North Korea and the Sui Dynasty

This afternoon I was bedazzled by a headline that finally made sense: “Will the Three-Generation Rule Topple North Korea’s Kims?”  “Yes! ” I thought, “finally someone is using ancient Chinese history models to understand the DPRK’s ruling elite.  That’s almost as good — and necessarily novel — as calling North Korea a sultan state!”

Unfortunately the article, in Vanity Fair, does no such thing, leaving me to argue that North Korean internal rebellion might best be read as a kind of late-last-dynasty story of dispair and despotism such as we see in the transition from Qin to Han, or from Sui to Tang.  The Sui dynasty is particularly apropos in looking at North Korea: a strong, cultivated, and militant founding emperor with a dissolute and belligerent son, who himself beget a weak, young, and disinterested youngest heir to the throne.  The dynasty was quickly lost by the third in the succession.

Of course, in North Korean history books themselves, not a single kind word for the Sui exists.  After all, the Sui-Koguryo wars were huge, and brutal, and left long scars across the Liaodong frontier.


  1. dude, you’re profoundly awesome but you stuffed up with your usage of the word ‘disinterested.’ cos you meant ‘uninterested’ and ‘disinterested’ has a cool meaning that ought to be preserved.

    oh, also a few days ago in mainland china i was briefly able to access two websites that are usually blocked: china digital times and danwei. curious.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Vam — and I made the “disinterested” change even tho I’m certainly OK with, and intended, the secondary meaning of the word ( ). This is what reader feedback is all about! And glad to hear about the unblocked (not to be confused with “disblocked”, which is not a word yet) websites in the PRC. I actually hadn’t realized that China Digital Times was sufficiently subversive to be blocked. Too much Ai Weiwei, I suppose…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s