Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Google Earth and the DPRK: Pyongyang Mosque, Kobangsan, and new hospital

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

Pyongyang has a mosque:



Top: A reader allowed me to post this image (thank you) of a mosque in Pyongyang. Bottom: The Google Earth image of the mosque.

The mosque is located inside the Iranian embassy compound.  This would make it a Shia mosque.  There is not a mosque at either the Egyptian embassy or the Pakistani embassy. I am unsure of the location of the Libyan embassy (do any readers know?) or whether it has a mosque. In the meantime, the DPRK might be the only country with a Shia mosque but not a Sunni mosque.

If the embassy staff are good Muslims, they should allow you to enter the compound to visit the mosque. Just be sure to bring modest clothes, and women, please cover your heads.

UPDATE 2015: Jakaparker has posted images of the interior of the mosque to his instagram account. You can see them here, here, here, here, and here.

Dear Sophie Schmidt:

I just read your web page on travel in the DPRK. I thought I would help you out a bit. Here is the picture you posted of your guesthouse:


This is the Kobangsan (고방산) Guest House and it is located in the eastern suburbs of Pyongyang. Here is a Google Earth satellite image of the place:


Here are the Google Earth coordinates:  39.054577°, 125.879205°

Also, you should check out this digital atlas I published of the DPRK. The data is better than Google’s. 🙂

Taesongsan General Hospital


This weekend KCNA/KCTV reported on Kim Jong-un’s visit to the newly built Taesongsan General Hospital (대성산종합병원). Pictured above is the Google Earth satellite image of the place. Google Earth coordinates:  39.109678°, 125.911093°. NK Leadership Watch has more information on the Hospital.

Here is the video that appeared on KCTV:

Learn more about the visit here.


The Unification Church in the DPRK

Monday, September 10th, 2012

The Rev. Sun Myung Moon was born between what is now Wonbong-ri and Osong-ri in Jongju City (정주시).


Pictured above (R) is a satellite image of the exact building the DPRK and the Unification Church claim was the birthplace of Rev. Moon. I first blogged about this  in 2009. The Google Earth coordinates are  39.683728°, 125.291145°, and you can see a ground level photo of the site here (taken by Unification Church delegation).

The Rev. Moon’s Church, the Unification Church, has made substantial investments in the DPRK.

The Unification Church built the Pothonggang Hotel and Pyongyang Peace Embassy (Google Earth:  39.020134°, 125.717641°) in Phyongchon-guyok, Pyongyang:

See photos of the Pothonggang Hotel and Peace Embassy on the Pyeonghwa Motors web page.

The Unification Church also launched Pyeonghwa Motors in the DPRK.

Pyeonghwa Motors was the first firm allowed to put up billboard advertisements in the DPRK. Here are links to images of most of the billboards: Link 1 (Images also say where they are located), Link 2Link 3Link 4Link 5.

Pyeonghwa Motors has several assets in the DPRK, the status of which remains a bit unknown:

There is of course the Pyeonghwa Motors Assembly Factory in Nampho, which I first identified on Google Earth years ago. It has seen some minor expansion between 2009 and 2011:


You can see a Pyeonghwa Motors advert here which features the factory:

Pyeonghwa Motors also built a gas/petrol station in Pyongyang:

The Google Earth coordinates are  38.996068°, 125.712410°, and you can see photos of the Pyeonghwa Motors Petrol Station here.

Pyeonghwa Motors also has a showroom on Kwangbok Street in Mangyongdae-guyok:

The Google Earth coordinates are  39.026709°, 125.682252°, and you can see photos of the Pyeonghwa showroom here.

The Pyeonghwa Motors web page also advertises an accessory shop in Pyongyang:


The Google Earth coordinates for this shop are  39.039590°, 125.743704°, and you can see photos of the Pyeonghwa Motors Accessories Shop here.

Although this facility is listed as operational on the Pyeonghwa Motors web page, recent tourist video shows that at some point before April 2012 this building has become a humble flower shop (꽃상점):

The shop’s entrance can be seen at the 2:00 mark.

However, according to this photo taken on June 6, 2012, the Peonghwa Motors logo still appears on the top of the building. So I am unsure of the actual status of this facility.

It is unclear if the accessory shop has moved or if it has permanently closed down.

Previous posts on Pyeonghwa Motors here.

If there are any Unification Church assets that I have not mentioned in this post, please let me know.

Read more on the history of the Unification Church in the DPRK here.


DPRK adopts new holiday

Friday, January 6th, 2012

According to the Daily NK:

A new holiday has been added to the North Korean calendar this year. April 4th is the day, and as ‘Chungmyung Day’ it appears aimed partly at writing off the commemoration of ‘Hansik’, the 105th day after the winter solstice and historically commemorated in Chinese custom, and partly at exemplifying the open heartedness of Kim Jong Eun.

One defector who recently arrived in South Korea told Daily NK on the 6th, “Originally Chungmyung Day was not a national holiday in North Korea, but since 2010 the authorities have been ordering us to rest on that day.”

The defector continued, “Last year we were forbidden to go to our ancestor’s graves at the time of Hansik because of orders handed down by the Central Committee of the Party to all levels stating that Hansik and Dano (the fifth day of the fifth month of the year) are not Chosun indigenous holidays.”

He explained, “We were instructed to go to our family graves and perform a simplified ceremony on Chungmyung Day instead. From this year, however, North Korea has officially marked Chungmyung Day as an official holiday on the calendar.”

Regarding the specific background to the newly marked day, he concluded, “North Korean propaganda has it that the considerate General Kim Jong Eun issued the measure bestowing this day on the people so that they could spend it conducting traditional rituals.”

Chungmyung Day falls on one of the 24 divisions of the year and conveys the image of the sky clearing up for spring. Usually the day is spent tidying up graves and doing home repairs that the winter prohibits.

New Years Day, Lunar New Year’s Day, Hansik (April 5th), Dano (May 5th) Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Day) are the ‘five folk holidays’ ordinarily commemorated in North Korea, but are not officially as important as Kim Jong Il’s and Kim Il Sung’s birthdays, which are both celebrated with 3-days of rest.

What about May Day?

Read the full story here:
A New Holiday for the People
Daily NK
Choi Song Min


On Christian aid groups working in the DPRK

Friday, January 6th, 2012

Below are some excerpts from a recent blog post at Foreign Policy:

Despite the perception of North Korea as a country hermetically sealed to the outside — and despite the very real risks — dozens, if not hundreds, of Christian missionaries operate inside the country, sometimes living there for months at a stretch, in the capital, Pyongyang, or in the Rason region, near the country’s Chinese border. Some run factories, distributing bread and soy milk to the poor. Others work for NGOs or universities, like the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, North Korea’s first privately funded university (launched in 2010), which is bankrolled mostly by evangelical Christian movements. Its founder James Kim, who has spent prison time in North Korea for proselytizing, likes to say that he has “unlimited credit at the bank of heaven.”

Of the five NGOs that formed the consortium that the U.S. government worked with to deliver food aid to North Korea until 2009, four are evangelical Christian organizations. One of them, World Vision, only hires candidates who believe in Jesus. Heidi Linton runs Christian Friends of Korea, an organization that has sent more than $55 million dollars in food, supplies, and medical equipment throughout the country since 1995. Linton explains to North Korean patients and hospital staff that the donors give out of their love for God. “You don’t go into a lot of detail at that point, but we love because God first loved us,” says Linton. “No, we cannot give Bibles, we cannot give tracts, but we can live out for them what it means to be a Christian.” Asked how many people have been converted, she demurs: “We plant the seed and God brings in the harvest, in his time and in his way.”

So how do you bring the morals and values of Christianity to the world’s most closed country? With infinite patience. A missionary from the United States with almost 20 years of experience working with North Korea explains: “We’re not allowed to visibly pray. You can’t bow your head, and you can’t close your eyes. But when you’re praying you’re talking to God,” she says. “All the education we’re giving them is designed to make them think the truth — of all sorts.” Linton brought four ambulances into North Korea emblazoned with the Christian Friends of Korea logo, which includes a prominent cross. “They’ve told us multiple times that we need to change our name and our logo,” she says. “And we said, ‘No, that’s why we’re here.'” Proselytizing inside North Korea “has to be done almost exclusively in a one-on-one setting, where you talk to someone, typically someone you know very well, about faith,” says Todd Nettleton, director of media development at Voice of the Martyrs USA, who says that the organization and its partners dropped 1,467,600 Gospel fliers via balloons into North Korea in 2011.

“The picture we have of missionary work, where you go and try to talk to as many people as possible, or where you’re on a street corner handing out missionary tracts, is so far from [what is allowed in North Korea] it’s not even on the same planet. It’s painstaking, risky work.”

Little is known about Christianity in North Korea under Kim Il Sung, because so few North Koreans defected. When his son, Kim Jong Il, took power in 1994 and famine hit, hundreds of North Koreans fled to South Korea; thousands more began traveling back and forth across the Chinese border searching for food, acting as conduits of information between North Korea and the outside world. The famine and the death of Kim Il Sung also “coincided with the opening of North Korea to NGOs, hence the increased presence of missionaries” eager for a chance to preach the Gospel in the closed country, says Marie-Laure Verdier, a Ph.D. student at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London who is studying Christian organizations working in North Korea.

The threat of violence or imprisonment hasn’t stopped the evangelical movement; it has just made them more cautious. Chinese border cities like Yanji, the capital of China’s Korean autonomous region, and Dandong, through which most of the official trade between China and North Korea passes, act as bases for hundreds of American and South Korean evangelical Christians who help North Koreans get out of the country and who attempt to get themselves inside. One missionary living on the border spoke off the record because he didn’t want to upset the Chinese regional authorities, which he likened to “a sleeping dog.” Proselytizing is illegal in China, too, and the Chinese government, at least publicly, supports North Korea’s effort to forcibly repatriate defectors. In March 2011, I visited a Western cafe in Yanji where missionaries congregate and saw a woman wearing a sweatshirt from Wheaton College, the evangelical Protestant liberal arts university outside Chicago. I asked one of her tablemates whether that’s what had brought them to Yanji. “Food’s great here, isn’t it?” he replied.

* * *

Despite the danger missionaries face, it’s far more dangerous for North Koreans who come into contact with Christians or evangelical paraphernalia. Defectors have spoken about seeing friends and neighbors executed for the crime of simply owning a Bible. North Koreans themselves are often converted or co-opted to smuggle the Gospel into North Korea at great personal risk. On a 2011 visit to the border, I saw food packaged with a Christian symbol for delivery into North Korea. “People come across the border, we make them Christian, and then we send them back,” said the missionary associated with the food distribution. “We had a North Korean Christian several years ago who took five Bibles in with him, and he was beaten, literarily to death, when they found out that he had the Bibles on him,” says Nettleton.

But the majority of the missionaries involved with North Koreans work with them only when they’re safely outside the country. “For the ones who come out, Christianity can do a lot more for them because they need so much healing,” says a Christian activist in South Korea. Tim Peters runs Helping Hands Korea, an organization that helps North Korean women and children who have already crossed into China flee to other countries. He told a story of a man in North Korea who, in late December after the death of Kim Jong Il, became interested in Christianity. But after speaking about it in his community, he raised the suspicion of security forces. He and his family fled North Korea the next day, and Peters’s team near the Chinese border is now helping them. “Because they were discovered listening to Christian radio, if they were to be repatriated the punishment would be extraordinarily harsh,” says Peters. In a way, they’ve succeeded: More than half of the roughly 20,000 defectors in South Korea identify as Christians. “North Korean defectors associate Christianity with democracy,” says Verdier.

Rights groups estimate that of the 24 million North Koreans, there are only tens of thousands of Christians there today, though the exact number is unknowable. “My understanding is that the underground church is extremely underground,” says Peters. South Korean churches have amassed war chests of millions of dollars to bring Christianity to — and build thousands of churches for — their “brothers in the North” when the regime falls. Ben Torrey, raised in South Korea by missionary parents, runs the Fourth River movement, an organization that enhances preparedness among South Koreans and North Korean defectors, training them “as agents of reconciliation, healing, and problem solving” so that they can eventually enter North Korea and “rebuild the country on a foundation of biblical principles.”

Is the death of Kim Jong Il a propitious time, though, for missionaries and Christian organizations working inside North Korea? One spokesman at a Christian group that does extensive work in North Korea said hopefully, “We don’t have any contingency plans [for the regime falling], but the wheels could fly off the wagon and the structure could disintegrate. Who knows?” Many Christians who work with North Korea are worried that new leader Kim Jong Un, in a desire to reinforce his new mandate, will be even more hostile to them than his father. “We understand that [the North Korean underground church] is being even more cautious at present,” says Peters.

Read the full story here:
Preaching the Gospel in the Hermit Kingdom
Foreign Policy Blog
Isaac Stone Fish


Celebrate the socialist way!

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

According to the Daily NK:

The North Korean authorities are currently employing various means to encourage frugality, an idea which has recently come to include ‘kwanhonsangje’ (the four ceremonial occasions; coming of age, marriage, funeral and ancestral rites).

In recent years there has been official criticism of the fact that engagement ceremonies, wedding gift exchanges between families and even the table for ancestral rites have become occasions full of over-spending, empty formalities and vanity.

Recently, Daily NK obtained a copy of the October issue of monthly magazine ‘Socialist Cultural Life’, to which social studies scholar Jang Seong Nam submitted a piece, ‘Let’s Perform Kwanhonsangje the Socialist Way’, in which he declared, “kwanhonsangje should be performed according to the demands of the Party and social development.”

The article emphasized, “We are taking the lead, seeing kwanhonsangje performed in the socialist way as a valid and unavoidable problem in the establishment of the new military-first socialist life.”

“Because old, feudalist, superstitious, empty formalities and bizarre foreign customs are not disappearing, we are strongly demanding action on this problem,” it went on, adding, “Rejecting bizarre foreign customs crushes the Imperialists’ policy of ethnic extermination under the banner of ‘globalization’.”

The article also looked in more detail at problem issues surrounding kwanhonsangjae.

“A sufficient engagement,” it proclaimed, “has two people and their parents meeting to confirm the marriage, and wedding ceremonies should be a gathering at someone’s home.”

Regarding funeral arrangements and ancestral rites, it recommended, “Commemorate a death by placing a medal or honorary certificate before an image of the deceased along with flowers, while the various commemorative services on the 3rd day or the birthday of the deceased should be eliminated.”

Getting into minutae, it added of a groom’s suit color, “Discard the convention of wearing a black or dark blue suit; men should wear bright colors according to season.”

In these ways, the article asserted, kwanhonsangjae becomes an aesthetic and modern set of customs with a uniquely Chosun ethnic color.

The piece appears to show both the state’s desire to restrain consumption but also to reassert ‘socialist’ attitudes and encourage nationalist attitudes, thus pushing back against the impact of foreign ideas coming in via overseas media, South Korean dramas and so on.

‘Socialist Cultural Life’ is distributed monthly to all official organs and enterprises. Its publisher, Labor Group Publishing House, publishes various other magazines including ‘Chosun Women’, ‘Worker’ and ‘Agricultural Worker’. As a part of the Party Propaganda and Agitation Department, its various publications are among the state’s most ubiquitous propaganda weapons after the daily Workers’ Party mouthpiece, ‘Rodong Shinmun’.

Read the full story here:
Celebrate the Socialist Way!
Daily NK
Lee Seok Young


Catholicism and the DPRK

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

According to (2011-9-23):

Religious leaders, including Catholic leaders, from democratic South Korea are visiting Communist North Korea, one of the world’s most repressive nations.

“The visit of a delegation of religious leaders in North Korea is a gesture to keep an open channel with the North,” says Bishop Peter Kang of Cheju, president of the bishops’ conference. “But we need to be realistic, and not have any great illusions. Religions will continue to bring humanitarian aid to the population of the North who suffer from hunger, and this is the interest of Pyongyang. Believers in the North are closely monitored and religious freedom is denied.”

Delegation itinerary:

According to KCNA, the delegation arrived in Pyongyang on Sept 21:

A south Korean delegation of 7 religious orders headed by Kim Hui Jung, representative chairman of the South Korean Religionists Council for Peace and head of the Kwangju Archdiocese of the Catholic Church, arrived here on Wednesday.

According to KCNA, the group held a meeting on the 22nd:

A meeting of north-south religionists for national reconciliation, unity and peaceful reunification took place in Pyongyang on Thursday.
Present at the meeting were Jang Jae On, chairman of the Religious Believers Council of Korea; Kang Yong Sop, chairman of the Central Committee of the Christian Federation of Korea; Sim Sang Jin, chairman of the Central Committee of the Buddhist Federation of Korea; Kang Chol Won, vice-chairman of the Central Guidance Committee of the Chondoist Association of Korea; and members of religious organizations.
Also attending it were members of the delegation of south Korea’s 7 religious orders led by Kim Hui Jung, representative chairman of the South Korean Religionists Council for Peace and head of the Kwangju Archdiocese of the Catholic Church.
Speakers at the meeting spoke of the pleasure of representatives of different religious organizations in the north and the south at sitting together and having their meeting for national reconciliation and unity and peaceful reunification.
They noted the meeting would mark a meaningful occasion in demonstrating internally and externally the strong will of the believers in the north and the south to tide over difficulties in the way of national reunification, promote national concord and bring about a new phase of peace and independent reunification.
They called upon believers in the north and the south to advance, holding higher the banner of “By the Korean nation itself” convinced that the implementation of the June 15 joint declaration leads to the reunification and peace of the country.
A joint statement of the believers in the north and the south for national reconciliation, unity and peaceful reunification was made public at the meeting.
The statement said that they would make positive efforts to defuse antagonism and distrust, tension and confrontation between compatriots, remove the danger of war and ensure durable peace.
It stressed the need to solve all the problems between the north and the south in conformity with the will and interests common to the nation.
It went on:
The Religious Believers Council of Korea in the north and the south Korean Religionists Council for Peace will regularly hold meetings to boost dialogue and cooperation between themselves and actively conduct a movement to achieve the unity of believers and reunification.
The statement ardently called upon all the Koreans in the north and the south and abroad to join as one in the drive for national reconciliation, unity, peace and reunification.

According to KCNA, following the meeting the delegation visited Mangyongdae, Mt. Paektu, the Arch of Triumph, the Taedonggang Combined Fruit Farm and its new processing factory, and saw “Arirang”.

On Sept24, the delegation departed.

Some history:

Around the time of the delegation’s visit, Kwang On-yoo sent out the following information to the Korean Studies list:

Just before the Korean War there were 52 Catholic parishes in the North, with some 50,000 believers in three dioceses, Pyongyang, Hamhung and Chunchon, plus a territorial abbey that was a direct subject of the Holy See.

After the end of the Korean War and the resulting division of the nation, the Vatican handed over the Apostolic administration of the North Korean dioceses to bishops in South Korea.

The current Archbishop of Seoul, Cardinal Cheong Jin-suk, is the Apostolic Administrator for Pyongyang and Hamhung while Bishop Kim Un-hwi of the Chunchon diocese in South Korea is the Apostolic Administrator of Chunchon diocese in North Korea.

Over the years, requests by the South Korean Bishops for pastoral visits to the North Korean dioceses have repeatedly been denied.

Since 1988, the North Korea regime has presented Jangchung ” Cathedral” [See satellite image here], the only so called Catholic church in North Korea, to outsiders as a shining example of North Korean Catholicism with hundreds of parishioners. Actually, the church has no functioning priest and no sacraments.

In April, a Seoul based North Korean defector’s radio station, Free North Korea, alleged that Jangchung Church is in fact a clandestine cocaine factory where cocaine is manufactured for illegal export, to generate much needed foreign currency.

This is the current state of North Korean Catholicism.

I do not have any reason to believe that the church is used to produce cocaine since it has been effective at generating revenue and assets from abroad (especially South Korea) through more “traditional” methods–such as facilitating the recent delegation.


South Korean churches change DPRK strategies

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

According to the Daily NK:

For the ten years from 1995 to 2004, churches in South Korea sent a total of 270 billion South Korean won in aid to North Korea’s Chosun Christians Federation to fund projects including the building of an orphanage.

This money represented fully 77% of all private donations sent to North Korea in the same period. However, the truth is that nobody knows how the money has been spent, or by whom.

Such religiously motivated support for the Chosun Christians Federation results in not only problems for other missionary work, but also prolongs the suffering of the people, according to Yoo Suk Ryul, the director of Cornerstone Church, an active missionary group working along the North Korean-Chinese border. He has just released a new book, ‘The Collapse of the Kim Jong Il Regime and North Korean Missionary Work.’

In it, Yoo writes, “The Chosun Federation first came to our attention as an association affiliated to the United Front Department of the Chosun Workers’ Party so, to that extent, funds from missionary organizations are obviously propping up the Kim Jong Il regime.”

“The rebuilding of the church should not be done through an organization affiliated to the Kim Jong Il regime or the Chosun Workers’ Party,” Yoo therefore asserts. Rather, he believes assistance should be rendered to underground churches, to begin the spread of the gospel from the bottom up.

In addition, “To date, Chinese-Koreans and our defector brethren have received training in China, and through this indirect method have entered North Korea to establish underground churches.” However, “North Korea’s situation both at home and abroad is change rapidly now, so missionaries need to turn to a strategy that is more direct.”

Additionally, he goes on, “The Bible, radio, TV and DVDs should continue to be sent by balloon, along with all other methods of advancing the spread of the gospel,” and explained, “This is a strategy to force Pyongyang’s fall through the gospel.”

Yoo has invested much time and effort into persuading Korean churches to end their existing missionary work in North Korea, and follow a new path. “Missionary work in North Korea is not something that can be accomplished with a strategy of passion alone,” he writes, “This missionary strategy does not grasp the essence of the North Korean system; it is a house of cards.”

Read the full story here:
New Religious Strategy Is Needed
Daily NK
Cho Jong Ik


DPRK, NGO to film Paek Son Haeng film

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Pictured above: Paek Son Haeng Memorial Hall, Pyongyang (Google Earth)

According to the Daily NK:

North Korea has apparently agreed to accept foreign funding to produce a movie which shows Christians in a positive light. It will be the first movie made in North Korea to show the life story of a Christian.

An activist working in New Zealand for “Team and Team International”, a South Korean NGO working on international disaster relief, reported today, “A North Korean movie import-export company (Chosun Movie Company) has decided to produce a movie, ‘Paek Sun Haeng’, with the support of an organization from New Zealand,” and added, “They are at the last stage of working on the scenario and plan to start filming this coming September.” A budget production, it will cost a reported $1.5 million.

The activist said that the two sides have agreed to show the movie in movie theaters across the country and on Chosun Central TV. The purpose behind the investment is apparently to depict the positive side of Christianity and Christians to the North Korean people.

He explained, “Based on the idea that the figure, Baek Sun Haeng, has been defined as a good capitalist in North Korea, the organization has been negotiating production of a movie about her with North Korea since 2008.” Additionally, he said “They will describe fully the image of Baek as a philanthropist as well as a Christian in the movie.”

The scenario was reportedly written by the head of Chosun Movie Company, Choi Hyuk Woo, but there has been conflict over the degree of Christian content.

The source explained, “Problems when the North Koreans tried to change one line or scene have not been small.” However, “They were able to persuade the North Korean staff by sticking stubbornly to the fact that it would have been impossible to invest in the movie without Christian content.”

North Korea’s bad situation vis a vis foreign currency may have influenced the North’s decision-making, the source agreed, saying, “I am aware that North Korea’s internal capital situation is rather difficult. That economic difficulty may have influenced this contract somewhat.”

Chosun Movie Company oversees the export and import of movies under the Culture and Art Department of the Propaganda and Agitation Department, which is within the Central Committee of the Party.

The activist emphasized, “Aid activities for North Korea should give dreams and hope for new things to the North Korean people through diverse cultural approaches beyond food or essential aid.”

The movie’s main character, Baek Sun Haeng (1848-1933) is a well-known philanthropist in North Korea who has been mentioned in North Korean textbooks, in Kim Il Sung’s memoirs and elsewhere.

After her husband died when she was 16 years old, she is said to have accumulated wealth relentlessly. After that, she built both “Baek Sun Bridge” across the Daedong River and a three-story public meeting hall in Pyongyang. She also donated real-estate for Pyongyang Gwangsun School and Changdeok School.

Baek, as the deaconess of a church, also contributed to the education of Korean Christians by donating capital and land for Pyongyang Presbyterian Church School, which was built by Rev. Samuel Austin Moffett, the then-reverend at the First Church of Pyongyang, and Soongsil School, the forerunner to Soongsil University in Seoul, which was established by Dr. W. M. Baird, an American missionary, in Pyongyang on October 10th, 1887.

Additionally, she dedicated all of her property to an organization dedicated to the relief of poverty in 1925, so the Japanese government general tried to present her with a commendation, but she refused it. Therefore, she has been praised highly as a “people’s capitalist” in North Korea.

In 2006, the North Korea media reported that an existing monument to Baek had been restored and moved into “Baek Sun Haeng Memorial Hall” in Pyongyang on the instructions of Kim Jong Il.

Read the full story here:
Christian Movie Being Shot inside North Korea
Daily NK


North Korea said to have 500 house churches, 20,000 Bibles printed

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

Michael Rank

North Korean officials have claimed that there are 500 “house churches” where Christians can worship in a country that has been widely accused of ruthlessly persecuting believers, sometimes to death.

Two British parliamentarians who visited North Korea late last month quote officials of the Korean Christian Federation as making the claim, although they note that “other sources question this and we were unable to verify these figures.”

At Bongsu Protestant church in Pyongyang (satellite image here) they were told that 20,000 Bibles and hymnals had been printed and that there were 13,000 Protestants in North Korea.

Lord Alton and Baroness Cox visited a new Protestant seminary in Pyongyang with 12 students and 10 teachers, as well as Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches in the capital.

In their report, Building Bridges, Not Walls they describe how seminary students “pursue a five-year course and are then admitted to the Korean Christian Fellowship as pastors upon graduation.”

“The Protestant church expressed a desire to establish links with Protestant, particularly Presbyterian, churches in the UK, and appears to receive support from Korean-American Christians in some parts of the United States.”

Alton and Cox, both devout Christians, said North Korean officials had reiterated an invitation for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, to visit Pyongyang. The invitation was first extended by the speaker of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Choe Tae-bok, when he visited Williams at Lambeth Palace in London in 2004 and whom Alton and Cox met again last month.

The invitation seems to have caused some embarrassment to the archbishop. A spokeswoman for Dr Williams told NKEW she had no knowledge of it and failed to respond when asked to check further into the matter.

Alton and Cox, who were paying their third visit to Pyongyang, said Choe had accepted an invitation to visit Britain again next year.

The group also visited the Supreme Court, where “it was evident that the defendant in a trial is already deemed a suspect, as reflected in the structure of the courtroom in which the defendant is placed in small, wooden enclosure, seated on a small, very uncomfortable stool, in contrast to more comfortable chairs for others.

“The Senior Law Officer confirmed to us that the principle of innocent until proven guilty does not apply in the North Korean judicial system.

“‘Most defendants are those whose crime has already been revealed, before indictment, by investigation by the police. When a person comes to court, we do not think of them as innocent,’ he said.

“Furthermore, it appears that the legal defence available for the defendant would only become actively involved in the process once the ‘suspect’ is brought to trial and all the relevant evidence has been prepared.

“We would urge the DPRK authorities to ensure that the accused receives legal assistance before the trial stage,” Alton and Cox say in their report.

They frequently asked whether they, or any foreigners, could visit a prison, including the notorious Yodok prison camp, and were told emphatically “no”.

Alton and Cox also discussed security issues with North Korean officials, including Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Kung Sok-ung.

who told them that his government’s position on peace and security “remains unchanged – to settle the issues through negotiation and dialogue, and to secure stability through peaceful means.”

There do seem to be signs of internal change, however. Senior North Korean officials told the group that the country is entering a period of “momentous change”, and the report notes that “It is also interesting that the emphasis in North Korea has changed, from a focus on its ‘Songun’ or ‘military first’ policy, to a new objective of establishing a ‘great, prosperous and powerful nation’ by 2012.

“This was set out in a communiqué by the Workers’ Party of Korea on 11 October, marking its sixty-fifth anniversary, in which it spoke of building a ‘dignified and prosperous’ nation.

“This change of emphasis is very welcome, and presents the international community with another important opportunity.”

“We believe the time has come for North and South Korea and the United States, with assistance from others in the international community including the United Kingdom (as a former combatant nation which saw 1,000 of its servicemen lose their lives in the Korean War), a neutral country such as Switzerland or Sweden (who were among the countries given responsibility in 1953 to oversee the armistice), and, above all, China, to work to find ways to turn the armistice into a permanent peace.

“A Beijing Peace Conference at which North and South could resolve their differences should be convened once the necessary preliminary brokering has been completed.

“We also believe grave human rights concerns should be discussed through a process of dialogue and constructive, critical engagement, in parallel with a resumption of the Six-Party Talks concerning security, in the same way as the Helsinki Process was established by President Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher with the Soviet Union. It is time for peace, and it is time for Helsinki with a Korean face”.

They add that “DPRK officials made it clear that a permanent peace, and reunification of Korea, is their priority, and they emphasised their commitment to negotiating a peaceful resolution through dialogue.”

For an interview with Baroness Cox after her previous visit to Pyongyang in 2009 click here.


PUST update

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Richard Stone writes in 38 North:

The curtain is rising on a bold experiment to engage North Korea’s academic community—and possibly shape the country’s future. On October 25, 2010, Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, or PUST, opened its doors to 160 elite North Korean students. By improving North Korea’s technical prowess, PUST might nudge the country’s tattered manufacturing-based economy toward an information-based economy.

“Our purpose is the globalization of North Korea through PUST. In that way, their economy can gradually develop, which will make it easier for reunification later,” says Park Chan Mo, former president of the National Research Foundation of Korea and one of four founding committee chairs of PUST. More initiatives are in store after South-North relations improve, says Oh Hae Seok, Special Adviser on Information Technology (IT) to South Korea’s President Lee Myung Bak. “The South is ready to assist the North by building an IT infrastructure and supporting IT education, as long as the North opens its door,” he says.

PUST will test North Korea’s appetite for engagement. Perhaps most discomfiting to the North is that the new university is led and bankrolled by devout Christians. The North Korean government espouses atheism and takes a dim view on South Korean evangelists, particularly for their role in an “underground railway” in northeastern China that steers defectors to safe havens. PUST leaders and professors, primarily ethnic Koreans, have promised not to proselytize.

PUST’s main mission therefore is to lead North Korea out of a scientific wilderness. The North is light-years behind industrialized nations in many areas of science and technology. It excels in a few spheres. For instance, North Korea is notorious for its skill at reverse-engineering long-range missiles and fashioning crude but workable plutonium devices. Less well known, the North has developed considerable expertise in information technology—and has staked its future on it. “North Korea has chosen IT as the core tool of its economic recovery,” says Park. But it has a poor grasp on how to translate knowledge into money. “Instead of just giving them fish, we will teach them how to catch fish,” Park says.

There are serious risks in giving North Korea a technical assist, according to PUST’s critics. Opinion in South Korea is split on PUST; many people have voiced concerns. The chief worry is that PUST students could feed information or lend newfound expertise to the North Korean military. To minimize these risks, PUST’s curricula have been vetted by government and academic nonproliferation experts.

To proponents, the new venture’s benefits far outweigh the risks. PUST has been promised academic freedom, the likes of which has been virtually unknown in North Korea, including campus-wide internet access. “We hope that PUST will open channels to the outside,” says Nakju Lett Doh, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Korea University in Seoul and member of PUST’s academic committee.

Few people of university age or younger can imagine a world without internet. But it’s rare a North Korean of any age has tasted this forbidden fruit. The government takes infinite care to shield innocent minds from corrosive facts about the Korean War, descriptions of life in modern South Korea, and western notions of freedom of expression, among other things. Instead, the Garden of Juche offers Guang Myung, or Bright Light: an Intranet not connected to the outside world.

When I visited Pyongyang on invitation from the DPRK Academy of Sciences in July 2004, my hosts gave me a tour of the Central Information Agency for Science and Technology’s computing center and showed me the Guang Myung home page, which reminded me of Yahoo. They claimed the system has tens of millions of records, including digital tomes on agriculture and construction as well as the complete writings of Kim Il Sung.

Since then, fiber optic cables have spread Guang Myung to the far corners of the nation. “The main purpose is to disseminate scientific and technological information,” says Lee Choon Geun, chief representative of the Korea-China Science & Technology Cooperation Center in Beijing. On a visit to Pyongyang a few years ago, Lee, an expert on North Korea’s scientific community, witnessed Guang Myung in action, including a live lecture broadcast over the Intranet. At the time, he says, Kim Chaek University of Technology had around 500 Pentium 4’s and 5’s connected to the system. He estimates that nationwide, tens of thousands of computers of all types are now linked in. However, it’s not clear how effective Guang Myung is outside Pyongyang, where clunky routers funnel information to ancient machines—remember 386s and 486s? Another major woe is an unstable electricity supply that regularly fritzes electronics. Lee, who has visited North Korea 15 times, says that when he asks what scientists need most, they request laptops, whose power cord adaptors and batteries can better handle electrical fluctuations.

Indeed, it’s a formidable job to erect an IT infrastructure inside a cocoon. South Korea has lent a hand. With the government’s blessing, private organizations in the South have sent approximately 60,000 IT publications—periodicals and books—to North Korean universities, and IT professors from the South have visited the North for lecturing stints, says Oh. South Korean groups have also helped train North Korean computer scientists in Dandong, China, just across the border from North Korea. The training center had to close earlier this year due to budget cuts, says Lee.

The juche philosophy embraces self-reliant efforts to gather technical information from abroad. North Korean diplomats are one set of eyes and ears. They collect journal articles, textbooks and handbooks, surf the Web and ship any seemingly useful information to Pyongyang, where analysts evaluate it and censors clear it for posting. When sent via internet, information is routed primarily through Silibank in Shenyang in northeastern China. North Korea has also deployed abroad around 500 IT specialists in the European Union and dozens more to China—in Beijing, Dalian, Shanghai, and Shenyang—to acquire knowledge for the motherland. “Through them a lot of information goes to North Korea,” says Park.

Such activity may seem like a packrat cramming its nest with equal portions of usable materials and shiny baubles. But it has paid off in at least one area: software development. “They are developing their own algorithms,” says Doh, an expert on control system theory. Even though North Korea’s programmers are almost completely isolated from international peers, they lag only about 5 to 6 years behind the state of the art in South Korea, Doh says. “That’s not that bad.” The Korean Computing Center and Pyongyang Information Center together have around 450 specialists, and universities and academy institutes have another 1,000 more experts on computer science, says Lee. And all told there are about 1,200 specialized programmers.

The programmers have enjoyed modest commercial success. The state-owned SEK Studios in Pyongyang has done computer animation for films and cartoons for clients abroad. And software developers have produced, among other things, an award-winning computer version of the Asian board game Go. “Their software is strong,” says Park, a specialist on computer graphics and simulation. “They are very capable.”

But the resemblance to IT as we know it ends there. “In North Korea, IT is quite different from what most people think,” says Lee. Most computing efforts these days are focused on computerized numerical control, or CNC: the automation of machine tools to enable a small number of workers to produce standardized goods. “Their main focus is increasing domestic production capacity,” says Lee. North Korea’s CNC revolution is occurring two to three decades after South Korean industries adopted similar technologies. And North Korea is struggling to implement CNC largely because of its difficulties in generating sufficient energy needed to make steel—so its machinery production capacity is a fraction of what it used to be—and it lacks the means to produce sophisticated integrated circuit elements.

Antiquated technology may be the biggest handicap for North Korea’s computer jocks. North Korea “doesn’t have the capacity to make high technology,” says Kim Jong Seon, leader of the inter-Korean cooperation team at the Science and Technology Policy Institute in Seoul. North Korea is thought to have a single clean room for making semiconductors at the 111 Factory in Pyongyang. Built in the 1980s—the Stone Age of this fast-paced field—the photomask production facility is capable of etching 3 micron wide lines in silicon chips. South Korean industry works in nanometer scales. The bottom line, says Kim, is that in high technology, “they have to import everything.”

That’s a challenge, because no country—China included—openly flouts UN sanctions on high-tech exports to North Korea. Any advanced computing equipment entering the country is presumably acquired through its illicit missile trade and disappears into the military complex. North Korea’s civilian computer scientists are left fighting for the scraps. One of only five Ph.D. scientist-defectors now known to be in South Korea, computer scientist Kim Heung Kwang, fled North Korea in 2003 not for political reasons or because he was starving—rather, he hungered to use modern computers.

To help North Korea bolster its budding IT infrastructure and not aid its military, PUST will have to walk a tightrope. School officials have voluntarily cleared curricula with the U.S. government, which has weighed in on details as fine as the name of one of PUST’s first three schools. The School of Biotechnology was renamed the School of Agriculture and Life Sciences because U.S. officials were concerned that biotech studies might be equated to bioweapons studies, says Park. North Korean officials, meanwhile, forbid PUST from launching an MBA program—a degree too tightly associated with U.S. imperialism. “So we call it industrial management,” Park says. “But the contents are similar to those of an MBA.”

Besides cleansing PUST of any weapons-grade information, Park and university representatives are working with the U.S. Commerce Department to win export licenses for advanced computing equipment and scientific instruments not prohibited by dual-use restrictions. Approval is necessary for equipment consisting of 10 percent or more of U.S.-made components. “You can attach foreign-made peripheral devices and reduce U.S. components to less than 10 percent, but that’s a kind of cheating,” Park says. “We want to strictly follow the law.”

This improbable initiative in scientific engagement was a long time in the making. PUST’s chief architect is founding president Kim Chin Kyung, who in 1998 established his first venture in higher education: Yanbian University of Science and Technology in Yanji, the capital of the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in northeastern China’s Jilin Province, just across the border from North Korea. A businessman who studied divinity in university, Kim, who goes by his English name James, was accused of being a spy on a visit to North Korea in 1998 and imprisoned there for six weeks. He stuck with YUST, however, and in 2001, North Korean education officials visiting the university stunned Kim by inviting him to establish a similar university in Pyongyang. Kim got a rapturous response when he pitched the idea to YUST’s sponsors.

Progress came in fits and starts. PUST was originally envisioned to open in 2005, but work on the initial 17 buildings of the $35 million, 100-hectare campus in southern Pyongyang’s Rakrang district was completed only last year. North Korean education officials have promised the school academic freedom and internet access. Such startling privileges will be doled out byte by byte. “In the beginning, they are allowing us to do emailing,” says Park. Full internet access is expected to come after PUST earns their keepers’ trust. “To do research, really you have to use the internet. The North Korean government realizes that. Once they know students are not using the internet for something else, it should be allowed,” Park says.

While YUST and PUST may both have ardent-Christian backers and cumbersome acronyms, the atmosphere on the two campuses will be markedly divergent. In Yanji, encounters outside the classroom are common: faculty and students even dine together in a common hall. “YUST professors and students are like one family,” says Park.

In contrast, PUST students and faculty will inhabit two entirely different worlds that only merge in the classroom. The North Korean government handpicked the inaugural class of 100 undergraduates and 60 graduate students, including 40 grads who will study IT. All will study technical English this fall, then in March a wider roster of courses will become available after key professors and equipment arrive on campus. A student leader will shepherd students to and from class to ensure that no lamb goes astray. “There will be no way to teach the gospel,” says Doh.

PUST professors expect to be impressed with the students, selected from Kim Il Sung University and Kim Chaek University of Technology. “These are the most brilliant students in North Korea,” says Doh. PUST plans to ramp up enrolment to 2,000 undergrads and 600 graduate students by 2012. To expose these young, agile minds to a wide range of ideas, PUST plans to fly in a number of visiting professors during the summer terms. They also intend to seek permission for students from other Pyongyang universities to attend the summer sessions. As trust develops, PUST hopes that some of its students will be able to participate in exchange programs and study abroad.

PUST’s success may hinge on the disposition of North Korea’s leader in waiting. Kim Jong Un was tutored privately by a “brilliant” graduate of Université Paris X who chaired the computer science department at Kim Chaek University of Technology before disappearing from public view in the early 1980s, says Kim Heung Kwang, who studied at Kim Chaek before working as a professor at Hamhung Computer College and Hamhung Communist College. After defecting and settling in Seoul, Kim founded North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity, a group of university-educated defectors that raises awareness of conditions in North Korea.

According to internal North Korean propaganda, Kim Jong Un oversees a cyberwarfare unit that launched a sophisticated denial-of-service attack on South Korean and U.S. government websites in July 2009. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service blamed the North, which has not commented publicly on the attack. Kim Jong Un’s involvement cannot be confirmed, says Kim Heung Kwang. “But Kim Jong Un is a young person with a background in information technology, so he may desire to transform North Korea from a labor-intense economy to a knowledge economy like South Korea is doing.”

Another big wildcard is North-South relations. After the sinking of the Cheonan, South Korea froze assistance to the North. In the event of a thaw, “the South wants to build a digital complex” in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) or in South Korea similar to the Kaesong industrial complex, says Oh. This, he says, “would be the base camp of North Korea’s IT industry development.” North Korea has reacted lukewarm to the idea: It would prefer that such a venture be based in Pyongyang, says Lee. To facilitate denuclearization and help skilled North Korean workers adapt to market economics, the Science and Technology Policy Institute in Seoul has proposed the establishment of an Inter-Korean Science and Technology Cooperation Center modeled after similar centers established in Kiev and Moscow after the Soviet breakup.

Such projects, if they were to materialize, along with well-trained graduates from PUST, may help pull North Korea’s economy up by its bootstraps. “We are trying to make them more inclined to do business, to make their country wealthier,” says Park. “It will make a big difference once they get a taste of money. That’s the way to open up North Korea.”

Additional information:
1. Here are previous posts about PUST.

2. Here are previous posts about the DPRK’s intranet system, Kwangmyong.

3. Here is a satellite image of PUST.

Read the full story here:
Pyongyang University and NK: Just Do IT!
38 North
Richard Stone