Author: Adam Cathcart

Othello in Pyongyang: Reading North Korea in the German Archives, circa 1950-1977

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Korean National Opera

The relationship between East Germany and North Korea was not simply a curiosity of the Cold War; it was a relationship with tangible results, interactions, and ideals. Here are some of the more interesting documents I cycled through this past week in Berlin, in the order in which they were scribbled in my notebook. (No cameras are allowed in the archives, and photocopies of original documents, once ordered, take a few weeks to arrive.) All citations are […]

Opium and National Humiliation: Another Commemoration

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China / World War II

On June 8, 1944, the German Embassy in Tokyo sent a report back to the Auswärtiges Amt (Foreign Ministry). Unlike so many other files dealing with foreign affairs, at this particular dispatch showed no signs of having encountered Ribbentrop’s blue pencil — the German foreign minister was notoriously narcissistic and had to see the full text of every article mentioning his name. The subject of the document was China’s Chiang Kai-shek.  In summer of 1944, […]

The WIDF and the Debate over Korean War Crimes

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German / history and memory / Korean War / North Korea / North Korea foreign relations / War Crimes

In a  recent essay for Japan Focus, Rutgers University historian Suzy Kim includes a retrospective on the Women’s International Democratic Federation’s 1951 report from North Korea and that delegation’s function as a cornerstone in what she calls “a feminist history of Women Cross DMZ” 2015. Having spent the last couple of days researching the WIDF in the Bundesarchiv in Berlin, I absolutely agree with Dr. Kim in her assertion of the group’s significance with respect […]

‘Day of Songun’ and the Ongoing Succession Process in North Korea

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Kim Jong-un / North Korea / Propaganda
Undated photo of Kim Jong Il, courtesy

It is a coincidence, but an interesting one, that North Korean representatives concluded their negotiations with South Korea just in time for August 25, the ‘Day of Songun’ in the DPRK.  As faithful readers of the Sino-NK website will be aware, the ‘Day of Songun’ was devised in 2012 and promulgated in 2013; its overt intention was to commemorate the deceased Kim Jong-il’s early dedication to the cause of Songun, or ‘military-first politics’ dating back […]

Deng Xiaoping as Cultural Conservative

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deng-cowboy-hat_via Georgetown University

Today is Deng Xiaoping’s birthday. He was born in 1904 in Guang’an, Sichuan, a city now receiving various and not entirely uncontroversial forms of capital as a result. Consequently, I am reminded of my desire at some point in 2015–16 to reread big chunks of of the Deng Xiaoping biography which Harvard University Press wisely agreed to publish in 2013, written by Ezra Vogel. Amid the chorus of praise and critique for Ezra Vogel’s epic, there has […]

On the ‘Cairo Declaration’ Fiasco

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China / Chinese communist party / Chinese nationalism / Cultural Politics / Sino-Japanese Relations / World War II

While the tendency of the CCP to insert itself at the main junctures of Chinese history in the 20th century is anything but new, there has been an increasing alignment with the earlier Republic of China that has been quite pronounced, I would argue, since at least 2005. For the past ten years, scholars have interpreted this (and the inclusion of ROC troops in various war museums) mainly as a means of increasing cross-Straits rapprochement and […]

North Korean Forestry Purge Rumors, and the China Angle

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Kim Jong-un / North Korean border region / Sino-North Korean relations

John Power, writing at The Diplomat, asks how credible the latest rumour is from South Korea. Was Choe Yong-gun killed for disagreeing with the Supreme Leader on forestry policy? He (the journalist, not the apparatchik) appears to be on to something: The absolutely explosive rumour about a North Korean scientist who defected with a USB chock full of biological weapons research secrets from Pyongyang has not been confirmed by, well, anyone apparently. Here are my views about […]