Managing the Xinjiang problem

Bordering Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Russia, Xinjiang dominates the northwest corner of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Harsh geography has left the region relatively isolated, with the Altay Mountains in the north, the Kunlun Mountains in the south, and one-third of a million square kilometres of desert known as the Taklimakan in the south-west. The sparsely populated Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) – the formal administrative designation for Xinjiang since 1 October 1955 – is home to the Uygur people, the largest ethnic group in the region and one of the 55 ethnic minority groups officially recognised by the PRC government. Xinjiang has been host to a Uyghur independence movement since before the founding of the PRC; tensions in the region periodically erupt into violence. The approach of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) towards the management of the XUAR has changed over the last 15 years in response to the challenges the Party faces in the region. 

Developing the west

The economic growth that has occurred since the launch in the early 1980s by Deng Xiaoping of the policies of liberalisation and opening up has been concentrated primarily in the more densely populated eastern coastal cities; a substantial gap exists between the per capita GDP in the east and that in the west. In an attempt to bridge this gap, Jiang Zemin launched the ‘Develop the West’ campaign in 2000 to improve economic conditions in the relatively impoverished western regions of the country. But the improvement in economic opportunity was accompanied by an increase in migration by members of China’s majority Han ethnic group, who moved west to follow these opportunities.

The migration of large numbers of Han Chinese has inflamed the long-standing ethnic tensions in the XUAR. Since the founding of the PRC to the end of the last decade the proportion of Han residents in Xinjiang has risen from 6% to 38%, and is likely to continue to rise due to the liberalisation of the hukou requirements in the region as Beijing aims to further increase Han migration to the XUAR. 

Why does Beijing want to continue to push for further increases in Han migration to the XUAR if it is already a source of tension? One of the reasons is that Han migration helps to support the local bingtuan. The bingtuan is a state-owned and managed organisation operating in the XUAR that accounts for around one-fifth of the GDP of the province. The bingtuan play a dual role in the region: on the one hand, it is an economic establishment; on the other it is one of the ways that Beijing works to cement the Han – and the CCP – as a major part of the landscape within the region. That a largely autonomous and overwhelmingly Han dominated community plays such an increasingly dominant role in the economy and society of the XUAR is unsurprisingly a cause of resentment within the local Uyghur community.

“China’s 9-11”

At times the resentment of some members of the Uyghur community against the Han in Xinjiang has exploded into violence. The worst outbreak in recent years was in July 2009, when widespread rioting rocked the capital Urumqi. By the end of a week of clashes at least 156 people were killed and 1,080 were injured. Beijing responded by shutting off long distance telephone, SMS, and Internet services to the region. Although phone and SMS services returned relatively quickly, Internet access remained extremely limited for 10 months. The aim of the CCP might have been to limit communication to prevent the spread of messages encouraging further violence, but isolating the region so severely would have in itself likely been a source of further tensions.

The violence resulting from tensions between Uyghur and Han has not been contained within the XUAR. An attack at Kunming Railway Station in March 2014 by a group armed with knives and swords left 29 dead and 143 wounded. The attack, which was blamed by the CCP on Uyghur separatists, was described by the Global Times – a subsidiary of the People’s Daily, which is owned by the CCP – as “China’s ‘9-11’”. The vice president of the Red Cross Society of China, Wang Haijing, said that the Society was providing those affected by the incident with counselling by borrowing “experience from the practices of our U.S. counterpart after the 9/11 tragedy.” The Kunming attack followed a high profile car crash at Tiananmen Square in Beijing four months prior, in which five people died and 38 were injured after a car allegedly carrying Uyghur terrorists smashed through a safety barrier and onto a crowd on the sidewalk. Both the Kunming and Tiananmen Square attacks were such high profile events that it was almost inevitable that the CCP would respond.

But the response to the worsening of the relationship between Uyghur and Han will likely further exacerbate the tensions between the two groups. The CCP has decided to take a less tolerant approach to the management of cultural differences in the region. Stores and restaurants in the mostly Muslim township of Laskuy in Hotan country were issued with notices that they were required to advertise and sell alcohol and tobacco “in order to provide greater convenience to the public”. This follows the reinstatement in mid-2014 of bans on civil servants and students fasting during Ramadan, bans on people with beards and Islamic veils on public buses in the city of Karamay in northern XUAR, and a ban approved by the regional government on the wearing of Islamic veils and full-body coverings in Urumqi.

And the public propaganda regarding the management of the region has been found wanting. For example, in a reflective piece published in 2014 by Xinhua, writers Cao Bin and Du Gang expressed the view that although the disconnection of Internet services in Urumqi following the riots in 2009 was a hindrance to some it was something of a blessing to others. Yes, it caused difficulties for families trying to enrol their children in overseas colleges, but the outage also encouraged residents to socialise, go to karaoke bars together, and rent videos from “video shops that had been on the verge of extinction”. This is a remarkably insensitive view to take publicly of action that cut off many of the region’s 21 million inhabitants from contact with the rest of China – and indeed the rest of the world.

Conflicting priorities

When considering the actions and reactions of the CCP to the challenges posed by the management of the XUAR, it is clear that there are two competing aspects at play. On the one hand, for 15 years it has been CCP policy to invest in the economic development of western China, including the XUAR, in order to close the gap in wealth between the residents in the underdeveloped and sparsely developed western regions, and the highly developed and relatively prosperous eastern coastal cities like Tianjin, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. It has also been the goal of the CCP to secure the place of China’s Han majority within the XUAR by encouraging migration through policies like the relaxation of hukou requirements.  

But the efforts of Beijing to develop and integrate the XUAR with the rest of China, and specifically with the Han majority, has further ramped up tensions within the region. In the early years of the PRC, the CCP took a relatively tolerant approach to the management of ethnic minority issues, one that was broadly respectful of the cultural norms of the country’s minority groups. The actions taken by the CCP in recent years in response to the tensions in the XUAR – the banning the practice of Islamic traditions such as the wearing of veils and beards, and prohibitions of the selling of alcohol – will surely only serve to increase tensions in the region even further. Unless CCP policy were to change tack, it is difficult to see there being a peaceful and lasting resolution to the conflict between the Uyghur and the CCP, and the Han more generally.

Is the DPRK a bastion of Soviet-style communism?

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has been described as the “last bastion of Soviet-style communism” and the home of “possible [sic] the only truly Communist regime left in the world”. But ample evidence shows that the economy of the DPRK has undergone significant changes over the last 25 years and that the private marketplace is playing an increasingly important role in the economic life of the country. 

An Arduous March follows the Cold War

The end of the Cold War proved to be disastrous for the DPRK economy. The Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) rolled back the significant trade subsidies they had offered to the DPRK as a fellow member of the communist bloc. Between 1990 and 1994 trade between the DPRK and the Soviet Union fell from $2.56 to $0.14 billion, the flow of subsidised oil and machine parts from both the Soviet Union and the PRC dried up, and the output of the poorly-designed and energy-intensive state-owned and collective farms fell sharply (Lankov, 2013). The economy slowed and the country’s trade deficit grew sharply. Both Moscow and Beijing started asking Pyongyang to pay upfront for its desperately needed energy imports (Demick, 2012).

The country’s Public Distribution System had been providing food rations to all households since the 1950s. The DPRK is a highly urbanised society, with about 70% of the population living in urban areas (Reed, 2005). The result was that its citizens were heavily reliant on rations provided by the state through the Public Distribution System (Noland, Robinson, & Wang, 2001). The size of the food rations provided by the Public Distribution System started to shrink in line with the slowing of the economy from the 1970s onwards (Lankov, 2013). But the decline accelerated with the fall in the output of the state-owned and collective farms following the sharp fall in energy and machinery supplies from the Soviet Union and the PRC. By the mid-1990s, the Public Distribution System had collapsed and a major famine, known as the Arduous March, spread across the county. It was from these events – the collapse in the ability of the state to provide for the essential needs of its citizens and the famine that followed – that would drive the marketisation of the DPRK economy.

The market provides where the state fails

Former DPRK President Kim Il Sung acknowledged the existence of the private markets as far back as 1969, when the economy of the DPRK was still outperforming that of the Republic of Korea (ROK) (Martin, 2004). He was of the view that small-scale market behaviour made a positive contribution to the life of country through the provision of items not provided by the state, and that its eradication would lead to black marketeering (Kim, 1992). This is what happened increasingly during the Arduous March, when the Public Distribution System failed and the economy shifted from a command-style socialist economy into a model of market socialism in which private markets supplemented the command economy (Reed, 2005).

During the Arduous March, private markets appeared in which farmers sold produce grown in private plots and non-farming households traded craft manufactures and household services. An example could be found in the city of Hoeryong in the far north of the country: by the end of the 1990s this city of around 20,000 people had developed a market attended by 1,000 to 2,000 merchants seeing foodstuffs and other household goods. The marketisation of the economy wasn’t a welcome development in the eyes of the government, and in 2009 Pyongyang tried to stifle market activity through a currency exchange (Lankov, 2013). Households were forced to swap the cash (the old won) they held for a limited amount of new won, a move which aimed to strip wealth out of the private economy. At the same time, the government massively increased the wages of state employees. The result was massive inflation, which Pyongyang attempted to address by closing the private markets. This in turn impacted even formerly comfortable members of the Pyongyang elite, who were used to the market being their main provider of goods. The backlash led the central government to reopen private markets – a prudent move given that by the mid-2000s the informal economy was providing 78% of household income (Kim & Song, 2008). It also arguably contributed to the country’s yuanization”: the use of PRC currency in the private market rather than the less reliable and inflation-prone DPRK won. These two shifts – the need for the state to allow the development of the private market activity, and the use of foreign currency for internal trading – shows that power of the marketisation movement and its ability to move the levers of economic control further out of the reach of the country’s economic bureaucrats.  

After Kim Jong Un took over the country’s leadership following the death of his father Kim Jong Il in 2011, the state appears to take further steps to open the economy to marketisation, especially with regards to agriculture. The so-called June 28th Measures introduced in 2012 saw the division of state-owned and collective farms into “production teams” of 5-6 people – roughly the size of a family. The state would take 70% of the agricultural goods produced, leaving the production team with remaining 30% to consume or trade in the private market. This is a move similar to that taken in the PRC with the introduction of the Household Responsibility System, which signalled the beginning of the end of collectivisation (Li, 1998) and the start of experiments in economic liberalisation under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping. The results of Pyongyang’s efforts have been modest but sustained for several years, with recent reports indicating that the country’s food production has reached its highest level since the mid-1990s.

The growth in international marketisation

In addition to the marketization of the economy within the DPRK, the country has started seeking out new opportunities to engage in international trade. The PRC has long been the most significant supporter of and trading partner to the DPRK. The supportive approach of the PRC has been demonstrated by large-scale infrastructure projects designed to make the border areas more accessible via new bridges, roads, and railways, and the movement of several thousand DPRK citizens who work across the border in Dandong (Reilly, 2014), where they can earn valued foreign currency. A side effect of this economic activity is that the economic literacy of DPRK businesspeople has reportedly improved through their engagement with the private market through trade with Chinese businesses, to the point that some Chinese businesses have been encouraged to relocate across the border into the DPRK (Reilly, 2014). This type of activity shows how far the marketisation of the DPRK economy has progressed, and how exposure to cross-border markets has changed the economic activity experienced by DPRK citizens.

The country has also made attempts at emulating the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) that formed the hubs of foreign investment growth in the PRC during the 1980s and 1990s. An SEZ provides foreign investors with opportunity to develop businesses in selected areas in which they received preferential tax arrangements and infrastructure. The Kaesong SEZ is arguably the most well known SEZ in the DPRK. Located on the border with the ROK, it contains more than 100 businesses from the ROK and employs more than 50,000 DPRK citizens. The Kaesong SEZ was closed briefly in 2013 by the DPRK, but it soon reopened as it was a good source of the foreign currency the DPRK needs to buy energy imports and other industrial inputs the country has been lacking since the end of ‘friendship rate’ imports offered by the Soviet Union and the PRC in the early 1990s. It also provides opportunities for the citizens of the two countries to have some limited contact, which they have generally been unable to enjoy since the Korean War armistice went into effect in 1953. As of January 2016 the Kaesong SEZ has been shuttered by the ROK following another round of nuclear and missile tests by the DPRK. It is not clear if the Kaesong SEZ will reopen, or what impact the closure may have on both the DPRK economy and the strained relationship between the two countries.

Marketisation with Juche characteristics?

The economic situation in the DPRK is not as simple as it might appear at a glance. The economic shock that followed the end of industrial inputs as ‘friendship rates’ from the Soviet Union and the PRC drove the country into a famine that seriously impacted the level of control that the central government could exercise over the country’s economy: when the state was no longer able to provide for the basic needs of its citizens, private markets flourished. Despite attempts to lessen the strength of the private markets through policies such as the failed currency exchange, marketisation has prevailed and the state has withdrawn further from the daily economic life of many of its citizens, as demonstrated by the fact that four-fifths of household income comes from the private market.

It is also apparent that individuals, rather than just the state, are now engaged with cross-border trade with businesses in the PRC. Engaging in trade with the PRC has led to an increase in the economic literacy of businesspeople in the DPRK, which has in turn led to further economic development through cross-border private market activities.

It may be true that the DPRK can appear at the surface to be a Soviet-style relic of the Cold War and a stalwart remnant of communist economics, the evidence about the economic life of the country clearly shows that marketisation plays a major role in the country’s economy.

Additional references 

Demick, B. (2012). Nothing to Envy: Love, life, and death in North Korea. Sydney, Australia: Harper Collins Publishers.

Kim, B.-Y., & Song, D. (2008). The participation of North Korean households in the informal economy: size, determinants, and effect. Seoul Journal of Economics, 21, 361–385.

Kim, IS. (1992). Kim Il Sung on the Management of the Socialist Economy. Pyongyang, DPRK: Foreign Languages Publishing House.

Lankov, A. (2013). The Real North Korea: Life and politics in the failed Stalinist utopia. New York, United States: Oxford University Press.

Li, C. 200 million mouths too many: China’s surplus rural labour. In Schell, O. & Shambaugh, D. (Eds.). (1998). The China Reader: The reform era. New York, United States: Random House.

Martin, B. (2004). Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty. New York, United States: St. Martin’s Press.

Noland, M., Robinson, S., & Wang, T. (2001). Famine in North Korea: Causes and Cures. Economic Development and Cultural Change, 49(4), 741–767. doi:10.1086/452523

Reed, E. (2005). The role of international aid organizations in the development of North Korea – experience and prospects. Asian Perspectives, 29(3), 51–72.

Reilly, J. (2014). China’s Market Influence in North Korea. Asian Survey, 54(5), 894–917. doi:10.1525/as.2014.54.5.894

The art of socialism

Introduction

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has long had an interest in the arts and culture of China. Seven years before the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the CCP held a conference in Yunnan at which Mao spoke about the importance of the arts to Chinese communism. Following a recent speech by current CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping about the role of the arts in contemporary China, some commentators linked the themes in Xi’s speech with the ideological heritage laid down by Mao.

Speech at the Forum on Literature and Art

In October 2014 at the Forum on Literature and Art in Beijing, Xi Jinping spoke to the assembled group of artists about the importance of art in modern China, and the relationship between art and the CCP (“Xi Jinping’s talk,” 2014). The event was followed by a string of articles published over the following four days by Xinhua that included extensive quotation of Xi’s remarks.

In his speech, Xi said that the arts are important to the culture of the nation and that they should “inspire minds, warm hearts, cultivate taste and clean up undesirable work styles (“Art must present socialist values,” 2015)”. “Socialist culture and art is, in essence, the culture and art of the people (“Art should serve people,” 2014),” and “Artists should not “…go astray while answering the question of ‘whom to serve (“Xi calls for artistically, morally inspiring art works,” 2014).”

An opinion piece in the South China Morning Post said that the speech was shepherding a return to “Maoist-style dogma” (Huang, 2014). To assess how closely Xi’s views align with those of Mao we need to now turn to the words of Mao himself to see how he approached the topic of the arts.

Mao’s views on the place of Chinese art and culture

One of the most widely know early works by Mao on the topic of the arts was his speech at the Conference on the Problems of Art and Literature in May 1942 in Yunnan (Mao, 1952). At the Conference, Mao spoke of the importance of art and culture to foster the CCP’s revolutionary values amongst the people. Mao told the audience that it was important for the CCP to develop art works that appeal to the peasants, and that “reflects and portrays the life of the people.” Mao made it clear that he believed that the arts were not apolitical: artistic production was a positive if it “encourages solidarity among the masses”; it was a negative if it “encourage[s] dissention” from the party line.

Mao seemed not to believe initially in abolishing all aspects of the arts and culture of China’s feudal period; rather, he believed that it was important to “incorporate the “more of less democratic and revolutionary nature” of China’s old culture with that of its new socialist one but to “reject its feudal dross” (Mao, 1967). The year before the launch of the Great Leap Forward, Mao publically encouraged artists to use their works to raise political questions for public discussion and to debate what is “right and wrong” (Mao, 1964). The speech spoke of “letting a hundred flowers blossom,” and allowing the “flourishing” of “different forms and styles of art.”

But what was initially seen as an openness to public debate about the CCP’s politics turned into a purge known as the Anti-Rightist Campaign, as the CCP turned on and persecuted artists that had taken the opportunity to speak with an independent voice. By the start of the Cultural Revolution, Mao’s stance against arts not in accordance with CCP ideology had hardened further. Mao made it clear to his Red Guards that the creation of ideologically sound art was not enough; they should also seek out and destroy arts that reflected old customs, cultures, habits, and ideas, which is exactly what they did. Vast quantities of old books were burned and old artworks were destroyed.

One aspect of feudal China’s culture that came under special attack from Mao was Confucianism. As far back as 1940 in his text ‘On New Democracy,’ Mao said that Confucian thought served the needs of the imperialists in opposition to the needs of new culture of revolutionary China and that it had to be “swept away” (Mao, 1967). During the Cultural Revolution, Mao and his ultra-leftist wife and leader of the Gang of Four, Jiang Qing, launched a campaign in opposition to Premier Zhao Enlai known as the ‘Criticise Lin Biao and Confucius’ movement. Mao and Jiang saw Zhao as a Confucius, a moderating figure representing the view of the intellectual elite, who was standing in opposition to their more radical leftist policies. To be called Confucius was to be seen as in opposition with the Cultural Revolution and Mao himself.

What has changed, and what has stayed the same

The most basic similarity between the position of both Xi and Mao towards the arts is that the arts must promote socialist values and serve the masses rather than the elites. In this respect, Xi’s speech at the Beijing Forum was in keeping with the core theme of Mao’s Yunnan speech. Xinhua, in a Chinese language story about the speech, even quoted two participants as having said that it “recalled the spirit” of Mao’s Yunnan speech (Ramzy, 2014).

One of the more curious parts of Xi’s speech was the comment that “a hundred flowers are growing in our literature and art garden and there are countless great fruits (Xi Jinping’s talk, 2014).” Despite openly advocating “discussion between different viewpoints and schools of thought” (‘Xi Jinping’s talk,” 2014) using the phrase “a hundred flowers” is an interesting choice when one considers that Mao’s campaign ended with the Anti-Rightist Movement, which violently purged artists who were seen to have been critical to CCP policy. Although Xi’s intent is publicly unknown, it is worth reflecting on the recent observation of a Renmin University professor who said on his Weibo that he’d “heard people talking about how there is a new anti-rightist movement underway,” which he was starting to believe himself (Bandurski, 2014). And the recent spate of arrests of artists working in an art colony in Beijing further highlights the risk that artists face should their social commentary drift too far outside of the boundaries set by the CCP (Chang, 2014).

His speech at the Beijing Forum is not the only recent foray by Xi into the topic of China’s arts and culture. About a week before the Forum, Xi spoke to a Central Committee study group about the importance of China’s historical culture to its current situation. A Xinhua English report on the speech (“Cultural reflection can improve modern governance,” 2014) quoted Xi as telling the Central Committee members that “A country’s governing system and capacity are closely related to its heritage and traditional cultures,” and “Party members to study all human civilizations to help inform the modernization of China’s government”.

And the speech at the Central Committee study group followed closely on the heels of a speech that even more explicitly stressed the importance of China’s cultural history. In September 2014, Xi spoke at the International Confucian Association in Beijing, at which he drew attention to the importance of Confucian ethics to modern day China:

“Confucianism and other schools of thought in Chinese history have competed with and complemented each other, constituting unity of opposites. Despite its long dominant status, Confucianism has been in a state of harmonious co-existence with other theories… Chinese communists are neither historical nihilists, nor cultural nihilists. We always believe… that we should approach traditional native culture and cultures of all countries in a scientific manner and arm ourselves with all outstanding cultural achievements humanity has create (Gardels, 2014).”

Xi’s suggestion that Confucianism has “complemented” the socialist school of thought in the PRC is in stark contrast to Mao’s denunciations of Confucianism, as previously discussed. Zhou Enlai, in the months before his death during the late stage of the Cultural Revolution, would likely not have agreed with Xi’s sentiment, given the charge against him that that he, like Confucius philosophy, should be cast out as being in opposition to the left.

What picture do these developments paint of the future of the arts in China?

The Xinhua report on Xi’s talk at the Beijing Forum listed Liu Qibao as being one of the members of the CCP leadership who was in attendance (“Xi Jinping’s talk,” 2014). Liu is the head of the CCP “publicity department,” which is more commonly known as the central propaganda department. During a recent inspection tour in the city of Tianjin, Liu “urged authors and artists to focus more on reality and create more works to promote Chinese values, Chinese culture and the aesthetic pursuit of Chinese people (CPC publicity chief stresses socialist core value for art, 2014).” The reports of the central propaganda department head stressing the importance of artists promoting “Chinese values” – or Chinese values with socialist characteristics – combined with two months of reports on Xi’s talks on the subject, suggests that the discussion about the role of the arts to the CCP is likely to continue for some time to come.

Additional references

Mao, Z. (1952). Problems of Art and Literature: Address to a conference in Yenan [sic], May 2-23, 1942. Bombay, India: People’s Publishing House.

Mao, Z. (1964). On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People. Beijing, China: Foreign Languages Press.

Mao, Z. (1967). On new democracy. In Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung (Vol. II, pp. 339-384). Beijing, China: Foreign Languages Press.

KCNA: “Apology of John Short, Citizen of Australia”

The following is the text published on 3 March 2014 by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) of “the written apology by John Alexander Short, a citizen of Australia, to the relevant organization for his criminal acts committed against the DPRK”. (The formatting has been edited; the text has not.) Mr Short is an Australian Christian missionary arrested in the DPRK after it was alleged he distributed Christian pamphlets while on a tour of the country.

I am John Alexander Short living in Hong Kong and a citizen of Australia. I violated the independent right and offended against the Law of the DPRK. I knew that my actions would offend the independent right and would be against the law of the DPRK. I wanted more Korean people to be Christians therefore I secretly spread Bible tracts written by me. I heard from the T.V. and newspaper reports that the DPRK is the closest closed socialist country in the world. I heard from the reports the religious freedom is not in North Korea. And that foreigners are not welcome to visit or attend for the Church. 

In the process of hearing the reports I questioned if it was true. In early 2012 I requested Mr. Paul Baek to translate my Bible tract into the Korean language. Mr. Paul Baek is a business man from south Korea. I designed my Bible tracts in small size for spreading easier into Korea-DPRK. I entered the DPRK in August 2012 and personally carried a few Bible tracts and my own personal Bible. I was interested to see if I could possibly carry more on another occasion.

I committed the criminal act against the law of the DPRK by spreading my Bible tracts in Pyongyang underground station on the train. My mind was to make sure that I could spread more of my Bible tracts on another occasion. After that my feeling was I could spread more easier next time. In February 2014 I came as a tourist to DPRK to spread my Bible tracts in a larger quantity. On February 16th I visited the Popun temple and committed a criminal act by secretly spreading my Bible tracts around the temple.

I deeply apologize for what I have done by spreading my Bible tracts on February 16th, the birthday of His Excellency Kim Jong Il. The people of the DPRK regard February 16th as the greatest national holiday. I now realize the seriousness of my insult to the Korean people on February 16th because I made the Korean people angry and for this I truly apologize.

I realize that my actions are an indelible hostile act against the independent right and law of the DPRK. I request the forgiveness of the DPRK for my actions. I am willing to bow down on my knees to request this tolerance of the DPRK and the Korean people. I realize that the mass media of the USA and the western countries who say that the DPRK is the closed country and has no religious freedoms is inaccurate and wrong. I have the decision to report to anyone my positive attitude of the reality of the DPRK. I will tell the truth to my friends of the DPRK. I will not commit any further criminal acts in violating the independent right and law of the DPRK. 

“Tibet: No Longer Mediaeval”

Tibet: No Longer Mediaeval

Foreign Languages Press, People’s Republic of China, 1st edition, 1981

“Tibet is a part of China that is much talked about but little understood. For centuries it was sealed off from the world not only by the Himalayas but also by feudal barriers. In modern times, misinformation about the region and even deliberate misrepresentation of conditions and events there have added to the confusion… The old Tibetan regime – feudal serfdom in its cruellest form – survived essentially unchanged for centuries, right up until the democratic reform that began in 1959. This followed in the wake of an abortive rebellion by serf-owners involving the flight of the Dalai Lama and many other members of Tibet’s former ruling class – events that have ben widely misunderstood abroad. The democratic reform that swept over Tibet emancipated 95 per cent of the population that had lived in virtual slavery. It paved the way for the socialist transformation of every aspect of the old feudal society: social, political, economic, cultural, educational, and medical.”

Free medical services

“Free medical service for the common people was introduced for the first time in Tibet’s history.” 

“In 1949, when China’s War of Liberation was approaching victory, the imperialists wanted to grab something for themselves out of the imminent downfall of the Kuomintang regime. They set out to seperate Tibet from China – a century-old design – by engineering an “expulsion of the Hans” in which all Kuomintang officials in Tibet were suddenly ousted by the local Tibetan authorities… During these intrigues, the Tibetan local government went against the interests of the Tibetan people by refusing to respond to the call of the central authorities for the peaceful liberation of the people… In October 1950, the PLA crossed the Jinsha River and liberated Qamdo, crushing a force of imperialist-based local Tibetan troops… Tibetan people who came into contact with them called them “New Hans,” in contrast to the reactionary rulers of past times who had practiced national discrimination and oppression. They received the new arrivals warmly.”

In the fields“Like thousands of cadres and workers of Han nationality, these young people from the Changjiang valley have helped to build a new Tibet. With the training of Tibetan cadres in huge numbers, the great majority of the Han cadres and workers will be transferred back to the interior provinces with the next three years.” 

“The overcoming of ancient superstition and the spread of scientific farming is one of the major achievements. One can cite numerous examples to illustrate such progress. When members of the Red Flag Commune in Damxung County decided to breach a nearby lake to irrigate their pastures, a one-time serf-owner spread the myth that this lake was “a concubine of the Nyainqentanglha Range.” He said “Breaching it will enrage the mountain god and all Danxung County will be destroyed.” Some people began to waver. It too much patient explaining on the part of the local Party branch to drive away their fears. Afterwards, everyone pitched into the irrigation project.”

In the factory

“Tibetan and Han spinners share their experience.”

“SOL AI, meaning industry, is a new word in the Tibetan language. It was introduced only in the early 1960s. Old Tibet had no industry at all. Apart from a tiny electric light plant built by the British near Lhasa to serve the aristocracy, the nearest thing to an industrial enterprise was a mint attached to the local Tibetan government, where a few dozen serfs struck silver and copper coins by using primitive methods. Though the mechanism of the wheel was widely applied in Tibet, it was confined to prayer-wheels… Peaceful liberation in 1951 created conditions for ending industrial as well as social backwardness in Tibet… The days when people had to exchange a sheep for a few boxes of matches have disappeared forever.”

Arts

“Tibetan dance done by the Regional Song and Dance Ensemble.”

“Tibet’s national culture and art have developed vigorously since the people came to power. (This, of course, does not apply to the years of the “cultural revolution” when the “hundred flowers” withered away.) Feudal elements have been sifted out, but national artistic forms are used and developed to present contemporary themes reflecting the life and spirit of new, socialist Tibet.”

Department store

“In the well-stocked department store in Lhasa, purchases are made by people who were themselves sold and bought only two decades ago.” 

“In the long years before liberation, the real face of Lhasa was hidden from the outside world. Only a tiny number of foreigners had reached it, some on imperialist errands. Writers (including some who had not been there at all) described the golden-roofed Potala Palace and lamaseries or even simply imagined a “holy city” in a mystical Shangrila. Those who did not close their eyes to the squalor and horrors that went with its “glamour” failed to indict the cause: the feudal serf system. In fact, the old Lhasa was one of the unholiest places in the world, riddled with parasitism, class oppression and disease, its streets filthy, its common people ragged, hungry and illiterate. It is the revolution that has bought real health and beauty to Lhasa, and transformed it in two decades into a producer-city that belongs to the people, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China… The brothels and gambling houses are gone. So are the foreign-owned fancy shops that supplied the richest families, clustered here from all over Tibet, with imported luxuries ranging from the highest-grade British cloth to the costliest Swiss watches and Parisian perfumes. Today, a multitude of state-run and co-operative shops serve the common citizen… The main buyers are ex-serfs and slaves, who, until liberation, were themselves bought and sold as “talking animals.””

News archive: DPRK launches New Soylent Juche

Pyongyang, 12 December 2013

Soylent JucheKim Jong-Il visited the People’s Revolution Soylent Production Plant

Today the DPRK announced that it has developed New Soylent Juche, a tasty and nutritious snack designed to meet the needs and desires of the working people.

At the launch of the new product Choe Thae Bok, member of the Political Bureau and secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), made an opening address. “In this country, the best have a way of getting better, and Soylent Juche just did. From today, there is a new taste, a new standard against which other soylent products will be judged.”

Production of New Soylent Juche is underway following the delivery of fresh running dogs and cat’s paws by the Party Leadership in accordance with the eternal wishes of President Kim Il Sung. It was almost exactly 52 years ago on 15 December 1961 when He delivered His speech to the Workers’ Party of Korea emphasising that factories should utilise a modern material supply system whereby higher echelons bring material down to lower units. Under His spiritual guidance, Ri Si Hup at Kim Chaek University settled the scientific and technological issues of importance for developing this new product.

New Soylent Juche is expected to be on display at the 17th Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair in May 2014 in the Agricultural Hall of the Three-Revolutions Exhibition.

Pyongyang Nalpharam (DPRK, 2006)

Pyongyang Nalpharam is a historical drama set towards the start of the Japanese colonisation of Korea in the early 1900s. The film tells a story about a group of honourable fighters trying to protect a valuable manuscript that forms part of the original knowledge about the techniques of Pyongyang Nalpharam, a Korean martial art. They are fighting to protect the manuscript from being stolen by the Japanese colonialists and taken back to Japan.

The film has strong overtones of nationalism, in this case specifically about the superiority of the Korean martial arts. At one point, a Japanese character even goes so far as to say that Pyongyang Nalpharam is superior to Judo, which explains why they go to so much trouble to steal the ancient Korean manuscripts: they want to learn the secrets of the superior Korean art. This is in keeping with a regular theme of DPRK propaganda, namely that of the glorious Korean nation fighting against foreign invaders – in this case, the Japanese invaders who have taken control of Seoul.

The style of the film is reminiscent of the DPRK film Hong Kil Dong (DPRK, 1986). The leading man is dreamily handsome, and there are some great displays of martial arts that make the film reminiscent of 1970s kung foo films with unreal flying kicks and punches accompanied by old fashioned ”Kapow!” sound effects.

The sound design of the film also shares several characteristics with the Hong Kil Dong, and another DPRK classic, the soccer-themed Centre Forward’ (DPRK, 1978). The DPRK film industry seems to rely heavily on old (or old fashioned) sound recording and mixing equipment or techniques. This makes the auditory landscape interesting from a technical point of view, especially regarding the foley.

The foley is the sound recorded off set, primarily in a studio, and mixed in with sounds recorded on set. The old fashioned nature of the sound design is really noticeable in particular scenes. For example, there is a scene with horse riding early in the film. The sound of the horse hooves sounds like it was recorded in a large echoing studio (and not with horses). Another example can be heard when the characters are tromping through snow: the sound of their feet sinking into the snow sounds unnaturally loud and seems to float above the background soundscape. There are other times when the voices of the characters also float above the background soundscape.

A similar effect can be noticed when watching Centre Forward: the sounds of the kicking of the soccer ball during games, and the sound of the crowd, sound disconnected from the background soundscape.

The technical aspects of the sound design aside, this is very entertaining film. Because of the period in which the film is set, absent is the saccharine idolisation of the DPRK leadership found in films like Wish (DPRK, 2011) that are set in the modern era. It is an action packed drama that keeps the attention of the viewer throughout. This makes it well worth watching if can get your hands on a copy or find it on YouTube.

(Note: the film, along with Wish (DPRK, 2011) and Case Closed (DPRK, n.d.), were generously loaned to me by Koryo Tours. They host a film night once a month at which they showcase a film from the DPRK. Beverages from the DPRK, including the delicious Taedonggang beer, are available to enjoy on the night.)