be initiated in response to a specific request from the Workers’ Party. Once the writer has handed in his piece, it must then be legally approved before being accepted as a new work. Those writers who produce distinguished works under these standards are of course rewarded. The role of a North Korean writer, in each set task, is to create the best articulation of the assigned idea according to a combination of aesthetic requirements determined in advance and in consultation with the Workers’ Party. It is not the job of a writer to articulate new ideas or to experiment with aesthetics on his or her own whim. There are no novels, histories, or biographies that have not been commissioned and then ratified by the ruling Kim. Literature thus plays a central role not only in North Korean arts

but also in the social structure of the country. Before 1994, when Supreme Leader Kim ll-sung was alive, the art of the novel was preeminently in vogue. Nearly all the top state honors such as the “Kim ll-sung Medal:’ the “Order of Heroic Effort:’ and the title of “Kim II-sung Associate” were swept up by the state’s novelists. The novel provided a perfect narrative format through which writers might expound upon the great deeds of the Supreme Leader.

It also helped that in his last years, Kim ll-sung lived immersed in the world of novels. He took special interest in works written by novelists belonging to the April 15 Literary Production Group, a First Class literary institution whose mandate is the revolutionary history of Kim Il-sung and Kim Iong-il. As is the case with First Class train stations, the term “First Class” is incorporated into the job title of the nation’s professionals who work only on matters directly related to the Kim family. In fact, Kim ll-sung’s own memoir, With the Century,


was compiled by a group of First Class novelists from the April 15 Literary Production Group. In elite circles, the memoir was known as one of Kim Il-sungs favorite books. Once, at a gathering of North Korean cadres who had family connections in Japan, Kim II-sung described, to the amusement of his guests, how much he enjoyed reading With the Century. After his death, and as his son Kim Iong-ils rule became established in the institutions of the state, the status of novelists changed. Poetry became the literary vogue. This was not due solely to Kim Iong-ils preference for the form. The phenomenon was reinforced, if not triggered, by a shortage of paper when the North Korean economy collapsed and people scrambled just to survive. When there wasn’t even enough paper in the country to print school textbooks, not many people could afford to own a hefty revolutionary novel. With poetry, however, the necessary tenets of loyalty to the Kim dynasty could be distilled potently into a single newspaper page. Thus poetry emerged as the dominant literary vehicle through which Kim Iong-il exercised his cultural dictatorship. With the decrease in the number of novelists, and an increase in

demand for poetry and poets, a more stringent professional hierarchy was needed. Epic poets write long poems, lyric poets write shorter ones; and this generic distinction came to determine a poet’s rank, although only the Workers’ Party could decree which genre a poet might adopt and which poets might be permitted the honor of praising Kim Iong-il through poetry. The epic genre of Kim Iong-il poetry in particular was restricted to just six poets, who were also the poets laureate of North Korea. At the age of twenty-eight, in 1999, 1 became the youngest of this tiny elite of court poets. Based on age and experience alone, I had accomplished the impossible. Unlike my fellow poets, however, I was also an employee of the United Front Department -a job that allowed me entry into a world completely unknown to most ordinary North Koreans, where I was given access not only to state secrets, but to a world that lay far beyond the mandate of the Workers’ Party.


The United Front Department (UFD) is a key section in the Workers’ Party, responsible for inter-Korean espionage, policy- making and diplomacy. Since 1953, Korea has been divided by an armistice line known as the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), held in place by military force on each side. The division of the Korean peninsula is not based on a difference in language, religion, or ethnicity, but on a difference in political ideology. The North Korean version of socialism, founded as it is on the maintenance of absolute institutional unity, regards pluralism and individual determination as its greatest enemy. The Workers’ Party has therefore been active and diligent in psychological warfare operations aimed at Koreans in both the North and the South for over half a century.

Entrusted to this most sanctified mission, I worked in Section 5 (Literature), Division 19 (Poetry) of Office 101. In spite of the uncanny and unintended echo of Orwell’s Room 101, this office was, ironically, so named precisely in order to avoid any hint of the nature of our work. The institution had been established in 1970, and the ratification from Kim II-sung had been issued on October 10, hence Office “10l:’

When it was first set up, my department specialized in conducting psychological warfare operations against and about the South through cultural media such as the press, literary arts, music, and film. After the 1970s, it strove particularly to amplify anti-American sentiment and foster pro-North tendencies among the South Korean population, exploiting the democratic resistance movements that had risen against the then military dictatorship. Work produced here was circulated under the names of South

Korean publishers, and even took on their distinctive literary style, preferred fonts, and quality and weight of paper. In music too, the styles of instrumental and vocal arrangements were copied from South Korean recordings. Books and cassettes produced in this way were systematically distributed by our department through

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pro-North organizations in Japan or through other Southeast Asian nations, and passed on to democratic resistance movements in South Korea. My department in this way sowed the seeds of what might at first appear to be a political paradox: even today, sympathy towards the DPRK among South Koreans is almost entirely concentrated within the democratic, progressive and anti -authoritarian camp of the nation’s political divide. Just as on a beach, wearing a swimsuit is more appropriate than

a business suit, in the spirit of being faithful to the South Korean context, the institutional slogan of the UFD was “Localization:’ We were required to absorb the character and identity of South Koreans. My first day at work in Office 101, and therefore my entry into its South Korean bubble, was August 12, 1998. I was twenty-seven and never more proud of myself than that day, as I stepped into the secret world of the UFD. My office was in the built-up neighborhood of Ryunghwa District

in Pyongyang’s central area. The strikingly different world of Office 101 was evident as soon as I crossed the threshold of the compound. There was a large steel gate with high walls alI around, representing the exclusivity of a world that ordinary people could not peer into. Employees used a small entrance that was part of the gate, and which allowed only one man at a time to squeeze through. A single soldier stood guard. The presence of the soldier was also a mark that distinguished

this institution from the rest of North Korean society, where employees usually took turns to serve as guard and surveillance for and against fellow employees. As if to confirm that guard duty was a separate duty from UFD duties in this institution, a male cadre of our department’s party committee had to be fetched to explain my presence to the guard, and have my identification double-checked before I was allowed to set foot in the compound for the first time. Once I entered, in contrast to the small and unassuming entrance,


the yard was very large. Everything was paved with cement, without a trace of visible bare earth. The cadre who came to fetch me explained that the four-story building opposite us was the headquarters of Office 101. The main building was flanked to the left by a library of South Korean literature and an assembly hall. Communications Office 813, to the right, was where counterfeit books were printed under the imprints of South Korean publishers. Pointing to the library, the cadre told me that the library building had been the only school for courtesans in Pyongyang at the time of the Japanese occupation. Adding that the Wolhyang-dong in the Moranbong area, not far from here, was a famous courtesan area in the past, he smiled knowingly at me.

My office in Division 19 (Poetry) was on the second floor of the main building and in my time there were eight of us in the team: seven men and one woman. Opening the office door, I immediately saw long wooden desks on two sides of the room. Each desk sat four, and we would face the wall as we worked. As I set foot on the marble floor of the office, I almost turned back to leave: it was as if! had just blundered onto the scene of North Korea’s most terrifying crime- treason-the extent of which no one else in the country could begin to imagine or exaggerate. The forbidden materials so casually littering every surface in the room would have brought a death sentence in any other room in all of North Korea and, anywhere else in the country, the shocking slogan framed in’ pride of place on the wall would have been far beyond the pale in its daring contradiction of half a century’s demonizing of the South. The enemy newspapers and books strewn carelessly about the office were only slightly less astonishing to my eyes than the mandate for Office 101 from Kim [ong-il, respectfully framed and displayed prominently on the otherwise bare white wall: “Inhabit Seoul, although you are in Pyongyang:’ An act of abominable treason outside these walls was not only permitted within them, but actively encouraged by Kim Iong-il himself] The leader required us


to inhabit South Korea’s collective psyche so as to undermine and triumph over it. Every day that I worked in the UFD I never lost my sense of wonder at our world’s stark and secret contrast with the closed society outside our compound. With our Workers’ Party passes in our shirt pockets, we arrived

at Office 101 every morning at 8 a.m. and began our working day by reading the South Korean newspapers. Although North Korea’s official name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Chosun, it refers to itself as Chosun and South Korea as southern Chosun, and defines the borders of Korea from the DPRK point of view. However, in the course of our work in Office 101, we saw the term “South Korea” everywhere in the papers and it became second nature to us. In North Korea, the southern administration was portrayed as a treasonous regime led by a sycophantic leader, who continued to betray the Korean people and their land in order to make them puppets of the United States; but through the media that filled the room, we came to know their leader as the South Korean president. As no one within our office was allowed to talk about their job, or

know anything about a colleague’s, there were no items on anyone’s desk that were not strictly necessary to the task at hand-apart from a calendar. The only item that stood out in the room was a small mirror on the table of our female colleague, fiercely marking her territory as a woman. If it weren’t for the different locks on each of our desk drawers, the rest of us might forget which desk was our own. Just as our drawers were always locked, members of my team rarely

talked about their personal lives, although there were only the eight of us. Once, I cautiously asked the reason for this on my way home with a senior acquaintance at the UFO, His answer was unexpected. He said the reason why everyone kept to him – or herself inside the office compound was not so much because of security constraints, but because of the nature of our work. Outside, we were Pyongyang residents and North Koreans. Inside, however, we were South Korean


citizens, each one of us. As there was not much to talk about while in these foreign shoes, the lack of conversation on personal topics had become an institutional habit. After this explanation, I understood better how the essence of “Localization” was our chameleonlike duality. Nevertheless, this privileged “Localization” was strictly controlled.

South Korean newspapers were only loaned out for a day at a time, and we had to return them to the library before leaving work. In the case of South Korean novels or poems, we could borrow them for several days, but we had to keep them in our locked drawers when leaving the UFD premises. Taking any South Korean materials out of this area was forbidden, and the librarian sometimes visited the office unannounced to check that our reading materials were kept securely. Our main task, from the moment we arrived at work to the

moment we left, was to transform ourselves into South Korean poets and write South Korean poetry. To be more precise, we were to be South Korean poets who were supporters of Kim Iong-il. My South Korean pseudonym was Kim Kyong-min. Our names and surnames had to be different from our real names, and when asked to choose a pseudonym I had used the name of the first relative who came to mind. Supervisor Park Chul deliberated for over three hours on whether the name sounded plausible as that of a South Korean poet before he granted permission for me to assume it. In return for our specialist work, and on top of our standard

rations, we received additional rations of imported food every Saturday. Because of our identity as inhabitants of the outside world, the resources we received-different each time-came from the outside world. They were taken from humanitarian materials donated by the UN and the rest of the international community, as well as from South Korean NGOs and religious organizations. In the eleven-pound packages that we received, there would be rice from the United States, cheese, butter, olive oil, mayonnaise, and even


underwear and socks. Sometimes, there were cookies and sweets, or milk powder intended for babies. Because we were given so much, it was a chore to collect our regular rations from the public distribution system, on which the rest of North Korea depended for survival. The foreign packages always came to us with their labels intact.

The existence of such international aid was viewed as a shameful secret that the regime could not afford to reveal to its ordinary citizens at a time of widespread famine, as it would undermine the state’s ideology of “self-reliance:’ But as our department’s role was to live and work as outsiders, it seemed logical that we should receive outside goods. We had been handpicked for this work and were trusted not to be tarnished by association with these outside voices and supplies. It felt like a blessing to be allowed to inhabit such a privileged world. Consuming outside products was easy,but thinking like an outsider

was not. One day, feeling it was too difficult to write successfully like a South Korean, I consulted Supervisor Park Chul. He was a man who struck me as imposing, despite his balding head. He had double eyelids and thick eyebrows that bristled with charisma.

“I don’t really know much about southern Chosun,” I said. ”And I just don’t have the knowledge or experience to make literature out of southern Chosun life. So exactly what kind of writing should I do here?” Supervisor Park Chullaughed so hard that his comb-over flopped

down over his eyebrows. He patted it back into place. “Neither you nor I have been to Seoul!” he said. ”Although we’re all countrymen, Northerners and Southerners, our cultures are different now. But it doesn’t make much difference, because we’re actually working with the Northern audience in mind, not the people of southern Chosun.” He paused to crumble some cooked egg yolk into a fish tank

containing three bright red fish. After tipping’ the rest of the egg yolk


into his mouth, he wiped his hands and continued, “To succeed here, you have to give up on anything like your own name or renown as a writer. You know, when I used to work for the Writers’ Union, I was a star on the rise. You’ve probably read my poems. Take, for example, ‘Longing for my Townsfolk:” “Yes,” I replied, though the title didn’t ring any bells. He continued, “If I’d stuck to being a poet, Id probably be a

household name by now. But since I’ve spent my life as a UFD operative, no Koreans here or in the south will ever recognize my work. Still, at least we have an easy life, working here.”

Hearing him sigh, I thought of him as a lonely, ageing man who had to keep his secret life to himself and his colleagues. Just as hed said, working at the UFD meant not only hiding our work from our countrymen in the south, but also from those in the north. With the increasing economic discrepancy between the North and South, the ideological warfare against the South was perceived as futile by the 1990s, and the propaganda campaigns against the South had run out of steam. By my time, the UFD was using the experience and techniques

previously employed against South Korea’s citizens to conduct psychological offensives against our own people. The. experience and techniques that had been learnt were replicated in psychological operations aimed at North Koreans, though, in other ways, we were still fighting a cultural war on two fronts. The work of Office 101 was never confined to a single genre or

medium. It employed speeches, video, music, and other forms of cultural expression-all under the names of South Korean or foreign authors-that could be used to infiltrate and influence the values of Koreans. In April 1998, for example, four months before the start of my

work at UFD, Office 101 Section 1 (Newspapers) produced an article that received praise from Kim Jong-il. The piece was written


under an assumed outsider’s name and declared our Great Leader, Kim Il-sung, to be the Sun of the World. The evidence in question was the sinking of the Titanic. April 15, 1912 is the date on which the RMS Titanic sank, and it also happens to be the date of Kim Il-sung’s birth. Using this coincidence as a form of historical proof, Section 1 explained that, “as the Sun set in the West, it rose in the East.” Such creations of the United Front Department were then published in the party newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, or broadcast on television-which only shows state-run channels-as the works of foreign authors, journalists, and intellectuals. The North Korean people could never have imagined that all these apparently foreign works were produced by Office 101 in the very heart of their capital, Pyongyang. Isolated from the outside world, it’s not surprising that they believed that the people of the world, including South Koreans, admired our country’s strong leadership and many achievements. After Kim Il-sung’s death in 1994, epic poetry became the chief

vehicle of political propaganda with the publication of a poem by Kim Man-young of the Writers’ Union Central Committee. The work took the form of a prayer for the eternal life of Kim II-sung. Kim Iong-il published that lengthy poem about his father in the Rodong Sinmun and proclaimed Kim Man-young the most loyal worker in North Korea. Soon afterwards, the poetry of Shin Byung-gang was promoted by the military’s Propaganda Department in order to demonstrate their loyalty to the Dear Leader. Kim Iong-il declared Shin’s works, along with those of Kim Man-young, to be “People’s Literature”; and the two poets were presented with imported cars and household appliances, as well as extravagantly decorated luxury apartments whose furnishings included sets of gold-plated cutlery. Within my department, a panic ensued. Although the UFD also

employed poets, it had not been able to satisfy Kim [ong-il with a single epic poem-a serious omission that could potentially lead to an accusation of insufficient loyalty on the part of the United Front

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Department as a whole. By the time I joined the department, it was a source of great concern. The problem had been exacerbated by the type of personnel they

employed. Due to the constraints of psychological warfare which we were waging, operatives were highly trained in ideological persuasion but had not investedmuch thought in the literary qualities of the work they produced. It was perhaps the tragic and inevitable consequence of making art anonymously, as Supervisor Park Chul had suggested when he described not being able to publish his works in his own name. UFD writers had to internalize two lies unique to them in the writing process: they had to pretend to be South Koreans in their feelings of adoration for Kim [ong-il, and this had to be expressed in a fabricated South Korean way of writing. Although I was the youngest writer on board, at twenty-seven, the

onus of rectifying this situation fell on me. When I was summoned to UFD headquarters to receive orders from First Deputy Director Im Tong-ok, I could hardly believe my own ears. Im Tong-ok was the highest authority in the UFD, and even the head of Office 101could not meet him without being explicitly summoned. To be summoned outside of the standard chain of command was a striking anomaly. The headquarters of the UFD lies in Jeonseung-dong of the

Moranbong District in Pyongyang. The long, three-story building, privy to the secrets of the history of the Workers’ Party and our nation’s history of espionage, looked even more imposing than Office 101. As if to hide its secrets from the world, the building faced north, away from the sunlight, and was covered in ivy. The deputy policy director of Office 101 led me to the door of

Director Im Tong-ok’s office, on the first floor of the building. The wooden floorboards creaked beneath our feet with every step. The majestic old building seemed to be in built in an old Russian style, with its high ceilings and large windows, and the imposing double doors to Director Ims office added to the sense of grandeur.


My guide knocked and entered, revealing another, open door. He mumbled something into the room, and a loud voice answered from within. “Ask him to come in. Come in!” said First Deputy Director Im

Tong-ok. His title of “First Deputy Director” meant that he acted with the

absolute authority of Kim Iong-il in one of the nation’s key ministries. There were only six institutions considered important enough to be headed by a First Deputy Director: the Organization and Guidance Department (Kim jong-ils executive chain of command, which sits above the constitution and has unrestricted jurisdiction to intervene in any sphere), the Propaganda and Agitation Department (whose first deputy directorship was left vacant until 1998, after which Tung Ha-chul was appointed to the post by Kim Iong-Il), the United Front Department, Office 38 (in charge of Kim Iong-il’s personal wealth), Office 35 (conducts intelligence activities overseas) and the Ministry of State Security (the secret police). Director Im came to meet me at the door. His piercing gaze and

countenance suggested that he indeed had the authority to lead alI matters related to South Korea and to the external presentation of North Korea as the representative of Kim Iong-il. However, perhaps he was dumbfounded by the situation he found himself in, assigning such a critical task to an inexperienced young man, or perhaps he was just at a loss for words. He wiped his wide forehead, mustered alI the concern he could gather into his deep wrinkles, and made it clear, in his long-winded way, that this task was not one he was assigning lightly. Then he suddenly stood to attention, saying with utmost conviction: “Now the General’s order will be communicated.” Whenever Kim’s words are disseminated in an order, letter or

certificate of appreciation, the speaker must stand to attention and make sure his appearance is properly respectful, that his uniform is impeccable, and that all his shirt buttons are done up properly.




Loyalty to Kim Iong-il had to be demonstrated even in the smallest action as well as through one’s overall attitude. As Director Im stood to attention, I instinctively did the same, waiting for his next words. “The General has issued an order for an epic poem to be used in

the conducting of psychological warfare,” he continued. “This work must promote the notion that our Songun policy has been formulated to protect South Korea. The United Front Department assigns this operation to Comrade Kim Kyong-min,” he said, using my assumed South Korean name. Director Im looked as if he were about to continue speaking, but

paused when he noticed that I was biting my lip in consternation. The Songun or “military-first” policy was supposed to unify the entire Korean peninsula under Kim Iong-il through the superior might of our military force, and to defend our Socialism. I now had to write a poem based on the premise that such a policy protected the South. Without realizing it, I had grimaced at the evident impossibility of such a task. Director Im assumed a severe expression, but seemed to be at a loss for further words. “You have two months,” he said, and the meeting was over.

It was mid-December 1998. From that day on, I worked round the clock on the task that had been assigned to me. The basic argument was straightforward: it was my job to praise Kim Jong-il as the master of the gun, the bringer of justice, and the People’s Lord who knew only victory. But the essence of the task was to find evidence for these truths and shape them into a literary form. To help me accomplish this, I spent an entire month reading South Korean literature, identifying themes that supported the argument I was to explore through poetry.

I decided on a comparison of South Korea’s Mangwoldong Memorial for the Martyrs of Democracy with North Korea’s Sinmiri Memorial for Revolutionary Martyrs, with a pun linking Gukgun


(the name of South Korea’s National Army) and Songun (the military- first policy of North Korea). This allowed me to compare South and North as two sides of the same coin: while the democratic martyrs of South Korea had been killed by the bullets of their Gukgun, the revolutionary martyrs of North Korea would be looked after even in their afterlife by our policy of Songun. My poem portrayed South Korea’s military as aggressive, and that of North Korea as concerned solely with defending the Korean people. When I submitted my proposal, Director Irn and the other UFD officials heaped praise on the approach I had chosen. On May 16, 1961, a military coup ended civilian rule in South

Korea and ushered in the military dictatorship of Park Chung-hee. His long rule of eighteen years was ended by his assassination by an associate, but in the instability that followed, Cheon Doo- hwan positioned himself as the new military dictator. In this way, the divided peninsula was ruled by a military dictator not only in North Korea, but also in the South. On May 18, 1980, however, South Korean democratic activists

rose up in protest in the provincial city of Gwangju in South Korea. They were violently suppressed in the streets by South Korean soldiers, whose authoritarian leader claimed that the protesters, armed and harming government property and the police station, were North Korean agents who had infiltrated the country. Taking my inspirational starting point from the fact that the South Korean military had once massacred its own citizens, I wrote in the passionate voice of a South Korean poet visiting Pyongyang in May. To the poet, a Korean spring could not come about through

Nature’s will alone. It could only be brought about and sustained by the committed protest of the people rising for their rights. The South Korean poet, knowing only a blood -soaked spring, recognizes in Pyongyang a true Korean spring: here, both Koreas are protected by Kim [ong-il’s policy of Songun, as he wields the very gun handed to


him by his father, Kim Il-sung, who once used the weapon to free the Korean people from Iapanese rule. This is how the poet concludes his praise of that gun;

So this is the Gun that in the hands of an inferior man can only commit murder, but, when wielded by a great man, can overcome anything. As history has shown, war and carnage belong to the weak. General Kim Iong-il, the General alone, is Lord of the Gun, Lord of Justice, Lord of Peace, Lord of Unification. Ah, the true Leader of the Korean people!

The poem was presented to Kim Iong-il in time for the anniversary of the Gwangju uprising on May 18, 1999. After publication, I received the moving news that Kim [ong-il

had read my poem many times, underlining key phrases as he went. He even wrote next to the title of the poem in his own hand, “This is the artistic standard of the Songun era.” It was a historic moment of triumph for the UFD in establishing itself above the military and the Party’s propaganda departments in the sphere ofliterary arts.

Most importantly for me, I gained the personal approval of the single most powerful man in our country. The personal endorsement from Kim Tong-ilwas followed by an order for nationwide publication. Four days after my submission of the poem, on May 22, 1999, “Spring Rests on the Gun Barrel of the Lord” was distributed throughout the


nation in the Rodong Sinmun newspaper, which led to my invitation to become one of the “Admitted” of Kim Iong-il. My entry into this circle changed the course of my life in the way

that winning the lottery might do in a capitalist nation. My career ahead was full of opportunities from which I could cherry-pick as I chose. But most importantly, my new status guaranteed a privilege of immunity that was powerful beyond imagination: not even the highest authorities of the DPRK could investigate, prosecute, or harm one of the Admitted. The only way prosecution could possibly occur was for the crime to be treason and for the Organization and Guidance Department to receive explicit permission from Kim Iong-il himself. Nobody wanted to push too far and risk the ill will of the General himself, so such a process was rarely pursued. The party’s Organization and Guidance Department, responsible

for the protection of Kim Iong-il, operated a special section dedicated to serve those who were Admitted. The criteria were strict and the circle small. As was the case with me, Kim Iong-il had personally to request your presence and spend time with you behind closed doors for more than twenty minutes. Bursting with pride at my admission to this tiny and exclusive elite, I felt like a new man each day. My first year of work at the UFD passed by very quickly.

In North Korea, the anniversary on July 8, of Kim Il-sungs death- referred to as the Celebration of Kim Il-sungs Eternal Life-is a field of battle among cadres desperate to demonstrate their loyalty to the cult of Kim. Director Im Tong-ok announced during the UFD’s agenda meeting for the year 2000 that wewould be the ones to offer the best epic poem to Kim Iong-il, outshining the military and party’s propaganda departments once again. As I was now one of the Admitted, there was no question of the glorious task falling to anyone other than me, and my primary task for the year was the completion of this assignment.


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Director Im took the reins with great gusto from the start of the first thematic planning meeting. “Quiet, please. We will now begin our meeting to discuss the

literary work of the United Front Department that will be published to commemorate the Supreme Leader’s immortal life on July 8. I have already asked Comrade Kim Kyong-min to call his poem ‘An Ode to the Smiling Sun: In any event, we must stick to the ‘Smiling Sun’motif.” As Director Im said, the only way to eulogize the Supreme Leader’s

immortal life was through the motif of the “Smiling Sun:’ The Workers’ Party had conducted propaganda activities focused on Kim II-sung and his successor, Kim Iong-il, for over half a century. In the context of this tradition, “Smiling Sun” was a relatively new motif. It had first been seen at the funeral of Kim II-sung in 1994.

Usually, funeral portraits showed the deceased wearing a sombre expression. However, declaring that “The Supreme Leader is alive and with us forever;’ Kim Iong-il ordered that the standard funeral portrait of his father be exchanged for one of him smiling. From then on, the Supreme Leader was referred to as a “Sun’ whose immortal life was a “smile:’ On Iuly 8, 1997, exactly three years after Kim Il-sung’s death,

the Central Party Committee, Central Military Committee, National Defense Commission, Central People’s Committee, and Parliamentary Committee issued a joint declaration that Kim I1-sung’s birthday was to be inaugurated as the “Sun Festival:’ At the same time, it was declared that our calendar was to be changed. Kim Il-sungs birthday, April 15, 1912, was set as the first year of the new [uche Calendar, [uche being the state-ratified philosophy of North Korea based on the principle of self-reliance. The year AD 2000 became luche 89.

“Now, Comrade Kim Kyong-min will expound on this theme.” Only after someone tapped me on the arm did I realize that

everyone was waiting for me to rise and speak. I leapt to my feet.


”Although the title of this work refers to the ‘Smiling Sun: I would like the poem to make a literary allusion to tears.”

I could hear murmuring around me. “If you examine the ‘Smiling Sun’ works produced until now

by the party or military, they refer to the Supreme Leader’s smile predominantly in the context of our achievements,” I explained. “For example, the Supreme Leader smiles from the height of his immortality because he is satisfied with the great virtue and legacy politics of our General’s rule, or as he peers down with pleasure at our unique kind of Socialism, which remains steadfast despite threats and pressure from imperialistic forces. In my view, it is time for the United Front Department to steer towards satisfying our audience’s literary sensibilities, and to move beyond agitating their political fervor.”

“That’s all very well, but how will you satisfy their literary sensibilities?” DirectorIm asked curtly.

“This is what I propose to say: when I traced the history of the ‘Smiling Sun: I discovered that our Supreme Leader was surrounded by tears from early childhood. Embarking on his life in this manner, the Supreme Leader triumphed over individual suffering and anguish and dedicated his entire life to his people and homeland by smiling. In other words, our Supreme Leader lived for his people and not for himself. This progression will lead to the following conclusion: ‘All the tears that were to have been shed by his people, our Supreme Leader took on himself alone to shed. What smiles he had, he gave them all so that his people might smile: By juxtaposing his tears and his smiling, the ‘Smiling Sun’ will appear to shine more brightly. This also allows for the Smiling Sun to be ascribed with the following poetic qualities: ‘When the Supreme Leader gave the people his gift of smiling, it manifested as his Love; when he sowed his gift on our lands, it manifested as rays of the Sun; and as he left his gift for history, it manifested as Immortal Life:”



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