‘Succession is the Issue': Rap Ditty on the Kim Clan and Sino-North Korean Relations

If you want footnotes or typed lyrics, then they shall be produced.  Otherwise, enjoy this little ditty, which began in the pre-dawn with a civilized train ride and a consequent eyeful of Mount Ranier red sunrise over frozen fields (the peak appearing to erupt in slow motion), and ended twenty minutes later in a gust on top of a garbage can.

A model for future production?  You can be the judge of that.

The windup to the actual rap/song runs until about 1:40.  This prelude includes an overview of the week’s writing on North Korea and China’s role in North Korea in the leadup to, and aftermath of, Kim Jong Il’s 69th birthday, and includes a brief description of the musical meter employed for the song.  I don’t know how many of you read Bertold Brecht, but I spent about three hours last night with the German poet’s anti-Hitler poems, and this piece (while of course not reaching Brechtian heights, I mean seriously my head would explode!) reflects the spirit of that work as well.  Of course if just straight up prose facts is what you’re after, just do yourself a favor and get plugged in with Richard Horgan’s North Korea tweets from that other Korean capitol city, Los Angeles; the man is unstoppable.

Link to the video here.

The thoughts of North Korea analyst Chris Green, whose February 15 essay served as the impetus for verse one, can be read at his blog Destination Pyongyang or in translation into English at the always-worthwhile Daily NK.  I doubt I’ll be challenging Chris, or Joshua Stanton or Marcus Noland for that matter, to a rap battle, but Joshua’s idea of Yo-Yo Ma playing a cello sonata about the Korean War (which I can also do, although recording a more perfect version of my performance of the Shostakovich Cello Sonata is currently higher on the rep list) certainly appeals to me.  So keep your ears peeled!  The gates of a powerful nation are opening!  We may be starving for original content, but these meager crumbs are still nourishing, confirmation that we aren’t dead yet!  I have not yet begun to fight!  Sinologistical Violoncellist is veering into audio realms!

Did Kim Jong Il Visit East Germany in 1960?

Kim Jong Il biographers appear to be conflicted about the young man’s whereabouts in the year 1960.  Was the nineteen-year-old future leader traveling around the German Democratic Republic, or was he getting things rolling at the university in Pyongyang which still bears his father’s name?  Or perhaps both?  His official biography, in any case, has him firmly at Kim Il Sung University.

I don’t have a definitive answer, but I do have a new clue, unearthed on my last day of work in the Berlin archives earlier this month.  It’s included in a letter from Kim Il Song to East German leader Otto Grotewohl, dated 24. February 1960, in which Kim is describing some specifics of a North Korean delegation which had been invited to an East German “Frühjahrmesse [Spring Festival]” in the city of Leipzig.

Kim’s correspondence with Grotewohl is usually full of formulaic language of socialist brotherhood and gratitude and all that, but Kim seems focused here on the minutiae of the trip in a way that feels unusual to me.  The North Koreans had waited a long time to respond to Grotewohl’s original invitation (which had been sent on 30. November 1959), and Kim’s letter seems to indicate that the North Koreans had changed their minds and finally decided to send a delegation, led by DPRK Ambassador to East Germany, Pak Il Song [who is called Park Ir Sen in the documents; I need to check his romanization, however].

What seems a little weird, though, is that as eager as the North Koreans had been (and they were crazy eager) to display their orphans and choirs and goods in places like Mecklenburg earlier in the decade as a way of shaking loose more aid from East Germany, this time, they didn’t want any public events.   As Kim writes: “Ich bedaure jedoch, dass an dieser Messe die KVDR [DPRK] wegen einiger vorhandener Umstände nicht mit enim Ausstellung teilnehmen kann.”  The North Koreans just couldn’t do an exhibition at the Leipzig festival.

Kim Jong Il is not mentioned in the document, but to me, I think this is a piece of evidence which is just slightly disquieting, showing as it does Kim Il Song’s personal involvement in directing (one might even say micromanaging) North Korean involvement in the Leipzig events in a way that I haven’t seen in other areas, including the extensive documentation I looked through in preparation for his 1955 state visit to East Germany (which is another very interesting story involving his canceled visit to Buchenwald concentration camp and snubbing of some North Korean orphans, but I’ll have to save that for another time).

Historians in some ways are like symphony orchestra conductors; we have to listen for balance and gaps, and time the silences.  What this document doesn’t tell us is more important than it what it does, but it also indicates a line of query which might lead one, were one interested in laying out the most accurate possible biography of the man driving North Korea towards the precipice, to the Stasi archive in Berlin to fish out more surveillance files on the North Koreans in East Germany in 1960-61.

Along similar lines, I’m planning to revisit the akin chapter in the memoir Dienst des Diktators, where the author, a North Korean elite, describes his studying in East Germany from 1957-1961.  I’m quite sure he never mentions having met Kim Jong Il in those years, but again, at this point the study should be about context and forming the right questions.

Here’s the citation for you bibliographers:

Kim Il Song to Otto Grotewohl, 24 February 1960, in Stiftung Archiv der Parteien und Massen-organisation der DDR [SAMPO] im Bundesarchiv, Berlin, DC 20 (Ministerrat der DDR), Archivakte 15520.

This is a document which, inshallah, will be scanned and in my mailbox when I get back to the States, courtesy the Selke Firm.  And it’s in both Korean and German for you language fanatics, with Kim Il Song’s tremendous signature, but his embossed white letterhead probably won’t come through in the reproduction.  But please rest assured that, while in 1946 the man was agitating for more pencils (no kidding), the stock of his paper, by 1960, was amply thick.

Undated photo of Kim Jong Il, courtesy Northkorealeak.com

North Korean Propaganda Roundup

Reading the Korea Central News Agency’s dispatches (e.g., North Korean propaganda stories) makes for a good blast-off into larger works.

Today, North Korea confirmed that it signed an agreement in Dandong for a new bridge across the Yalu.

Distress over starvation in the countryside may have led to this return to Kim Il Song’s wisdom (vintage 1964) and his son’s resolve to “solve the rural question.”  Although the translation is bad, recent news items advertising the abundance of “soup of entrails” (gop-ja chigae) in crowded city restaurants, no less than rumors of abundance in Seoul, could fuel a slight resentment.  (Recent readings of Andrew Nastios’ immortal The Great North Korean Famine as well as Noland and Haggard’s Famine in North Korea, along with my own work with Chuck Kraus, remind me that people in peripheral provinces are some of the more disaffected.)  North Korea’s regional dynamics (e.g., regionalism and the role it plays in allocation of state resources, border security, and internal unrest) need to be better understood.

North Korean propagandists are getting bucked up by Kim Jong Il, which may anticipate an aufschwung of successor propaganda.  Kim’s speech, entitled “Journalists and Other Media Persons Are Buglers Sounding Advance in Dynamic Drive for Building a Great Prosperous and Powerful Nation”, was delivered by Kim Yong Nam to journalist-propagandists and a number of heavy hitters at this meeting in Pyongyang.

Musical propaganda is among the most significant methods of ideological education in North Korea as well as a means of keeping an eye on the succession front.  (My article in North Korean Review argues and refines the former point more vigorously.) Thus it is significant that university students keep singing the song entitled “Push Back the Frontiers of Science” (Kim Jong-Eun being associated with the high-tech).  And although it takes an eye to read, it’s fairly unmistakable from this recent dispatch that Kim Jong-Eun songs (though his given name has yet to be used therein) are being promoted presently in the army and among work units:

Guidelines for Creation of Musical Works

Pyongyang, February 24 (KCNA) — General Secretary Kim Jong Il issued a famous work “Let Us Compose Revolutionary Musical Pieces Which People Love to Sing” on February 25, Juche 79 (1990).

In the work, he underscores the need to create revolutionary songs inspiring the people to do their best in socialist construction as well as emotional songs reflecting diversified aspects of their life.

Noting that musical pieces conducive to educating the people in a revolutionary manner such as those about the Party, fatherland, socialist system, revolutionary traditions and national reunification should be created in large number, he clearly indicates ways for this purpose.

Since the work was published, many songs reflecting the spirit of the times have come out to further develop Juche-based musical art.

“Leader Is Eternal Sun of People”, “Our Leader Will Always Be with Us” and “When We Walk along the Road between Fields” represent well all the Korean people’s reverence for President Kim Il Sung.

“Our Comrade Kim Jong Il”, “Thunder over Jong Il Peak”, “General’s Inspection Tour of the Front” and “Let Us Hold High the Red Flag” sing of Kim Jong Il’s strong will to defend the red flag and pursue Songun politics.

Meanwhile, songs reflecting labor and sentiments of the people and those suitable to the era of Songun have also been created.

The songs are now encouraging the Korean army and people in the effort for the building of a thriving nation.

Reframing Kim Jong Il’s considerable output on the role and method of music composition for the purpose of present needs must indeed be an absorbing task for North Korean propagandists and arts workers.

Environmental protection efforts are continuing with some difficulty in North Korea, bound up with questions of state control and reductions of “patch farming.”  One often forgets that among the greatest enemies of regime stability in the DPRK are earthquakes and floods.

from the DPRK's 2008 election

China-North Korea Succession Tiff?

The Asahi Shimbun again stirs the pot with a compelling report on Sino-North Korean relations, making some new assertions that China opposed North Korea’s hereditary system of succession recently and this past May.  Asahi’s sources indicated that North Korean grey-eminence-behind-the-throne Jang Song-taek may have twice traveled to Beijing in the May-June 2009 window both before and after the DPRK exploded a bomb on the Chinese frontier and as a means (allegedly) of preparing the way for would-be–successor Kim Jong-Eun to travel to Beijing.

I was in Beijing hanging around the North Korean embassy on the day the successor was supposedly in town; one of my sources in China (for what it’s worth) later stated that he had dinner with Kim Jong-Eun and was impressed with his intelligence.

The Daily NK covers the action here in English, but nothing is better than the Asahi’s graphic:

courtesy Asahi Shimbun

More to the point, China is reacting fast to the news, elevating the Foreign Ministry’s spokesman response to a press question on the report.  Since it isn’t yet available in English, I’ll render it here:

问:据日本《朝日新闻》报道,去年5月份朝鲜进行核试验后,中国要求朝鲜核,实施改革开放,并建议取消朝鲜的领导人世袭制。报道还称,6月份朝鲜秘密派遣金正日的接班人金正恩访华。请证实。 Question: According to a report by Japan’s Asahi Shimbun, in May of last year, after North Korea went ahead with its nuclear test [in spite of] China already having asked North Korea to renounce nukes and carry out reform and opening up, [China] suggested that North Korea eliminate its system of hereditary leadership.  The report also states that in June [of 2009], North Korea secretly sent Kim Jong Il’s successor Kim Jong Eun to China.  Please confirm.

答:有关报道是完全不属实的。中方奉行不干涉别国内政原则,我们不会对其他国家内政事务进行干涉。我们希望朝鲜走适合本国国情的发展道路,在国家建设中不断取得新的更大的成就,希望中朝友好关系不断向前发展。 Answer: These reports are completely unverified.  The Chinese side operates on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries; we are unable to interfere in the internal political affairs of other countries.  We hope that North Korea develops on a path appropriate for its national conditions, that national construction continues uninterrrupted and gains new and greater success; [we] hope that Sino-North Korean friendly nieghborly relations will not be hampered and continue to move forward and develop.

关于金正恩访华,去年我已多次作出澄清。有关报道好像又在暗示我,这个“可以有”,但我的回答是:“这个真没有”。  Regarding the visit of Kim Jong-Eun to China, last year I already clarified this many times.  It seems as if the related reports are back again to suggest to me that “there could have been,” but my response is “there really weren’t.”

Source: Huanqiu Shibao, online headline “中方否认压朝放弃领导人世袭 [Chinese Side Does Not Pressure North Korea to Abandon its Leadership Succession]” which brings one to longer extracts of the MFA Press Conference entitled “外交部就中美关系奥巴马会见达赖等答问 [MFA on Sino-U.S. Relations, Obama's Visit with the Dalai Lama, and other issues]“

China Times covers it here (in traditional Chinese) and “Secret China,” a site I’ve never seen before, has a report (in simplified Chinese) here.

And speaking of Chinese characters, there seems to have been a change in how mainland media spell the unseen successor’s name: Whereas before it was 金正云, now they’re going with 金正恩.  Perhaps someone from the DPRK Embassy called Xinhua or the Foreign Ministry?  Opacity abounds.

But maybe North Korea is really mad about this story going public, and they are certainly sensitive about Chinese meddling in their court politics.  Perhaps that’s why, after a huge barrage of gifts listed as sent to Kim Jong-il for his birthday from around the world, KCNA writers stopped and made it sound as if the only thing China sent was a floral basket to the DPRK embassy in Beijing from a private citizen who had ties to the Kim family in its guerilla years.  You gotta know who your friends are…

Newsstand across from Ritan Park and the DPRK Embassy in Beijing -- where North Korean diplomats pick up their Huanqiu Shibao -- photo by Adam Cathcart

More Data on the North Korean Succession Struggles

Struggles for royal succession have never been entirely clear, even in the morally-charged world and post-facto world of the ancient Chinese historian Sima Qian.  This past summer, a number of developments were asserted regarding North Korea’s next generation of leadership, mostly surrounding speculation about the youngest son of Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong-un.  Earlier, I translated some new German sources about the boy’s time as a kind of hostage-prince in Europe, and took apart a Daily NK article about the “young general,” filling in some gaps via the Chinese version.

Today, in cleaning out my summer notebooks, I found that I had some information about an assassination attempt on Kim Jong-il’s eldest son Kim Jong-nam which I had yet to share.  Although this is, in my view, probably more conjectural and tabloid-style news than anything else, I would encourage readers to leave comments if they have additional links or information about the story.  The original piece of news that got this story rolling is here on KBS.

Michel Temman [in Tokyo], “Corée du Nord: Le Kim était presque parfait: Le fils aîne du dictateur nord-coréen, Kim Jong-il, aurait été victime du’une tentative d’assassinat à Macao.  A la tête de l’operation, son jeune frère, appelé à diriger le pays,” Liberation, 19 June 2009, p. 6.  [North Korea: Kim is Almost Perfect: The Eldest Son of the North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-il is Almost Victim of an Assassination Attempt in Macao.  At the head of the operation, his younger brother, named leader of the state."] — Translation by Adam Cathcart.

At the beginning of last week, Kim Jong-nam, 38, eldest son of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, escaped an assassination attempt in Macao – where he has lived part-time since 2007. The information was revealed Monday by the South Korean television station KBS, quoting “Chinese government sources.”  For the moment [pour l'heure], little information has filtered through regarding the manner in which the plot was mounted and how it went down [déjoué].

According to KBS, the sponsor of this attempted assassination is none other than Kim Jong-un, 26, the half brother of Kim Jong-nam, described by the South Korean website Daily NK as “the new strong man of Pyongyang.”  According to the cited Chinese officials, the authors of the failed assassination attempt are none other than “henchmen” [hommes de main] of Kim Jong-un. Another thing seems sure: the assassination was to be conducted in two stages. “Supporters” of Kim Jong-nam in the government in Pyongyang would first be eliminated. Then, the plan was to bring Kim Jong-nam [to Pyongyang] in an ambush to assassinate him. The plot was foiled in time by Beijing, which has long cultivated good relations with Kim Jong-nam. According to KBS, “the Chinese government has warned [mis en garde] North Korea, informed them that they had put an end to the assassination attempt, and sent agents and military officers to Macao who have taken Kim Jong-nam to a safe place.”

But why would Kim Jong-un seek to have the skin [cherché à avoir la peau] of his elder brother?  His escapades, provocations and repeated gaffes exasperate the “Dear Leader”. They also seem to annoy the little brother and new “leader” of the regime. In recent months, Kim Jong-nam has increased his travels to Asia and Europe. [Note: Like his younger brother, Kim Jong-nam is said to be fluent in French as well as English.  I also cut the short section of the article dealing with Jong-nam’s Disneyland debacle.]

Without regard to the possible imposition of instructions of silence, he gave interviews to reporters who followed, harassed, and wedged him into a street or the lobby of an airport.  In many YouTube videos, the pudgy Kim Jong-nam, almost trendy with his sunglasses and his wool cap, in denim or clad in ivory, spins through a series of possible categories: increasingly, he resembles a businessman in a hurry, or a lonely tourist, or a casual geek, or, perhaps most of all, a late-blooming adolescent.  In front of the cameras, one can see him responding without aggression in his voice, with a semblance of sincerity that is disconcerting.

[Note: ROK Drop has a marvelous compendium of images that dovetail perfectly with the above paragraph, including links to the relevant interviews in English.  I have omitted further discussion in the present article of Jong-nam's October 2008 interview in Paris with the Japanese Fuji TV channel and subsequent interviews with NHK and TV Asahi.]

Purges. Then came the final declaration, a step too far, last March 30.  On that day, Kim Jong-nam met with another Fuji TV reporter who had been watching him and succeeded (twice in the same day!) to snatch a few words in the hallways of Beijing International Airport and Macau.  Here, Jong-nam bluntly labeled as “justified” the Japanese reaction – which included putting armies on alert and action at the UN – in response to the imminent test of a ballistic missile North Korea.  For Pyongyang, this was too much.

When he studied in Bern Switzerland in the 90s, Kim Jong-un was presented by his teachers as “reserved” and “calm” – he learned English, German and French under the name Pak Chol.  Today, he is described by a South Korean expert in Seoul to be suffering from “the same grain of madness does his dictatorial father.” Kim Jong-il and his father Kim Il-sung were experts in political machinations, palace intrigues, bloody purges and assassinations. In Pyongyang, at each succession of power, “rivals and ‘uncertain elements’ are removed or eliminated,” says the South Korean researcher Oh Kong-dan. When Kim Jong-il rose in rank [prit du grade], his half-brothers and sisters were murdered.

[Note:  Sorry to interrupt the flow, but the bold text above has just wonderful texture in the original: “Kim Jong-il et son père Kim Il-sung étaient experts en machinations politiques, intrigues de palais, purges sanglantes, et assassinats ciblés.”  Perhaps this kind of conspiratorial mentalite is respected more in the Quai d’Orsay than it is in transparent Foggy Bottom.]

And now he, Kim Jong-un,  has indeed been dubbed as successor to Kim Jong-il.

According to the secret service in South Korea, North Korea has even in recent weeks sent telegrams to its embassies abroad to confirm the appointment and require its diplomats to rend “allegiance” to Jong-un.  Along with his father, “The Great Sun of the 21st century,” Kim Jong-un is now considered “the Star of the 21st century in North Korea.”

But the apparent coup attempt which twisted and failed this week could also cost him dearly.  Because the Chinese are persuaded: he would have acted without the approval of his father, Kim Jong-il. The Chinese government is completely furious [en tout cas furieux] at this attempted murder fomented on its territory, and has promised to “punish” the North Korean regime by canceling contracts for economic cooperation in this full “Year of Sino-North Korean Friendship.”


lKim Jong-nam in Paris on 27 October 2008 arranging for a neurosurgeon to fy to Pyongyang for his father -- filial piety in action -- click picture for link

lKim Jong-nam in Paris on 27 October 2008 arranging for a neurosurgeon to fy to Pyongyang for his father -- filial piety in action -- click picture for link

Suggestions for further reading: In June, the ROK Drop blog was on this story immediately, but it is the same stalwart blog’s 2006 analysis of Kim Jong-nam and the China connection is in some ways even more revealing.

It might also bear noting that the “Kim Jong-un tries to kill his older brother” plotline has already been run through by international media at least once.  Choson Ilbo reported in December 2004 on another alleged assassination attempt of Kim Jong-nam on Austrian territory.

This April 2007 Marine Corps report from Quantico, Virginia, is a useful compendium of about 25 open-source documents on the North Korean succession issue.  Kongdan Oh has a short but nifty editorial on the issue on the Brookings Institution website.

NK Economy Watch has an informative takedown of posters hailing Kim Jong-eun as successor, with photos and links to Chosun Ilbo.

“Gypsy Scholar” Jeffrey Hodges provides some blogger-style gust for our pre-finale:

I’ll wait for some other confirmation before I believe this. But the rumor alone is blogworthy, and if it turns out to be untrue, I’ll nevertheless be proud to have done my part in a disinformation campaign aimed at undermining North Korea’s odious nomenklatura.

And just to get into the act, let’s amuse ourselves by imagining not only that there was an assassination attempt but that it also got just a little bit closer than has been reported, namely, that the aides actually reached Macau and managed to fire off a few shots at Kim Jong-nam, but missed, and that an exasperated young Kim Jong-un is even now confronting his aides in disbelief:

“You missed? You missed Kim Jong-nam? How could you possibly miss hitting Kim Jong-nam?”Missing an ample target like that would be hard to picture.

Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong-nam, seated, at the beginning of the Reagan Presidency (1981) -- click for link to Sept 9 2009 Globe and Mail story

Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong-nam, seated, at the beginning of the Reagan Presidency (1981) -- click for link to Sept 9 2009 Globe and Mail story

North Korean Successor Buzz Suddenly Silent: Correcting and Explaining the Daily NK’s Report

The Daily NK reports on the somewhat mystifying drop-off in North Korean discussion about the ostensible successor, Kim Jong Un.  (Part 1 is here; Part 2 is here.)

In general, the Daily NK reports are highly valuable, but their translations from the original Chinese/Korean are full of errors and innuendo.

Since so many people in the English-language Internet realm rely on Daily NK, it’s important we correct the record to reflect facts.  Otherwise, shortcuts taken by the Daily NK’s translators (and the occasional sensationalist bias sprinkled in through the translations) will continue to cloud our understanding of what could be going on inside the DPRK.

What I lay out below is a tentative format for revised Daily NK revisions.  As an individual besieged at the moment by various other duties, it’s hard for me to carve out the time to do it all.  But given the passion of my students (present, former, and future) and the powers of the net, I’m hopeful that this project might evolve into a separate blog of running translations of Chinese-North Korean news focusing, at least at first, on Daily NK.

Bold-face text below indicates the presence of information left out from the Daily NK English edition.

Author: 文成辉 [Moon Sung Hwee, originally defected from Jagang province in 2006]

Article title: 传闻“金正云因分派主义被中断偶像化”: 中断“脚步歌”…“150天战斗”成果中没有金正云的名字 [News States: "Kim Jong Un Factionalism Causes An End to His Idolization," End to "Footsteps Song," "150-Day Battle" Achievements Do Not Include Kim Jong Un's Name]

Article text:

[1] 朝鲜当局禁止在公开场所歌唱赞扬金正云的歌曲“脚步”,还禁止使用“白头的将军金正[云] 军大将”的宣传口号,其背景让人关注。 North Korean authorities have been forbidden to openly sing “Footsteps,” the song praising Kim Jong Un , and also forbidden from continuing to use the propaganda slogan “Paektu’s General, Great Generalissimo Kim Jong Un,” [creating a] backdrop such that people become cautious.

[2] 6日跟DailyNK通话的咸镜北道消息人士说:“7月初为止还高声宣传说‘白头山青年大将金正云站在社会主义强盛大国建设的前列指挥’,目前却没有任何表示。”“连学校都不让学生行军时歌唱‘脚步’。”  On September 6, a news source from North Hamgyong province called Daily NK to say: “Until early July 2007, propaganda was still stridently saying “‘The Young General of Mount Paektu Kim Jong Un is commanding the vanguard of the construction of our strong and prosperous socialist state.’ Now there are no similar declarations, including in all the schools where students are not allowed to sing the song, ‘Footsteps,’ during military drills.”

[3] 接近尾声的150天战斗“8月以前说是‘金正云大将亲自发起和指挥’,目前却不再出现那些宣传口号了。”“从目前来看,‘150天战斗’结束也不会出现金正云大将领导能力的话了。”  Nearing the coda of the 150-Day Battle: “Before August it was said that Captain Kim Jong Un was personally initiating and commanding.’ Now these propaganda slogans have not been repeated. Looking at the current situation, one also cannot say that ‘the 150-day battle’ was completed through the capable leadership of Captain Kim Jong Un.’”

[4] 金正云的名字从宣传口号中突然消失,朝鲜内部就传开了“金正云着手进行干部工作,企图进行亲信政治,引起了金正日的不满”的消息。 Kim Jong Un’s name has suddenly disappeared from propaganda slogans.  Sources inside North Korea transmit the news that that “Kim Jong Un commenced doing work with cadre, attempting to implement a personal politics, arousing the dissatisfaction of Kim Jong Il.”

[5] 上个月24日,咸镜北道某市的宣传秘书对此表示:“金正云伪造了干部文件引起了金正日的不满。”“据说金正日非常生气金正云诬陷诚实的干部,让他们下台后起用自己的势力来搞分派主义。” On August 24, the Propaganda Secretary of a city in North Hamgyong Province stated: “Kim Jong Un forged files of cadre and aroused the dissatisfaction of Kim Jong Il….It is stated that Kim Jong Il is very annoyed with Kim Jong Un’s planting of false evidence of honest cadres, forcing them to step down, and then using his own power to engage in factionalism.”

[6] 也就是说,没有干部任命权的金正云诬陷不合自己心意的干部,试图用自己的亲信来替代,金正日就动了怒。That is to say, no cadre appointed [as a consequence of] Kim Jong Un’s dishonesty were compatible with the regarded highly cadre; when [Kim Jong Un] attempted to say that he was bringing his own relations in in his own trusted people to substitute, this made Kim Jong Il very upset.

[7] 也有人估计,金正日的健康情况好转后,内部认为不用那么快进行金正云的继承问题了。There is another person who estimates that after the change in the situation in Kim Jong Il’s health, the internal [North Korean government] believes that now the move to solve the succession problem is not so urgent.

[8] 3日,《好朋友》也引用当地消息人士的话说,各省和中央机构表示“在朝鲜还没有研究领导人继承问题。目前伟大的将军还非常健康,积极开展现场指导工作,今后十年也能硬朗地领导国家,所以下达了终止讨论继承人问题的方针。” On September 3, “Good Friends” also quoted a local news source who stated that every province and central party organization stated that “in Choson [North Korea] there is still no research on the problem of leadership succession.  Now our Great General is still very healthy, and continues to develop leadership today.  From today forward, the next ten years could be clearly bright for leadership in our country, therefore transmit guidelines to the lower levels that debate about the succession problem should be ceased.”


My Analysis

[2]  Students appear to have wanted to sing the song, but were forbidden from doing so. It’s worth recalling that North Korean students are among the most highly-trained musicians in the world, particularly in the arena of political songs, and snap up new tunes and lyrics quickly.  They also want to please their instructors.  And so it is strange for that instructor to forbid them to sing the song.  It is also worth noting that the song was sung not in the classroom but during their military drills!  As in everything else, context matters.

[3] Here we lose the connotation: The North Korean people have been so conditioned to hearing and responding to propaganda directives that the absence of a directive is cause for nervousness.  And the people were prepared to repeat the particular slogan about Kim Jong Un’s leadership of the 150 day struggle!

[5] This is a significant translation oversight.  Kim Jong Un being accused of factionalism, as opposed to just appointing a few friends (e.g., corruption/nepotism) has a deep pedigree in North Korean politics, and is a very serious charge indeed.  See James Person or Andrei Lankov’s work on 1956.

[6] Still needs some work — I would be delighted to receive a bit of assistance on interpreting this particular paragraph. Do the newly-appointed officials have any voice in the debate?

I welcome any comments on readability and method, particularly if you are a reader of Chinese interested in cooperating to produce more regular revised translations from Daily NK.

If only I hadn't fed my successor to artist Damien Hirst's "shark in formaldehyde"

If only I hadn't fed my successor to artist Damien Hirst's "shark in formaldehyde"

Oh yes, since our own Dear Leader (who the paranoid have yet to compare to Emperor Hirohito) has advised arduous study, inaugurating my own “150-Day Semester Battle,” here are a few terms, via MandarinTools, for those interesting in picking up a few Chinese characters relevant to the post above:

yīn cause; reason; because

中斷 中断 zhōng duàn to discontinue; to break off

偶像 ǒu xiàng idol

成果 chéng guǒ result; achievement; gain; profit

his; her; its; theirs; that; such; it (refers to sth preceding it)

背景 bèi jǐng background; backdrop

突然 rán sudden; abrupt; unexpected

诬陷 xiàn (v) entrap; frame; plant false evidence against sb

誠實 诚实 chéng shí honest; honesty; honorable; truthful

gǎo to do; to make; to go in for; to set up; to get hold of; to take care of

rèn to assign; to appoint; office; responsibility

心意 xīn regard; kindly feelings; intention

試圖 试图 shì to attempt; to try

引用 yǐn yòng quote; cite

下達 下达 xià (v) transmit to lower level people

方針 方针 fāng zhēn policy; guidelines

分派主义  fen pai zhu yi — factionalism

Lankov blistered his hands scrounging in archives; scholarship as an act of physical labor; fine source on North Korean factionalism.  Does a Beijing faction in fact exist in the DPRK?

Lankov blistered his hands scrounging in archives; scholarship as an act of physical labor; fine source on North Korean factionalism. Does a "Beijing faction" in fact exist in the DPRK?

Kim Jong Un in Bern: Full Translation of Die Welt Interview

Kim Jong-Un, the 26-year old son of Kim Jong-Il, has reportedly been designated as successor to his father. In the absence of detailed information about the young man, the years he spent as an adolescent at the International School in Berne, Switzerland, have commanded no small attention.

However, the best of these sources have been referenced but not, to my knowledge, actually been made available in English. Thus, I have translated the most extended and detailed recollection from the German press, an interview by Welt am Sonntag with an anonymous classmate and friend of Kim Jong-un’s from his years in Berne.

The original German version is available here.

The other original reporting, based on interviews with Kim’s schoolmates, is in the Swiss-French magazine, L’Hebdo, an article which I will endeavor to decipher in a subsequent post.

The translation of the full text of the German article follows:

“Kim Jong-un played football, loved comics, and was humorous” / Kim Jong-un spielte Fußball, liebte Comics und hatte Humor”

 From an interview with a classmate who wishes to remain anonymous, by Elisalex Henckel 7. June 2009, 04:00 Uhr

I do not really remember any more precisely when he came to the International School of Berne (ISB).  It must have been 1993 or 1994. He introduced himself as Chol Pak and was at that time about eleven years old. His English was poor at first, he had a strong accent, so he got help with it. Later he mastered it quite well, and he learned German also — at least the basics.I think, he understands even Swiss German, which, over the years, all of us appropriated. Yes, it happens automatically when you live there.

Unlike his father, which I now know, he was a pretty big guy, lanky, round face, with a little acne, like most of us back then. I also remember, that he dressed extremely simply.  Even in later years, it was still black jeans, black socks, maximum color with a gray T-shirt.  One time he appeared in a grey T-shirt with blue stripes, and classmate said jokingly to him: “Going out like that today?” [So ausgefallen heute?] And so he had to laugh.

He had humor, and got along well even with students that came from countries which were enemies of North Korea – or are today.  Which countries those were,  we already knew, but it was never an issue. Politics was taboo in the school, and nobody dared to bring up such things. We didn’t even speak about our homes even once, since none of us were home. Most of us had diplomats as parents, other [parents were] businesspeople; a few came from rich Swiss families. There were people from America, Europe, Asia, many Jews and many Arabs, but in three years, only one dispute about the Middle East conflict.  We argued [haben gestritten] about football, not about politics.

Pak Chol was also on the football [soccer] team, together with several Americans.  One Israeli taught him [beigebracht] basketball. He also spent much time with a South Korean; I think this was because the South Korean could draw comics very well.  Pak Chol liked comics; his favorite were Japanese manga.

As for girls, none of us had this much on the mind, but there were parties. Chol was not very involved in these. I remember though, that he was a good student, especially in math.  Now, this sounds perhaps as if he was a nerd, but that’s not accurate: he simply had it together [er war in Ordnung]. I  never went to his house, even though we understood one another well, but this in itself was nothing special. The Americans or the Israelis were also at times not easy to visit – because of the security provisions of the embassies.

The ISB is a really special school. Very expensive and very small: in total, we had maybe two or three hundred students, a maximum of 15 per class. The teachers were great, as was the overall environment. The school is situated outside of Bern, amid greenery, and with mountains all around, so in winter we went skiing every weekend.  There were always some projects going on – once we have made compost and sold it Bern to raise money which we donated for a library in Togo. Pak  Chol also joined in this activity.

When he [Pak Chol] arrived at the school, another North Korean came with him; he called himself Chung Kwang.  Chol and he always arrived in the school together, they sat side by side and were always together otherwise. We thought nothing of it, as, sure, they were the only North Koreans. Nationalities seemed to play a very important role in this school. Yes, we often had to end new friendships, because through the transfer of their parents, some people left and new people came, and it always felt faster with friends who came from your own country.Probably for this reason, no one particularly surprised when Chol Pak and Kwang Chung, sometime in 1998 it was, simply did not appear again.

Both North Koreans played a major role in sports.  Pak Chol was quite talented.  He was strong and ran fast, but he could not keep up with Kwang. Kwang had a body like Bruce Lee; he was an incredible athlete and the best striker on the football team. Because he played so well, Kwang was more popular than Chol, but that seemed not to have phased Chol. The two amused themselves a lot with entertaining action films, by Schwarzenegger, for example – and also martial arts. Kwang always tried to teach kung-fu to Chol, or Karate. He was really good at it.

If I now consider what he [Kwang] showed to everyone, I can’t imagine that he was merely athletic. Once, he kicked a pencil from a fellow student’s mouth. That is surely not something a normal kid can do; he must have been  trained as an athletlic fighter; perhaps he was a soldier who just looked very young.

At the beginning, there were rumors that Chol was the son of North Korea’s dictator, and Kwang his bodyguard, but no one really seriously considered that it might be true.  And no one ever commented that one North Korean seemed to order the other one around. And besides all that, we were in a school where nobody really noticed such things because everyone was so different anyway.

When today I read in the newspaper that my fellow student Pak Chol is going to become North Korea’s dictator, I have to laugh. It is simply absurd! Crazy  [Verrückt!]!  I can not imagine that a dictator would come from our school. Es The school was actually permeated with concepts of tolerance and peace and equality, holding hands and stuff. Naturally, although it might sound like it, I don’t denigrate the experience at all: I loved my time at ISB, and I think everyone else did, too. How much it influenced Chol Pak, I can’t say, of course, because it all happened so long ago. It’s probable that the North Korean in him is stronger than the International School-student, but sometimes I think about this way: At the end of the day, he experienced the Western culture in its best form. Mostly, I wonder only if he remembers me. And whether he will call me when he reads this.