Category Archive: Uncategorized

Vote for Dear Leader by Jang Jin sung and Shirley Lee on Goodreads!

Vote For Dear Leader By Jang Jin-Sung on Goodreads!


On TV, Hong Kong Openly Debates Democracy

A1sub-Hong-Kong-1-superJumboHONG KONG — After weeks of protests that have shaken this financial hub of 7.2 million people, residents thought they had seen it all. Then, on Tuesday night, something even more extraordinary happened, on live television: a polite debate between earnest students wearing black “Freedom Now” T-shirts and top Hong Kong leaders over the future of democracy.

read more

Jang Jin Sung and Shirley Lee, New Focus

The sources in North Korea that provided us with details of events leading up to Jang Song-thaek’s purge in November 2013 have now given us information that provides crucial insight into the events leading up to his execution and the current configuration of power in the nation.

It has been revealed that in early 2013, Jang Song-thaek dispatched a letter to the Chinese leadership, explaining that he desired to instigate changes to the North Korean system such that its pivot of power would move away from the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) and towards the DPRK government, as overseen by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

This letter and its contents is said to have served as the decisive evidence that led to the removal of Jang Song-thaek from his post in the enlarged Politburo meeting, called by the KWP Organisation and Guidance Department (OGD) in early December of last year.

In the course of the four days of investigations and interrogations by the Ministry of State Security (MSS) that followed, details regarding the intent behind the dispatch, the date and method of its initial delivery, and Jang Song-thaek’s subsequent confidential exchanges with China are said to have been established.

Moreover, the judgement that Jang Song-thaek committed “anti-Party and anti-revolutionary acts” is said to have been passed on the basis of his intent to serve as the Prime Minister of the DPRK government. He was consequently sent for immediate execution.

The proceedings of the Ministry of State Security investigation were circulated among those who attended the enlarged Politburo meeting that removed Jang Song-thaek from his post.

Jang Song-thaek’s letter, the contents of which were disclosed in the enlarged Politburo meeting, reportedly claimed that ‘The greatest achievement of Comrade Kim Il-sung was that he established and developed the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea into a nation more wealthy and powerful than southern Chosun [South Korea]’.

The letter reasoned that ‘Comrade Kim Il-sung ruled through a government overseen by the Prime Minister and Cabinet in order to develop the nation’s light industry and agriculture, while maintaining the military industry as top priority’. It went on to assert that ‘In our current Party-pivoted system, the structures of the state are organised in such a way that everything must work at a lower priority than the Party’s ideological efforts.’

At the founding and in the early days of North Korea, the KWP was more akin to a “regional branch” that received absolute guidance and supervision from the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of the Soviet Union. During those years, the Cabinet and government was the main power, with Kim Il-sung’s associates in key government positions; but following Kim Jong-il’s rise to power through the Party since the 80s, the country has functioned as a KWP-pivoted system.

In the statement of the enlarged Politburo meeting, it was concluded that Jang Song-thaek’s intent had been to challenge Kim Jong-un’s rule by means of his plan to become Prime Minister; in the letter, Jang Song-thaek had explained that he wanted to develop the North Korean economy using the Cabinet and government as a pivot, in order to stabilise Kim Jong-un’s rule and maintain the current regime.

Jang Song-thaek had stated that his intention was to improve the independent strength and sustainability of the current regime through economic reforms, within the status quo of a division between north and south; and not to pursue unification that would lead to absorption by a foreign democracy.

He expressed the calculation and confidence that ultimately, this vision of north-south competition and co-existence would be well received by the Chinese leadership; therefore, Jang Song-thaek had asserted, Kim Jong-un himself had given permission for him to compose this letter in confidence.

The ‘Jang Song-thaek letter initiative’ said to have been approved by Kim Jong-un, and the details of the MSS investigation that were subsequently circulated, have already leaked beyond the participants of the enlarged Politburo meeting, with knowledge of it now established among most cadres belonging to the central institutions.

Pak Pong-ju speaking at the enlarged Poliburo meeting.

Pak Pong-ju speaking at the enlarged Poliburo meeting.

The reason why Prime Minister Pak Pong-ju spoke in tears in the enlarged Politburo meeting is said to have been in direct response to the description in Jang Song-thaek’s letter of a ‘Cabinet and government that has been stripped of power’. Pak expounded the view that under the great guidance of the KWP, his Cabinet and government had in fact been able to thrive victoriously. Pak’s voice reportedly broke with emotion as he provided his statement justifying the centrality of the KWP over the Cabinet and government.

KWP’s secretary for Propaganda and Agitation Kim Ki-nam, who spoke from the same platform, provided explanations of how the very history of the KWP was the history of the great Supreme Leader himself; Ri Man-keon, KWP secretary for North Pyongan Province, testified that Jang Song-thaek had tried to hand over Sinuiju to China as a development zone.

Kim Ki-nam speaking at the enlarged Politburo meeting.

Kim Ki-nam speaking at the enlarged Politburo meeting.

Subsequently, on the orders of deputy director Cho Yeon-jun of the OGD, which had called the enlarged Politburo meeting, MSS guards who had been on standby were called and Jang Song-thaek was dragged away from the meeting hall.

Cho Yeon-jun speaking at the enlarged Politburo meeting.

Cho Yeon-jun speaking at the enlarged Politburo meeting.

Jang Song-thaek’s repeated assertion during the MSS investigation process – that the contents of the letter had not only had the approval of Kim Jong-un himself but his active support – was established as an even graver problem, and led to his immediate execution after just four days.

The scale and significance of this incident is perceived to be so great among cadres with membership in the central institutions that it is being referred to as the second “Hague emissary incident”.

In 1907, at the International Peace Conference held in The Hague, Kojong of Korea’s Chosun Dynasty had sent an emissary to assert that the Eulsa Treaty (Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty of 1905) was not valid. North Korea maintains that emissary Yi Jun committed suicide by disembowelment, protesting how the conference maintained silence regarding Japan’s invasion of Korea.

At present, the Ministry of State Security is conducting an extensive investigation, in order to establish who is responsible for leaking details that should have been restricted to those who attended the enlarged Politburo meeting. But it is thought that it is only a matter of time before the full account reaches the larger North Korean populace.

According to sources in situ, if it gets to the point where the news reaches the ordinary populace, ‘The number of people who sympathise with Jang Song-thaek because he attempted economic reform may increase’; moreover, ‘Feelings of disdain will likely grow regarding a Kim Jong-un who had supported the initiative, yet abandoned his uncle when the man was faced with purging and execution.’

In the statement issued by the MSS special military tribunal and published by North Korea’s state news agency KCNA on 13 December 2013, it was reported that ‘Jang Song-thaek had intended to concentrate his department and all relevant economic institutions into the Cabinet and government, serving as Prime Minister once the economy has crumbled into ruin and the state is on the verge of collapse.’

It was also claimed that Jang Song-thaek’s plan had been to seize control over the military to bring about a coup; and after the establishment of a new administration, he would have sought legitimacy for the coup by appealing to foreign powers and for international recognition.

Emperors Once More by Duncan Jepson, Asian Review of Books

3 May 2014 — All the pivotal characters in Duncan Jepson’s new Hong Kong crime novel—including its cosmopolitan protagonist—are preoccupied with indignities China has suffered at the hands of foreign powers, from the Opium Wars to a fictional 21st century European debt default.

Emperors Once More is set in near-future Hong Kong, a “formerly fragrant harbour” in decline after its “zenith in early 2013”. The main action occupies the two days leading up to an 18 August 2017 crisis meeting between G8 nations—that is, the West—andso-called “Outreach Five” nations, the most powerful of which is China.

Europe has just defaulted on the debt it owed China, and someone, or some group, is determined to make the continent and all Western powers pay for the debt and every other perceived shame that has been inflicted on China.

The methods of extracting that payment are extremely bizarre, misguided and grisly.


The book’s opening, on 17 August, is fashioned after popular Hong Kong noir films. It’s 2am, a typhoon signal eight has been hoisted, and a team of police officers are waiting in Kowloon Tong for Chow, a notorious money launderer in southern China.

Chow has little bearing on the book’s overall East-versus-West, past-versus-future concerns. But the circumstances of his eventual comeuppance introduce the reader to the unorthodox ways of the mainland-born protagonist, Senior Inspector Alex Soong of the Hong Kong Police Anti-Corruption Task Force.

He is Chinese, but out of his element in Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong; he is a police officer, but—typical for a crime story—doesn’t work by the book. Soong likes to improvise on and off the job, much like the musicians in the American jazz he loves to listen to. None of this goes over well with his boss, theCaptain, who anyway prefers classical music.

Soong, a New York University graduate, is the son of one of the architects of China’s economic revolution in the 1980s—and the grandson of a man who lost two fingers fighting against the Kuomintang. In the opening scene, he does what he was brought to Hong Kong to do, ­fight corruption. He tells his grandfather and father in a flashback that they fought their battles, for communism and economic growth, respectively, and now his generation has corruption.

It is with this purpose in mind that he disposes of Chow and saves the life of the fraudster’s hostage, a little girl who reminds Soong of the twin sisters his parents gave away under China’s one-child policy.


The novel soon casts off its noirish beginnings. By about 8am on that same day, he’s cleaned Chow’s blood off his face and hair, and is getting coffee for his slumbering wife Jun, a “classic Chinese beauty”, and failing to convince her to accompany him to receive a posthumous service award at Hong Kong University on behalf of his father and grandfather.


Soon after this moment of genteel calm, Soong’s day starts to get a lot worse. Two Methodist ministers are shot dead outside Citibank Tower, no gunman in sight. And, a little later, Soong is the first police officer on the scene of a quintuple homicide a Kowloon warehouse, near, not incidentally, the site of the 1967 leftist riots.

He spends the rest of the book trying to persuade fellow officers, including his mysterious Eurasian partner Michael De Suza, that the murders are all connected.

An enigmatic and unidentified man, who is still on the scene of the multiple homicide in Kowloon when Soong arrives, provides an important clue. As a gun-carrying Soong feels his way around a dark container in the warehouse, the man says,


First opium, then religion, then political ideology, and now debt. First US debt and now European … must we consume every Western poison?


Soong, whose grandfather walked on the Long March, has of course heard this line of anti-Western reasoning before and so have many of the book’s other central characters.

This very biased take on Chinese history guides the protagonist as he learns more about the nation’s past in order to preserve its future against his determined foes—who are also, strangely, trying to recruit him.

Jepson interrupts Soong’s story with several short sections, offset in bolder typeface, depicting an unnamed man as he gradually grows more xenophobic, especially after his son by a half-Chinese woman turns out looking more Western than Asian. The two narratives gradually and satisfyingly come together.


The novel, though a page-turner at heart, takes on a much bigger subject than the classic whodunit. The plot forces the characters to ask how it’s possible to acknowledge the past without being burdened by it and illustrates how a misinterpretation of history can be lethal.

It’s evident throughout that Jepson has a wider audience in mind than the Asian expat scene and provides a sort of handholding through contemporary and historical Chinese themes:  this broader target readership presumably needs to be told, for example, that Chinese has simplified, traditional and ancient characters.

The novel’s topic is also opportunistic, tapping into interest in China’s increasingly important role in the world. Nevertheless, a glimpse at how heavily history weighs on modern China—however much dramatized here—is helpful to a broader understanding.

But divulging hundreds of years of history in a future-set novel written for a relatively novice audience puts a narrative under a lot of strain. If this entertaining book has a weakness, it is that its scale of show-versus-tell is a little off balance. Getting readers up to speed about Chinese history helps explain why the villains are doing what they’re doing, but it also retards the book’s pace, and one imagines that, for some readers, pace is paramount. For others, however, the opportunity to learn a little about the Opium Wars or the anti-British riots in Hong Kong outside of fusty history books or spotty Wikipedia might be compensation enough.

Jepson leavens these weightier questions about

China’s history—like the discussions about Boxer Rebellion, which is central to why the ministers died—with the addition of the beautiful and flirty Professor Yi from Harvard. Mainland-born Yi teaches Soong about China’s long and painful relationship with Christianity, that “Western poison”, and in the vitalfinal quarter of the book, while Yi and Soong sit boringly in traffic, she tells the officer about the Boxer rebellion. What she has to say is no doubt interesting, but the story, like Soong’s ’68 Ford Mustang, getsstuck. Nevertheless, in the end, she helps him arrive at important conclusion.


When Soong is fighting to prevent another murder, this time at the G8 crisis summit at the Hong Kong Convention Centre, he shares this insight with his now-known enemy


The anger you see in them is not about how the West treats us, it’s about how we treat each other. It’s been like that, for five thousand years.


But this wouldn’t be an amusing detective novel, expected to be the first in a series, if wise words alonewere enough to save the day—violence, thankfully, ensues.

Dear Leader by Jang Jin Sung and Shirley Lee, Economist

WHEN Jang Jin-sung fled North Korea across the frozen Tumen river into China in 2004, he carried with him a small bundle of poems. These harrowing vignettes of North Korean hunger and suffering were later published in South Korea under a pseudonym.

Mr Jang had once composed paeans to Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s former ruler. In a new memoir, Mr Jang retraces his conversion from patriotic court poet to the Kim regime to one of its fiercest critics; from a privileged life within Pyongyang’s elite as one of Kim’s “Admitted” to being a destitute fugitive, on the run from North Korean agents in China, where he sought asylum in the South Korean embassy in Beijing. If his personal poems laid bare how the Kims gained power through cruelty and repression, Mr Jang’s latest account exposes the reach of their cultural dictatorship, which put literature and history at the service of an extraordinary and lasting personality cult.

Mr Jang was employed in North Korea as a poet in the United Front Department, an important party unit involved in organising psychological warfare against Koreans of all stripes. This made him familiar with its propaganda machinery. In the 1980s its literary output was directed at South Korean democracy movements, then resisting their own military dictator, in the hope of kindling pro-North sympathies in the South. By the 1990s the unit had turned inward, but still used many of the same South Korean tropes and idioms. Its authors pretended to be Southerners praising Kim Jong Il. To help him prepare, Mr Jang was given access to prohibited South Korean newspapers, television and books.

A paper shortage after the economy collapsed in the early 1990s led novels, a form that had been popular under Kim’s father, Kim Il Sung, to be replaced by epic poems. One of these, “Spring Rests on the Gun Barrel of the Lord”, composed in 1999, earned Mr Jang a rare meeting with Kim. He was admitted to an inner circle of six court poets and given immunity from prosecution.

North Korea’s leading propaganda poets were rewarded with imported cars and large flats. Officials, desperate to prove their loyalty to the Kim cult, vied for honours. But a chance encounter with Byron’s poetry (among works that were limited to a secret print run of 100 copies in North Korea) proved a delicious deviation from the strictures of Kim’s “Juche Art Theory”, a set of linguistic expressions to which all North Korean works must adhere.

As a state historian, Mr Jang was allowed to read banned portions of the country’s unvarnished history, the better to distort it. The more he read, the more he recognised how Kim had wrested power from his father. The swelling of the Kim Il Sung cult, which his son set in motion, legitimised Kim’s rule while justifying a shift of power away from his father. Under the pretext of lightening the Supreme Leader’s load, all proposals were routed through the party’s revamped Organisation and Guidance Department (OGD), headed by Kim. Eventually, only those that were deemed important were passed up to his father. Kim transferred the power to appoint and dismiss personnel to the OGD. Political enemies were watched and then purged.

Kim’s hereditary succession was not guaranteed at the start. Mr Jang offers considerable detail about how he set out to usurp his father, revealing the factional infighting and what he calls the “subterfuge and machinations” that pitted son against father; even Kim Il Sung’s own bodyguards came under OGD control. The dual structure of the Kim Il Sung cult, with the young Kim the real power behind the throne, allowed the son to confound outsiders. Foreigners scrutinised the seven pallbearers at Kim Jong Il’s funeral in 2011, but none held real power, Mr Jang says.

“Dear Leader”, which includes three personal poems, is a testament to Mr Jang’s literary flair. He chooses poetry to express painful episodes, whether the hunger of a young girl or the public execution of a farmer in his home town. He paints a bleak portrait of his village, to which he briefly returns to discover a swarm of wasted bodies “waiting for death”, a childhood friend eating rice by the grain and tap water for sale. Desolation creeps even into better-off Pyongyang: a mother, close to death, and her daughter stand in a marketplace; a sign hangs from the girl’s neck: “I sell my daughter for 100 won ($0.11)”.

The contrast with China’s bright cities, to which Mr Jang first escapes, could not be starker. He marvels at the “boldness of mankind in defying nature’s darkness”; at advertising hoardings more impressive than the Kim iconography. Yet, there too, he is hounded by North Korean and Chinese officials. He meets North Korean women who have fled both their country and their Chinese captors. Theirs are chilling tales of human trafficking. Graded and priced like pigs, many spend their lives “rotting”, shackled at night so they cannot escape. They also show great courage.

Mr Jang makes no claim to speak from within Kim Jong Il’s closest circle. But as a poet laureate, on the inside of the Kims’ mythmaking machine, he sheds new light both on the dynasty’s ideological underpinnings and on what he calls “the tantrums of a defeated man”.


The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa the Driver by Chan Koonchung, Publishing Perspectives

Chinese novelist Chan Koonchung writes first and foremost for his Beijing friends, never mind the fact they can’t buy his books in China. Best known for The Fat Years, which was banned on the mainland, the English translation of his most recent novel is out this month. Is that banned, too? Chan doesn’t know because no publisher in China would touch it.

The Unberaable Dreamworld of Champa the DriverThe Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa The Driver is a fast-paced read, packed with sex and danger. An exploration of the relationship between China and Tibet, it has the makings of a cult novel. The Chinese version was published in Taiwan and Hong Kong last year and the English translation – by Nicky Harman – is out now.

“In 2008 I could see China going through a new stage, it was the beginning of a new normal, but my Beijing friends didn’t believe me, so I wroteThe Fat Years to try to convince them. It’s always my Beijing friends that I write for,” says Chan.