Friday, November 3, 2017

"12 wŏl ŭi kŭi" (12월의 그이) - Kim Jong Un buries his father

"12 wŏl ŭi kŭi" (Him in December) is a short story by Hwang Yong Nam that appeared in the collection Bul ŭi Yaksok (A Promise of Fire) in 2013. The story follows the young successor Kim Jong Un through the mourning period following his father's death in December 2011.

The story opens on the day after Kim Jong Il’s death was announced; KJU stands before the casket officiating. He stands like a rock for two hours as wave after wave of sobbing citizens come forth to pay their respects. KJU alone cannot indulge in the luxury of tears; he has to be strong for the people.

Kim Jong Il's body lies in state.
Src: Daily Mail
The grieving Kim moves to a back room where he is confronted by officials with stacks of reports. They apologetically explain that these are all things the General had insisted on giving final approval for, so they cannot be handled without him. Looking at the large pile of documents, Kim Jong Un begins to realize the burden his father had carried all alone. Among the issues: a report from the Union of Socialist Youth about meritorious acts of mourning by young people; a report from the railway ministry on routes being blocked in several provinces due to unusually heavy snow; a report on the current state of construction on the Changjŏn Street apartment complexes. Reports on military, economic and diplomatic affairs. The engineering team has prepared a test demonstration of the new CNC computer controls, but they can’t proceed because the General had promised to be there to view the test. Several neighboring countries including China and Russia have sent condolence telegrams, and the foreign ministry is awaiting instructions on the appropriate protocol for their response. A woman gave birth to triplets at the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital and they want to know what to do about the gold rings and silver knifes the General had ordered as gifts…

KJU decides to handle this last issue first. He declares, “All children born during the mourning period shall be considered to be born under the blessing of the General. No doubt the General is even now hearing the happy news of the triplets and smiling.” [in heaven?]

KJU proceeds to receive reports one after after another.  A female soldier who fainted while watching the news has recovered. The South Korean puppets announced a state of emergency within 30 minutes of the death announcement. 

A KWP Central Committee member, Chŏng Sŏng Il, presents a draft declaration from the Committee for Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland. He informs KJU that the ROK puppets gave declared a state of emergency, and it appears they intend to seize a military advantage from the national tragedy. It appears that the ROK deviants even attempted to block condolence calls  from other sources, and put financial pressure on Kaesong industries that had wanted to send their regards. KJU angrily responds: “Haven’t we just lost the Father of our People (minjok ŭi abŏi)? Whatever else happened, he raised our country to a great military power…”  The head of the armed forces formally apologizes on behalf of the KPA for not achieving unification before KJI passed away. 

Female soldiers mourn Kim Jong Il's death.
Src: The Telegraph
Suddenly a loud wailing erupts from the outer hall. It’s the all-female Persimmon and Wildflower Brigades, which had always received special patronage from KJI. Entering KJU’s presence, they declare that “our powder is dry” and ask for orders. They are furious at the South Korean president Lee Myongbak for his statement issuing condolences “to the people of North Korea” and not to the government.

A general from the western front line steps forward and announces that South Korean “human garbage” have been broadcasting unspeakable insults and sending leaflets across the border. In response he ordered all artillery stations to remove their tarps. 

Absorbing this, KJU abruptly turns to Secretary Han Su Nam (probably Kim Ki Nam) and asks, “When was it we sent that condolence delegation south?” referring to the Aug 2009 delegation of North Korean officials who visited Seoul to offer condolences upon the death of the late South Korean President Kim Dae Jung. The room reflects upon how graceful their side was in expressing its condolences, and how badly the South behaved by comparison. KJU decides to set aside the problems with the South for the moment.

KJU calls in 1st Deputy Secretary Cho Ryŏng Gŭn, and the conversation turns to the problem of bringing in all of the late leader's extended family from the provinces to the capital. There is tremendous difficulty reaching people in Yanggang and N Hamgyŏng provinces due to the heavy snow. The road from Pyongyang to Wonsan is completely buried in snow. KJU orders planes sent to pick up people in Yanggang and N Hamgyŏng, and orders military deployed to clear the road to Wonsan. 

Standing, KJU remarks, "What we must do first is to let the people to cry out all their grief. Only then can we set our sadness aside and stand up again. In times of hardship, if people cannot let their tears flow freely, they will harden into resentment, and everlasting bitterness [han] will follow for the rest of their lives."

Kim Jong Un's car moves through the snowy streets of Pyongyang, past the 4.25 Cultural Palace and Kim Il Sung Square, across Okryu Bridge toward the KWP Founding Memorial Tower, stopping in front of the greenhouses that grow the Kimjongilia flowers. He declares that the funeral route will extend to this point, so that the people won't have to go far in the cold to express their condolences. He turns to the KWP Memorial, where the General's face beams over a square packed with throngs of mourners.

He turns to his aides Chŏng Sŏn Il and Han Su Nam and makes arrangements for delegations of various classes of workers, engineers and scientists as well as overseas Koreans from Japan, China and Russia to attend the memorial. His accompanying aides begin to worry about the young General, standing out in the snow without a hat. 
   He turned to Chŏng Sŏn Il and asked, "What should we do about our people from the South? Without them, can the General really go in peace to his eternal rest?"
   "As I reported, the traitor Lee Myŏng Bak is even blocking condolence calls. It seems unlikely he will allow a delegation. The authorities..."
   He turned a baleful eye on Chŏng Sŏn Il. "Never mind the authorities. The people of the South will surely want to come. The whole of our people are crying out over the passing of the General. If we cannot protect their right to tears..."
Chŏng remarks angrily that the South has been talking up plans "in the event of sudden unrest" or "mass emigration" in the North, openly calling the current tragedy "a ripe opportunity for unification under a democratic system." Han too feels his face redden with anger, and urges them to publish the statement by the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland exposing Lee Myŏng Bak's duplicity to the world. 

But KJU alone remains placid. "No one pays any heed to this talk of 'collapse' that emits from the politically ignorant and morally bankrupt Lee Myŏng Bak. I don't feel like quibbling with the likes of him right now." KJU decides to shelve the CPRF's statement for the time being, and publicly announce that the door is open for any representative from the South who wishes to come - regardless of Party. He declares that all routes should be made open, including air, sea and Panmunjom.

Overwhelmed by this benevolent attitude, Chŏng Sŏn Il cannot help but reluctantly point out that given the South's recent belligerence, now would be an inopportune time to leave the door open to them. These are, after all, the same people who immediately began making "emergency plans" for "collapse" upon hearing the news of KJI's death. They will doubtless take advantage of the open-door policy to send "impure elements" to spoil the dignity of the mourning period.

KJU turned his gaze to Mansudae hill, where hordes of mourners have flocked to the statue of Kim Il Sung, regretting they had not yet built a statue of Kim Jong Il there. Even now, near midnight, the flood of people has not tapered. What heinous act could possibly spoil this outpouring of grief? KJU turns to Chŏng and says, basically, "Haters gonna hate" (좀스런것들이니 좀스런짓을 할수도 있습니다).

KJU asks Chŏng why the ROK thinks a collapse is likely. Chŏng elaborates: 
   "It's because these self-styled 'politicians' don't know us very well. Just like when we lost the Suryŏng, they are once again chattering about a 'collapse.' They were wrong then, and they're wrong now. The root of their current theory is 'lack of leadership,' that is they think that because we were unable to establish the leadership succession thoroughly before this national tragedy, things are different this time from 1994. To open the door to the sort of people who hold such ambition.. We will have to vet any visitors very carefully."
   "A lack of leadership?" Comrade Kim Jong Un mused, gazing up the night sky.
   The phrase referred of course to state authority. As if they think our system, our society are maintained through the state's authority! It is our system rooted in the bond of blood ties, our society centered on the Leader, the Party and the military, and our people's united will that makes our country so strong and beautiful.
   "They will see for themselves the invincibility of our system through the coming event. No matter. Open the doors. What do we have to fear, when the General left us these wonderful people? Our tears will only make us stronger."

On a cold wintery evening, Kim Dae-jung's widow Lee Hui-ho is gazing out at the sunset. Despite her advanced age of almost ninety, from the moment she heard the news she had been determined to pay a condolence visit to the North. If only her husband were alive, he would surely accompany her.

Lee Hui-ho with her husband Kim Dae-jung at his
inauguration in 1998.
Src: Kim Dae-Jung Peace Center
His great achievements, the June 15 and Oct 4 Declarations, had been demolished by the new administration, as the three main newspapers splashed groundless rumors across their front pages. As if anticipating this, her husband had remained calm and self-assured up to the end. "After all, my nickname is 'Honeysuckle.'" The weed that conquers winter... 

And how cold the LMB years were. With the National Assembly spouting nonsense about the "lost decade" or "decade of shame," only the North still preserved the spirit of the June 15 agreement. Now Kim Jong Il too was gone.

"What would become of the 6.15 Agreement?" Lee mused. "And with only one year left." It went without saying that "one year" referred to the time remaining before Lee Myŏng-bak's term ended. Now the two men who had signed that historic agreement were both gone. 

The minute the death announcement came, the entire country erupted in protest. Not only the fringe parties, but National Assembly members and respected judges were demanding that an official delegation be sent North "as an appropriate measure of fraternal feeling and an essential step to restoring fractured North-South relations." But the administration remained stubborn. When even small funerary incense-burning altars to the late leader were banned under the National Security Law, there seemed little hope of sending a condolence  delegation. 

But some people put up "cyber altars" online anyway. And how the internet mocked LMB for scrambling to the US, Japan and the UN upon news of KJI's passing! "Big Brother Japan, Eldest Brother America, please teach me proper mourning etiquette."

Hearing of her request to make a condolence visit to the North, Representative Pak Su-won of the Democratic Party has come to visit.
"Madame, I've come to beg your forgiveness before you and your late husband. I've done a lot of  reflecting on your courageous act. I too have a deep connection to Chairman Kim, and yet these days with the all the furor to 'eradicate pro-North elements,' I hesitated. Please forgive me, I want to go with you."
Together they reflect on better times, after the 6.15 Declaration, when media executives traveled North to beg forgiveness for their bad behavior, cultural exchanges took place several times a year, tourists could freely visit Mt. Kŭmgang, and pretty northern cheerleaders came down to Pusan and set young men's hearts aflutter. But alas, now the "Big 3" media were up to their old tricks, idiots were talking about war rationing, and they had just lost the one man who fought for peace - Kim Jong Il.
"It's not just me. Former Minister Lim Dong-hun, President Roh Mu-hyŏn's widow Kwŏn Yang-suk, and many others want to go. I'll do what I can. But looking at the current government attitude, we can't hope for much."
Within an hour after the death announcement Daum, Naver and the other major websites had opened mourning sites and over 120,000 condolence messages had poured in praising KJI's achievements. People from were traveling from all over the country to Moaksan in Chŏlla Province, where the ancestral tomb of the Chŏnju Kim clan (KIS' clan) was located.

When word had come down that the North was willing to accept condolence visits from any representative of any group or party in the South, the government was frantic to come up with some excuse to block their visit. First they demanded that some family be left behind to ensure their return, and then they made noises about posting spies with the delegation; but then suddenly they gave up on that approach. Next they started quibbling about scheduling and procedures.

Finally, this morning a call came from the Ministry of Unification, telling Lee to prepare to leave and offering all sorts of ridiculous instructions like bring plenty of food and clothing, don't bow your head, etc.

That afternoon, her son Kim Hong Il returns from his visit to the Ministry of Unification in a bad mood. "Those no-good politicians. They're refusing to let Representative Pak come with us." He explains that they have categorically rejected all applications by actively serving government representatives and civic groups,  as well as President Roh Mu-hyŏn's widow and the family of the late Reverend Moon Ik-hwan, a renowned unification activist. Around Seoul National University students are putting up wall posters faster than officials can tear them down, demanding to be allowed North.

KWP Central Committee Member Kim Ki Nam
greets Lee Hui-ho at her husband Kim Dae-jung's
funeral in 2009.
Src: Hangyoreh
Unbelievably, it appears that Hyundai Chairman Hyŏn Jŏng-un may attend. Lee is outraged that Hyŏn gets to go when Roh's widow and Moon's family are denied, since those two worked so hard for unification. She remembers the words of Reverend Moon's appeal when he was sentenced to prison for traveling North: "It seems like people can go North for business, but not for unification."

They speculate that the reason Roh's widow was denied is because North Korea only sent a condolence telegram when Roh died, not a full delegation like they sent for Kim Dae-jung. This kind of pettiness is typical of Unification Minister Yu Wu-ik, and the transactional attitude of the president. "He may have started as a businessman, but he's our president now," Hong Il complains. "He can't just pursue profit, he's supposed to represent the people's spirit (minshim)."

Observing his mother's agitation, Hong Il has been holding back on the really bad news, which he finally reveals: They are only allowed two days and one night for their trip north. They'll leave tomorrow, and return the next day, before the funeral. Why? Because that's how long the North Korean delegation stayed for Kim Dae-jung's memorial.

"This is really too much," Widow Lee mutters, disgusted.


Lee Hui-ho's delegation travels North along the unification road to Pyongyang. How different she looks from when she last visited, with her husband. Has it only been a decade and change? Leaning on her children for support, her face worn and sad.

Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong Il in the Baekhwawŏn
Reception Hall, June 2000
Src: Tongil News
She greets Secretary Chŏng Sŏn Il with pleasure, and is surprised by the familiar face of her old driver from her 2000 visit, who has been appointed to chauffeur her again. Amazed by the warm welcome, she remembers how the MoU busybodies had fretted and warned her about the likely broken-down facilities and bad infrastructure she would find in the economically depressed North. Why, it was quite the opposite! Everyone was so kind, she felt ashamed.
   "We've prepared the same suite you stayed in last time, at the Baekhwawŏn Reception Hall."
   Lee Hui-ho is startled by the words. Why, Baekhwawŏn is reserved for visits by heads of state! To think they went to such lengths for their shabby entourage.
   "It's on the Dear Leader Kim Jong Un's orders. He said you are to have the same room in the same condition as when you and President Kim visited... And he's the one who thought to arrange the same driver for you. He said to spare no effort to make you feel at home."
Kim Jong Un in a tank,
January 2009
Src: Yonhap
    Lee Hui-ho felt like she was dreaming. In the South, from the moment they first saw Deputy Chairman Kim Jong Un on the TV - his manner, his gait and his broad smile - why, everyone said he was like Kim Il Sung reincarnated! Since they saw him driving a tank at a military base on New Year's 2009, he had been described as merely a professional soldier. And he was linked to the punishment of Yŏnpyŏngdo. And when he launched the Gwangmyŏngsŏng 2 rocket, and they said he was prepared for war, they all thought him terribly intimidating.
   A young, vigorous and decisive leader. That's how they thought of him in the South. Who knew he could be so thoughtful, so considerate?
Lee Hui-ho, widow of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung,
pays her respects to Kim Jong Il's casket.
Src: Joongang
That evening, Lee Hui-ho and entourage pay their respects to Kim Jong Il's body. There's a lot of crying and apologizing on behalf of South Korea for being so insensitive.

At dinner, the widow Lee is presented with trays of Chinbo mushrooms. They ask her if she remembers them. "How could I forget?" She responds. "Everyone in South Korea knows that story." That is, the story of how Kim Jong Il treated her and her husband to these mushrooms ten years ago, and they liked them so much he sent a bunch south in the fall.

The next day, with great regret, Lee's delegation says goodbye and returns South. The next day, they watch on TV as the funeral procession wends through the streets of Pyongyang, gasping as the hearse is swarmed by grieving people. "How could anyone look at that river of tears and say it is all just 'acting,' or 'forced'?" Lee wonders.

Back in North Korea, the funeral draws to a close. Gazing at the assembled top officials and military officers, Kim Jong Un makes an impassioned speech which includes the line, "We can forgive many things. But we can never forgive the crime of disrespecting our people's tears."

Seasonal Imagery

This story is chock full of winter metaphors. The Lee Myong Bak administration is described as a "cold frost" that froze over the warm wind of the 6.15 Inter-Korean Summit. The South Korean scenes are repeatedly described as cold and desolate, with great dark clouds threatening snow. Lee Hui-ho constantly refers to the current political climate in seasonal terms, saying "When will this cold snap end?" and "I think this winter will be very cold indeed." 

The North Korean delegation that went south for Kim Dae-jung's funeral is described as "a breath of warm spring air blowing on the frosted ground of the South." Kim Dae-jung's nickname, "Honeysuckle," is explained as "the weed that triumphed over winter." "Winter" of course refers to the period of Lee Myŏng-bak's presidency, when North-South relations were at their low ebb.

North Korea's Condolence Delegation

This story contains an interesting reinterpretation of the August 2009 delegation of North Korean officials to Seoul to offer condolences upon the death of the late South Korean President Kim Dae Jung. The section begins with KJU turning to Central Committee Secretary Han Su Nam.

  "Secretary Han Su Nam!" His voice thundered out. "When was it we sent that condolence delegation south?” 
  “Two years ago, in August.”
  “Only two years, then."
  It was two years ago, in August, that all North-South cooperation stopped. The Lee Myong-bak administration’s insane confrontation policy, known as the “lost decade," reached a fever-pitch with the Mt. Kumgang tourist incident. As the whole world was going crazy over our nuclear program, the cretins collaborated with foreign forces, and their bad behavior worsened. The warming mood that followed the 6.15  agreement had completely frozen over.
  After our editorial harshly condemned the traitor administration’s so-called “pragmatic government” as anti-Korean and anti-unification, North-South relations had deteriorated to a state even worse than before the 6.15 agreement. And then Kim Dae-jung passed away.
   The condolence delegation to Seoul, sent in the name of the General, was like a breath of warm spring air blowing on the frosted-over ground of the South at the height of confrontation. When the Central Committee Secretary Han Su Nam stepped out on the tarmac at Incheon airport, the south Koreans lowered their heads in awe at the great magnanimity and brotherly love of the General. The people lined the road all the way from Incheon to Seoul, waving flowers and cheering:  “Thanks to the benevolence and fraternal spirit of NDC Chairman Kim Jong Il, Kim Dae Jung will remain honored in our people’s history forever.” “Even though our land is divided, the blood of our people flows together as one.”
  Meanwhile criticism grew more concentrated against Lee Myung Bak and his policy of confrontation with the Republic. Though he had adamantly resisted, eventually he had no choice but to meet with the delegation. Secretary Han, who had been entrusted with handing over the General's personal letter of condolence, remembered his growing disillusionment as he watched the man flounder. 
Kim Ki Nam (second from left) and other North Korean officials
present flowers at Kim Dae-jung's funeral, August 2009
Src: SinoNK
For reference, here is Hankyoreh's coverage of the 2009 condolence delegation: 
Note: The delegation actually arrived at Kimpo airport, not Inchŏn. Needless to say, the roads from Inchŏn to Seoul were not lined with people shouting the above slogans.

From the above excerpt, we can assume that "Secretary Han Su Nam" is probably Kim Ki Nam, the Central Committee secretary who joined the 2009 condolence delegation (

South Korean key words

At several points this story invokes phrases that hint at how North Korea's writers are in tune with South Korean media terms and key words. The following terms appear in the story:

실용정부 "pragmatic government" - another term for the Lee Myŏng Bak administration; the North Korean text uses this term disparagingly several times.
흡수통일, 급변사태대응책 "Unification by absorption" "Response Strategy for Sudden Emergency" - phrases in vogue whenever North Korean collapse seems imminent
잃어버린 10년 "the lost decade" - refers to the ten years of sunshine policy.
인동초 "Honeysuckle" - apparently this was a nickname of Kim Dae-jung. This seems fairly obscure, but one South Korean blogger wrote this post explaining its meaning.
목포의 눈물 "Tears of Mokpo" - The story describes this as one of Kim Dae-jung's favorite songs. This song is indeed associated with Kim Dae Jung, who considered Mokpo his second hometown.
보안법 National Security Law - The law invoked in South Korea to crack down on pro-North sentiment. Apparently the incident with the incense altars being prohibited by the NSL actually happened.
다음, 네이버 Daum, Naver - listed among the "big 5 internet sites" of South Korea that supposedly posted mourning pages for Kim Jong Il. 
퍼주기 to overfeed, coddle - this is a phrase that was used a lot by South Korean conservatives as the Sunshine Policy was winding down in the late 2000s. In the story, the MoU officials use this phrase to explain their opposition to a condolence visit: "We can't keep coddling them all the time."

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