North Korean Successor Buzz Suddenly Silent: Correcting and Explaining the Daily NK’s Report

The Daily NK reports on the somewhat mystifying drop-off in North Korean discussion about the ostensible successor, Kim Jong Un.  (Part 1 is here; Part 2 is here.)

In general, the Daily NK reports are highly valuable, but their translations from the original Chinese/Korean are full of errors and innuendo.

Since so many people in the English-language Internet realm rely on Daily NK, it’s important we correct the record to reflect facts.  Otherwise, shortcuts taken by the Daily NK’s translators (and the occasional sensationalist bias sprinkled in through the translations) will continue to cloud our understanding of what could be going on inside the DPRK.

What I lay out below is a tentative format for revised Daily NK revisions.  As an individual besieged at the moment by various other duties, it’s hard for me to carve out the time to do it all.  But given the passion of my students (present, former, and future) and the powers of the net, I’m hopeful that this project might evolve into a separate blog of running translations of Chinese-North Korean news focusing, at least at first, on Daily NK.

Bold-face text below indicates the presence of information left out from the Daily NK English edition.

Author: 文成辉 [Moon Sung Hwee, originally defected from Jagang province in 2006]

Article title: 传闻“金正云因分派主义被中断偶像化”: 中断“脚步歌”…“150天战斗”成果中没有金正云的名字 [News States: “Kim Jong Un Factionalism Causes An End to His Idolization,” End to “Footsteps Song,” “150-Day Battle” Achievements Do Not Include Kim Jong Un’s Name]

Article text:

[1] 朝鲜当局禁止在公开场所歌唱赞扬金正云的歌曲“脚步”,还禁止使用“白头的将军金正[云] 军大将”的宣传口号,其背景让人关注。 North Korean authorities have been forbidden to openly sing “Footsteps,” the song praising Kim Jong Un , and also forbidden from continuing to use the propaganda slogan “Paektu’s General, Great Generalissimo Kim Jong Un,” [creating a] backdrop such that people become cautious.

[2] 6日跟DailyNK通话的咸镜北道消息人士说:“7月初为止还高声宣传说‘白头山青年大将金正云站在社会主义强盛大国建设的前列指挥’,目前却没有任何表示。”“连学校都不让学生行军时歌唱‘脚步’。”  On September 6, a news source from North Hamgyong province called Daily NK to say: “Until early July 2007, propaganda was still stridently saying “‘The Young General of Mount Paektu Kim Jong Un is commanding the vanguard of the construction of our strong and prosperous socialist state.’ Now there are no similar declarations, including in all the schools where students are not allowed to sing the song, ‘Footsteps,’ during military drills.”

[3] 接近尾声的150天战斗“8月以前说是‘金正云大将亲自发起和指挥’,目前却不再出现那些宣传口号了。”“从目前来看,‘150天战斗’结束也不会出现金正云大将领导能力的话了。”  Nearing the coda of the 150-Day Battle: “Before August it was said that Captain Kim Jong Un was personally initiating and commanding.’ Now these propaganda slogans have not been repeated. Looking at the current situation, one also cannot say that ‘the 150-day battle’ was completed through the capable leadership of Captain Kim Jong Un.’”

[4] 金正云的名字从宣传口号中突然消失,朝鲜内部就传开了“金正云着手进行干部工作,企图进行亲信政治,引起了金正日的不满”的消息。 Kim Jong Un’s name has suddenly disappeared from propaganda slogans.  Sources inside North Korea transmit the news that that “Kim Jong Un commenced doing work with cadre, attempting to implement a personal politics, arousing the dissatisfaction of Kim Jong Il.”

[5] 上个月24日,咸镜北道某市的宣传秘书对此表示:“金正云伪造了干部文件引起了金正日的不满。”“据说金正日非常生气金正云诬陷诚实的干部,让他们下台后起用自己的势力来搞分派主义。” On August 24, the Propaganda Secretary of a city in North Hamgyong Province stated: “Kim Jong Un forged files of cadre and aroused the dissatisfaction of Kim Jong Il….It is stated that Kim Jong Il is very annoyed with Kim Jong Un’s planting of false evidence of honest cadres, forcing them to step down, and then using his own power to engage in factionalism.”

[6] 也就是说,没有干部任命权的金正云诬陷不合自己心意的干部,试图用自己的亲信来替代,金正日就动了怒。That is to say, no cadre appointed [as a consequence of] Kim Jong Un’s dishonesty were compatible with the regarded highly cadre; when [Kim Jong Un] attempted to say that he was bringing his own relations in in his own trusted people to substitute, this made Kim Jong Il very upset.

[7] 也有人估计,金正日的健康情况好转后,内部认为不用那么快进行金正云的继承问题了。There is another person who estimates that after the change in the situation in Kim Jong Il’s health, the internal [North Korean government] believes that now the move to solve the succession problem is not so urgent.

[8] 3日,《好朋友》也引用当地消息人士的话说,各省和中央机构表示“在朝鲜还没有研究领导人继承问题。目前伟大的将军还非常健康,积极开展现场指导工作,今后十年也能硬朗地领导国家,所以下达了终止讨论继承人问题的方针。” On September 3, “Good Friends” also quoted a local news source who stated that every province and central party organization stated that “in Choson [North Korea] there is still no research on the problem of leadership succession.  Now our Great General is still very healthy, and continues to develop leadership today.  From today forward, the next ten years could be clearly bright for leadership in our country, therefore transmit guidelines to the lower levels that debate about the succession problem should be ceased.”


My Analysis

[2]  Students appear to have wanted to sing the song, but were forbidden from doing so. It’s worth recalling that North Korean students are among the most highly-trained musicians in the world, particularly in the arena of political songs, and snap up new tunes and lyrics quickly.  They also want to please their instructors.  And so it is strange for that instructor to forbid them to sing the song.  It is also worth noting that the song was sung not in the classroom but during their military drills!  As in everything else, context matters.

[3] Here we lose the connotation: The North Korean people have been so conditioned to hearing and responding to propaganda directives that the absence of a directive is cause for nervousness.  And the people were prepared to repeat the particular slogan about Kim Jong Un’s leadership of the 150 day struggle!

[5] This is a significant translation oversight.  Kim Jong Un being accused of factionalism, as opposed to just appointing a few friends (e.g., corruption/nepotism) has a deep pedigree in North Korean politics, and is a very serious charge indeed.  See James Person or Andrei Lankov’s work on 1956.

[6] Still needs some work — I would be delighted to receive a bit of assistance on interpreting this particular paragraph. Do the newly-appointed officials have any voice in the debate?

I welcome any comments on readability and method, particularly if you are a reader of Chinese interested in cooperating to produce more regular revised translations from Daily NK.

If only I hadn't fed my successor to artist Damien Hirst's "shark in formaldehyde"
If only I hadn't fed my successor to artist Damien Hirst's "shark in formaldehyde"

Oh yes, since our own Dear Leader (who the paranoid have yet to compare to Emperor Hirohito) has advised arduous study, inaugurating my own “150-Day Semester Battle,” here are a few terms, via MandarinTools, for those interesting in picking up a few Chinese characters relevant to the post above:

yīn cause; reason; because

中斷 中断 zhōng duàn to discontinue; to break off

偶像 ǒu xiàng idol

成果 chéng guǒ result; achievement; gain; profit

his; her; its; theirs; that; such; it (refers to sth preceding it)

背景 bèi jǐng background; backdrop

突然 rán sudden; abrupt; unexpected

诬陷 xiàn (v) entrap; frame; plant false evidence against sb

誠實 诚实 chéng shí honest; honesty; honorable; truthful

gǎo to do; to make; to go in for; to set up; to get hold of; to take care of

rèn to assign; to appoint; office; responsibility

心意 xīn regard; kindly feelings; intention

試圖 试图 shì to attempt; to try

引用 yǐn yòng quote; cite

下達 下达 xià (v) transmit to lower level people

方針 方针 fāng zhēn policy; guidelines

分派主义  fen pai zhu yi — factionalism

Lankov blistered his hands scrounging in archives; scholarship as an act of physical labor; fine source on North Korean factionalism.  Does a Beijing faction in fact exist in the DPRK?
Lankov blistered his hands scrounging in archives; scholarship as an act of physical labor; fine source on North Korean factionalism. Does a "Beijing faction" in fact exist in the DPRK?


  1. This is great work. You’re right that DailyNK plays a large part in English speaking North Korea watchers view of the country, so any insight into them is very much appreciated. This moved away from Kim Jong Un as successor is very puzzling. I wish we had some clue as to the alternatives being considered.

    1. Thanks, Jeremy. And I agree on the alternatives question. It seems that Kim Jong Il’s brother-in-law Jang Song-taek is the alternative, but it’s pure Kremlinology/speculation at this point.

  2. Don’t think you’re exactly right on #6. Here’s what I have:


    “That is to say, Kim Jong Un, who lacked the authority to appoint cadres, framed cadres who didn’t share his views and attempted to replace them with his trusted allies. This infuriated Kim Jong Il.”

    Some notes: “没有干部任命权” is a clause modifying 金正云, not a sentence in its own right; in “亲信,” the 亲 doesn’t mean relation, but rather is used in the sense of “dear” or “close” – in conjunction to 信, trust, this means close companion, not a blood relation but someone loyal to you.

    This makes the factionalism accusation make more sense.

    1. Thanks much! It is good to get help on this phrase, as I obviously found it opaque — like a lot of other things relating to North Korea, I suppose.

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