Chinese scholarship and journalistic analysis of North Korea tends to be very strong, if occasionally oblivious or channeled due to political censorship. From a scholarship standpoint, China’s increasing distance from the DPRK has resulted in a relative opening up of the Chinese discourse on North Korea which has been absolutely fascinating to observe.
Today I ran across a new author I hadn’t been familiar with previously: Kang Chun-nü [康春女], who is a Chinese national of Korean descent who lives and writes as a freelancer in Hong Kong. In 2012, she translated the Yoji Gomi letters to Kim Jong-nam (the older brother of the current dictator), and has been quoted in lots of relevant places. In some ways, her peripheral status in Hong Kong allows her to publish more freely than on the mainland, and she has been availing herself, writing books that surely men like Zhang Lianggui and Zhu Feng read with some relish.
She has a new piece entitled ‘North Korea under Kim Family Rule.’ This essay spares very little by way of niceties for the DPRK as it has evolved under the Kims:
金正日发明了“先军政治”，那么军队又怎么样呢？所有食物以军队为先。/ Kim Jong-il put forward the concept of ‘Songun politics,’ so what about soldiers? It means the soldiers get all the grain first.
In another section of the article, Kang describes a very sad scene she apparently witnessed in North Pyong’an province, DPRK:
一次，在辽宁丹东市对面的朝鲜城市新义州坐汽车去一个镇子，车就要开的时候，上来了五个又黑又瘦，双手空空，从军队退役回家的士兵。售票员让他们买票，他们生气地嚷道：“我们刚刚当了八年的兵，哪来的钱买票？”售票员告诉司机这些人不买票就不开车，结果双方争持了五个小时，直到天黑下来，那几个军人到底也没买票，司机不得不开车。参军八年的结果是身无分文，穷到连买一张回家的汽车票钱都没有。其他普通百姓的情况就更可想而知了。/ Once going through a small town in Sinuiju, near Dandong, Liaoning province, [our] bus was due to leave. Five men, not just dark but also thin, their hands totally empty, got on the bus, having been demobilized from the Army, and on their way home. The bus attendant in charge of the money told them they had to buy a ticket. They got very angry and said blurted out: ‘We just spent eight years in the military, how do we have money to buy tickets?’ The attendant told the driver that these men hadn’t bought tickets, and that he shouldn’t drive the bus anywhere. After eight years in the army, the result was that they didn’t have a cent, and were so poor that they couldn’t afford the one bus ticket they needed in order to return home. Surely it is possible to imagine that other common people [普通百姓] in North Korea have been in a similar situation.
These days I am reminded on a daily basis not to ‘silence North Korean voices.’ When Chinese scholars are able to channel the same, we need to listen to them, too.