North Korean Students Know about Keynes and Freedman?

Daily NK
Yoon Il Gun
10/10/2007

A famous professor at Sunchon University in South Korea, Kim Yong Ok, who was invited to the Summit, opened to the public his discussion with Sung Ja Rip, the president of Kim Il Sung University, on October 8th in a JoongAng Daily Newspaper interview.

According to the article, Kim asked President Sung, “Did you study Freeman?” and the Chancellor answered, “Aren’t theories of Keynes and Freedman the basics?”

Seemingly, it sounds as if North Korean college students and intellectuals can freely study about economic theories of modern capitalism or modern thought.

Unfortunately, this is not true. Only cadres of the Party or those favored by the regime could have access to foreign books on modern thinking.

Kim Myung Chul (32, pseudonym) defected from the North while he was still a student at Kim Il Sung University. Mr. Kim’s testimony is as follows.

“There is a ‘closed library’ on the fourth floor of the Grand People’s Study House in Pyongyang. Foreign books at the library are only available for cadres of the Party or VIPs. Chancellor Sung Ja Rip must have read the theories of Keynes and Freedman at ‘the closed library’,” Mr. Kim said.

“There is discrimination in access to books and data against the general public,” Mr. Kim said, “general college students have no chance to study Keynes and Freedman.”

Since Kim Il Sung’s “May 25 Instruction” in 1967, most of books on western literature and philosophy have been burnt or smeared with ink, or pages have been torn out of books. Such vandalism was carried out under the so called “Book Arrangement Activity.” For some time thereafter, the general public had no access to books, even to those related to Karl Marx.

“Pyongyang Foreign Literature Publishing House” began to publish foreign books in 1984. From then on, the western classics in literature were made available. However, books on modern economics and modern thought are accessible only to the Party officials or some special groups at the “closed library.”

Mr. Kim said, “I had a chance to read the classics in North Korea but nothing on modern thought or economic theories. Only state-approved foreign books are readily accessible to the public. Ideologies or theories that seem to challenge the system are thoroughly denounced.”

Mr. Kim added, “In the late 1990s, the state education authorities approved classic economics and classic philosophy for public reading in order to stress the superiority of socialist economic theory and Juche Ideology.”

“In the 1990s, I checked out from library and read the classics such as Marx’s ‘Das Kapital,’ Engels’ ‘Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy,’ ‘The Holy Family,’ and Lenin’s ‘The State and Revolution.’ But the books were so old that the pages were worn out and yellow,” said Mr. Kim.

Mr. Kim also borrowed some books from those who had access to “the closed library.” The books he secretly borrowed and read were “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie, “From the Third World to First” by Lee Kuan Yew and “The Decameron” by Giovanni Boccaccio.

“Only approved literary works are translated and published. Many literary works which do not threaten the current system have been published,” Mr. Kim said, adding “When I was in college, I read many foreign books including novels written by Pushkin, John Byron, Heine, Shakespeare, Moliere, Stendhal, Tolstoy, Dumas, Victor Hugo, and Cervantes”

Unfortunately, Mr. Kim said, “I had never had a chance to read modern novels because only classics were made available. North Korea censors any books or information that it regards as a threat to the system or seems to produce illusions of capitalism.”

“Translations of up-to-date technology and information are weak,” Mr. Kim said, “When college students write their dissertations, they use outdated books as a reference.”

Mr. Kim also recalled that around 2001, it was all the rage among college students in Pyongyang to read “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell, and “An American Tragedy” by Theodore Dreiser.”

Ever since the former US President Jimmy Carter gave Kim Il Sung “Gone with the Wind” on video tape as a present upon his visit to Pyongyang in 1994, such American novels have been translated and published.

Kim Myung Chul added, “The authorities approved of publishing such books because they did not consider the books challenging to North Korea’s system or status quo. However, those college students who read the American books loved the opportunity of reading them, for it served as a chance to learn about America.”

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  • Fox

    Interesting. JoongAng seems to be a South Korean newspaper. So how did actually JoongAng invited Sung Ja Rip and Kim Jong Ok to the discussion? Can’t find anything about that on their website. Sound’s odd to me to be honest.