North Korea through the Looking Glass

Brookings Institution Press
2
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Fifty-five years after its founding at the dawn of the cold war, North Korea remains a land of illusions. Isolated and anachronistic, the country and its culture seem to be dominated exclusively by the official ideology of Juche, which emphasizes national self-reliance, independence, and worship of the supreme leader, General Kim Jong Il. Yet this socialist utopian ideal is pursued with the calculations of international power politics. Kim has transformed North Korea into a militarized state, whose nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and continued threat to South Korea have raised alarm worldwide. This paradoxical combination of cultural isolation and military-first policy has left the North Korean people woefully deprived of the opportunity to advance socially and politically. The socialist economy, guided by political principles and bereft of international support, has collapsed. Thousands, perhaps millions, have died of starvation. Foreign trade has declined and the country's gross domestic product has recorded negative growth every year for a decade. Yet rather than initiate the sort of market reforms that were implemented by other communist governments, North Korean leaders have reverted to the economic policies of the 1950s: mass mobilization, concentration on heavy industry, and increased ideological indoctrination. Although members of the political elite in Pyongyang are acutely aware of their nation's domestic and foreign problems, they are plagued by fear and policy paralysis. North Korea Through the Looking Glass sheds new light on this remote and peculiar country. Drawing on more than ten years of research—including interviews with two dozen North Koreans who made the painful decision to defect from their homeland—Kongdan Oh and Ralph C. Hassig explore what the leadership and the masses believe about their current predicament. Through dual themes of persistence and illusion, they explore North Korea's stubborn adherence to policies that have failed to serve the welfare of the people and, consequently, threaten the future of the regime. Featuring twenty-nine rare and candid photos taken from within the closely guarded country, North Korea Through the Looking Glass illuminates the human society of a country too often mischaracterized for its drab uniformity—not a "state," but a community of twenty million individuals who have, through no fault of their own, fallen on exceedingly hard times.
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About the author

Kongdan Oh, a Korean American, is a research staff member at the Institute for Defense Analyses, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and editor of the Asia Society's Korea Briefing, 1997-1999(M. E. Sharpe and the Asia Society, 2000). Ralph C. Hassig, a social psychologist, is a Washington-based consultant on Korean affairs and an adjunct associate professor of psychology at the University of Maryland University College.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Brookings Institution Press
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Published on
May 13, 2004
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Pages
216
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ISBN
9780815798200
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Asia / Korea
Political Science / Political Ideologies / Communism, Post-Communism & Socialism
Political Science / World / Asian
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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With a New Foreword

The heartwrenching New York Times bestseller about the only known person born inside a North Korean prison camp to have escaped. Blaine Harden's latest book, King of Spies, will be available from Viking in Fall 2017.

North Korea’s political prison camps have existed twice as long as Stalin’s Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. No one born and raised in these camps is known to have escaped. No one, that is, except Shin Dong-hyuk.

In Escape From Camp 14, Blaine Harden unlocks the secrets of the world’s most repressive totalitarian state through the story of Shin’s shocking imprisonment and his astounding getaway. Shin knew nothing of civilized existence—he saw his mother as a competitor for food, guards raised him to be a snitch, and he witnessed the execution of his mother and brother.

The late “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il was recognized throughout the world, but his country remains sealed as his third son and chosen heir, Kim Jong Eun, consolidates power. Few foreigners are allowed in, and few North Koreans are able to leave. North Korea is hungry, bankrupt, and armed with nuclear weapons. It is also a human rights catastrophe. Between 150,000 and 200,000 people work as slaves in its political prison camps. These camps are clearly visible in satellite photographs, yet North Korea’s government denies they exist.

Harden’s harrowing narrative exposes this hidden dystopia, focusing on an extraordinary young man who came of age inside the highest security prison in the highest security state. Escape from Camp 14 offers an unequalled inside account of one of the world’s darkest nations. It is a tale of endurance and courage, survival and hope.

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