Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea

I was in Washington today for the release of Haggard’s and Noland’s new book Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea. According to the Peterson Institute’s web page:

Despite its nuclear capability, in certain respects North Korea resembles a failed state sitting uneasily atop a shifting internal foundation. This instability is due in part to the devastating famine of the 1990s and the state’s inability to fulfill the economic obligations that it had assumed, forcing institutions, enterprises, and households to cope with the ensuing challenges of maintaining stability with limited cooperation between the Korean government and the international community. The ineffective response to the humanitarian crisis triggered by the famine resulted in the outflow of perhaps tens of thousands of refugees whose narratives are largely overlooked in evaluating the efficacy of the humanitarian aid program. Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea uses extensive surveys with refugees who now reside in China or South Korea to provide extraordinary insight into the changing pathways to power, wealth, and status within North Korea. These refugee testimonies provide an invaluable interpretation of the regime, its motivations, and its capabilities and assess the situation on the ground with the rise of inequality, corruption, and disaffection in the decade since the famine. Through the lens of these surveys, preeminent North Korean experts Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland carefully document the country’s transition from a centrally planned economy to a highly distorted market economy, characterized by endemic corruption and widening inequality. The authors chart refugees’ reactions to the current conditions and consider the disparity between the perceived and real benefit of the international humanitarian aid program experienced by this displaced population. Finally, the book examines these refugees’ future prospects for integration into a new society.

I have read the book and found it tremendously helpful for understanding the changing dynamics within the DPRK.

In conjunction with the release of the book, the two authors have launched a new blog.  You can see it here. They have already posted some fantastic data—and we can also see a sense of humor as well!


1. Here is a link to the presentation given at the event.

2. Here is coverage in the Daily NK.

3. Here is coverage in the AFP.


3 Responses to “Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea”

  1. Jack says:

    I wish I were there, Curtis. I read the book as well, and was hoping for a little more after Exit polls.