Grace Tu

Grace Tu

Sunday, January 15, 2012

North Korea – What I see from North Korean’s Grief over Kim Jong Il’s Death

In the Leaders column of The Economist “We need to talk about Kim” (December 31st 2011 – January 6th 2012 issue), the subtitle reads

“Regime change in the worst country on earth should be planned for, not just hoped for”

I need to talk about this subtitle.

What defines the word “country” and which criteria were used to conclude North Korea is “the worst” country? To me, the dictator along does not represent a country, the territory of land and ocean along does not represent a country – You do not have a country without the people of the nation.

When Kim Jong-il of North Korea died last December, the first image entered into my mind was a pin with his portrait, sitting in all seriousness just below a man’s collar of a plain grey jacket. Above the pin and above that collar an emaciated face, with immense sorrow – sorrow that is so great you would only expect seeing when a man’s purest love and believe for something is destroyed.

I thought about the tour guides, the driver, and the camera man that we had when visiting North Korea in 2010, how their sunken cheeks used to brighten with a sudden radiance when the name of their leader was mentioned. The glow they had in their faces did not come from fear, but from true respect for Kim Jong-il, and true pride they had for being North Korean.

Imagine, how they might feel, with such prides, if they see their beloved country is described as the worst on earth.

North Korean’s love and respect for Kim Jong-il is a concept difficult for the rest of the world to understand, especially without imagination. But as I discussed previously in Maybe You Truly Are Happy, when they have absolutely nothing else to believe in and absolutely nothing to compare their lives to, and when they are brainwashed to the extent that every singular particle of their lives is carefully programmed by the government, in a sarcastic but an authentic way, their believes and respects for the Kim family actually show a basic, classic goodness, the most patriotic love that is difficult to find in any other places on earth. Because they are forced to be ignorant, their hearts are pure and beautiful.

And they cannot be blamed for their ignorance. They are not responsible yet for lifting the secretive curtain carefully knitted by the KWP to isolate them from the rest of the world when they do not even know there is a curtain to be lifted.

But standing on the other side of the curtain, we should be better. Yes, there are still so many things we don’t know about North Korea. Even with imaginations and even after actually being there, what I see through my mind’s lens will not mirror what the reality is. But I should have enough wisdom, with the limited information I have, to empathize the majority of the North Korean who suffer every single day without knowing they are suffering.

The article in The Economist gave some valid insight with regard to how extreme care should be taken in the future if North Korea’s regime eventually collapses. However, if the readers take the subtitle as it is, and as the result subconsciously the world despise not only the Kim family but also the remaining population of North Korea; if the world is only looking at North Korea issue from this one angle, without trying to truly understand North Korean’s perspective, when the country collapses, how do we know the best way to help them rebuilt their lives without causing them more pain, whether its physical, mental or emotional?

No matter how much we know about North Korea’s politics, without truly understanding its people, we don’t know the country.

The Pyongyang Metro - see more information here

Photo with my favorite tour guide


  1. 2m people starved to death, 200k of political prisoners, he sounds like a lovely man

    1. Thank you for your comment.

      From your comment I am assuming you feel that my post did not do a good job on highlighting Kim Jon-il’s horrible conducts throughout the years.

      Even though not emphasized in my post, I do think he is probably the worst dictator (or one of the worst) on earth. I have great sympathy for the remaining North Korean, who in my opinion have pure hearts, exactly because how Kim Jon-il made them suffer.

    2. I absolutely agree with this post, Grace. I think it is very unfortunate that a country is judged not by the people, sights, tastes and sounds within it but by the people who rule it.

      I've never been to North Korea but I would love to. The people there seem so genuine and fascinating, and they live a life so different from ours that I would love to find out more about it. Being told that it is the worst country to visit because of the oppressive dictator seems unfair, given what I've learned about the country. And the worst part is, people who read this kind of thing actually believe it.