Wednesday, December 28, 2011


at Kim Jong Il's funeral procession.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


on the current state and the future of the DPRK.

OK, to be perfectly accurate, it the musings of one wise (and pseudonymous) man, "James Church," author of the Inspector O novels (A Corpse in the Koryo remains my favorite of the bunch) on the writings of another wise man, Rudiger Frank, who recently penned an interesting article, "The Party as Kingmaker..."

A snippet:
What is interesting about the current situation is that, for the first time in more than 50 years, there is in Pyongyang no single, dominant individual at the top to make the final decisions, to resolve different approaches among advisors, to play individuals against each other to keep the system in rough balance.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


for North Korea?

Some interesting ruminations here. A couple of intriguing snippets:
Kim Jong Il’s funeral committee list offers hints that the Korean Workers’ Party (WPK) might be on the rise somewhat, but it is difficult to imagine it surpassing the army in importance. The military is also well represented on the funeral committee and curiously, Jang Song Thaek—widely regarded as Kim Jong Un’s closest ally—was way down the list in 19th place.
Is "Jang" simply keeping a low profile while remaining comfortably ensconced in his role as regent?

They, and Central Military Commission members, know that they can ill afford to anger the Chinese at such a sensitive time. Whatever internal logic might exist for a military provocation, it probably would not outweigh risking the support that they earned through several trips to China over 2010 and 2011. It would endanger the very political order they are trying to secure.

News media has a stake in conflict, so the thematic emphasis has been very much about the potential for instability. Right now, though, quiet is in everybody’s interests. Most of all, for the North Korean leadership.

UPDATE: More here from Scott Snyder. An interesting snippet:
And I take it this funeral will not be attended by Western leaders?

That's right; it's all just a domestic affair. No foreign leaders invited.
It is interesting to contemplate how this squares with the consistent DPRK propaganda that emphasizes the global stature and status of the Kims. Perhaps the KCNA will inform us that grieving world leaders expressed their desire to come but couldn't make it because of bad weather?

UPDATE II: Jack Pritchard makes some predictions.
Kim Jong Il did not live long enough to even enjoy his elevation to Number One Dictator in Parade Magazine’s December 18 edition.

The consequences for Kim Jong Un because of his father’s abrupt death will be dire. He has virtually no practical experience, no individual power base and a system newly designed to weakly function after Kim Jong Il as check and balance between the military, the party and a regent (Jong SongTaek, Kim Jong Il’s brother-in-law). The problem is that Kim Jong Il elevated the military through his Military First Policy to the point where it is THE power in North Korea and efforts to share power can only come through the diminution of the military – something it will not accept in the mid- to long-term.

Monday, December 19, 2011



Official announcement:

One of the many video clips of a mourning DPRK population

Much more of the same here

And, for comparison's sake, the reaction when Kim Jong Il's father died:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


It appears as if the DPRK doesn't care much for displays of Christmas lights along the DMZ.

UPDATE: A suggested DPRK response here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Saw this photo of some ROK postage stamps celebrating the fact that South Korea enjoyed one trillion dollars' worth of foreign trade (found here).
This made me realize that I have never known or used the Korean word for "trillion" (조, 兆) before. I think this is at least in part because a trillion simply hasn't been a number that has had much in the way of real-world examples or applications until recently.

Remember when the IMF bailout of $57 billion was an unprecedentedly astronomical amount? Those were the days.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


A picture is supposed to be worth 1,000 words. But this attempt by MSNBC to map out the Kim family tree is one of the more muddled things I've seen in a while. Yes, the Kim clan with the multiple wives and concubines of both Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il presents a tangled web. But this depiction doesn't help much in understanding the relationships.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011


Straight teeth in the U.S. = good. In Japan, not so much.
A result of tooth-crowding commonly derided in the United States as “snaggleteeth” or “fangs,” the look is called “yaeba” in Japanese or “double tooth.” Japanese men are said to find this attractive: blogs are devoted to yaeba, celebrities display it proudly, and now some women are paying dentists to create it artificially by affixing plastic fronts to their real teeth.
Thanks to Tyler Cowen for the link.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Now things are getting interesting (link to pics found here).

Of course what will be really interesting is if we see an "Occupy P'yôngyang" movement. The KCNA publishes opinions and observations that might not be too incongruous with what has been seen on signs of various "Occupy ____" movements

There is no doubt that capitalism is waning. It is on its decline and our leaders are unable to take any measure to stop it.

They are increasing credit loans as a relief measure but the capitalist system is getting weak day by day.

The loan of the rich is gradually on the increase and the surplus fund is used for speculation.

The customers are mired in evil cycle of debt and politics have become hollow unable to advance any creative initiative.
But I somehow doubt that the DPRK would welcome large numbers of protestors with "V for Vendetta" masks in front of Kumsusan Memorial Palace.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Entirely unrelated to history or Asia but the "Blog" of "Unnecessary" quotation marks is worth a look (and a laugh).

Friday, October 7, 2011

Thursday, October 6, 2011


They are told to work hard and go to college, yet after graduating they find few permanent job opportunities?

Many of the jobs that are available are part-time, temporary or contract labor?

These insecure jobs pay one-third of what their fathers earned?
Sound familiar? A report on the Occupy Wall Street movement or similar protests throughout the U.S.?

Not quite, this is a piece from a year ago about Japan.


Serious or not?

UPDATE: More on the "serious" side of things here (complete with heart-wrenching photos; more photos here).

UPDATE II: And, on the "not so much more serious than last year" side of things, there is this.

Monday, September 26, 2011


is out and about mingling with the people.

Much like his grandfather was wont to do, Kim Jong Un has begun to appear making field visits throughout the DPRK. Kim Jong Il did this too, but he seldom seemed to be able to muster the enthusiasm about the visits that his gregarious father naturally seemed to possess.

Does Kim Jong Un look like his grandfather or what?

UPDATE: A brief article on this phenomenon here.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


The "fruitcake of China"?

I've never been a huge fan of them. But then again I've never cared for fruitcake either.

Monday, September 12, 2011




or is already in the process of making one on North Korea policy.

So writes the ever-readable Aidan Foster-Carter in 38 North.

Worth reading if for no other reason than the fascinating glimpse into the inter workings of the ROK government under President Lee and the influence of an unlikely academic--Immanuel Wallerstein--on the ROK's North Korea policy.

Friday, September 2, 2011


You probably have heard the reports and seen the pictures (or video) of the brawl that took place when the Georgetown men's b-ball team played the PLA Bayi Rockets.

Victor Cha (who has written about sports in Asia before) provides a much needed antidote to the hyperbole that has surely followed the event on both sides of the Pacific. A snippet:
Despite the widespread play of the video clips in the US, things calmed down considerably after the event. No one was seriously hurt. The coaches and player representatives from the two teams were immediately in contact after the incident to express sincere regrets and worked together through the night to find a proper way of reconciling. Senior levels of the Chinese government offered to help the team in any way possible. The Bayi coach and two players the following morning met Coach Thompson and two of the upperclassmen on the team. It was a very friendly meeting and they talked about future events where Chinese youth might come to participate in summer basketball clinics in the US. The two groups exchanged gifts at the end of the meeting and there were no hard feelings on either side.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Perhaps. A Chinese tycoon is seeking to buy a big chunk of land in Iceland for tourism development (free registration required to access the link).
Opponents have questioned why such a large amount of land – equal to about 0.3 per cent of Iceland’s total area – is needed to build a hotel. They warned that the project could provide cover for China’s geopolitical interests in the Atlantic island nation and Nato member.

While home to just 320,000 people, Iceland occupies a strategically important location between Europe and North America and has been touted as a potential hub for Asian cargo should climate change open Arctic waters to shipping.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


As someone who has spent a bit of time examining the Chinese presence--political, commercial, military--in Korean port cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (read all about it here), I found this article to be interesting.

I don't recall that the Qing Empire sent many gunboats to Wônsan (they were a frequent sight in Inch'ôn) but steamships from the China Merchants Steamship Company visited the port from time to time and the small Chinese commercial community there did a thriving business that far exceeded what their numbers would warrant.

Now the Chinese navy is back. Plus ca change ....

On the other hand, this didn't happen back in the 19th century:

Members of the flotilla of navy ships of the Chinese People's Liberation Army headed by Vice Admiral Tian Zhong, commander of the North Sea Fleet of the Navy, laid a floral basket before the statue of President Kim Il Sung in the city of Wonsan in Kangwon Province of the DPRK.

They placed the floral basket in the name of the flotilla before the statue and paid high tribute to Kim Il Sung with deep reverence for him. -

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


The PRC tests its first aircraft carrier.
China’s first aircraft carrier began sea trials on Wednesday, the state-run Xinhua news service reported, a highly symbolic step in what is certain to be a years-long effort to create a carrier presence in the Pacific waters off its coast.

The carrier, once known as the Varyag, left Dalian, its northeast China port for what analysts said would be a test of its rudder, propulsion system and other basics.
I'm sure folks in Taibei and those that border the South China Sea are thrilled.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


an NYT story on the difficulty foreign reporters have in making sense of the DPRK.
North Korea might be struggling with an unprecedented crystal meth epidemic. Reporting a story on the drug trade between North Korea and China, I spoke with dozens of sources: defectors, academics, policemen and even one North Korean crystal meth dealer, and I heard estimates that anywhere from zero to 50 percent of the population have tried the drug.

I painted a picture of the drug’s abuse for my article: part escape from the desolation of North Korean life, part medicine in a country with practically no healthcare infrastructure. Yet after months of research I have to admit that I have no idea what is actually happening inside North Korea.
This is all well and good (and has been oft repeated) but the author hides the lede which I think is most important:
I have no idea how many of my U.S. college classmates tried crystal meth, and I spent four years among them in one of the most open societies in the world.
The fact is, we actually have a considerable amount of information about the DPRK from official sources, defectors, foreign visitors, intelligence sources etc. etc. But at the end of the day trying to come to a valid conclusion about any society, nation, or group of people is much, much harder than it might seem.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Some video footage of the latest incarnation here. Somehow I am reminded of this. I wonder what the folks out in District 12...oops, I mean Chôngjin, think of all of this.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


a North Korean short story which warns of the perils of succumbing to the temptations of capitalism is summarized and reviewed by Andrei Lankov. Lankov's conclusion:
The message of this story is simple and easy to understand: Katya is Russia herself, she was lured into a trap by Western propaganda and scheming descendents of landlords, she was fooled into selling her great heritage and she ended up a pitiful prostitute at the bottom of the merciless capitalist heap.

The story is written to serve as a clear warning to North Koreans not to listen to the seductive voices from abroad and should remain on guard against their enemy.

Does this message work? Do reports about Russians suffering under the yoke of capitalism have much impact on North Koreans' vision of the world and themselves within it? Probably it does - at least to some extent, but whether this ideological construct can survive the unavoidable clash with reality is another matter.

Does anyone read or write such obviously didactic literature in the West these days? If not, why not? Have we as a reading audience become so jaded and cynical that we refuse to be moved or persuaded by such literature? Or are we simply unable to come to any consensus about what kind of messages ought to be conveyed?

Monday, July 18, 2011


so reads the Chinese People's Daily (on-line version).

Enjoys? You be the judge:

For comparison's sake, go here (or here).

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Interesting thoughts and observations here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


in Chongqing.
Many here, including Communist Party adherents, agree that this revival of revolutionary fervor is needed to instill a new sense of pride and common purpose, adding that they feared China’s decades-long rush to get rich has eroded the country’s moral bearings and created an ethos of unchecked materialism.

“When I sing red songs, I find a kind of spirit I never felt when singing modern songs,” said Zhang Chenxi, a third-year student at Southwest University here. “To surround yourself with material stuff is just a waste of time.”
I guess if you wait long enough, there may be nostalgia for anything.

At least there is some push-back:
Some critics said they were rattled by this apparent revival of Maoism and red culture, which seems to be gaining traction nationwide.

“To not forget history, we also have to remember the crimes committed during the Cultural Revolution, how they trampled on human rights, how Mao put all his colleagues who had been with him in the revolution in jail,” said legal scholar He Weifang in Beijing, who studied in Chongqing. “We cannot simply remember the beautiful parts of the history.”

UPDATE: Some commentary here.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


of this famous photograph?

Why, it is Wen Jiabao! Who knew? How did he escape being marginalized like Zhao after Tiananmen? Thanks to the ever interesting Iconic Photos for the observation.

Monday, May 23, 2011


again? Aidan Foster-Carter retraces the several previous visits to China and their implications.
In speaking with ROK President Lee Myung Bak, Premier Wen confirmed Kim’s visit. Its aim? To give the DPRK “a chance to understand China’s development, and use the understanding for its own development.” That tone won’t play well in Pyongyang

Rewind 28 years, and Deng Xiaoping could have said the exact same thing. Perhaps he did. You do wonder just how often this obdurate horse has to be led to water. Will he ever drink?
Good question.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


As far as this genre goes, I still like this one better:

Thursday, May 12, 2011


"The American people, they're very simple people."
--Wang Qishan

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Still haunts China today.
Mao Yushi, an 82-year-old economist, penned a blog entry that was strongly critical of Mao, suggesting he should be held responsible for the deaths of 50 million Chinese citizens during the 1960s. The economist also noted his reputation as a womanizer who made decisions for his own benefit, rather than for the greater good of China’s development.

Unsurprisingly, the entry captured the attention of the media, academics, senior government officials and ordinary citizens. But when I tried to access the original entry, I found it had already been removed ...

In many ways, Mao Zedong still looms over China, decades after his death. His portrait is hung in Tiananmen Square and his image appears on the country’s currency. Yet Mao Yushi’s blog might finally open up discussion on what is still largely a taboo issue. Either way, it was a remarkable act of daring to publish this piece in the first place.

Some on the left have told me that we shouldn’t expect this to be the last effort among opponents of Mao’s legacy to force debate on the issue. The battle lines, it seems, are being drawn ahead of the crucial 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party next year.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


For centuries, foreigners have eyed the "China market" with dreams of making a fortune retailing a product to millions upon millions of Chinese consumers. That the vast majority of these ventures have failed seldom seems to deter the next generation of China market seekers.

The latest casualties: Barbie and Home Depot.
Despite the potential, some firms have found profits here elusive. Analysts said the most successful American retailers in China are those that recognize the complexity of the market, and adopt their products to local tastes and preferences. Chinese are still highly discerning consumers, experts say, and what works on Main Street does not always easily translate.

Monday, April 25, 2011


you have to try. They all look good to me but I would say may favorites are 2, 4, 8 and 10.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Shanghai Scrap does it with glee. You'll want to read the whole thing, but here's the conclusion:
The staff of Shanghai Scrap conclude that, a) Foreigners can feel confident that they can quote Shakespeare, in English, when discussing restaurants in China on the phone; b) the New York Times needs to widen its circle of sources on censorship beyond people who quote Shakespeare, in English, when discussing restaurants on the phone. Further study needed on whether or not phones used by New York Times correspondents and assistants are the most reliable means of judging phone censorship in China.
Of course one set of anecdotes doesn't necessarily disprove the validity of another set of anecdotes. But I have to say that Shanghai Scrap's conclusion is far more reasonable sounding to me than those of the NYT.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Before and after pics of the earthquake and tsunami damage.

Heart wrenching.

UPDATE: More here.

Here's an example

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Interesting thoughts (and photos, charts etc.) here.


A South Korean fortune-teller in Pusan (originally found here).

If we can resort to P'yôngyang-ology, why not fortune telling?
A prominent fortune teller in Yangkang and Hamkyung Provinces has declared that power in the post-Kim Jong Il era will rest with “Mr. Jang”, according to a source. In North Korea, where belief in superstition is exceedingly common, the declaration has attracted attention.

“Mr. Jang” refers to Jang Sung Taek, Director of the Ministry of Administration of the Chosun Workers' Party and a leading figure in the Kim Jong Il regime.
If defector testimony is to be trusted, there are at least a few well known fortune tellers in the DPRK:
North Korean defectors and sources often mention a reliance on or belief in superstition. For example, in Dongkye Workers District, Baekam-gun in Yangkang Province, there is a well-known female fortune teller. She is 27 years old this year.

A North Korean defector from Yangkang Province commented, "I know her. People often seek her out when looking for a thief or lost animal. It is only possible for people to get to see her at night, because cadres who have a sick person at home visit her in the evening and take her to expel evil from their homes."

When the woman first became famous, the authorities tried to stop her activiities and security agents arrested her for spreading superstition. However, her father, who was set to be sent to a training camp, protested, "She doesn’t do this because she wants to. If she does not do this, her body aches, so what are we supposed to do?"

Thursday, March 3, 2011


List here. The number one on the list should surprise no one. Where the ROK ranks was somewhat surprising to me (lower than I expected). And Kazakhstan? Who knew?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Here is some guy talking about political cartoons and taking North Korea seriously

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Article here. A snippet:
Designed for men, many of these guy purses often known as shou bao in Mandarin would be right at home in the women's handbag section of an upscale department store. Popular styles include the oversize wallet with wraparound zippers like Zhang's and the embossed leather Coach handbag with the slinky shoulder strap and handles. Colors trend toward solid brown, black and gray. But some fashion-forward gents don't mind showing a little flash: Burberry plaid, Gucci's interlocking GG pattern or Louis Vuitton's distinct LV monogram.

Luxury leather goods makers can't believe their luck: Both sexes in the world's most populous country adore purses.

Men represent 45% of the $1.2-billion market for all luxury handbags in China, according to Victor Luis, president of Coach Retail International. That figure is just 7% in the U.S.

A photo:

Perhaps all of those "European carry-all" jokes will have to be re-written for the 21st century.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


He's focusing on Egypt and the Arab authoritarian states in the Middle East, but might the same concepts be applied to North Korea?
I think that the factor of indignity and shame, of the sort manifested in the anecdote above, makes a more satisfactory initial explanation. And one of the cheering and reassuring things about dictatorship is the way that it consistently fails to understand this element of the equation. How gratifying it is that all such regimes go on making the same obvious mistakes. None of them ever seems to master a few simple survival techniques: Don't let the supreme leader's extended family go on shopping sprees; don't publicly spoil some firstborn as if the people can't wait for him, too, to be proclaimed from the balcony; don't display your personal photograph all over the landscape; don't claim more than, say, 75 percent of the vote in any "election" you put on. And don't try to shut down social media: It will instantly alert even the most somnolent citizen to the fact that you are losing, or have lost, your grip.

People do not like to be treated like fools, or backward infants, or extras in some parade. There is a natural and inborn resistance to such tutelage, for the simple-enough reasons that young people want to be regarded as adults, and parents can't bear to be humiliated in front of their children.
Is North Korea the exotic Oriental exception to this rule? Or has the DPRK regime been successful in fusing the natural desire for dignity that Hitchens mentions with the dignity of the state (nation/regime/race) in a way that other despotic regimes can only envy?

Monday, January 31, 2011


Part of a recurring series.

DPRK watchers conclude that they have found evidence of the elevation of Kim Jong Un to the same status of his father.

Behold the furry hat!

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's son and heir Jong-un is already being treated with the same level of protocol as his father.

A senior South Korean government official last Friday said Kim Jong-un seems to have moved up to the same rank as his father. "The most conspicuous sign is that Kim Jong-un has started wearing a top-quality furry hat that only Kim Jong-il has been wearing so far," the official added.

UPDATE: Jonathan Dresner, always reliable for thoughtful and erudite commentary, notes that in this case the P'yôngyang-ologists are "likely to be right." Indeed, they may very well be. But even so, it is an interesting commentary that something which is so mundane and common in the West (at least in the cold parts) could be recognized as a sign of power and authority in the DPRK. I wonder whether prepared-for-the-cold foreign visitors are required to hand over their furry hats if they too closely resemble those of the Kims?

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Not exactly, but some of the similarities are striking:
Confucian followers are fighting against a government-sanctioned plan to build a 41-meter-high Gothic-style church with seating for 3000 worshippers in Qufu, Shandong – the birthplace of Confucius – arguing that it threatens Confucianism’s status in China. A petition calling for a halt to the project posted on the Confucian website received 572 signatures and support from 77 Confucian groups. “If a super-large Confucian temple were built in Jerusalem, Mecca or the Vatican, pitting itself against existing religious buildings there, how would the local people feel about it?” said the petition, which has been widely circulated online.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Russell Jacoby's review of Erik Olin Wright's Envisioning Real Utopias.

I have often noted that academia often appears to adhere to a code of civility in reviewing colleagues' books: politely point out a error of fact here, a disagreement there, but don't savage a colleagues' book because you might be next. Dr. Jacoby doesn't feel compelled to honor this unwritten code:
In a blurb, Michael Burawoy, a previous president of the American Sociological Association and a prominent leftist sociologist, calls the book “encyclopedic” in its breadth and “daunting” in its ambition. He states, “Only a thinker of Wright’s genius could sustain such a badly needed political imagination without losing analytical clarity and precision.” With the correction that Wright is no genius and that the book is suffocatingly narrow in scope, impossibly cramped in imagination, and irreparably muddy in execution, the blurb is accurate.
While I can't speak to the veracity of this scathing critique, a part of me finds it rather refreshing (if somewhat frightening).

Monday, January 24, 2011


So says Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (could a more British-sounding name be imagined?).

He invokes the historical precedent of pre-WWI Europe:
Is China now where Germany was in 1900? Possibly. There are certainly hints of menace from some quarters in Beijing. Defence minister Liang Guanglie said over New Year that China’s armed forces are “pushing forward preparations for military conflict in every strategic direction”.

Professor Huang Jing from Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew School and a former adviser to China’s Army, said Beijing is losing its grip on the colonels.
“The young officers are taking control of strategy and it is like young officers in Japan in the 1930s. This is very dangerous. They are on a collision course with a US-dominated system,” he said.
The solution?
The correct statecraft for the West is to treat Beijing politely but firmly as a member of global club, gambling that the Confucian ethic will over time incline China to a quest for global as well as national concord.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


A column in the Chosun Ilbo calls for South Korea to acquire nuclear weapons:
Only when Seoul develops a nuclear bomb will the way for substantive negotiations between the two Koreas open. Paradoxically, denuclearization is possible on the Korean Peninsula only when both Koreas have nuclear arms, exercise mutual restraint and conduct nuclear disarmament talks. We can no longer entrust our lives and territorial security to the incompetence of world powers that have failed to settle the North Korean nuclear issue for over two decades. We have to take charge, and to do that we need to develop nuclear weapons.
Because of course North Korea won't see any increased threat to its own security or existence by a nuclear-armed South Korea.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


photos of the ghost town known as Detroit. Compare these images with Seoul or Beijing. Discuss....