Sunday, February 28, 2010

Understanding North Korea through its comics

An academic believes he has found a way to understanding the communist state of North Korea: by reading its comic books.

Heinz Insu Fenkl, a literature professor at the State University of New York produces English translations of the hard-to-find graphic novels, which are called "gruim-chaek" in North Korea.

Fenkl aims to put together a web archive of all the comics he has translated, a sort of Korean marxist cross between Japanese manga or British commando comics. The plots usually pin blame on loud-mouthed Americans and opportunist Japanese for cursing their promised land with vice. "The cartoonists establish the storylines strictly as moralistic good-versus-evil tales.”

The books are designed to instill juche – self-reliance of the state, Kim Il-Sung's philosophy of state – said Nick Bonner, founder of Koryo Tours, an English-language tour company in Beijing that takes visitors to North Korea.

He added: "They're much like the themes I read when I was a kid, on the British Army fighting the 'Nazis and Japs'.

Full story

Saturday, February 27, 2010

North Korean nuclear arms help consolidate position at home and increase diplomatic leverage

Nobody expects North Korea to drop any atomic bombs from its decrepit fleet of MiG fighters or attach a nuclear device to one of its vaunted missiles. In fact, it's quite uncertain whether North Korean engineers and scientists have actually figured out how to deliver a warhead. Nonetheless, North Korea intends to remain a nuclear power.

"It is almost impossible for outsiders to know whether there were any debates within the North Korean leadership about the pros and cons of going nuclear," Professor Wang Jisi of Beijing University said. Why bother, was the rhetorical implication. "Even if there had been any doubts and hesitations," he said, clearly "the perseverance to attain nuclear weapons is serving the leaders' interests very well".

The logic was simple, from Wang's perspective. "Achievement of nuclear arms should help consolidate their position at home and increase diplomatic leverage," he said. "They feel little increased military pressure while they know how to take one step forward in nuclearization and then pause to show an ostensible readiness to negotiate over denuclearization."

All the while, as Wang noted, humanitarian aid and economic assistance continue to flow into the North.

"Unlike other partners," he said, in a jibe at the Americans and possibly the South Koreans, "Beijing would look at a possible political implosion in North Korea in most negative terms." For that reason his government "would never try to destabilize that country or join others" in attempting "to do so".

[Excerpt of an article by Donald Kirk, Asia Times]

Friday, February 26, 2010

North Koreans smaller, weaker than S. Koreans

According to a government health report by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on North Koreans who entered South Korea between 2005 and 2008, young North Korean refugees are shorter and lighter than South Korean adolescents.

The average height of North Korean boys between 13 and 18 stands at 155.7 cm, 13.5 cm shorter than their South Korean counterparts. Girls from North Korea in the age group are 151.1 cm tall on average, 8.3 cm shorter than their South Korean counterparts. The average weight of young male North Koreans is 47.3 kg, 13.5 kg lighter than South Korean teenage boys. North Korean girls weigh 46.9 kg, as against 52.3 kg for South Korean girls.

Adult North Koreans are also 4 to 6 cm shorter than South Koreans. The average height of North Korean men stands at 165.4 cm while North Korean women were 154.2 cm tall on average. South Korean men and women are 171.4 cm and 158.4 cm tall on average.

The average weight of men from North Korea is 60.2 kg, 11.8 kg less than that of South Korean men. North Korean women weigh 52.8 kg, 4.3 kg less than South Korean women.

There are also health problems. Some 35.8 percent of adolescents and 24.6 percent of adults are infected with parasites, up to 12 times more than the rate among South Koreans.

Chosun Ilbo