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North Korea Seen Through Books, and the Unification of the Korean Peninsula

 

2019.08.05

 

On the last day of June this year, a historic event happened in the border village of Panmunjom straddling the two Koreas when the leaders of the United States and North Korea met for the first time. Just a mere 62 km away from Seoul, this location was where the ceasefire armistice was signed in July 1953 to put a stop to the Korean War that had raged for three years between North and South Korea. Although U.S. President Donald Trump stepped over to North Korea for just a minute and met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for 53 minutes, the image of the two men shaking hands heightened hopes that the Korean peninsula could move further towards denuclearization and peace.
There are several books that address this reality on the Korean peninsula that have received much interest from the publishing industry in South Korea. Books that help children and adolescents understand the reality of the divided Korean peninsula and the need for unification are also being published consistently.

 

South Korea's publishing industry has continued releasing meaningful books that shed light on the reality of the divided Korean peninsula and stress the importance of harmony and unification.

 

One of these publications is by Seol Min-seok, a popular South Korean lecturer on Korean history, called Seol Min-seok's Big Unification Adventure (iHuman). The book aims to educate and entertain readers at the same time with comics and a storyline that goes from the present to the past and vice versa. It features the story of a young child and his mother who are separated in a train near Hamheung heading south in December of 1950 when the Korean War was at its height. By moving back and forth between different areas and varying points in time, the story also underscores the importance of family reunions for those who were separated by the war.
The Delicious Story of North Korea (Pakyoungsa) features the everyday lives of North Korean children from their first day at school to field trips, exams at school, vacations and birthday parties. The book is comprised of two parts - 'The Story of North Korea by Chungsong' and 'The Story of South Korea by Yuna', helping readers understand both Koreas simultaneously.
With the DMZ (demilitarized zone) as the backdrop, the Eco Horizon Institute in South Korea published DMZ Expedition (Hanulim) after traveling to parts inside the actual DMZ. The book describes their experiences and the results of their research, including wild animals that live there like seals, spoonbills, mountain goats and trout. It also describes the plant life there including willow trees, the hanabusaya Nakai flower and sundews. The book takes readers to different geographical terrains inside the DMZ like the mouth of the Han River, Yangeuidae wetlands, Dragon swamp and Cholwon plains. It also details cultural aspects and historic sites like the Maldeung clam pile, the Bunori Dondae Fort and Aegibong, helping readers appreciate their value. Through this book, children can learn about the countless lives that call the DMZ home and think about the environment of South Korea in addition to the country's culture and history.

 

설민석의 통일대모험,맛있게 읽는 북한 이야기,DMZ 원정대

Seol Min-seok's Big Unification Adventure, The Delicious Story of North Korea, DMZ Expedition

 

The fact that there have been more books recently shedding light on the reality of the divided Korean peninsula and the possibility of inter-Korean harmony and unification can be attributed to the summit talks between North and South Korea as well as the meeting between Trump and Kim. The Tale of Two Cities (JoongAng Books) explains the story of Seoul and Pyongyang, the capitals of South and North Korea respectively with Panmunjom and the DMZ as opposites, in order to showcase the differences and similarities between North and South Korea. The book was based on a special documentary by South Korean broadcaster JTBC co-produced by teams from both Koreas. One unique point in the book would be a deep dive into North Korean kitchens, including that of Okryugwan, the renowned cold noodle restaurant in North Korea, to explain cooking processes there. Readers can enjoy the photographs from diverse locations in North and South Korea in addition to Pyongyang and Seoul, like Sokcho and Wonsan. The book also features snapshots of Mount Kumgang and North Korean food.
A book that looks at North Korea under Kim Jong Un's rule from an architect's point of view, Pyongyang and After Pyongyang (Hyohyung) is unique in its endeavor. Called the city of juche revolution, Pyongyang has been the symbol of the North Korean regime, but it has been frozen in time since the regime faced a crisis in the mid-1990s. Reflecting the weakened North Korean economy, the book focuses on Pyongyang and the political, economic structures that have made Pyongyang the city it is today. It also provides a glimpse into the blueprint of a unified Korea by forecasting how Pyongyang could change in the future and the possibilities it has.

 

<The Tale of Two Cities>, <Pyongyang and After Pyongyang>

The Tale of Two Cities, Pyongyang and After Pyongyang

 

Other books that address worries and responses against North Korea's nuclear capabilities and missiles,
the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and the North's regime have seen an uptick in demand.

 

Books that deal with worries and responses against North Korea's nuclear capabilities and missiles, hopes for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and possible roadmaps toward denuclearization have seen an uptick in demand. An expert in nuclear conflicts, Korea National Defense University's Professor Han Yong-sup has written a book called The Destiny of North Korea's Nuclear Power (Pakyoungsa). It details the nuclear development policy and processes taken by the three generations of the North's Kim family, starting from Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea, to his son Kim Jong-il and the current leader of the North, Kim Jong-un. The book also discusses the actual possibility of denuclearization in North Korea and limitations by looking back on nuclear discussions between North and South Korea in the early 1990s and nuclear negotiations that began between North Korea and the United States in June 1993. The writer suggests the chair countries of the United Nations' Security Council should vow to keep the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) to prevent other countries from attempting to develop nuclear capabilities going forward.
Those wishing to learn about the stark reality of North Korea's regime should read the bestseller from Thae Yong-ho, who was a North Korean diplomat in the United Kingdom who defected to South Korea in 2016. His book, Cypher of the Third-Floor Secretariat, narrates details of the hidden stories inside North Korea's power structure experienced by Thae himself when he was working for the North Korean government. In the book, Thae describes events like when North Korea had attempted to invite the Pope to the North, but scrapped the plan out of fears a boom in Catholicism could spread across the country once and if he did visit North Korea. Other intriguing details in the book include how candles were the most preferred gift from those who were returning from stints abroad as North Korea's power supplies are strained. Thae concludes in the book that North Korea is a modern slave society.

 

북한 핵의 운명,태영호 증언, 3층 서기실의 암호

The Destiny of North Korea's Nuclear Power, Cypher of the Third-Floor Secretariat

 

Books on economic inter-Korean cooperation or investment in North Korea like the reopening of the Kaesong industrial complex or resumption of tourism in Mount Kumgang once international sanctions are lifted after the denuclearization of the North have drawn readers' interest. Reading North Korea - A Sustainable Project (Do&Book) is a guide to investing in North Korea written by three experts on North Korean issues. As readers can spot from the subheading - 'Prepare a masterplan to open the future for a new Korean peninsula!' - the book offers three things: one, a close look into a development model for North Korea that is desperately needed; two, a look into where North Korea is today; and three, what a sustainable development frame would look like from North Korea's point of view. The book says efforts to free the people of North Korea, one of the poorest countries in the world, from poverty and famine, is necessary and needed quickly, but emergency aid or one-faceted development help has had too many side effects until now and could be inefficient judging from previous attempts. Cho Jin-hee, one of the co-authors for the book and an executive at Samjong KPMG's business support center for North Korea, has stressed development and help that is structural and productive and that is focused on the sustainable advancement of North Korea should take place.

 

북한을 읽다

Reading North Korea - A Sustainable Project

 

The meeting between the leaders of North Korea and the United States at Panmunjom did heighten hopes for denuclearization and peace on the Korean peninsula. The issue still at hand is that despite the brief summit between them, a solution is still needed to unravel the fundamental problems that surround North Korea's nuclear development program and the Korean peninsula in general. North Korea is still being pressured by sanctions from the United Nations and the international community for engaging in provocations like missile launches and nuclear tests, so there are still many difficulties ahead before the two Koreas are ever unified. It is likely because of this that readers are being attracted to the latest books from South Korea's publishing industry which allow them to take a look inside Kim Jong-un's thoughts, forecast the Korean peninsula's future and prepare for unification or future investment in North Korea.

 

 


Written by Lee Youngjong (JoongAng Daily news Director, Unification Research Institute)

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Lee Youngjong (JoongAng Daily news Director, Unification Research Institute)

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