Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"Blossoming Dreams" (피어나는 꿈) - Kim Jong Un raises the next generation of artists

"Blossoming Dreams" (P'iyŏnanŭn Kkum) is a short story by Kim Il Su that appeared on the literary magazine Chŏngnyŏn Munhak in January 2017. This is the first story I've read that focuses on the qualities of the newest North Korean leader, and (spoiler alert!) he's every bit as extraordinary as his father and grandfather were.
The biannual National Drawing Exhibition* at the International Culture
Center in Pyongyang.  Src: Tongil News

The story follows Kim the Third's efforts to cultivate young artists and architects, and particularly highlights his ability to spot talent in young pupils who have been overlooked by their teachers and parents. This makes it an appropriate complement to earlier stories like "Uri ui Mŏt" that depicted Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il as peripatetic talent scouts for the nation. Pay close attention and you may also detect a not-so-subtle message about youthful potential that has clear implications for young leader Kim himself.

This is the sort of story that would likely be assigned to students to read and discuss in class. It fits in the category of 수령형상창조, stories focused on extolling the magnanimity and revolutionary spirit of the leaders. Unlike the more literary stories reviewed earlier, this one has little in the way of character development or lessons for everyday life.

*Note - In the translated excerpts I have capitalized the male pronoun to indicate where the text uses the honorific pronoun "그이." I find this format helpful both to clarify who is speaking and to give a sense of the reverence for the leader that comes through in the North Korean text. In South Korea this pronoun refers to respected elders, but in North Korea it is exclusively used to refer to the three leader Kims.

The Plot

The Dear Leader Kim Jong Un makes a call to his old college professor, Yu Myŏng Ch'an, to wish him a happy birthday. By the by, he inquires about the professor's son, Yu Kang Myŏng, and learns he is now in his third year of art college.
   "I saw your son's piece 'New Sprouts' on display at the national drawing exhibition. Remember? The one from his workbook..."
   "Ah, I still get the sweats thinking about that."
   The Dear Leader chuckled softly. "Yes, but thanks to that, we found a great talent together, didn't we?"
Flashback to years ago, when the young Kim was a student in Professor Yu's class at Kim Il Sung Military University. One day Professor Yu is setting up for class. As he opens up his lecture book, he seems to pause and frown distractedly at something before hurriedly putting it aside. It's just a momentary pause, but the eagle-eyed young Kim catches it and notices that his normally stoic professor seems slightly out of sorts.

After class, Kim stops by Professor Yu's office and asked about the incident. The professor confesses guiltily that he had unexpectedly found his son's school workbook stuck in his lesson planner.
   "I don't know what to do about that kid. First he wanted to do gymnastics and he ended up breaking his leg. He never sits still. If he's quiet in his room for once, I assume he's finally doing his schoolwork - then I go in and find he's just been drawing silly pictures all over his workbook. He does it in class too, I just got a note from his teacher. How can a merited family (총대가정) produce such an airhead (쭉정이)? This is what comes of my neglecting his education."
   While listening to Yu's story, He slowly turned the pages of the book. It seemed that the kid would get halfway through solving a problem, get struck by a random idea and start drawing all sorts of things - doodles, panel cartoons, flip books.
   "The second one is growing up fine, no problems, but this eldest one is always causing trouble. Last night I really lit into him about it. I couldn't concentrate after that, and I must have left the workbook stuck in my planner..."
   Comrade Kim Jong Un continued examining the photos as He listened. He was quietly impressed by many of them... The child had a good sense of perspective and scale, and though his technique was immature he showed a great talent for capturing small nuances with just a line or a dot...
   "These are quite interesting drawings," He remarked, to Professor Yu's astonishment. "A good drawer must have a sense of spacing, form, proportion and color, and Kang Myŏng's drawings display all of these. In this one, 'Happy Birthday Teacher,' he captures each person's essence through a single distinguishing feature. This is an innate talent." He goes on, "Art forms the base of architecture as well. Artistry and architecture are said to complement each other..."
Kim turns to the drawing "Spring," and remarks on how skillfully the child was able to capture the energy of the sprouts coming out of the earth and straining toward the sunlight, in a simple pencil drawing. He scribbles a few notes in the margin, suggests that 'New Sprouts' would be a better title than 'Spring,' and hands the book back to Yu saying, "Please encourage him to continue. Perhaps I should pay a visit or write him a letter, if it would help." Professor Yu is deeply moved by the young Kim's personal attention.

Back in the present day, Kim concludes his birthday call to his former professor and stares out his office window in quiet contemplation. Yes, Kang Myŏng's talent has grown by leaps and bounds since that first notebook, just like the "new sprouts" in his picture. And it is gratifying to see that his words of encouragement were heeded. But one thing gnaws at the Dear Leader. Is it right to consider Kang Myŏng a mere sprout? Just because he is young and "still studying," is it too soon for him to do professional work? If he already has the skill and the talent, why not put him to good use?

Just then in walks Ri Ju Yŏng, Kim's director of architectural design. Ri reminds him that he is scheduled to do on-site guidance at a military construction unit that day.

Kim Jong Un visiting Rungna People's Pleasure
Ground with his wife Ri Sol Ju. Src: Daily NK
At the base, Kim examines various blueprints and designs. He is amused by one blueprint - a logo design for the funhouse at the Rungna People's Pleasure Ground, featuring a monkey. He learns that this was designed by a student at the Pyongyang University of Architecture. As he holds the design, he flashes back to some of the drawings he had seen at an exhibition of the State Exhibition Center for Commercial Art (국가산업미술전시회장).

The exhibit had been full of innovative and amusing designs and mock-ups for all sorts of products. At a display of designs for uniforms and bags, something struck him as familiar. He checked the designer - it was none other than Yu Kang Myŏng, his old professor's son. He had asked the exhibition director if they had many student entries this year. The director replied that yes, they had accepted a few even though they were "still just students," figuring they could benefit from some positive feedback.
Exhibit at the State Exhibition Center for Commercial Art in Pyongyang, 04-08-2016.
Src: Xinhua
Later in the car, Kim remarks "It would be good if more student entries were put on display.... Think about it. Praise from teachers can inspire students for weeks to come, and has great educational value. How much more so if they can display their work and compare it with others?" Ashamed that he had not thought of such a thing himself, Ri responds that it will be done immediately.

Kim once again sinks into quiet contemplation.
   How can these exhibits be such a problem! The thing is that some people have the wrong mindset. Just giving students a little praise and then setting their work aside as "practice" - how can that method effectively raise the next generation? We focus on feeding and clothing them well, and of course that's important. But is that our only task? It won't do to have such a narrow outlook about the future.
   Of course, for a student, learning is everything. But age and experience shouldn't be the only standards for judging good from bad. In the history of our fatherland there are so many examples of great achievements in music, art and design made by students.
At his desk computer, Kim looks over a report on various building modernization plans produced by the University of Architecture. He is pleased to see that students as well as teachers took part in the designs. Here Kim indulges into a lengthy contemplation of the relationship between art and architecture, and the country's need for more building designs displaying sort of creative whimsy that only the young can produce.

3 years earlier...
Yu Myŏng Ch'an stares at the paper in front of him. It's his son's acceptance letter to the Pyongyang University of Fine Art. But now his son has announced that he wants to join the military instead! He says he wants to join an artillery unit like his father.

Lately, due to the enemy's constant military provocations, young people have been frantic to enlist - not only middle school students but older kids who've taken their college exams. Kang Myŏng didn't come home after school today; he's no doubt out with his friends singing patriotic songs and swearing to protect the fatherland.

Yu recalls a young soldier he had known in his artillery unit - a young aspiring artist from Hwanghae Province with a large head who was always nattering on about spacing and proportion. His name was Ri Ju Yŏng (yes, the same Ri who is now Kim's architecture director). "You're a born gunner," Ri told Yu at their first target practice. "You sight your target faster than anyone else. They say a sense of space and form is the essence of an artist. What do you say, why don't we be buddies?" Yu thought this was a little hokey, but he liked the idea of thinking of a gunner as an artist.

Among the unit Yu was known as "Doctor Gun" for his extensive knowledge of everything about artillery guns; their varieties, their different characteristics, and their history. Eventually this reputation spread to the division commander, who called him in and quizzed him on his knowledge. The division commander was so impressed he recommended Yu's admission to artillery officer's school, paving the way to his eventual academic career.

His pal Ri Ju Yong kept showing him drawings. Yu would act gruff and disinterested, but when pressed would always point out brilliant ways to improve the composition or design. In frustration Ri exclaimed "You should be the artist, not me!" to which Ri replied, "I love guns more. Hah! Guns are everything!"

But when his son showed such a strong artistic proclivity, Yu turned to his old friend Ri for advice, and Ri convinced him that the boy's artistic talent would serve the fatherland.

But now, it seemed that his son had heard a greater call to serve his country in the military, and decided to postpone his artistic career. Shoving the acceptance letter away in a desk drawer, Yu felt nothing but pride for his son, who put his country's needs ahead of his own dream.

Yu was walking home from work when a car rolled up and stopped alongside him. Who should step out, but the Dear Leader Kim Jong Un! Yu's former student greeted him warmly, grasping his hand. He congratulated Yu on his son's decision to join an artillery unit - but how could he know? Yu's old army buddy Director Ri told him, of course.

Kim was on his way back from an inspection of the front lines, and had intended to stop by the university to drop off some new materials pertaining to artillery science. He had been hoping to run into Professor Yu there, and proposed they drop by the professor's home for a quick visit. Yu didn't want to interrupt the Leader's busy schedule, but Kim was insistent.

At Yu's home, Kim warmly greeted his wife and two sons. He noted that the shelves were stacked with books on artillery and other military subjects, but there was not a single work of art on the walls. How did Kang Myŏng get inspired to become an artist, growing up in such an environment?
   "Kang Myŏng, I still remember that drawing of yours that I saw years ago. What was it called, 'Spring'? Fresh shoots springing from the earth; it made an impression. Tell me, where do you think dreams come from?"
   "Dreams? The brain makes them while you sleep."
   "Yes, but sleep isn't the source of dreams. Dreams are longing, and hope, and love. They say dreams are the joy of living. I think it is the people's longing for a strong and prosperous country that gave birth to the reality of our country today." As He grasped Kang Myŏng's hands, He seemed to be passing along both His warmth and His great aspirations, and the boy felt overwhelmed with feeling.
   Comrade Kim Jong Un turned his gaze on Yu Myŏng Chan. "Lately everyone's talking about the  recent editorial in the Rodong Shinmun,  'A Country with Great People Will Prosper.' Not only was it well-written, it reflected the urgent desire of our military and our people, to create an 'army of doers' (실천가형의 인재의 대부대)."
   He instructed Yu to bring out Kang Myŏng's college acceptance letter. Bringing the letter and the old school workbook out of the drawer, Yu sighed as if facing an impossible and oppressive question.
   Comrade Kim Jong Un continued: "Seeing the enlistment fervor spreading among our youths, I have felt renewed faith in our outstanding army of young people. There's nothing more patriotic than the sight of so many young men like Kang Myŏng exchanging their college acceptance letters for enlistment papers and grasping the guns of revolution, with their fathers fervently supporting them, putting the security of the country above their own personal development."
   He spoke of how even if war was expected to break out tomorrow, we'd still keep working at national construction until midnight tonight. Such was the firm will of our Great Leader [Kim Il Sung] and our General [Kim Jong Il]. He added, our country's enemies do not dare to tangle with the unrivaled military might of Sŏngun Korea, and no matter how they talk of pressure and war, our advance will not halt for even a moment, and the normal flow of our lives will not be interrupted.
   "In the heat of the war, when our Great Leader recalled college students from the front lines, wasn't that done for the future of the country? The struggle we face today for national construction is a war of creation, lacking the sound of gunfire, a decisive battle against the enemy, and the rich cultural nation of tomorrow will be built by our talented people. As our nation advances into the world of global culture, won't our young people have to shoulder that burden?... The more talented people we have, the better."
    Placing the acceptance letter and the old workbook in Kang Myong's hands, He told the boy, "Kang Myong, your father will have the answer for you. The answer to how to make the dreams of your generation blossom and spread across our land. Our nation and our era demand it. Your generation must stand up and make our nation beautiful in the next stage."
  Yu Myong Chan could hear His voice ringing in his ears long after Comrade Kim Jong Un departed.
Kim Jong Un visits the Wonsan Shoe Factory.
Src: Joongang Ilbo
Fast forward a few years. Kang Myŏng is now a young art student off on his first on-site study (실습) tour of the Wonsan Shoe Factory and the Songdowon International Children's Camp, two prestige projects in the east coast region. But his father fears that he is not mature enough for such professional work. In preparation for his first big study trip, what did the boy do? He asked his mother to pack a bag full of all sorts of snacks and candy. He claimed it was to share with the workers on-site, but his parents have their doubts.

Kang Myŏng calls home regularly to report on his project, his high young voice babbling excitedly over the speaker. The normally taciturn professor frets, "That kid seems to think he's gone off to summer camp, not an on-site study."

Songdowon International Youth Camp
Src: Tongil News
Professor Yu goes into his son's room and looks at the picture on the wall; it's Kang Myŏng's prize-winning drawing "New Sprouts" from the national exhibition. The boy spent a week whittling the frame by hand. Yu teased him that he was making too much of his first big success, and would have trouble keeping it up. "You just wait, I'll fill the whole wall with my designs!" the boy retorted.

Staring at the framed drawing, Yu suddenly recalls another time when Kim Jong Un spoke  on the subject of dreams.

One summer evening Yu paid a visit to Comrade Kim's living quarters and found his student bent over his desk arrayed with various stencils, colored pencils and pens. "I was working on my tactical maps, but then I decided to do a few drawings to blow off some steam," the young leader said. "It's become a hobby of mine and I can't seem to stop." He handed a few drawings to Yu. But what fantastic images they were! Some seemed to be designs for 3-D or even 4-dimensional buildings, or complex geometric configurations. Was this his mental vision of the future?
"Art is not just beauty, it's a way to plant and cultivate dreams inside of people..." Comrade Kim Jong Un's gaze strayed around the room as if momentarily lost in a private world all His own. "Even while studying military science, I feel ever more firmly committed to peace and to creating a brighter, more beautiful land."
The POV switches to Director Ri. Driving back from a construction site with Kim, Ri thinks back over the last few years of amazing construction he has presided over, and the amazing character of the young leader he works for. He remembers something Kim told him one day:
   "Our future as a socialist nation of culture will not be built by architects and experts alone. It will require all our citizens to become gardeners and creators adorning our country with beauty. And it is the young generation that must stand up to bring about this bright future. Lately, I hear the saying 'everything's getting younger,' but isn't that wonderful? This era is young, and our people are getting younger..."
   Youth! Youth is not a matter of how many years one has lived; people feel younger through their love, hopes and dreams. This new era is younger and more dynamic just like our peerless great leader. Ri glances out the car window, and suddenly the fresh new grass outside seems to glow with special meaning....
   Comrade Kim Jong Un, seemingly lost in thought, suddenly commanded the driver to take them to the cable bridge at Kŭmrŭng Tunnel. He said He wanted another look at the skyline of the Rŭngna People's Pleasure Park, which had opened last summer.
   "Comrade Director, have you seen the clips on TV of the people enjoying the dolphin aquarium, water park, and amusement park? They really love it, don't they? They say people can't stop smiling. When they finish the Fun House and the House of Mirrors, it'll be even better." Recalling the sight of the people's joy, He seemed to have completely forgotten how He suffered in the summer heat and fierce winds while touring the site in person.
   "That fun house monkey logo was really well done. It was designed by a college student, right?" He spoke in a voice of deep contemplation. "Choosing a college student's design would have special meaning. It would help us to view our college students in a new light. We must find a way to shape them into the advance guard of cultural construction, as soon as possible. I keep hearing of all the international contests they are winning, and I'm always struck by their originality in design."
Kim orders the driver to stop the car at the top of the Ch'ŏngryubyŏk bluff. There Kim steps out of the car and stands looking out at the sunrise over the new construction in the Munsu district. From this vantage he can see the Munsu Water Park, the new Ryugyŏng Dental Hospital, and the children's hospital under construction.

The new Okryu Children's Hospital
   "We still haven't come up with a name for that children's hospital yet, right? How about Okryu Children's Hospital?" Comrade Kim Jong Un's eyes were sparkling at the thought of tending to the  children's health and future like polishing a piece of jade [ok means jade in Korean, and Okryu is also the name of the ward where the hospital is located].
   "Okryu, Okryu," Director Ri repeated. "In the Munsu district, where the waters of the Taedong glimmer like marbles. What a great, meaningful name. Really wonderful."
   "Isn't it? Then it's agreed!" His bright laugh shook the morning calm. "Is construction nearly finished?
   "It is, there's just a little detail work left on the interior. It should be wrapped up today or tomorrow. There's just a little issue with the fairytale pictures..."
Ri relates to Kim what he saw when he visited the site the night before. They had planned to decorate the wards with fairytale illustrations submitted by various supporters of the project. But looking over the drawings at the last minute, Ri realized that they had no thematic consistency and lacked the "innocence" of children's drawings. The artists had likely never drawn children's illustrations before and just drew what they thought children might like. Kim grasps the problem at once.
   "These fairytale pictures are important not just for decoration; they are vital to the children's recovery and mental development. Pictures communicate emotional messages to children that their doctors and their parents can't express," Comrade Kim Jong Un continued in a voice fraught with emotion. "First-rate equipment and a fanciful, childlike environment! Let's redo the pictures with this attitude in mind...  And while we're at it, let's not stop at just a few pictures. See to it that the whole surfaces of the walls in the waiting rooms and treatment rooms are chock full of drawings!"
   Ri Ju Yŏng quickly scribbled down notes. "I'll make the arrangements immediately. Since we'll want artwork of the highest standard, we'll have to call in some professional artists."
   "Actually, I was thinking of giving the job to the students at Pyongyang University of Fine Art."
   Ri Ju Yŏng's pen faltered on the notepad, and he looked up in surprise. Not professionals, but students? But this hospital was so important to Him! ...
   Suddenly His eyes were twinkling. "What? Don't you have faith in our college students? Their drawings will be more fresh and original than some professional who's been at it for years."
   It was true, students at that age exhibited peak creativity and a sense of adventure. And by handling such a project on their own, they would expand their horizons and build confidence....
   "Comrade, remember Kang Myŏng's drawing "New Sprouts"? You said yourself it showed skill well beyond the student level. Did you know he drew the first draft while still in middle school? If his father had just dismissed that as a doodle, he might never have risen to where he is today. And if we dismiss our college students' work as practice, we'll just slow down their progress..."
   Ri Ju Yŏng suddenly felt a new sense of purpose as if a bright light had gone on in his brain. Like a  bolt of thunder, he was struck by His faith and determination in calling forth students as the pioneers of the new cultural nation.
   Comrade Kim Jong Un raised His voice. "Let's assign the university students the task of creating all of the hospital artwork. All of it! Send them the necessary materials.... Ah, the students are off on their study trips, aren't they?" "Yes, I'll recall them to Pyongyang immediately."
Fast forward to an evening in October...

Kim sits in his office, looking over a booklet of the completed artwork from the hospital. The university students produced all sorts of fantastic works of art - a flying horse, an orchard of exotic life-like fruit, a child's view of the Pyongyang skyline, an underwater scene of colorful fish, a white rabbit traffic cop. He gestures to Ri Ju Yŏng, standing behind him. "This one hangs in the entrance to the inoculations room. Imagine a little kid scared to get his shot. The sight of this picture will spur him forward!" Kim talks about the students' illustrations like a proud father showing off a child's work, seeming to forget the mountains of documents piled on his desk awaiting his attention.

Meanwhile, old Professor Yu and his wife are touring the newly opened children's hospital. The normally gruff and taciturn Yu cannot contain his excitement at the wonderful artwork his son and his fellow students created.  Turning to his wife, Yu wonders if Kang Myŏng will want to add copies of this artwork to the wall of his room at home. If so, he declares, this time he will make the frames. "I'll show you what I can do. After all, my work is not unrelated to art; it's natural that the son of an artilleryman would become a great artist."

Youth and Potential

The underlying message of this story hardly bears spelling out. It's easy to see why, at this particular point in time, the Party would be eager to publish a story about the untapped potential of young people and the need to deploy their skills in real-world situations.

Kim Jong Un ascended to the supreme leadership position at the tender age of 27 or 28. In July 2012 he was promoted to marshal, the highest military rank, despite having never served in the military and only attended a few years at a military officers' college. Some with contacts in the North have reported a general feeling of skepticism among the public at that time about the qualifications of such a young leader. The regime appears to have made efforts to conceal his real age from the public.

Such a young leader would face skepticism in any country, but the challenge is all the greater in a place like North Korea, where the Confucian mindset places high value on age and experience. However well-trained North Koreans are to revere the bloodline of Mt Paekdu, they are bound to feel some cognitive dissonance when they see elderly generals kowtowing to a fresh-faced young man, hanging on his every word and taking notes as if he were some senior scholar.

Ergo, stories like this one seem geared to implant the concept of "young genius" taking over. But rather than simply illustrating the genius of Kim himself, the author rather cleverly makes a much broader point about how young people in general are too easily dismissed, and the country is wasting valuable human capital by holding them back. This message is becoming all the more important as Kim replaces the elderly cronies of his father and grandfather with people closer to his own age.

Inheriting Greatness

It's hard to express how weird it is the way Kim Jong Un's speech is rendered in Korean. Even in the scenes when he is a college student talking to his professor after class, he uses the speech forms of a respected and learned grandfather lecturing a wayward child. His speech sounds exactly like his father's and grandfather's as they were rendered in earlier stories I've read - jovial, avuncular, manly, patiently condescending, not quite rude but rather abrupt, filled with otherworldly wisdom.

It is distinctly disconcerting to hear young Kim give parenting advice to his professor about his problematic son, offering to stop by and lend a hand ("나도 한번 짬을 내여 가정방문을 하든가") if needed. Recall that at that point in the story, Kim is a university student years from having his first child, talking to a respected professor at the most prestigious university in the country. It is never made clear where he got this wisdom from; he just seems to naturally know more about the world and human nature than anyone else. Kim didn't have any formal titles as a college student, but several times he is referred to as "위대한 스승" (great teacher).

Young Kim seems to have inherited his father and grandfather's habit of staring out of windows in contemplation. Every good idea that these men ever have seems to come when they are staring out of some sort of window, usually on a train or at their office. Other characters also tend to have moments of epiphany while staring out of windows. One begins to suspect that if their windows were taken away, the whole country would fall apart.

Prestige projects

This story makes reference to several locations and projects that actually exist and have recently been promoted as a way of showcasing the new leadership's fun-loving style. These include the Rungna People's Pleasure Park an the Songdowon International Youth Camp. Rungna opened in 2012 and provided the backdrop for Ri Sol Ju's official coming out as North Korea's first lady; Songdowon has been around for over 30 years but recently underwent a renovation and re-opened with much fanfare in 2014. Around that time, several foreign media organizations were invited to tour the location. English-language reports can be found herehereherehere, here, and here. A North Korean promotional video of the camp can be viewed here.

The National Drawing Exhibition has been held in Pyongyang every two years since 2006 and roughly coincides with Kim Jong Il's birthday. The 6th and most recent festival was held in 2016. The State Exhibition of Commercial Art takes place in April and seems to have been going on for the past several years; KBS did a report on it back in 2012 and Xinhua published a photolog on last year's exhibition.

The "cable bridge at Kŭmrŭng Tunnel" probably refers to the 청류교 connecting the island of the May 1st Stadium with the north shore of the Taedong River. Both the tunnel and bridge were fairly ambitious construction projects when they were completed in the mid-1990s, as is described in detail on this blog.
New construction in Mansudae.

The field of architectural design seems to be having a bit of a moment in North Korean media. KBS reported that the North Korean broadcaster did a major program on "construction guidance" in late December, one month before this story was published. That broadcast particularly highlighted the Pyongyang University of Architecture. North Korean media credits this school with designing the much-lauded new construction in the Mansudae area of Pyongyang.

Director of Architectural Design Ma Wŏn Chun, visiting
the Mangyongdae Children's Palace with Kim in Dec 2016.
Src: NK News
In this story, it is mentioned that PUA is the alma mater of Ri Ju Yŏng, Kim's deputy in charge of architectural design who faithfully accompanies him on his on-site guidance visits to various construction sites. At one point Kim congratulates Ri on his alma mater's recent anniversary and recalls that it was opened in 1953, "rising from the ashes of the war." From this we can infer that Ri Ju Yŏng is a pseudonym for Ma Wŏn Chun, director of the Design Department of the National Defense Commission, who has been an established figure in Kim's entourage since late 2015 and is known as the "architectural brain" behind North Korea's new construction projects. It is common in North Korean fiction to use pseudonyms to refer to certain prominent advisors and bureaucrats, possibly to avoid the hassle of having to censor the stories when those officials fall out of favor. Ma joins the small but growing pantheon of North Korean officials who had once been rumored to have been executed but then turned up alive and well several months later.

For a summary of an interesting North Korea-produced timeline of Kim Jong Il's purported leadership in art and architecture, see this link.

North Korea's uriminzokkiri website posts stories from Chongryon Munhak on a 4-6 month delay. They can be viewed at this link (The site is very slow and I advise not downloading it on a computer you care a lot about).