Dear Leader by Jang Jin Sung and Shirley Lee, NBC

In the late 1990s, Jang Jin-sung was North Korea’s state poet laureate and a spy.

He reached the pinnacle of his charmed life in 1999 when he met the “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong Il, at the age of just 28.

Becoming one of Kim’s “Admitted” inner circle meant Jang was granted immunity from even the highest-ranking authorities and other privileges: a steady stream of food provisions (“spoils of war” as the North Koreans termed food aid packages from international aid agencies), special access to strictly censored publications, a travel pass within the country, even his own transport – a bicycle.

It all came to an end in 2004 when Jang was forced to flee his homeland.

Image: Jang Jin-sung SIMON & SCHUSTER

Jang Jin-sung was a member of Kim Jong Il’s inner circle. “The world today still thinks of North Korea as a military country,” he said. “But that is completely incorrect.”

“Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee — A Look Inside North Korea” is Jang’s story of transformation and his escape; it’s being published this month by Simon & Schuster. While almost everything Jang recounts about how the North Korean government works is unverifiable, it’s a remarkable account.

Below is the translation of an interview he gave NBC News’ Director of International News Adrienne Mong during a recent visit to London.

Q: What was your job?

In North Korea, I was a writer. But in North Korea there’s no such thing as a writer the way the outside world understands it. It’s not as an individual that you are a writer. It is as a bureaucrat, as a civil servant, as a revolutionary.

I was a part of the so-called United Front Department [the key division in the ruling Workers’ Party that was also responsible for inter-Korean espionage, policymaking and diplomacy]. My job title was counterintelligence officer with special oversight of psychological warfare against South Korea.

Q: So your position gave you a unique perspective on how the North Korean government functions?

When I was growing up, I didn’t even think to question what we read and were taught. It was only when I became part of the system, writing over and over the story that I’d been taught as a child, that I realized it wasn’t the truth. I realized it was policy that was forcing our history, our culture, and our identity to be written a certain way — not because it actually happened this way.

Image: Kim Jong Il in 2009KCNA-KNS VIA AFP – GETTY IMAGES, FILE

The late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il visits a coal mine in a photo released in 2009.

Q: How does the North Korean government work?

The world today still thinks of North Korea as a military country, that the military is the most important entity. But that is completely incorrect. The only entity that actually matters when it comes to decision-making or policy-making is the Organization and Guidance Department (OGD), the executive branch of the Workers’ Party.

“Kim Jong Un doesn’t have that old boys’ network … In North Korea, he’s alone. He has no alliances or factions or any clout”

All roads in North Korea lead to the OGD. If you go anywhere in North Korea, even at the lowest level — a village, town, district, or residential neighborhood — there is a party committee. This committee reports to the OGD. The OGD answered to one person, Kim Jong Il. The OGD has five functions. First, it is responsible for running the country and there are no competing channels. Second, it has the right to vet and appoint personnel who have any power to command. Third, it has the right to purge, execute, or monitor anyone; the secret police is directly run by the OGD. Fourth, any policy anyone wants to propose has to go through the OGD; there is no legislative body and Kim Jong Il signed off on every policy. Finally, the OGD is responsible for safeguarding the Kim family.

Q: Is this power structure sustainable?

The OGD is designed to support the authority of one man alone at the top. There is no No. 2 or No. 3 person. There are no factions. That’s why the OGD reinforces the authority of the Kim dynasty, the Kim sanctity, the Kim legitimacy. The statues, the propaganda, all that is maintained by the OGD. It doesn’t matter whether it’s sustainable; they don’t know how to maintain power any other way.

Q: What if Kim Jong Un is a weak leader? How does the OGD work then?

It’s a structure that keeps it going no matter whether he has the power or not. That’s precisely why the OGD is so much more powerful now than before. When Kim Jong Il built up the OGD [to take power from his father Kim Il Sung], it was all Kim Jong Il’s friends, a network of his old friends. Kim Jong Un doesn’t have that old boys’ network. If he does, it’s in Switzerland. In North Korea, he’s alone. He has no alliances or factions or any clout, because he has no operational experience within the North Korean system the way his father had by the time he came to power.

Image: King Jong Un and Kim Jong Il in Oct. 2010VINCENT YU / AP, FILE

Kim Jong Il, right, and his son Kim Jong Un attend a military parade to mark the 65th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party in Pyongyang,North Korea, on Oct. 10, 2010.

Q: If so, wouldn’t someone in the OGD just take over if they already wield the real power?

That’s an interesting question. North Korean people live in a society that has been engineered especially for a Kim to be in power. Only the Kim family is considered the legitimate heirs. If another family came to power, that would cause fissures within the OGD system. These people know this better than anyone else; it’s in their interest to keep the system going as it is, to keep Kim Jong Un in the spotlight but to wield the real power behind the scenes.

Q: What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding of North Korea today?

North Korea needs to be seen in its own specific context. People tend to view how it works within the Soviet system or as some relic of Stalin or the Cold War. It’s not. It’s more of a cult-totalitarian state, i.e., a totalitarian system with a cult-building foundation. We need to stop applying Cold War or Soviet logic to a country that has a totally different historical background.

“North Korea needs to find blame for its own domestic power failures so the U.S. has been designated as a state enemy for that purpose”

Q: We tend to think that China is North Korea’s closest ally and has influence over North Korea. But when I was working in Beijing, that didn’t seem to be the view within the Chinese capital. How would you describe the relationship?

The Chinese have been so annoyed by North Korea and by Kim Jong Il personally … China wants reform and opening. It has expectations for Kim Jong Un. But it’s going to be more pragmatic in its approach in how to deal with Pyongyang. Because to the Chinese, it’s, “we don’t want to go through what happened with Kim Jong Il, he was a pain.” As for the North Korean leadership, it despises China. They believe, “The Chinese think they’re so great. They think they can determine Korea’s fate. We are not Chinese. We are Korean.” So these guys don’t want to be holding hands with Beijing. They are more interested in developing their nuclear weapons to keep their status quo going. The last thing they would want is Chinese-style reform.

Q: What is the North Korean view of America then?

The so-called hatred towards America comes out of a pragmatic need. North Korea needs to find blame for its own domestic power failures so the U.S. has been designated as a state enemy for that purpose. But it’s not really anti-U.S. Think about it this way, every leader’s house is supposed to hang a portrait of Kim Il Sung, but in the end every leader’s household wants cash. And the U.S. dollar is what keeps the North Korean economy going. In order to justify a power system that does not reflect reality, you need an unrealistic enemy. And that’s the role the U.S. plays, the bogeyman.

Q: What has been the biggest adjustment living in the outside world, in South Korea?

The most difficult thing was to realize that while I had left that world of North Korea, I could not settle in the new world of South Korea, because I had left all my family and friends north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). How could I live in a world empty of everyone I loved? The DMZ is a fence not just across land but also across the heart of every North Korean exile. We’re neither of this world or that world. If your heart is still in one place and you are in another, it’s hard to make a new life in a new place. So that was the most difficult decision I had to make: to accept that I am here, in South Korea, and begin anew.

Q: Describe to us your day-to-day now in South Korea. How do you go about life amidst possible threats from North Korea to stop you from talking?

My life is no different from that of normal people. I get up in the morning, go to work [at New Focus International, a website reporting on North Korea], come home for dinner with my family, etc. Of course, I have bodyguards and am always aware of the threat from North Korea …. I’m just so grateful to even be alive and to live another day. So I can’t waste it, because why did I escape, why did all of this happen so that I could have a happy life, if I don’t keep speaking the truth about North Korea?

 

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/why-north-koreas-kim-jong-un-isnt-powerful-kim-jong-n103926

Dear Leader by Jang Jin Sung and Shirley Lee, New York Post

Jang Jin-sung, a North Korean poet laureate and a employee of the country’s United Front Department, the government agency responsible for “inter-Korean espionage, policy making and diplomacy,” was walking through Dongdaewon, the poorest area of Pyongyang. It was 1999, five years into the country’s harsh descent into famine and poverty.
As he entered a packed outdoor market, he was stopped by a gathering crowd. In the center stood an adult woman and a girl of about seven. A piece of paper hung from the girl’s neck. It read, “I sell my daughter for 100 won.”
At the time, 100 won equalled about 10 cents in US dollars.
Onlookers cursed the mother. The daughter cried to the crowd that her father had died of starvation. Finally, an army lieutenant — who, given his position, was still receiving food rations — agreed to take the girl, and paid the mother.
The mom broke down in violent sobs, screaming “Forgive me! Forgive me!” to the girl as she jammed pieces of bread in her mouth, the last thing she would ever be able to give her daughter.
“Looking at the mother and daughter in that place,” Jang writes, “I felt sure that we were living in the end days of the world.”
‘The Corpse Division’
Modal Trigger
Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee—A Look Inside North Korea by Jang Jin-sung
Jang’s new memoir, “Dear Leader,” is a remarkable story of struggle and survival, the tale of his desperate flight from North Korea in 2004.
Given Jang’s unusual position of privilege, the book also presents a rare look inside the lives of the North Korean people and its leaders.
The average North Korean citizen received monthly, pre-measured food rations from the state until 1994, when the collapsed economy left people to fend for themselves. (Those in high levels of government and the military still received rations.)
Death from starvation grew so common that it led to the founding of the ominously but accurately named Corpse Division.
Jang first saw them when, in a park, he noticed “a swarm of homeless people who looked to be either dead or dying. There were also men hovering over the bodies like flies, at times poking the inert figures with sticks.”
When he asked who they were, a friend replied, “They’re from the Corpse Division. They get rid of the corpses. All the other provinces [except Pyongyang] dispatch them to the main park near the station. All sorts of people move through the station, so they come here to beg, until they die.”
Modal Trigger
Kim Il-sung , right, and Kim Jong-il in South Korea November, 1994.
Photo: Getty Images
Jang saw the division in action.
“The Corpse Division had a loaded rickshaw, on top of which some empty sacks were laid,” he writes. “Six bare and skeletal feet poked out from beneath these in oddly assorted directions. For the first split second, I did not understand what I was seeing, but as soon as I realized these empty sacks were human bodies, I grew nauseous.”
Water was scarce as well. The lower and middle classes “frequented the boiler rooms at foreign embassies, restaurants, or central state institutions. If you paid a bribe, the staff would allow you to have some of the hot water from the overflow pipe.”
Despite the desperation, woe to the North Korean who stole food.
As Jang spoke to his friend at their hometown marketplace, a siren went off. People around him began swearing. His friend “looked exasperated” and said, “F – – – ing hell.”
“There’s going to be a People’s Trial,” said a nearby vendor. “No one can leave the market until it’s over.”
These executions, Jang learned, took place weekly.
“Sure enough, soldiers rushed in from all directions to surround the square, herding us into the center with the butts of their rifles,” writes Jang. The prisoner, who had stolen a bag of rice, was brought in wearing everyday clothes, which Jang took as a message to the townspeople that “any of them could be in this position.”
The man, “eyes full of terror” and “blood around his lips,” was brought into the center as “a military officer read out his judgment,” and a judge declared, “Death by firing squad!”
After this less-than-five-minute “trial,” a soldier shoved “a V-shaped spring” into the man’s mouth to “prevent him from speaking intelligibly,” so that he “could not utter rebellious sentiments” just before he was shot dead in front of the day’s shoppers.
Meeting the dictator
Already a member of the UFD, Jang was declared one of the “Admitted” — a special status proclaiming one a Kim Jong-il insider, with privileges including immunity from investigation and prosecution (except for treason) — in 1999 after writing a poem called “Spring Rests on the Gun Barrel of the Lord.”
Modal Trigger
Crowds bow to the statues of North Korea’s late leader Kim Jon Il, right, and his father, North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung. The statue sits on a hill in the capital Pyongyang.
Photo: Reuters
The 28-year-old was brought to meet the Dear Leader after being summoned by the Guards Command, the unit “responsible for the protection of Kim’s household. It comprises one hundred thousand infantry, seamen and pilots.”
When Jang first saw Dear Leader, he felt “let down,” as Kim was “an old man who looks nothing like the familiar image of the People’s Leader.”
The shock continued when he noticed that Kim had removed his shoes.
“Even the General suffers the curse of sore feet!” he writes. “I had always thought him divine, not even needing to use the toilet. That’s what we were taught in school.”
“You, boy! Are you the one who wrote that poem about the gun barrel?” Kim said.
“Yes, General!” Jang yelled in his carefully prepared response. “I am honored to be in your presence!”
Modal Trigger
A giant poster of the two former leaders hangs in Wonsan, North Korea.
Photo: Getty Images
“He smirks as he approaches me,” writes Jang.
“Someone wrote it for you, isn’t that right?” Kim says. “Don’t even think about lying to me. I’ll have you killed.”
“As I begin to panic,” writes Jang, “the Dear Leader bursts into hearty laughter and punches me on the shoulder. ‘It’s a compliment, you silly fool. You’ve set the standard for the whole Songun era.’” (Songun is North Korea’s “military first” policy.)
Later, Kim pours Jang a glass of wine. This is a notable North Korean honor, and anyone fortunate enough to experience it then prominently displayed the wine glass on a mantel in their home.
Jang notes, though, that the “wine” Kim drinks is not wine as we know it, but rather an 80-proof liquor “developed by the Foundational Sciences Institute, the academic body devoted to the study of the Dear Leader’s health. Three thousand researchers work there, planning and preparing medicines and dishes specifically designed to extend Kim Jong-il’s longevity.”

http://nypost.com/2014/05/10/this-man-was-kim-jong-ils-propaganda-poet/

Dear Leader by Jang Jin Sung and Shirley Lee, BBC

Jang Jin-sung was the former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s poet laureate and propagandist. He is now one of the most high profile figures to defect from the country and has written a book about his experience called Dear Leader, with the academic Shirley Lee – who acts as his translator.

“The day I met the leader the facade was torn, I realised there were two Kim Jong-ils in this world; one, a man that the party machinery had created and the other who was standing in front of me,” he tells the BBC’s Mishal Husain.

http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-27337643

Dear Leader by Jang Jin Sung and Shirley Lee, NBC

He reached the pinnacle of his charmed life in 1999 when he met the “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong Il, at the age of just 28.

Becoming one of Kim’s “Admitted” inner circle meant Jang was granted immunity from even the highest-ranking authorities and other privileges: a steady stream of food provisions (“spoils of war” as the North Koreans termed food aid packages from international aid agencies), special access to strictly censored publications, a travel pass within the country, even his own transport – a bicycle.

It all came to an end in 2004 when Jang was forced to flee his homeland.

Image: Jang Jin-sung SIMON & SCHUSTER
Jang Jin-sung was a member of Kim Jong Il’s inner circle. “The world today still thinks of North Korea as a military country,” he said. “But that is completely incorrect.”
“Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee — A Look Inside North Korea” is Jang’s story of transformation and his escape; it’s being published this month by Simon & Schuster. While almost everything Jang recounts about how the North Korean government works is unverifiable, it’s a remarkable account.

Below is the translation of an interview he gave NBC News’ Director of International News Adrienne Mong during a recent visit to London.

Q: What was your job?

In North Korea, I was a writer. But in North Korea there’s no such thing as a writer the way the outside world understands it. It’s not as an individual that you are a writer. It is as a bureaucrat, as a civil servant, as a revolutionary.

I was a part of the so-called United Front Department [the key division in the ruling Workers’ Party that was also responsible for inter-Korean espionage, policymaking and diplomacy]. My job title was counterintelligence officer with special oversight of psychological warfare against South Korea.

Q: So your position gave you a unique perspective on how the North Korean government functions?

When I was growing up, I didn’t even think to question what we read and were taught. It was only when I became part of the system, writing over and over the story that I’d been taught as a child, that I realized it wasn’t the truth. I realized it was policy that was forcing our history, our culture, and our identity to be written a certain way — not because it actually happened this way.

Image: Kim Jong Il in 2009 KCNA-KNS VIA AFP – GETTY IMAGES, FILE
The late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il visits a coal mine in a photo released in 2009.
Q: How does the North Korean government work?

The world today still thinks of North Korea as a military country, that the military is the most important entity. But that is completely incorrect. The only entity that actually matters when it comes to decision-making or policy-making is the Organization and Guidance Department (OGD), the executive branch of the Workers’ Party.

“Kim Jong Un doesn’t have that old boys’ network … In North Korea, he’s alone. He has no alliances or factions or any clout”

All roads in North Korea lead to the OGD. If you go anywhere in North Korea, even at the lowest level — a village, town, district, or residential neighborhood — there is a party committee. This committee reports to the OGD. The OGD answered to one person, Kim Jong Il. The OGD has five functions. First, it is responsible for running the country and there are no competing channels. Second, it has the right to vet and appoint personnel who have any power to command. Third, it has the right to purge, execute, or monitor anyone; the secret police is directly run by the OGD. Fourth, any policy anyone wants to propose has to go through the OGD; there is no legislative body and Kim Jong Il signed off on every policy. Finally, the OGD is responsible for safeguarding the Kim family.

Q: Is this power structure sustainable?

The OGD is designed to support the authority of one man alone at the top. There is no No. 2 or No. 3 person. There are no factions. That’s why the OGD reinforces the authority of the Kim dynasty, the Kim sanctity, the Kim legitimacy. The statues, the propaganda, all that is maintained by the OGD. It doesn’t matter whether it’s sustainable; they don’t know how to maintain power any other way.

Q: What if Kim Jong Un is a weak leader? How does the OGD work then?

It’s a structure that keeps it going no matter whether he has the power or not. That’s precisely why the OGD is so much more powerful now than before. When Kim Jong Il built up the OGD [to take power from his father Kim Il Sung], it was all Kim Jong Il’s friends, a network of his old friends. Kim Jong Un doesn’t have that old boys’ network. If he does, it’s in Switzerland. In North Korea, he’s alone. He has no alliances or factions or any clout, because he has no operational experience within the North Korean system the way his father had by the time he came to power.

Image: King Jong Un and Kim Jong Il in Oct. 2010 VINCENT YU / AP, FILE
Kim Jong Il, right, and his son Kim Jong Un attend a military parade to mark the 65th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party in Pyongyang,North Korea, on Oct. 10, 2010.
Q: If so, wouldn’t someone in the OGD just take over if they already wield the real power?

That’s an interesting question. North Korean people live in a society that has been engineered especially for a Kim to be in power. Only the Kim family is considered the legitimate heirs. If another family came to power, that would cause fissures within the OGD system. These people know this better than anyone else; it’s in their interest to keep the system going as it is, to keep Kim Jong Un in the spotlight but to wield the real power behind the scenes.

Q: What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding of North Korea today?

North Korea needs to be seen in its own specific context. People tend to view how it works within the Soviet system or as some relic of Stalin or the Cold War. It’s not. It’s more of a cult-totalitarian state, i.e., a totalitarian system with a cult-building foundation. We need to stop applying Cold War or Soviet logic to a country that has a totally different historical background.

“North Korea needs to find blame for its own domestic power failures so the U.S. has been designated as a state enemy for that purpose”

Q: We tend to think that China is North Korea’s closest ally and has influence over North Korea. But when I was working in Beijing, that didn’t seem to be the view within the Chinese capital. How would you describe the relationship?

The Chinese have been so annoyed by North Korea and by Kim Jong Il personally … China wants reform and opening. It has expectations for Kim Jong Un. But it’s going to be more pragmatic in its approach in how to deal with Pyongyang. Because to the Chinese, it’s, “we don’t want to go through what happened with Kim Jong Il, he was a pain.” As for the North Korean leadership, it despises China. They believe, “The Chinese think they’re so great. They think they can determine Korea’s fate. We are not Chinese. We are Korean.” So these guys don’t want to be holding hands with Beijing. They are more interested in developing their nuclear weapons to keep their status quo going. The last thing they would want is Chinese-style reform.

S. Korean official on North: ‘It must disappear’TODAY

Q: What is the North Korean view of America then?

The so-called hatred towards America comes out of a pragmatic need. North Korea needs to find blame for its own domestic power failures so the U.S. has been designated as a state enemy for that purpose. But it’s not really anti-U.S. Think about it this way, every leader’s house is supposed to hang a portrait of Kim Il Sung, but in the end every leader’s household wants cash. And the U.S. dollar is what keeps the North Korean economy going. In order to justify a power system that does not reflect reality, you need an unrealistic enemy. And that’s the role the U.S. plays, the bogeyman.

Q: What has been the biggest adjustment living in the outside world, in South Korea?

The most difficult thing was to realize that while I had left that world of North Korea, I could not settle in the new world of South Korea, because I had left all my family and friends north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). How could I live in a world empty of everyone I loved? The DMZ is a fence not just across land but also across the heart of every North Korean exile. We’re neither of this world or that world. If your heart is still in one place and you are in another, it’s hard to make a new life in a new place. So that was the most difficult decision I had to make: to accept that I am here, in South Korea, and begin anew.

Childhood Snaps of North Korea’s Kim RevealedNBC NEWS

Q: Describe to us your day-to-day now in South Korea. How do you go about life amidst possible threats from North Korea to stop you from talking?

My life is no different from that of normal people. I get up in the morning, go to work [at New Focus International, a website reporting on North Korea], come home for dinner with my family, etc. Of course, I have bodyguards and am always aware of the threat from North Korea …. I’m just so grateful to even be alive and to live another day. So I can’t waste it, because why did I escape, why did all of this happen so that I could have a happy life, if I don’t keep speaking the truth about North Korea?

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/why-north-koreas-kim-jong-un-isnt-powerful-kim-jong-n103926

The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa the Driver by Chan Koonchung, The New York Times

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Q & A: Chan Koonchung on Tibet, Sex and Censorship
By JOYCE LAU MAY 25, 2014 6:00 PM Comment
Chan Koonchung checking the offerings at the People’s Recreation Community bookstore in Hong Kong.
Joyce Lau
Chan Koonchung checking the offerings at the People’s Recreation Community bookstore in Hong Kong.
The shopkeeper at the small Hong Kong bookstore recognized the author Chan Koonchung right away. The People’s Recreation Community — its initials are a play on People’s Republic of China — specializes in books that are banned on the Chinese mainland, but not in the relatively free territory of Hong Kong. Mr. Chan found his own volumes on the shelf across from the cashier, while the shopkeeper brought over mugs of milk tea.

Courtesy of Random House UK
Mr. Chan, 61, a Shanghai native who grew up in Hong Kong and now lives in Beijing, caught international attention with “The Fat Years,” his 2009 sci-fi novel in which a month disappears from the historical record — but citizens never notice because they have been brainwashed into being blindly happy. Predictably, given the book’s not-so-subtle allusion to the cover-up of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, it has never been published on the mainland.

His latest novel, “The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa the Driver,” about a young Tibetan trying to find his way in Beijing, was published in English this month. In an interview, Mr. Chan talked about sex, censorship, Tibet, stolen pets and people opening his mail. Excerpts follow:

Q.
Did you try getting “The Fat Years” published on the mainland?

A.
Several mainland publishers came to me after the novel got published. I asked them to read it first before we talked. They didn’t come back.

But someone — I don’t know who — typed it up in simplified Chinese and passed it around the Internet, where it stayed for about six months. There were at least two versions — one typed and one scanned — that were widely circulated, mostly as PDFs, until they were deleted. The censors were not so fast back then.

Q.
Did a similar thing happen to “Champa”?

A.
This time, the controls are tighter. They are getting better at blocking things. And maybe readers are less keen. There are so many titles in China now. Why would people want to spend their energy looking for the censored ones?

Q.
Where do you get your own reading materials?

A.
There are one or two really good bookstores in Beijing, plus Amazon China. For English books, I can go to the U.S. Amazon.com and they get through most of the time.

But banned books are a problem. I tried to get my own books — meaning books I had written — sent to me, and they were not allowed in. They are opening my boxes.

Q.
What are you reading?

A.
I’m trying to finish these thick novels by Jonathan Franzen — “The Corrections” and “Freedom.” I’ve also read “2666” by Roberto Bolaño. I’m not courageous enough to write such thick novels for Chinese audiences. And I read “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith. I liked that.

Q.
“Champa” begins with an affair between a handsome young Tibetan and an older, richer businesswoman. She is the sugar mommy and he is the arm candy. Why did you turn this gender stereotype on its head?

A.
This is something I noticed in real life. Many Chinese women in middle age, when they go to Tibet their behavior changes. They become very flirty with their tour guide or driver — and they’d never do that in Beijing. And these guys are quite handsome.

The protagonist is a Tibetan young man. He is intelligent, but not highly literate. He likes his women, his wine and his cars. I tried to write it as directly as possible. He isn’t deep. He’s deeply flawed.

Q.
How does the Tibet you depict differ from the usual stereotypes?

A.
My ambition was to write an antiromantic novel about Tibet. I didn’t want to write about this Shangri-La-type place that was spiritual and exotic.

I’ve been to Tibet many times. Lhasa is very modern. Half the population is not Tibetan, and many Tibetans work for the state — for example, as police. These young people behave just like other Chinese, with their fake designer jeans and obsession with cars. These guys — they do love their vehicles. So I wanted someone who was not a herder or a farmer.

Q.
How much has Tibet changed in one generation?

A.
I started researching Tibet because I was supposed to be producing a movie for Francis Ford Coppola’s studio. I started visiting Tibet in 1992, and it has changed a lot. There are more Chinese than ever from the mainland. The number of Chinese tourists has broken all records, but there are fewer international tourists because it is hard for them to get visas. Sometimes they will let elderly Westerners in in small groups, but the young backpackers are largely gone. The same with foreign NGOs. There are very few left in Tibet.

Q.
There are two graphic scenes in which Champa seems to force himself on women, including both this businesswoman and her daughter. Would you call this rape?

A.
In one case, you have a young girl who is quite unsure of her sexuality, and a young man who did not enjoy doing it. It is really a gray area. While both women did not like it, they did not resist much, either.

I wanted to create sexual relationships that were as complex as possible. It’s a metaphor for Chinese and Tibetan relationships. Tibet and China are engaged in a very complex co-dependency. You should feel uncomfortable reading these passages.

Q.
With his Tibetan looks and Tibetan papers, Champa has a hard time finding a place to stay. Would you say that the Chinese were being racist to him?

A.
They’re pragmatic. The hotels want to avoid trouble, and so they overreact. Landlords, too. And the result is not so subtle.

Q.
The only job Champa can get in Beijing is “security work in a hotel,” which is a euphemism for “thug in a black jail” — an extralegal detention center. How common is this practice?

A.
The one thing a Tibetan guy can do in Beijing is be a security guard. In fact, Beijing has held recruiting campaigns for young Lhasa men to do this work in the capital. So Champa goes to work for one of these “hotels.”

When the government rounds up petitioners, they are kept in these “hotels” until they can be sent back to their home provinces. There are also “hotels” that the local security officials use for people when they don’t want to press official charges. It’s a non-place.

Q.
Champa gets involved with activists trying to save a truckload of dogs headed for the slaughterhouse. Does this really happen?

A.
Eating dog is legal in China, and the dog meat restaurants need supplies. But nobody actually rears meat dogs — it’s too expensive — so they just steal them.

These incidents really take place. A group of activists will stop a delivery truck with their cars — they have cars because they are generally middle-class. Then they buy up the stock of stolen dogs. I find it encouraging that people are organizing things not related to their immediate interests.

Q.
You’ve worked with Greenpeace and local environmental groups. You also predict a dark ecological future in your novels. How bad is the situation in China? Is the damage reversible?

A.
Some rivers could still be cleaned up — some, maybe not all. The air quality could be improved if they made an effort to phase out coal. Forestry is almost gone. That’s too late. You can’t replant biodiversity. But the main problem is the underground water — it’s so polluted. This is the most serious crisis: the water supply.

http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/05/25/q-a-chan-koonchung-on-tibet-sex-and-censorship/?module=BlogPost-ReadMore&version=Blog%20Main&action=Click&contentCollection=World&pgtype=Blogs%C2%AEion=Body#more-10955

The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa the Driver by Chan Koonchung, Bruce Humes blog

What’s a young Tibetan stud to do for a living nowadays in a tourist hotspot like Lhasa? And what happens when his childhood dream—to hang out in the capital of a country called China—comes true?
In the just-published Champa the Driver, author Chan Koonchung takes us on a rocky road from Lhasa to Beijing. The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa the DriverAlong the way he paints disturbing vignettes. An apartheid-in-the-making. The eerie death wish of a would-be self-immolator. The Kafkaesque “black jails” where provincial petitioners who dare air their grievances to the Beijing Mandarins are brutalized, then sent home.
If they’re lucky, that is.
I read both the Chinese original and Nicky Harman’s translation, and her rendition convincingly captures Champa’s conflicted mindset and odd lingo; after all, like any young PRC citizen he is the product of 21st-century China’s booming economy and rampant materialism. But he is also not a native speaker of Chinese, and deep down, he is more Tibetan and Buddhist than he realizes. Even as Chan evokes the gap between image and reality, between the tourist’s Lhasa and Tibet under the heel of the dragon, and Beijing as it is dreamt vs. lived, the novel remains a quick and compelling read.
At the outset, Champa is sitting pretty. He’s got a cushy job in Lhasa as a chauffeur for Plum, a savvy Han businesswoman with a robust appetite for the occasional “spurt of the moment” (as Champa puts it), and before he knows it, he’s her lover-on-demand. However the simple days of cock-and-cunt—there’s a hefty dose of raw sex as the novel opens—are soon overshadowed by the troubling loss of his Tibetan virility. After an-all-too-short trip to Beijing, he realizes that she doesn’t want to be seen parading her “Tibetan Mastiff puppy” in the capital.
This is a body blow to his self-image, and impacts their relations back home in Lhasa. “Plum just didn’t get my tantric juices flowing” any more, he admits. To do his night gig with the boss now, he has to spend his daytime headhunting a fresh new sex object—in a whorehouse, online, among tourists, whatever—that he can visualize while servicing Plum.
Dreams of a “Beijing-fixated” Tibetan
Like many youths throughout the PRC, teenage Champa has a romantic image of Beijing and yearns to emulate it:
I always wanted a girlfriend from Beijing. Every year, lots of Beijingers came on holiday to Lhasa and I learned plenty of Beijing slang off them. I used to walk like a Beijinger, talk like a Beijinger and dress like one too.
Older generations of Tibetans don’t get this fascination with things Chinese. When a relative returns from Switzerland, she lectures Champa on the glories of Tibet’s past, and how “Beijing was built by the Mongols and the Manchus, and our high lamas were their emperors’ teachers.”
To which he replied back then—or so recount his neighbors—“That’s fuck-all to do with me!”
Now an adult and working for a Han who spends much of her time in the capital, a world where she does not welcome him, the attraction of the Chinese metropolis is even more intense. “If I could get to Beijing, the world was my oyster,” he tells himself.
Ironically, it’s indirectly Plum who gives him the impetus to hit the road and turn his dream into reality. Champa has already realized they can’t stay together because their sexual relations have become an empty ritual for him, but doesn’t want to hurt her by admitting he no longer desires her. Instead, he’ll tell Plum that he has left her for another, something he believes she can more easily accept. But there’s a twist: the new woman in his life lives in Beijing . . . and happens to be Plum’s daughter, Shell.

http://bruce-humes.com/archives/558