Marching Through Suffering: Loss and Survival in North Korea (Contemporary Asia in the World)
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Marching Through Suffering is a deeply personal portrait of the ravages of famine and totalitarian politics in modern North Korea since the 1990s. Featuring interviews with more than thirty North Koreans who defected to Seoul and Tokyo, the book explores the subjective experience of the nation's famine and its citizens' social and psychological strategies for coping with the regime.
These oral testimonies show how ordinary North Koreans, from farmers and soldiers to students and diplomats, framed the mounting struggles and deaths surrounding them as the famine progressed. Following the development of the disaster, North Koreans deployed complex discursive strategies to rationalize the horror and hardship in their lives, practices that maintained citizens' loyalty to the regime during the famine and continue to sustain its rule today. Casting North Koreans as a diverse people with a vast capacity for adaptation rather than a monolithic entity passively enduring oppression, Marching Through Suffering positions personal history as a critical lens for interpreting political violence.
that the population of North Korea is about 24 million, then the number of defections to South Korea and further afield is minuscule.2 Although defection is on the rise, particularly since the famine, the majority of people stay put. In defecting, the risk to life is great. Travel into China without a legal permit is deemed punishable by up to five years of labor reform under Article 233 of North Korea’s Criminal Code, and deemed an act of treason against the nation under Article 62 of the
highlights another feature of the accounts overall, which is the tendency to focus on the people’s struggles while in the North and on Kim Jong-Il’s failures once out of the North. The distance gave people an opportunity to test connections between formerly unconnected phenomena, such as political structure and economic welfare. For instance, defectors gained experience of other political systems and thus grew critical of the entire political system of the North, highlighting the inherent flaws
within North Korea was, and remains, unlawful without government consent. Where possible, the development of private farms or secret gardens is another early famine response. This level of privatization and individualism signaled a new and uncomfortable way of life for many North Koreans; indeed, the illegality of it was also discomforting. The sale of personal and homemade items is another coping mechanism. The appearance of people selling in illegal markets in North Korea was an uncomfortable
was arrested in 1987 for her part in the bombing of Korean Air flight 858, and when government official Hwang Jang-Yop, the highest-ranking defector, landed in Seoul, the South had yet to experience anything like the numbers of North Korean new settlers such as it has today.12 Since the 1960s, South Korea has offered legal protection for North Koreans fleeing the North.13 Today, with the reeducation center known as Hanawon established in 1999, all North Koreans undergo social, economic, and
factors that led interviewees to leave the North. Through the oral accounts, factors that led people to stay put are also identified. Giving up, dying indoors and out of sight, and the seeming absence of revolt and revolution in North Korea is also critically addressed in this chapter. “The New Division,” chapter 6, explores the experience of leaving North Korea and family behind. Perceptions of the Koreas and Japan are identified. This chapter also addresses the continuation of the past in