Thursday, December 22, 2016

Ryeoksa ui Daeha (력사의 대하) Pt 1 - North Korean fanfic about the Clintons

Ryeoksa ui Daeha is a full-length novel by Cheong Ki Jong that was published in North Korea in 1997. The title can be translated as either "Great River of History" or "Jumbo Prawn of History." Since North Korea refuses to use Chinese characters in their publications, there is really no way to definitively know which was intended, but I prefer to think it is the latter.

Author Cheong Ki Jong passed away in 2016.
Src: Yonhap
This novel is quite famous in North Korea, and the author, Cheong Ki Jong, received a rare eulogy by the KCNA when he passed away earlier this year.

Dr. Lim recommended this novel when I asked for stories depicting world leaders and current events; it is a fictional account of the events surrounding North Korea's threatened withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1993. She said there is a particularly good scene in which President Clinton is depicted cowering in fear under a blanket. Since this is a 500-page novel, I'll be skipping around and posting select segments.

The main story line follows the North Korean scientists and officials struggling to develop the nuclear program, with frequent assistance from Kim Jong Il. At several points, however, the POV switches to show the reaction of the Clinton administration to events. The following is an excerpt from the first Clinton chapter, which begins on page 111.

The Clintons in the White House
   On Friday evening, Clinton was planning his weekend vacation.
   His wife Hillary had been frantically making preparations since yesterday. She had set up their itinerary for the two-day trip, carefully allotting time for each activity - yachting, fishing, golf, duck hunting. They had even argued over how to get there; Clinton loved driving his car at high speeds through the countryside, but Hillary cast his preferences aside and decided that they would take the private plane to Camp David (known as the place where Eisenhower and Khrushchev held the Camp David Talks in 1959).
   This weekend would be his first vacation as president. Ever since Bill Clinton took office on January 23, he had been constantly busy making cabinet appointments, managing his administration, formulating his own political and military strategy (크린톤식 정치군사전략) for dealing with global instabilities, engaging in diplomacy and laying groundwork for the "American economic revival" that he had so emphatically promised during his campaign. There had been not a moment to relax.
   But at last they had a chance to catch their breath. Hillary was particularly happy. In her long career as a lawyer she had only dressed in a scholarly fashion, and her mind was always on her legal work; but since becoming First Lady she had begun to to dress elegantly and involve herself in various entertainments and parties, becoming almost vivacious.
   "Bill! About this weekend," she had said at breakfast that morning. "No talking politics or legal stuff while we're away. Got it? We're going to have a 'Return to the State of Nature' like Rousseau. That's the rule for this weekend."
   Then she had insisted that everything about their trip must be set according to her wishes, not just the itinerary but also the music and TV programs, and even the menu for every meal.
   Finally the time to leave was almost here.
   At 5pm, Clinton phoned from his office in the West Wing to the second floor living quarters, but nobody answered. He tried the number for his daughter's study room; still no answer. On a whim he tried the central hall phone number, and finally his daughter Chelsea picked up.
   "Chelsea!"
   "Dad?" Her voice was bubbling with excitement. "Dad, I finally did it!"
   "Did what?"
   "Guess! No, I'll tell you. I finally played 'Dreams of Love' all the way through!"
    12-year-old Chelsea had been working on Liszt's "Dreams of Love" for ages but had been stumped by the arpeggios in the latter section. It seems she had finally had a breakthrough today. It was easy to picture her pirouetting joyfully around the central hall, where the grand piano was.
   "Hey Dad, wanna hear it?" His daughter was already setting the receiver down by the keys. He could hear her excited breathing grow more distant. "Okay, here I go. Listen to this, Dad."
   Shortly, piano chords began emitting from the speakerphone on his desk. As his ears filled with the familiar tune that he had been forced to hear almost daily, his mind turned to other thoughts. In the iron-fenced rose garden on the South Lawn, his helicopter sat waiting. No doubt the house staff were busily loading all the luggage Hillary had packed at that very moment.
   Just then the door opened and in walked White House Chief of Staff Thomas McClarty. Clinton gave him a quizzical look. It was unusual for him to appear unannounced.
   "What is it, Tommy?"  Clinton had called him by this nickname since they were kids. They had grown up in the same town of Hope, Arkansas and had gone to kindergarten together.
   "Mr. President." Thomas' thick jowls quivered and his expression was stern. "There's one thing you need to see. I was going to wait until after the weekend but the CIA director insisted..."   
McClarty hands Clinton an AFP article reporting that South African President De Klerk has publicly revealed that his country developed six nuclear warheads. At first Clinton cannot understand why this has the CIA so upset; Western efforts to help South Africa develop the bomb had been an "open secret" for years. McClarty reminds him of the upcoming IAEA Board of Governors meeting in Vienna, and the fact that North Korea has been increasing its diplomatic lobbying in advance of this meeting.
   Thomas was watching him expectantly. "Mr. President?"
   "Tommy, when it's just you and me, you can drop the formality," he said, suddenly annoyed. "Who in the Cabinet is still around?"
   "Uh, the Interior Secretary, the Attorney General, Treasury, Commerce -"
   "Never mind!" The one he really needed, Secretary of State Christopher, was overseas. "Get me the Secretary of Defense and the CIA director, right now!"
   Just then Chelsea's voice rang sharply from the speakerphone. "Dad! You said you would listen, but you're talking again!"
   "Ah, Chelsea." Clinton ignored Thomas' grin. "Something just came up. What can you do, your dad's the president."
   "Ugh! Do you do anything but make speeches?"
   "Hey, listen to me, okay? I'm going to make time to hear it. Now's just not the time. Understand? Okay, Chelsea, bye now."
Clinton switched off the speakerphone and ordered McCarty to gather the two officials, plus the national security advisor, in the Roosevelt Room. He then turned to the bank of TV screens on one wall showing four networks - ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN - and a live satellite feed provided by the DoD. From here, the President could watch events unfold anywhere at any time, down to "the pensive expression on the face of a farmer tilling wheat in a Russian village."

CNN was already abuzz about De Klerk's announcement. A panel was discussing the history of Israeli-South African nuclear collaboration, including suspicions that the "double flash" incident in 1979 was an Israeli nuclear test done with South Africa's cooperation. The CNN panelist noted that the US obtained uranium from South Africa in the 1940s and that France and Germany had also secretly collaborated with it on nuclear development in the past.

Clinton moved to the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing, which "was built by President Theodore Roosevelt to allow more space for his six children and the various beasts they raised." Defense Secretary Les Aspin, CIA Director James Woolsey, and his national security advisor were already waiting there and greeted him with anxious looks.
   Clinton took his seat and began the meeting.
   "We're here today to discuss North Korea's likely response at the IAEA meeting convening in Vienna.   In case they use South Africa's announcement to accuse the US and the IAEA of discriminatory treatment against them, we must ensure that this does not jeopardize 'Operation Focus'."
   The mood grew serious. "Operation Focus" was the Joint Chiefs' secret plan to attack the North Korean nuclear facility at Yongbyon. Around the time of the Team Spirit 93 joint military exercises, they intended to launch a targeted strike against Yongbyon and then use the North Korean response (which would surely be swift and merciless) as an excuse to launch a full-fledged war.
   In order for this operation to succeed, the role of the IAEA was crucial. By using the meeting to highlight the lack of transparency of North Korea's nuclear program and  its refusal to allow "special inspections," they could further isolate the North and justify the attack to the international community.
   "Mr. President," the CIA director began. "Regardless of what North Korea does, the participants are already drafting their resolution."
   "Is that so?" Clinton asked, and immediately felt stupid. The CIA director doubtless had access even to drafts of the IAEA members' speeches.
   "Yes, sir. And if the North Koreans bring up South Africa and Israel, they'll only be implicating themselves. After all, their nuclear program is just as untransparent."
   Defense Secretary Aspin spoke up. "This might actually be a good thing. The more they complain about South Africa, the more they will alienate the Western countries that aided it, and we'll get even more support from them for our strategy."
   To this, the NSA countered, "The world is not just countries like France and Germany. When it comes to the nuclear issue, we have to worry about the influence this will have on problematic countries like India and Pakistan, and Algeria."
   As he listened to their arguments, Clinton began to quietly reconsider 'Operation Focus." The truth was that he did not consider war to be necessarily a desirable outcome. As the last election had proven, the most important issue for Americans was the economy....
   Clinton was well aware that he was neither a great epoch-making man nor a battle-blooded war hero. In his view there were four great American presidents: the independence war general Washington, of course; the civil war era leader Lincoln; FDR who led America in WWII; and Kennedy, who overcame the greatest tension of the Cold War when the Soviet Union tried to put missiles in Cuba. All four were heroes of their eras, with extraordinary courage and leadership capabilities.
   But why couldn't he, Clinton, be the same?
   People thought of him as a jolly guy and an optimist, but few knew that behind the smiling face lay a deep ambition and competitive spirit.... From his unhappy childhood under the care of his alcoholic stepfather, he had been driven by a desperate ambition. This ambition had allowed him to be selected to visit the White House as a youth, even shaking hands with his hero President Kennedy, and his sights had been set on the White House ever since....
The text continues in some detail about Clinton's education history and his early political career, noting that he was both the youngest and longest-serving state governor in US history. After "a ferocious campaign of one year and one month," he had finally become president. Now, his final competition was against the great presidents of the past whose names had been written large in history.

He thought of the long line of presidents who had been humiliated by North Korea - Truman and Eisenhower with the Korean War, Johnson and Nixon with the Pueblo and EC121 incidents. But now the world had changed, the Soviet Union had collapsed and North Korea was left isolated. Now was his chance to end them and, in so doing, write his name large in history.
   With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Clinton regarded North Korea as a trifling matter. He made a public fuss about the advanced weaponry they possessed, but privately he wasn't too worried. America's superior firepower had been proven in the Gulf War.
   So what was there to worry about? A pretext for war, that's what. They could not allow a stain on the veil of democracy that America draped about itself. He must take care not to acquire the "mass murderer" label that had plagued Truman after giving the order to drop the first nuclear bomb.
   Just then Woolsey spoke up. "Mr. President, the important thing is to keep provoking the North Koreans so that their leadership loses their wits."
   "?" Clinton hadn't been following the earlier conversation closely and wasn't sure how to respond.
   Aspin stepped in to the pause. "History shows that wars are always preceded by some strong peace offensive." (강력한 평화공세)
   "What are you saying?" Woolsey demanded. "Are you calling 'Team Spirit' a peace offensive?" The mood grew tense.
   Just then the door opened and Hillary walked in, carrying a tea tray and smiling coquettishly. Hillary was always taking over from the servants and playing hostess whenever guests were around. This allowed her to snoop in on conversations.
   Traditionally the president's wife was not supposed to hold any official position or involve herself in the administration's work, but Hillary had never stuck to that rule. At this point she had become his most influential advisor.  It was said that most of his cabinet had been chosen or recommended by her.... With her wise advise and novel ideas, she had directly influenced policy and earned a formal seat in the cabinet meeting room....
   Her sudden entrance swept away the grim mood in the room. Clad in a black dress, she warmed up the room with her feminine scent and warm smile.  "Drink up, everyone," she said, delivering tea, coffee and soda around the room according to each man's preference. "But why the long faces?"
   "Madam, just now we feel like poets searching for inspiration," said Aspin.
   "Is that so?" she replied with another grin. "But do you really need to search for it? I thought inspiration had to come on its own."
   "Of course! It's just that..."
   "Just that the president is making you all search for it?"
   The room erupted in laughter at her wit.
   "Whatever you do," she continued, "Don't get too far ahead of yourselves or you'll just wear out. Why not sleep on it?" Clinton read the look she gave him to mean that she had given up on the weekend plans, and was proposing to continue discussing this important problem tomorrow.
   "Let's do this," Clinton turned to address the room. "We'll take the position of welcoming South Africa's decision to come clean on its nuclear program. But we'll use that to put pressure on North Korea. We'll strongly urge them to confess what they've been hiding, as South Africa did. The Vienna conference is key to making this work. The pretext for war that we've been seeking depends on that conference. By pointing out their lack of transparency and deepening suspicions about their nuclear program, we can heighten global concern about them. Then the whole world will support our 'Operation Focus'."
   After thinking a moment, Clinton called Thomas in and gravely commanded, "Inform all NSC staff. For the next month, no weekends off for anybody." The order to cancel vacations for all NSC staff, including himself, indicated that he intended to put an end to the nuclear issue - and North Korea - once and for all within the month.
   That left one more matter to address. "And the time has come to send our tactical nuclear bombers to the peninsula.... This will put huge psychological pressure on the North Korean leadership and fill their people with fear."
   At his words, everyone in the room knew that war in the Far East would soon be a reality.

Depiction of US Politics

For a North Korean novel, this passage paints a relatively nuanced portrait of the workings of executive power in the US. The president is depicted as not having much control over the media, making promises to get elected and then feeling obligated to make good on them, and having to appease more conservative elements in order to achieve his agenda. His cabinet members openly disagree and argue with one another in his presence. He is concerned about global opinion turning against the US at the IAEA meeting.

It is notable that the text points out Clinton's humble upbringings, even exaggerates them a little. In describing Clinton's rise to power, the key words "ambition" and "competition" are repeated many times. These concepts have a decidedly negative connotation in Korean popular culture. North and South Korea share a common trove of folk tales endorsing the narrative of the ambitious schemer who seeks to steal power away from the virtuous prince. This narrative can be seen in many South Korean dramas today.

Depiction of Hillary Clinton

The Clintons in the White House
Src: AP
Like Rosalynn Carter in "Maehok", Hillary Clinton is depicted here in mostly positive terms as a "wise" (현명한) and "creative" (기발한) advisor to her husband, if a bit controlling. Clearly, the author had been following US media coverage of Hillary's role early in her husband's administration and the criticisms of her exceeding her brief as First Lady.

What is most interesting is the way the author imagines Hillary using her feminine wiles to interpose into the world of male power. She comes in bearing a tray of drinks, sorted in advance according to each man's taste - a classic female chore in office spaces across East Asian countries. Her "feminine scent" (녀성특유의 아릿한 체취) and "coquettish smile" (애교있는 미소) are described as having a warming effect on the men in the room. She seems to be very adept at using her feminine characteristics to wheedle her way into the policy conversation.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

"Jikjangjang ui Haru" (직장장의 하루) - A North Korean working mother tries to have it all

"Jikjangjang ui Haru" (A Shift Manager's Day) by Kang Bok Rye appeared in Chosun Munhak in August 1992.

This story, which was in the same Sallimteo collection as "Sarm ui Hyanggi," follows a day in the life of a working mom in North Korea. The protagonist, Kim Myeong Ok, is a manager at a textile factory, the wife of a lecturer at an agricultural college, and the mother of two elementary school children. The story follows Kim through a day in her harried life, as she deals with crises large and small. Along the way we are treated to glimpses of family life, work life in a big factory complex, inter-office dating, and even a North Korean wedding. Since the wedding comes at the end, I believe that makes this story technically a comedy in the Shakespearean sense.

This story was written in a fairly plain style with lots of dialogue and less flowery description, almost Hemingway-esque compared to "Sarm ui Hyanggi," and thus it was a much quicker read for me.

A North Korean textile factory.
Src: USA Today

The Plot

Kim Myeong Ok starts her day getting her young son and daughter ready for school. She has a brief conflict with her husband, who is distressed that he cannot find his good white shirt. She had just washed it last night, and it is not dry yet. He fumes that he needs it because he has to attend his students' presentations today; she points out that he should have told her that last night. He finally storms off in his less presentable gray shirt, without even fastening his tie.

Feeling inadequate, Kim goes to the office and throws herself into the day's work. She checks the machines that are to be prepped for a new pattern, and notes that three of the warp twills have not been switched out. She is informed that the new warp twill patterns are not ready yet, and so she confronts the supply manager. He lackadaisically remarks that delaying three looms is not such a big deal, to which she responds with a blistering speech about the vital importance of meeting deadlines and supplying cloth in a timely fashion "for the people." She orders a technician over to prepare the twills ASAP.

One of the assistant managers, briefing her on issues in the previous shift, mentions that a worker named Tanshil has missed two days of work. The reason? Her baby got sick and she had to tend to him in the hospital.
   "Comrade manager, how about shifting the women with babies to the service department? After all, how are they supposed to work properly when they're always needing to stay home with sick kids, or running off to the daycare center?"
   Kim Myong Ok knew that even with just two or three nursing mothers in every shift, the decline in productivity made the shift foremen unhappy and caused headaches for the assistant managers. But still, she couldn't accept Assistant Manager Cho's suggestion.
   "Comrade, your thinking is flawed. If you shift the young mothers to the service department, you'll be pulling the most experienced workers off the machines. We're short of skilled workers as it is, with the number of machines increasing."
   "But that's what the other managers are doing," Assistant Manager Cho replied stubbornly.
   "Well, they can do as they please, but I won't do it.  What we need to do is correct the mindset of the assistant managers who complain so much about nursing mothers," Kim said curtly, indicating that she would brook no further comment on the matter.
The assistant manager mentions in passing that he expects Tanshil will not be around much longer in any case; the gossip is that she is planning on quitting. Kim is startled to hear this; Tanshil is one of her best workers.

On her lunch break, Kim goes to visit Tanshil and her baby Young-ho in the hospital. She finds that it was just a minor stomach bug and the boy has almost completely recovered overnight. She chides Tanshil for being a nervous first-time mother, but also urges her to keep the boy in the clinic until he is completely better.

Then she broaches the subject that has been troubling her.
   "Tanshil, is it true that you are planning to quit?"
   Tanshil smiled nervously, and finally replied, "Young-ho's dad said I should quit, so..."
   "Your husband said that?" Kim repeated, surprised. She had been hoping it was not true. Tanshil avoided her gaze. "Well, what do you think? Will you do as he says?"
   "I don't know what I should do."
   "Tanshil, you are a skilled technician of complex multi-machines who can produce 400 meters of cloth in a day; if you just quit and go home what will you do? Just rely on your husband for everything? You know right now the whole factory is teeming with orders to increase cloth production; how could our most prized worker entertain such thoughts? I'll have to have a word with your husband."
   Tanshil lifted her gaze from the floor and quietly replied, "Comrade manager, it may be my husband saying it, but I too feel like I'm not taking proper care of him. And we're having fights over little things, I can't help feeling sorry."
Kim is suddenly reminded of the morning scene she had with her husband. She confesses to Tanshil that she has had similar thoughts herself, but still urges her to persevere, arguing there is little meaning (보람) in a life spent relying on one's husband. She then takes her leave and returns to the factory.

Upon returning, she makes her rounds on the floor and comes upon a heated exchange between a young factory repairman named Jeong Nam and a loom worker named Sun Ae. She can't hear what they're saying over the roar of the machines, and the two break apart as soon as they see her, but it is clear they were arguing about something. She tells Jeong Nam to follow her to the office where they can talk. Before she can even sit down, he makes an urgent request:
   "Comrade Manager, please transfer me to a different shift!"
   "Change shifts? What for?" Kim Myong Ok stared at him in surprise.
   "Just please, transfer me. I cannot work this shift anymore." Jeong Nam was adamant.
   "I can't transfer you without having a meeting to discuss the problem. We have to get the assistant manager's position. Anyway, why were you fighting with Sun Ae?"
   "Loom workers should take proper care of their machines. All they care about is churning out cloth, with no thought for how the machines are bearing up. That's why we were arguing."
   "You're right, loom workers should care for their machines as if they owned them. But you have to persuade them reasonably; what's the use of fighting? I'll have a word with Sun Ae."
Later on, however, Kim hears from the assistant manager that there was another explanation for the fight. Jeong Nam and Sun Ae are in love, but rumor has it Sun Ae's parents have arranged for her to marry some guy in Deokcheon. The two have been fighting ever since.

The major conflict of the day occurs around 4pm, when the statistician runs the numbers and find that they are going to be 300 meters shy of the factory's 24-hour quota. The daily quota sets the total cloth output in meters that must be produced by all the shifts summed together each day; this number is set by the Party and comes due at the end of the day shift, at 5pm.

The other office workers seem unperturbed by this shortfall, but Kim springs into action. For her, the daily quota is a matter of law and "a reflection of the ambitions of the Party" (당적 량심의 거울). She devises a plan to select thirty of the fastest machines and assign them an extra 10 meters each, to be completed in the next hour. She busily runs about collecting spools as the final minutes tick by, and the statistician announces the final tally: 56 meters above quota! The factory floor erupts with cheers.

As the shift ends, Kim gets a visit from Sun Ae, the young woman who had been seen fighting with the repairman.
   "Comrade Sun Ae, is it true that your parents are sending you to Deokcheon to get married?"
   At her manager's blunt question, Sun Ae's eyes took on a mischievous light. "No, I told them no way. I don't see any reason to leave the town where I was born and raised."
   "Then why distance yourself from Jeong Nam? He's a good man and a go-getter. He'll be a senior technician in two years."
   "Oh, not you too. What did I tell him? He walks right on by even when my machine's service light is blinking, of course I'm going to get mad."
   Kim's heart brightened as if the sun had just shone through a break in the clouds.
   "Then Jeong Nam is clearly just nitpicking! And to think he asked to transfer shifts..."
   "He did what? That's ridiculous!" Sun Ae's smile disappeared.
   Kim grinned at Sun Ae's sudden seriousness. "I'll have a word with him tomorrow. I'm sure it will be fine. You must be tired, head on home."
   "I'll have some words with him too! I had no idea he was so petty," Sun Ae said primly, turning to leave.
   "Sun Ae, this isn't pettiness. When two people are in love, they have all sorts of misunderstandings. Don't be too hard on Jeong Nam when you see him. He's a good man."
After the end of the shift, Kim attends a general meeting with the other staff members, and finally leaves just as it is getting dark. There is a wedding tonight that she is determined to attend. The groom is a factory mechanic recently discharged from the army, and his father Deok Bae works in the supply office. She hurries along the road leading from the factory to the residences, but midway there she decides to drop in quickly at home and fix her kids some dinner first.
    Her 10-year-old daughter popped out of the kitchen to greet her, wielding a kitchen knife. Kim Myeong Ok's eyes went wide.
   "Eun Hee, what are you doing?"
   "Chopping onions," her daughter proudly replied.
   "You're doing what?"
   "Dad told me to."
   "Your father is home?"
   "Yep. He's in the bathroom washing Gyeong Su."
   Kim Myeong Ok wondered what could have happened to bring him home so early. With a twinge of guilt she remembered their argument that morning. The children's bags and picture books were scattered haphazardly about the living room. Kim quickly removed her shoes and straightened things up.
   By day she was a manager of several hundred workers producing tens of thousands of meters of fabric daily, but by night she was a wife and a mother of two young children.
   Finishing with the living room, she peeked in the bathroom. Just as her daughter had promised, there was her husband washing her son's face.
   Gyeong Su turned his soapy face up to greet her and shouted, "Mom, I beat Chol Nam!"
   "Be still. Wash you face first and then tell her." her husband scolded.
   Kim turned to her husband. "Why are you home so early?"
  "I can leave early from time to time." 
Her husband informs her that Deok Bae was already by asking after her, wanting to know whether she would be at the wedding. He tells her he has things under control at home, and urges her to hurry along to the party. She insists on fixing the children dinner first. In a surprising character twist, her husband tells her that he can handle the housework tonight, Eun Hee is old enough to start helping a little, and it is wrong to keep an old man waiting. Kim suddenly realizes that this is his way of saying  that her work relationships are important and he wants to support her.  Deeply moved, Kim quickly changes clothes and hurries off to the wedding.

Just like in South Korea, the term "wedding" (결혼식) seems to mean "reception." We do not see any ceremony or exchange of vows, just the afterparty. The reception is held in father-of-the-groom Deok Bae's apartment, which is laid out for a banquet. All the familiar faces from the factory are gathered around tables drinking soft drinks and liquor. People move around pouring liquor into their friends' cups while making little speeches to them; for instance, as Deok Bae fills Kim's glass he recounts how he knew her as a little girl, and congratulates her on rising to become a superb manager.  This is pretty similar to what I've seen at weddings I've attended in Japan and South Korea.

At some point, Kim Myong Ok stands to address the room at large.
"Comrades, on this happy day, I have something I'd like to say to the young people seated here. There is something you must know and always remember about Deok Bae and all the grandfathers in our supply department (자재과 아바이들) .  During the wartime, these men dug air-raid shelters into ravines and worked there weaving military uniforms for the troops. After the war, they endured many hardships amid the ashes to build our factory, and developed our country's textile industry into what it is today. These elders, who were once the managers, assistant managers, core workers and technicians, were this factory's central pillars and deserve our utmost respect. We must shoulder their burden and further develop this industry. We must feel a greater sense of honor and responsibility for our work, so that our whole nation can take even greater pride in our magnificent textile workers."
The reception concludes with a performance by the factory accordion band, which has the whole room on their feet dancing and singing along. Kim feels upbeat as she walks home from the party. It's a tough life, she reflects, with never a moment to rest and relax - but it's because of all her hard work that she can truly enjoy nights like tonight. 

Main Themes and Intent

Similar to "Sarm ui Hyanggi," this story seems primarily intended to educate people about ideal managerial behavior while raising consciousness about gender issues in the workplace. Kim Myeong Ok is represents the ideal, both as a woman and as a socialist worker. Like a lot of social realist fiction, the story tries to further emphasize the protagonist's perfection by surrounding her with sub-par individuals. As a result, Kim ends up seeming like the only person in the factory's management with any common sense or work ethic.

Kim Myeong Ok displays several ideal behaviors. She is attentive to the pressures in her workers' private lives and takes personal responsibility for helping them. She is keenly aware of her most valuable workers and works hard to keep them on the team. She also respects deadlines and quotas as the law; the rest of her staff seem content to let things slide. The primary sin of her colleagues is their complacency; Kim has to repeatedly remind them of the importance of their product and the customers they serve.

The urgency behind this theme is easy to grasp: North Korea needs its women to wholeheartedly participate in vital areas of the workforce, without being slowed down by family commitments. Kim's feelings of inadequacy about her homemaking duties are depicted as irrational, if common, sentiments shared by her junior worker Tanshil and many others. She knows in her heart that she is not really at fault for not having her husband's shirt ready, but she instinctively blames herself. Her conversation with Tanshil at the hospital helps her to realize that the real problem is one of correcting her own consciousness.

Frankly, the at-home conflict seems rather unfinished. Tanshil's husband seems like kind of a jerk in the morning, runs off in a huff, and then reappears near the end of the story as the very image of an attentive and understanding husband. There is no interaction in between to explain how he reached this epiphany. I get the feeling something got left on the cutting room floor with that sub-plot.

Workplace Personnel and Staff

Through the story one can get a sense of the age and gender dynamics at play in North Korean work assignments. It appears from the story as if all loom workers (직포공) are female; various images found online seem to confirm this. The repair technicians (수리공) in the story are all male. Interestingly, all the workers in the supply department (자재과) are referred to by the honorific title "아바이" implying that they are all elderly men.

Since Korean has no gendered pronouns and characters are often referred to by their titles rather than names, one often has to rely on context and style of speech to determine gender. The supply manager (준비직장장) with whom Kim argues about the warp twills appears to be older than her and male, based on his style of speech.  The unnamed statistician (통계원) is young and speaks rather formerly, so it is hard to definitively ascertain gender. The head technician (책임기사) and assistant manager (부직장장) are also young but I'm guessing they are both male based on their names, Yeong-seop and Seong-man respectively.

The story offers a few glimpses into some characters' career paths. Kim Myong Ok was a loom worker for 12 years, five of which were spent attending a light industry college, before becoming a manager. She got married and had her children when she was in college. The head technician graduated the previous fall from a light industry college and was dispatched (배치되여) to the factory's tech repair department (기술준비실) initially as a temporary worker, but became head technician for unknown reasons just a short time ago.  The young technician Jeong Nam is described as highly motivated and is currently attending the factory college (공장대학); in a few years he is expected to become a senior technician (기사). In the episode with Sun Ae threatening to move to Deokchon, it is mentioned that it would take 5-6 years to train another skilled loom worker of her caliber. The bridegroom, old Deok Bae's son, was discharged last year from the army and promptly assigned to his father's factory as a repair technician, where he already shows great promise.

North Korean vocabulary

I discovered an easy way to determine if a vocabulary word is North Korean or just Korean: use Naver's 국어 dictionary tool and look for the [북한어] tag in the definition. Here are some of the North Korean words I learned in this story:


  • 직장장  A unit manager in a workplace
  • 혼타공장 a spinning mill in which different cotton fibers are spun together.
  • 따지다  To burst a piece of stitching (means something very different in South Korean)
  • 나뉜 옷 A woman's two-piece suit
  • 시뚝거리다 To sulk and be displeased
  • 오똘거리다  To be flippant and quick to anger
  • 아바이  "father" in the Kyeongsang dialect; frequently used in North Korea as a respectful title for elderly men. In this story, all the workers in the supply department are referred to as 아바이
  • 고뿌  cup (my North Korean student specifically mentioned this as an example of a Japanese "borrowed" word, which is kind of funny because in Japanese it is considered foreign and is spelled using Katakana. She believes North Koreans still use more Japanese words than South Koreans)



Friday, December 2, 2016

"Dokdo" (독도) - Love, loss and fishing on a disputed islet

The islets of Dokdo
The short story "Dokdo" appeared in Chosun Munhak in August 2006, right around the time the Dokdo/Takeshima tussle was heating up between South Korea and Japan. I remember this well, as I was living in Japan at the time. The Japanese prefecture that claims the islands of Takeshima as its jurisdiction proclaimed a "Takeshima Day" festival, and South Korean media blew up overnight. South Korea refers to the islands as "Dokdo" and has stationed a garrison there since 1954.

I picked this story because I wanted to see how the Dokdo controversy is depicted in North Korea, which also technically claims sovereignty over the islets (along with all South Korean territory).

This story is told in the story-within-a-story-within-a-story style; a historian, being interviewed in the present day, recounts a story he heard from an old fisherman he interviewed years ago, about events that occurred on Dokdo during the Japanese colonial period. The narrative thus jumps back and forth between the three different times and settings. The fisherman's speech is rendered in a thick Gyeongsang dialect.

The Plot

The historian Hyun Young Ryul had been commissioned by the Kumsung Youth Publishing Company to write an article directed at young people, explaining Dokdo's historical status as Korean territory. Looking over the papers he had been writing, Hyun suddenly felt he wasn't adequately expressing what he wanted to say.

Just then his thoughts are interrupted by a visit from a young publishing representative named Kim Jong Min who has come to interview him.
   "Far from abandoning their ambitions for seizing Dokdo, the Japanese reactionaries have grown more frantic. A clear example is their 2007 decision to use middle and high school texts claiming that Dokdo is Japanese. That's why our publisher has decided to print materials explaining the historical, geographic, and environmental components of the territorial issue so that youth to understand it more clearly. If time permits, I'd like you to discuss it in more detail." 
Hyun proceeds with a lengthy, rather pedantic description of the islands: their geographic features, ecology, mineral resources, distance from Ulleungdo and the mainland, etc. This section seems dedicated to simply educating readers who might not know what exactly Dokdo is.

North Korean stamps celebrating Dokdo
(Src: Chosun Ilbo)
As he speaks, Hyun is suddenly reminded of an interview he conducted many years ago with an old fisherman named Hwang Hak Chun who had been born and raised on Ulleungdo.
   "I had a dream last night that a historian from the capital would come to see me," the old man said, fiddling with his cigarette. "But I have no idea how this old illiterate could be of any help."
   "Please, just share anything about life on Ulleungdo. The lifestyle, the scenery, people and incidents you remember, things like that."
   "Ha, what nonsense. History is about great people who defeated foreign enemies, like General Eulji Mundeok and Admiral Ri Sun Shin, not some old guy who lived on some island."
   As he started to turn away, Hyun asked the old man if he had ever chanced to visit Dokdo.
   "Of course. Not just to visit, but I lived there in the summer," he said, lighting a cigarette. "Even when dirt fills my eyes, I'll never forget that place... You could say that I buried my youth, my love, and indeed my whole life on those islets. When I was young, I fell in love for the first time there."
When Hwang was growing up on Ulleungdo, there was a young girl in the house next door named Somnyon. A few years before national liberation, he and Somnyon both lost their fathers on the same day, when the two went sailing together and got swept out to sea. Hwang's household had a strong young worker and was able to make ends meet, but Somnyon's family was having trouble.

Hwang and Somnyon began working together to provide for their families. As they spent more and more time together out on the water, they developed feelings for each other. One flirtatious episode is recounted, involving skinny-dipping and a pair of fishing goggles. The pair eventually decided to marry. However, it was still a struggle to support their combined families. So Hwang decided to set out for Dokdo, where he had heard there was a wealth of abalone, sea urchin and sea cucumber in the surrounding waters.

"Dokdo is our land since ancient times!"
(Src: The Asia-Pacific Journal)

Hwang and Somnyon made many trips to Dokdo over that summer, staying overnight in a stone hut on a narrow gravel spit. It was on Dokdo, as the couple sat outside their hut counting the stars one evening, that Somnyon revealed she was pregnant.

As Somnyon's pregnancy progressed, Hwang tried to talk her out of exerting herself so much, but she insisted on accompanying him on one more fishing trip to Dokdo.

When they arrived, they found a fishing boat was already there. It was Hwang's buddy Myongduk. The fishermen called out happily to each other, and agreed to fish separate areas. Hwang deposited Somnyon at the campsite where she could prepare to cook their dinner. Hwang then spent the afternoon fishing alone, and was just about to turn toward the island for supper when suddenly, gunshots sounded.

Paddling frantically toward his campsite, he spotted a strange motorboat floating between the two islands. At the campsite, he found the abandoned pot still boiling. Somnyon was collapsed on the ground a little ways away, with a wound on her leg gushing blood.
   "You bastards! How could you shoot a living person?" Hwang raised his fists and screamed. The Japs, who had been busily loading a seal into their boat, turned and gaped at him.
   One fellow who seemed to understand some Korean came to the front of the boat and called out, "Oh, was someone injured? That's not our fault. You folks get mixed in with the seals, and it's hard to tell you apart. Koreans and seals are so much alike."
   "What? You thieving bastards, you think Koreans are the same as seals?"
   He had heard that the oenom had been making huge profits from seal hunting on Dokdo, but this was his first run-in with them. It was bad enough that they came creeping over to another country's islands like a thieving street cat, but to actually hurt people?  These were not simply thieves, they were bandits and beasts! Hwang thought: Oh, if only I had a gun, I would rain fire on their heads until I felt better...
   "You bastards, what gives you the right to come to someone else's island, hunt seals and shoot people?"
    At Hwang's relentless scolding, the Japs stopped what they were doing and came crowding to the front of their boat. The one who spoke Korean put on a bold front for his buddies: "This is Japan's land, Takeshima. Don't you know that?"
   "Don't talk nonsense. Dokdo has been Korean land for generations. Since when did it become yours?"
   "And what is Korea? There is no more Korea, so how could it be a Korean island?" The Japanese laughed. "Guy doesn't even have a country, and he says this is his country's island..."
Myongduk had also come paddling over at the sound of the gunshot. When he saw that Somnyon had been shot, the irascible fisherman flew into a rage and paddled over to the Japanese vessel, shouting obscenities. The Japanese fired several warning shots to keep him away, but when he started beating their boat with an oar one of them lowered his gun defensively, and accidentally shot him in the head.

Seeing his friend slump motionless in the boat, Hwang momentarily forgot his wife and rushed over to help. The Japanese took advantage of the confusion to beat a hasty retreat. Hwang turned to Myongduk's young companion and told him to make haste back to Ulleungdo to get medical care. After seeing his wounded friend off, he returned to his wife.

Her face was pale from loss of blood, but the more immediate problem was that the shock had sent her into labor. Hwang knew she would not survive long without help, but the nearest midwife was on Ulleungdo. Desperate, he began trying to load his wife onto the boat, but she just moaned and shook her head.
"If I'm going to die, I want to die here on Dokdo. This is where we fell in love, and I feel at peace here."
Somnyon finally gave birth, and then passed out from pain and blood loss. Hwang shook her awake, pleading with her to live, but it was no use. With her dying breath, she asked Hwang to take care of their baby, and bury the placenta on Dokdo.

Hwang accommodated his wife's dying wish, burying the placenta under the rocky shoal near their cottage, and marking the spot with a large rock. He then set off for Ulleungdo, with his newborn son squalling for milk and his dead wife lying motionless beside him. Upon arrival, he learned that his buddy Myongduk succumbed to his wounds en route as well.

Hearing that Japanese poachers had killed two people, the Ulleungdo islanders marched to the township offices to demand justice, but the (Japanese) township officials replied that since they had let the assailants go there was no way to find them and charge them. However, noting that none of them had obtained permits to fish on Dokdo, they charged Hwang and Myongduk's young assistant with trespassing and put them both in jail.

After languishing in jail for a month, Hwang returned to find that his baby had survived in his mother's care, although they had had to beg for help feeding him. Soon after that, he got his draft notice from the Japanese military. Hwang knew that without his support his entire family and Somnyon's surviving family would starve. With no other choice, he left to seek his fortune on the mainland, promising his mother he would send for them as soon as he could.

Hwang traveled north as far as Chongjin, where he found work as a day laborer. He sent word back to Ulleungdo with an acquaintance, and his mother brought the family to join him. Somehow, they survived to the end of the war.

   [Hwang recalls to Professor Hyun]: That August, the anti-Japanese struggle was victorious, the Japs were crushed and we were liberated. I remember it like yesterday, sweeping through the streets with my buddies, cheering "long live!" for General Kim Il Sung at the top of my lungs. The first spring after liberation, General Kim Il Sung visited Chongjin and held a huge celebration for the international worker's holiday on May 1st, declaring that the workers were now the owners of the country. I joined the march on that first May Day, waving the red flag proudly, and felt it was truly wonderful to be alive.
   To think that this poor fisherman, a draft dodger without a country, could become one of the owners of the new nation...  At that moment I realized that in order to live like human beings, people need a country of their own, led by a great General who serves the people as if they were heaven.
   Through all that, I never forgot Ulleungdo and Dokdo. I longed to spread my wings on my native island, free from the treacherous oenom. I kept thinking I would go back soon, but I waited too long and then the American bastards blocked us off at the 38th parallel. I wonder if I will ever get to go home again, and see Somnyon's grave...
At this point Hwang broke off telling his story, as there was a knock on the door. In walked a tall young soldier in a neat navy uniform. Hwang revealed that this was none other than his son, Tae Seok, now all grown up. He had been granted leave to visit home as a reward for his stellar performance in training.
"Professor, listen to this old man's words. Tae Seok, you sit and listen too. We say that Ulleungdo and Dokdo belong to our country, but that isn't just because it's written so in books and on maps. It's our land because our Korean placenta is buried there, and our sweat and our tears and dreams permeate the land."
Back in the present day, continuing his story to the young interviewer, Professor Hyun confesses that he recently met Hwang's son Tae Seok again, at a naval base on the East coast. The young soldier had grown to become a distinguished-looking naval commander.
    "Father passed away several years ago at 80, having never again seen his hometown on Ulleungdo. Even after you left, he kept on reminding me, 'You are a son of Dokdo. Your placenta is still buried there, under that large rock I left as a marker. He made me swear that I would protect it, not just as my duty but to preserve my parents' honor."
   His eyes scanning the distant horizon, Tae Seok continued: "Nowadays the Japanese reactionaries are acting completely ridiculous - declaring "Takeshima Day," printing distorted textbooks, claiming Dokdo in their 2005 Defense White Paper, and whatnot. They've even mobilized their warships and jets to make practice landing drills. They've made illegal intrusions in the area around Dokdo: 45 times in 1993, 63 in 1994, 85 in 1995, and 58 times in just 9 months from January to September 1999. It gets worse every year.... We soldiers will never forgive those who infringe on our national sovereignty."
Long after the interviewer leaves, Professor Hyun sits at his window contemplating that old fisherman's tale. The story ends as he takes up his pen and begins to write.

Territory as destiny

The story cleverly connects the Dokdo issue with the history of the Korean nation and the threat of becoming "a people without a country" (망국노) Several times in his story the old fisherman associates his sorrows with the fact that he had "lost his country." The Japanese who mock him after shooting his wife make a point of reminding him that he has no country, and therefore no claim, to the islets.

In concluding his remarks to his interviewer, Professor Hyun warns,
If we allow even a slight infringement of our country's sovereignty, the country will be taken away piece by piece and we will become a people without a country, penniless, aimless and scattered. Dokdo may be just a few rocky islets, but it is not small. It is a precious land imbued with our people's honor and infused with our forefathers' blood.
Interestingly, not once does the story mention the fact that the islands are currently occupied by the South Korean military. Clearly there are no North Koreans there, as the old fisherman bemoans being unable to visit either Dokdo or his ancestral home on Ulleungdo. And the Japanese clearly do not hold the islands, as they are supposedly planning an invasion. But the reader is left unaware of the current defensive fortifications on the islets, and the fact that they have become a major tourist destination for patriotic South Koreans.

Indeed, the reader is left with the strong impression that the islands are somehow being defended by the North Korean military. For instance, the old fisherman's parting words to Professor Hyun are:
"Don't worry, Professor. As long as we have General Kim Jong Il's revolutionary Songun leadership and our invincible Korean People's Army, Dokdo will remain our land. This is not just me talking; it is backed up by our soldiers, who don't know how to make empty threats."
Legal background for Dokdo

As this story seems primarily aimed at educating North Koreans about the details of the conflict, the narrator takes several long asides to reflect on the details. At the outset, we find the historian Hyun Young Ryul alone in his office, contemplating historical patterns:
  Taking advantage of the "Unyang Incident" that they had fabricated, the Japanese Imperialists threatened the feudal government of Joseon (리조봉건정부) and forced them into the Kanghwa Treaty. Then, by Article 5 of the Eulsa Treaty, they seized control of Korea. Even after their regime collapsed and they were chased out, at every opportunity they plotted to reinvade. Looking over the long list of such incidents, one can uncover a clear historical pattern.
  The recent moves by the Japanese imperialists to talk of our land of Dokdo, in the seas southeast of Ulleungdo, as "common territory" reflect a continuation of this pattern that cannot be overlooked.
  The Dokdo problem has continued for over 100 years, but never before have our people been so united and gutsy in responding to it.
   What has awakened our people so abruptly? In this era when we guard our independence like our lives, it is imperative that we view the Dokdo matter as not merely a territorial issue but as a serious political issue.
Later, in the midst of Hyun's story about the fisherman, his interviewer interrupts:
   "Professor! Lately these Japanese reactionaries have been going on about the Shimane Prefecture Edict 40, saying it 'proves' the legal basis of their right to Dokdo. Could you explain that in more detail?"
   Hyun Young Ryul replied without a moment's hesitation: "Edict 40 was concocted in February 1905 by the Shimane prefectural government to establish Takeshima - that is, Dokdo - as part of their prefecture. This tricky document is not worth even discussing. More importantly, we should be asking ourselves what the Dokdo issue signifies, and what its wider implications are.
   "Of course, the Japanese imperialists' designs toward Korea have always been the same, but we can assess that the Dokdo issue only really began around 1905. A Japanese whaler from Shimane named Nakai Yosaburo had been illegally hunting seals in the surrounding waters since 1903, making huge profits every year. By incorporating Dokdo into Shimane Prefecture he hoped to gain a monopoly on seal hunting. The Japanese government, which was just waiting for the chance to acquire Korea, approved Nagai's lease petition in January 1905 and determined that Dokdo, as "unclaimed land," could be incorporated into Japanese territory. Accordingly, on February 22 of that year Shimane Prefecture concocted Edict 40 and unilaterally incorporated Dokdo as its territory.
   "But was Dokdo really 'unclaimed land'? Already 1500 years have passed since the land of Usan (including Ulleungdo and Dokdo) was absorbed into the Shilla kingdom in 512 AD, as is recorded in the History of the Three Kingdoms (삼국사기). According to the basic principles of international law, a state can only claim a territory as 'unclaimed land' if its people were the first to inhabit it. By that principle, our country had already claimed ownership of Ulleungdo and Dokdo 1500 years ago.
   "Furthermore, the feudal Chosun government reaffirmed its possession of Dokdo in accordance with modern international law in October 1900 when King Kojong issued Edict 41, proclaiming Dokdo and Ulleungdo as part of Kangwon Prefecture."
This description matches pretty closely with South Korea's arguments supporting its own claim. One slight difference is that the North Koreans seem to more readily acknowledge the role played by King Kojong and the fading Chosun Dynasty. As a "feudal" government, it is regarded by the DPRK as illegitimate, and thus any legal documents they may have signed can be freely acknowledged and condemned without risk of contradiction.

Explaining Dokdo's value

Early on, Hyun explains to his interviewer that the area around Dokdo is rich in natural resources, not only fisheries but liquefied natural gas, "the oil of the sea." Later, after telling the fisherman's tale, Hyun elaborates on why he believes Japan covets the islands so much:
"There is no historical or legal grounds to doubt our country's claim to Dokdo. Yet the Japanese imperialists continue to make trouble about it. It is vital for us to understand the source of their ambitions.
   "Japan's desire for Dokdo stems from two root causes. The first is economic; they want to monopolize the rich natural resources in the waters and seabed around Dokdo, while using the islets as a base to redraw the ocean territory and push their exclusive economic zone closer to our country.
   "The second is their military aspirations. During the Russo-Japanese war they used it as a refueling base to defeat the czarist Russian fleet, and in the same way they intend to use it again when they invade the north and re-take Korea. In other words, the Japanese militarists want to use Dokdo as a military beachhead (군사적교두보) to re-invade Korea, on the way to finally achieving their old dream of conquering all of Asia."

Hyun then proceeds with a lengthy historical explanation of the "Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere" (대동아 공영권), Japan's ambitious plan for regional domination which he believes it has never truly abandoned.


Historical references

I was mildly surprised to see casual references to Eulji Mundeok and Yi Sun Shin in the story. I had been led to understand that North Koreans typically don't learn much about historical people or incidents unless members of the Kim family are directly involved. For instance, I recently discovered that one of my North Korean students was unaware of the story of Perry's Black Ships, although he knew all about the General Sherman.

North Korean geographic terms and labels

This story filled me in on all the various terms for Japanese, including the following:
일제   Japanese imperialists
일본반동들    Japanese reactionaries
일본군국주의자    Japanese militarists
왜놈   oenom, ethnic slur for Japanese

In addition, I learned these unfamiliar terms:
리조봉건정부  Feudal government of Choseon (i.e. the Choseon Dynasty)
짜리 로시야   Czarist Russia