Author: Adam Cathcart

Collaborative Research and the New North Korean Social History

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history and memory / Korean War / North Korea / Sino-North Korean relations

The writing of North Korean history is a difficult, exciting, contested, and increasingly social endeavour. Research networks and sharing of sources of ideas are more important than ever. Charles Armstrong’s publications of the early 2000s pointed in the direction of archivally-sourced and culturally-based treatments of early North Korean history, both during the period of state formation and during the Korean War (1945-1953). Much work, however, remains to be done. My own research on this period […]

The Interview: A Rare Glimpse into the Alternate Reality of CNN in North Korea

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North Korea / Propaganda / 新闻自由
Screen shot 2015-05-09 at 12.02.06

CNN’s Will Ripley was recently summoned to Pyongyang, coinciding nicely with North Korea’s announcement that the country had placed yet another American wanderer in custody for crossing the border illegally. Apart from a short interview with the young sufferer (he has been diagnosed with an extreme condition of “North Korean ennui”), Ripley was given access to a real live North Korean official, who delivered the usual talking points: Refugees are scum, the economy is improving, […]

Comment on the Open Letter in Support of Historians in Japan

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history and memory / Japan / Sino-Japanese Relations / 新闻自由

Richard Lloyd Parry, Tokyo Bureau Chief for The Times (London), kindly alerted me to an open letter recently published by a large number of academics nicely timed to follow on the heels of the various controversies which had been re-stirred by the Abe Shinzo visit to the United States. The letter manages to delicately get around a frequently-encountered problem: The essentializing of “Japan” in discussions of how the nation is not living up to expectations in terms of […]

Full Comment on the North Korean Execution Rumours

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Kim Jong-un / North Korea / North Korean border region
KJU machine gun hands

Adam Taylor at the Washington Post was kind enough to get in touch with me for a piece he wrote about some recent and rather grisly execution rumors stemming from new satellite imagery as interpreted by Joe Bermudez and the folks at the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK). A lightly modified version of my full response follows: I think it’s an awful lot to read into what is, at the end of the […]

Kim Jong-un: purges, paranoia, plots and the cancelled trip to Moscow

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North Korea / North Korea foreign relations
KJU exiting aircraft May 2014 Rodong Sinmun

After months of public relations flirtation that led the world to believe that Kim Jong-un would be taking his first foreign trip as head of state to Moscow this month, North Korea has abruptly cancelled the voyage, according to a Russian diplomatic source. The news comes on the heels of South Korean intelligence reports of yet more purges in the upper echelons of the north, where the spring has been punctuated by executions. The victims […]

Bubble at the Summit: Insecurities in Kim Jong-un Itineraries

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Borderlands / factionalism in North Korea / Kim Jong-un / Kim Jong-un health / Manchuria / North Korea / North Korean border region / Op-Ed / Sino-North Korean relations / Yanbian
KJU Wonsan

Is Kim Jong-un staggeringly confident, or do his behaviours and travel itineraries betray personal neuroses and structural fears? The short answer is that it depends on the issue under discussion. Let’s take the economy for starters. Like a shrimp rediscovering its appetite after an awful oil spill, the North Korean economy appears to be improving, or so argue a number of indicators. Several smaller dams around the Huichon behemoth are coming online, meaning there is more power […]

Notes on Kim Ki-nam, and on North Korean Cultural Production

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Music / North Korea
Rodong Sinmun Singers 2015-04-18-04-02

The Chosun Ilbo carries the news that Kim Ki-nam, head of North Korea’s Ministry of Propaganda and one of the few remaining members of the famous funeral cortege of December 2011, has finally stepped down from his post.  I previously analyzed the possibility of Kim Ki-nam’s retirement, and his place in the North Korean system, in this June 2014 article on musical propaganda. Earlier in spring 2013, I described Kim Ki-nam’s unique role in the North Korean system […]