In March 2012, I attended a lecture by Adam Johnson, the author of “The Orphan Master’s Son“. Johnson gave us a glimpse into the mysterious Hermit Kingdom of North Korea. Although many call North Korea’s government a dictatorship, it appears to be more of a monarchy since the leadership has passed from father to son twice.
“No one has written a literary novel in 60 years… No one has read a book that’s not propaganda for 60 years,” Johnson said of North Korea.
Johnson spent six years reading everything he could find on North Korea. In addition, he interviewed a number of people that once lived there or had visited. He also watched every YouTube video on North Korea he could find. Then he traveled there as sort of a tourist in 2007. It wasn’t easy gaining permission.
While in North Korea, Johnson saw a country that was hungry for food, power and money. The trucks and cars he saw on the roads were coming out of the same factories that were manufacturing the same models in the 1950s with no changes. In addition, appliances manufactured in North Korea were the same models that were made six decades ago. North Korea is a country trapped in a time warp.
In an interview with Sheila Himmel of the Stanford Magazine, Johnson said there was daily loudspeaker propaganda. “If you’re caught tampering with your loudspeaker (everyone has one in their home and workplace), that’s something that could send you to a prison mine.”
Himmel wrote, “Johnson knew he had to visit North Korea to put flesh on the bones of his research. After being turned down twice for a visa as a visiting scholar, Johnson met a Korean War orphan whose NGO planted apple orchards in North Korea. As the orchardist’s assistant, he got a tourist visa.
“I would walk the streets and people would not even look up at me. They were Afraid to,” Johnson said.
Johnson stayed in the Yanggak Island hotel, staffed by Chinese, “So we didn’t even get to meet a North Korean citizen at breakfast,” Johnson said.
More than an hour with Adam Johnson – Live from the library.
The hotel was located on an island and was only open two weeks a year for the Airirang festival celebrating the birth of Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founding autocrat (emperor/king as far as I’m concerned). Even then, only two floors were occupied out of forty-nine and the only lights that were on were on those two floors. The other 47 floors were dark and abandoned.
While Johnson was in North Korea, he was told that the DPRK was the most democratic nation in the world. “They’d say to Johnson, ‘How many people turned out to your last election?’ About 60 percent. ‘We’re 100 percent. We’re more democratic!’ ”
However, being a democratic country, which North Korea isn’t (it’s also not a republic), may not be all that desirable. After all, America’s Founding Fathers created a republic in the United States, because they hated democracy believing it morphed into mob rule and eventually a dictatorship, and George Washington, in his farewell letter to the people as he left the presidency, warned Americans against multiple political parties competing with each other because that led to divisiveness and rancor.
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
Subscribe to “iLook China”!
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page, or click on the “Following” tab in the WordPress toolbar at the top of the screen.