A glimpse into the anti-Christian ‘Hermit Kingdom’
North Korea, part of which once was known as the “Hermit Kingdom”, has forced itself onto the world stage through the actions of its leader Kim Jong-un, the Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, commonly referred to as North Korea. The nuclear ambitions of North Korea are one of the biggest threats to world peace.
But what is North Korea and what are its people like? In 1904 the British Empire acquiesced and allowed Japan to run the Korean Peninsula as a protectorate, and benefit from its extensive coal mines and mineral deposits. Korea was turned into a slave state. Resistance movements were infiltrated by the Japanese and smashed.
Communist resistance was supported by Russia in the Second World War and together they managed to pin down a whole Japanese army in the East. At this point Korea was viewed as an ally.
The victors occupied Korea: the Russians took hold of land north of the 38th parallel and the United States, the south. The leader of the Communist resistance was Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of Kim Jong-un. In 1947 he became the supreme leader of North Korea and strict state control began.
North Korean society, stuck in the 1950s, is divided clearly between the city and the countryside (where ox carts are still a regular sight),and the entire population is divided into three sections. Twenty-five percent are trusted (good songbun); they are the leaders and political elite based in the capital, Pyongyang.and running the major cities. Their ancestors were not part of the earlier aristocracy.
Fifty per cent are in the middle (okay songbun), neither trusted nor rejected. And 25 percent, who used to live in or fought for South Korea during the Korean War or those who have upset the regime for whatever reason (eg Christians are regarded as enemies of the state) are at the bottom (bad songbun).
Your songbun affects everything that you are able to do: work, education and food distribution, etc. Of the 20 million population, 1 million are in the army. By comparison, the UK army numbers less than 100,000. Everyone learns Taekwondo at school.
Close watch is kept on the whole population. Every two years everyone’s background is checked. Every evening, reports are sent in to the government by watchers on almost every floor of blocks of flats and apartments as well as reports on tourists. Kim Jong Un has been ruthless in eliminating any opposition.
Tourists visiting this very beautiful country are kept on their tour buses and allowed off only at specified points. They are accompanied by a male and female guide, a driver and a ‘minder’.
Westerners are all considered to be ‘Christians’. Requests to attend a church are regarded as quite appropriate for Westerners. Korea has a Christian past – Pyongyang was known as the Jerusalem of the East. Western Presbyterian missionaries did not come as part of a colonial movement but were seen as allies against the Japanese occupation. In Pyongyang there are a Protestant Church, a Roman Catholic Church and a Russian Orthodox Church.
Physically, the people are generally short and thin, especially in the countryside. While some may be stocky and well built, their necks are clearly ‘scrawny’, evidence of significant undernourishment.
North Korea is rich in minerals and has little land under cultivation. So it has to import a significant amount of its food. If harvests fail it is 80 per cent dependent on food imports. Thus when the USA and South Korea cut the supply of food and fertiliser as a weapon of ‘diplomacy’, those who suffer are the starving poor in the countryside.
North Koreans are very friendly to tourists who have met with them in social settings for dancing and a considerable intake of drink. Since their lives are very controlled, this could be seen as a form of release.
Anti-American feeling is high. School walls have propaganda encouraging the killing of Americans. The western press does not help things when it continually presents the worst side of life in North Korea. This whole situation is perpetuated by China, which imports coal and rare minerals from North Korea and uses it as a buffer state against Japan.
While China knows that North Koreans are starving, they do not want 20 million refugees in their country.If a North Korean is found inside China they are returned and liquidated or sent to “corrective” gulags.
Some North Koreans get a taste of life outside their state. Women are allowed to cross north into China for work (but have to leave the children at home) and children of North Korean diplomats in the UK are educated in the UK education system.
Perhaps it is the people who have seen life outside the ‘hermit kingdom’ who will bring change to the starving peasants of North Korea in the future.