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Asian Perspective 40 (2016), 547-552 BOOK REVIEW ESSAY Dystopia Walter C. Clemens Jr. Robert Collins, Pyongyang Republic: North Korea’ s Capital of Human Rights Denial (Washington, DC: Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, 2016). Robert Collins, Markedfor Life: Songbun, North Korea’s Social Classification System (Washington, DC: Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, 2012). Suki Kim, Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korean Elite (New York: Crown, 2014; Broadway, 2015). Pyongyang Republic by Robert Collins presents a deep analysis of the system by which North Koreans are ruled and the conse­ quences for human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Collins documents the ways that North Korea’s elites and subelites pursue their privileged existence in the DPRK capital. His earlier work, Markedfor Life, analyzed the DPRK’s political caste system that generates opportunity for some but severe limitations on the social mobility ofmost North Koreans. Each book details the broad context in which the stories ofindividual defectors have occurred. Collins draws on Korean and English-language doc­ uments and writings as well as interviews conducted by him and others with North Korean defectors and some DPRK officials. The persons strongly favored by the DPRK system probably number more than 1 percent. The Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) enrolls 3.2 million members—about one-eighth of the total popu­ lation, a larger percentage than in other communist countries. Some 42 percent of adults in Pyongyang belong to the KWP, according to Collins. Many if not most other residents are candi­ date members or belong to a member’s family. 547 548 Dystopia The data in Pyongyang Republic (pp. 83-84) show large dis­ crepancies in the estimated size of the city’s population. A 1990 cen­ sus puts it at 3,289,000—some 15.2 percent ofthe then total DPRK population. A 2008 census, however, showed a slight decline to 3,255,388. A UN analysis that same year put the number at only 2,581,076, while a DPRK state security document obtained by South Korea showed a population of 2,100,000. Given that the overall DPRK population has increased since 1990, these lower estimates suggest that Pyongyang’s population has shrunk to about 10 or 11 percent ofthe North’s total population ofroughly 25 million. Thanks in part to military service, there are just 71 males for every 100 females in Pyongyang, compared to a 96:100 ratio in Seoul. The streets of Pyongyang now boast many more autos than in previous years. Most cars belong to state, party, or economic organizations. The first numbers on the license plates reveal a pecking order. The hierarchy extends from 01 for KWP central committee section chiefs, to 13 for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to 21 for court judges, while 22 through 50 are reserved for eco­ nomic enterprises. Pyongyang is not only the hub for what passes for luxury but it is also home to the greatest concentration of DPRK citizens suf­ fering from multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (TB). This paradox has a simple answer: elites who suffer from TB can obtain the appropriate medications more readily than other North Koreans. Having already absorbed a variety of medicines, the haves acquire a resistance to the usual drugs used to fight TB. To make matters worse, members of the privileged classes often defy a doctor’s orders and fail to complete the appropriate regimen. (The tougher sanctions imposed on the DPRK by Seoul in early 2016 made no exception for MDR TB medications. The Eugene Bell Foundation warned in March 2016 that supplies in its twelve treatment cen­ ters in North Korea would become exhausted in April.) Of course there are class and wealth differences even among the residents of Pyongyang. The top ring contains a core of privi­ leged elites surrounded by circles ofthe less privileged. The second ring is made up of cadres. A third ring consists of people who are poor by the most elevated Pyongyang standards but who still live more comfortably than most North Koreans outside the capital. Walter C. Clemens Jr. 549 While Collins lists many educational institutions favored...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2288-2871
Print ISSN
0258-9184
Pages
pp. 547-552
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-22
Open Access
No
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