Jang Jin Sung, Business Insider

North Korea’s Central Party Committee has released an internal decree urging party members to ‘abandon the Chinese dream,’ according to New Focus International, a media outlet run by prominent North Korean defector Jang Jin-sung.


The statement was allegedly issued in April during internal party lectures. The decree was particularly inflammatory in its attacks against Xi Jinping, the president of the People’s Republic of China.

New Focus International:

The lecture materials stated that ‘Xi Jinping is a figure who regards the suffering of the Cultural Revolution as resulting from the repressive nature of the Chinese Communist Party’, and went on to say that ‘China is a bad neighbor that slanders even our nuclear self-defence capabilities, by taking sides with the US’.

The edict also alleged that China, “which is enjoying being in bed with the imperialists and dreaming dreams with them, is even openly critical of our nuclear defense capabilities.”

China and South Korea agreed in May that the nuclear ambitions of North Korea posed a serious threat to regional security. China couched its agreement in a warning that all of the Korean peninsula should remain nuclear-free.

In response to the memo, North Korea’s Central Party Committee has commanded that companies decrease trade with China and expand trade with Russia.

This sudden order could cause even more economic problems for North Korea.

China accounted for 67.2% of North Korea’s exports and 61.6% of imports in 2011. In contrast, South Korea, North Korea’s only other neighbor, accounted for 19.4% of exports and 20% of imports. Given these figures, it is unlikely that North Korea’s already hobbled economy could successfully transition from its dependence on China.



Never to Meet Again by Han Han, Wall Street Journal

One of China’s most prolific writers, blogger Han Han will soon put his directorial debut to the big screen.

“Hou Hui Wuqi (Never to Meet Again),” a movie about a cross-country road trip by a group of young people that Mr. Han started working on earlier this year, is expected to hit Chinese theaters on July 24. The film features a slate of popular actors from mainland China and Hong Kong, as well as an appearance by Chinese director Jia Zhangke.

Mr. Han, who Time magazine dubbed China’s literary bad boy, enjoys nearly 38 million followers on Weibo. His popularity helped the film’s trailer garner more than 1.5 million views in just five hours after it was released Thursday morning. The film has also ranked among the most trending topics on Weibo for the past two days.

Han Han poses during a Peugeot sport car promotional event in Chengdu, Sichuan province.


Associated Press

“Directing a film was on my to-do list after I turned 30 years old,” the 31-year-old said at a media event in Beijing on Thursday. “Now I love making films.

Film poster


Laurel Films/ Guomai Culture Media/Bona Film Group.

“This is a road comedy, but it is not that clamorous or that in-you-face,” he said. “I don’t like screaming in front of camera.”

Though vague on other details about the film, he hints that it will showcase his rebellious side, as he usually does on his blog and in his novel.

“My favorite line in the movie is ‘shut up,’ ” said Mr. Han, who is originally from Shanghai and is also an award-winning race car driver. “I dislike those ‘Chicken-Soup-for-the-Soul’ kind of things and I think we already have enough movies lecturing on life values. “

China’s box office has been swept by a number of young directors in the past two years, including Vicky Zhao’s “So Young” and Xu Zheng’s “Lost In Thailand.” The two installments of “Tiny Times,” a romantic-comedy by another well-known writer-turned-director, Guo Jinming, both ranked among last year’s highest-grossing films, though they have been controversial among film critics.

Mr. Han gave credit to the crop of young filmmakers for helping to pave his way to the screen. “I’m very grateful to all these young directors,” said Mr. Han, who also wrote his film’s script. “Because of their box-office miracle, I had more freedom regarding investment and expectations.”

Like all directors in China, Mr. Han must deal with China’s notoriously harsh censorship, but he remains optimistic.

“I hope that censorship can loosen up in the next few years,” Mr. Han told The Wall Street Journal. “We have been restricted by it for a very long time and I expect this issue will get better.”


Dear Leader by Jang Jin Sung and Shirley Lee, Maclean’s

As a state-appointed poet laureate, Jang Jin Sung reached the pinnacle of elite life in North Korea. He spent his days writing epic poems for dictator Kim Jong Il—and overseeing inter-Korean espionage. In 1999, he joined a small clique who had spent time in private with the “Dear Leader,” who died in 2011 and was succeeded by his son Kim Jong Un. But before long, as Jang recounts in a remarkable new memoir, he was plagued with nagging doubts. In 2004, having committed a minor transgression deemed treasonous by the state, he fled, becoming one of North Korea’s highest-ranking defectors. Dear Leader is one part chronicle of courtly rule in Pyongyang, one part glimpse into the grim realities of life under Kim Jong Il and one part adventure tale, following Jang’s eventual escape through China and into South Korea. Today, he is editor-in-chief of New Focus International, a website reporting on North Korea.

Q: You started in the United Front department, which oversaw North Korea’s psychological warfare operations. What was your role?

A: North Korea is isolated. You are not allowed to read anything from outside. But the United Front department is, in part, a kind of counter-intelligence operational unit against South Korea. And it is thought that to formulate successful counter-policies, one needs to understand how South Korea works. I wasn’t able to go live in South Korea, but I was meant to live in the South Korean mind. We had access to South Korean TV, media, books, so that we could think on their wavelength.

Q: When you were in your 20s, you were ordered to produce an epic poem for Kim Jong Il.

A: Within the government there was a kind of institutional rivalry around epic poetry, which was Kim’s preferred vehicle of political propaganda. Different departments had their own poet laureates. But the United Front department had not been able to satisfy Kim Jong Il with an epic poem. When I was 27, the task fell to me. It was such a weighty thing. The theme for the poem, set by the party, was the notion that Kim Jong Il was the legitimate leader of the Koreans and that South Korea was an illegitimate government. I was meant to write my poem in a South Korean style. That gave me freedom and leeway; it broke so many rules but was still in the framework. Kim signed my poem into law, and that means everything in North Korea: the Dear Leader, the Supreme Leader. There is one celebrity in North Korea, and that is Kim.

Q: At one point, even though foreign books are so restricted, you got hold of the Collected Works of Lord Byron. What was that like?

A: In North Korean literature and culture, you have one protagonist and one story. Everything else is a variation. When I read Byron for the first time, I thought, “These are like North Korean people! They have emotions like people I know, and their lives are like mine.” It was more real than any North Korean literature I had ever come across. I cried while reading it. It moved me that literature can actually reflect reality, as opposed to a “reality” set by the state. The poem I enjoyed most was called The Corsair, about a pirate falling in love. Before coming across Byron, I thought “dear” was a name for Kim Jong Il—a quality that was ascribed to him and that belonged to him. It was shocking to me that normal people could be “dear” or “great” or “beloved.”

Q: When you began reading South Korean literature and media, did you trust it?

A: It wasn’t a matter of trusting or not trusting. In my country, there was one narrative of the Supreme Leader, a unified single narrative. To see another narrative, many other narratives, that sounded more logical, reasoned and balanced, and eroded the truth of North Korea. I thought, “Wow, this is a fabrication.” It was instant.

Q: One of your jobs in Pyongyang was to help write Annals of the Kim Dynasty, the official history of the Kim rulers. What did this involve?

A: My own task was to amplify to perfection Kim’s role in the arts and culture of the nation, as a genius who is guiding the people through art. It is so, so wrong. What we wrote would become the truth of the nation. I was terrified by the burden, by my responsibility in holding up this lie. And because the goal of any art in North Korea is to reach as many people as possible, the book was edited for TV. Even today, it is broadcast almost every day, all the time.

Q: Kim Jong Il used to say, “I rule through literature and music.” What did that look like?

A: In most dictatorships, things are done by force. You are physically restricted in movement, action, expression. The cultural, psychological and emotional dictatorship has the same restrictions, but placed on the mind, so it defines the boundaries within which you can think, and the boundaries within which something is morally good. It’s not your conscience that sets that, it’s the state.

Q: At 28, you became one of Kim Jong Il’s “admitted.” What did this mean?

A: Kim Jong Il has the authority of a divinity, he is infallible. To be “admitted” literally means that you have been admitted into his divinity. You can never be wrong—unless Kim says you’re wrong.

Q: You were invited to a dinner with him. It was an elaborate affair that involved alcohol and flaming ice cream. What was it like to see Kim for the first time?

A: There was all this buildup. We had to get on and off different vehicles and go through different security procedures. I thought, “Wow, this is the centre of gravity.” And yet, when I saw him, it was terrifying and paralyzing. I thought, “Even my eyelash doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to him.” And, of course, I was involved in cultifying him. But even for me, one of the people who had created the myth, seeing Kim in person was . . . He wasn’t better than any of us. He wasn’t divine. He wasn’t powerful. He was just a man. To actually see the man was pathetic.

Q: You were living a privileged life in Pyongyang. The turning point came when you went to visit your hometown after 10 years away. Why did that affect you so much?

A: Having been admitted into Kim’s circle was the apex of possibility in North Korea. There is nothing greater than him. There was nothing more to do. So I started to look back. Going home, I saw that all of my memories of childhood, of family life . . . it was all destroyed. It was all just famine, poverty, wreckage, destruction. There was a state corpse division to collect the bodies of beggars who had died on the street. In the marketplace, by the train station, there was a woman selling a comforter filled not with cotton but with cigarette-butt filters. How desperate must someone be to do such a thing? Other people were selling water. And then I saw a public execution: a farmer executed for stealing rice. There was just destitution. My hometown was dead of feeling. The visit home shattered me. I was back down on Earth; oh, this is reality: my destroyed country.

Q: You fled North Korea after lending a South Korean book to your friend Hwang Young Min and it went missing. You left without telling your family. Have you made contact since?

A: When you say goodbye to someone, the least you can give them is the pain that they will never see you again. I just left without a word. The morning I left, I wore sunglasses to hide my tears. I still feel guilty for it. I lied to my family to the end. I have tried contacting them many times, through different channels. It has been impossible to get through.

Q: You and your friend set off on a treacherous trip to the Chinese border, but, even after crossing into China, you were pursued by police.

A: It was surprising. We thought the moment we crossed the river, we were free. This dictatorship pursued us not just across China, but until this moment. Even now, North Korea threatens me with assassinations. I have 24/7 close-proximity police protection. More than fear, it’s just really bothersome.

Q: You write that the security guards were present at your first date with your now-wife.

A: [Laughs] Yes. I couldn’t even have an affair without my bodyguards knowing. It’s only when North Korea falls that I can have an affair freely. Of course, there is fear. But my friend Young Min killed himself, jumped off a cliff [after being caught in China]; that’s the counterpoint to my fear. I have to keep going.

Q: You moved to South Korea a decade ago. What was the hardest adjustment to life there?

A: The most difficult thing was also the most wonderful thing. In North Korea, you can only do things you are ordered to do. When I came to South Korea, that crutch was gone. I thought: Oh s–t, what do I do with my time? How do I formulate the direction in which to take my life? It’s scary. But when I started to take those next steps, it was blissful. Ironically, North Korean state ideology is Juche, which means self-reliance. But it is not self-reliance, it is state reliance. Only after getting out of North Korea did I realize self-reliance meant relying on oneself.

Q: Kim Jong Il has been succeeded by Kim Jong Un.  Abroad, we hear about his friendship with Dennis Rodman and his strange haircuts. What do you think of the new Dear Leader?

A: Kim Jong Un is like a symbolic avatar of the Supreme Leader. I completely understand why the outside world sees him through this lens of the ridiculous. Of course, that hides a more sinister reality, but that is exactly what the fabrication of North Korea is. When you look at it from the outside, it’s absurd and ridiculous and funny. What else but to laugh? But in North Korea, you uphold it out of fear.



Emperors Once More by Duncan Jepson, Civilan Reader

On the eve of a crisis summit for world economic leaders, two Chinese Methodist ministers are killed in an apparently motiveless execution in Hong Kong’s financial district. Luck makes Detective Alex Soong one of the first officers at the scene.

Yet Soong begins to suspect his involvement to be more than incidental, and the crime itself more than a senseless assassination: an instinct that is proven correct when Soong is contacted by a mysterious figure, and more massacres follow.

With the eyes of the world’s media fixed on Hong Kong, Soong must race to intercept his tormentor, and thwart a conspiracy born from one of the bloodiest confrontations of China’s past, which now threatens to destroy a fragile world order.

US-China relations. Thriller fiction. Yeah, of course I was going to be interested in this. Hopefully get to this very soon.



Emperors Once More by Duncan Jepson, Crime Thriller Fella

We love writers here. They’re busy people, but they just gotta write.

Duncan Jepson is the award-winning director and producer of five feature films. He’s produced documentaries for Discovery Channel Asia and National Geographic Channel. He was the editor of the Asia-based fashion magazine WestEast, and one of the founders and managing editors of the Asia Literary Review. A social commentator on Asia, he regularly writes for The New York TimesPublishing Perspectivesand South China Morning Post and Hong Kong Tatler. A lawyer by profession, he lives in Hong Kong.

His first novel, All the Flowers in Shanghai, was published by HarperCollins. He also co-storied the graphic novel, Darkness outside the Night with Xie Peng. Now, his first book in a crime series about Detective Alex Soong, Emperors Once More, is out.  You can buy it at places like this.

How would you pitch Emperors Once More to a potential reader?

2017, China has bailed out the West, but the West has defaulted on its debt. For many Chinese, this has the same strong sense of bitterness as the humiliations of the Opium War, Rape of Nanjing and Boxer Rebellion. One man in Hong Kong, deeply affected by colonialism, wants to use this new collective anger and indignation to push Chinese to demand China use its global power to reclaim its rightful place in the world order. To achieve these ends, he will draw on both ancient rites and modern technology.

It’s the first in a crime trilogy about Detective Alex Soong – how would you describe Soong?

First and foremost, Soong is of the new generation of Chinese – worldly, apolitical and, like many but not all, has strong views on right and wrong though these are still evolving as he lives and grows. He has also chosen to embrace difference, which many Chinese have traditionally eschewed, so by moving to Hong Kong, a city which despite its strong consumer attitudes maintains conservative Chinese values largely gone from China, he agitates against the often parochial views. Furthermore, he and his wife try to adapt to modern life, that their parents in China never experienced at that age.

Finally like many law enforcement officers, and certainly from my own experiences as a corporate counsel in a regional financial organisation, he struggles with how far he should pursue a situation regardless of the consequences such as personal conflict, loneliness and general antagonism.


Emperors No More

It is a very free market economy, one can make or lose millions in day, because it has been built by population of wealth seeking risk-takers, now not just Chinese but from all nationalities, who thrive on possibility. It is also a city of dense living conditions, people constantly touching each other’s lives, helpfully and harmfully – rich, poor, educated, street-wise, resolute and weak. These two general characteristics are shaped further by the contrasting architecture (huge towers and crumbling slums), the harbour and the night lights, offering all sorts of opportunities for grim misdeeds from white collar crime to human and animal trafficking. Even more exciting for the crime writer is that during the last ten years or so there is increasing work to fight crime providing another rich area of inspiration.

What’s your writing process? What comes first – plot or character?

Deciding what I want to say, answering my own question – why tell a story in the first place? Once I have that then I take whatever time is needed to create the story, and this is found in personal experiences, observations of others, history and more broadly from the inspiration from others. Once the story starts to take shape, I then try to work on the characters and how they interact. This latter part is the most enjoyable but the most difficult. I’m still learning my craft so I have good days when little elements seem to fall nicely into place and then other bearish days when everything is lumpy and ill-fitting. Some days the story and characters are at odds and one must revise or simply leave it alone and go do something else so perhaps on return the way forward presents itself – this is much like everything else in life.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

During the day I work as corporate counsel heading a legal team in a regional (Asia Pacific) investment organization so my writing is done during lunch and at night. I try to write 1200 a day and some days I’m ahead and others far behind. From my experience the important element is to keep writing and progressing the story, not constantly refining the same pages – if one is stuck on the same pages it is probably because one doesn’t know the rest of the story.

Who are the authors you love and why?

Italo Calvino, a sublime storyteller and fabulist, who creates the beautiful characters and worlds. I have always liked Herman Hesse for the detailed journeys I would travel with his characters and the warmth of his writing.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

It’s not as easy as it sounds.

How do you deal with feedback?

Generally, providing it is explained clearly, I like feedback. I may not agree with the points made but I do find it interesting to hear and read how other people understood and experienced something I made. Writing is pretty solitary but I am used to working with others in my day job, in film etc and I like different perspectives. I was on a panel chaired by Professor Douglas Kerr who wrote a great biography of Conan Doyle, I made some comments about difficulties I had with the pace and nature of a crime novel and it was fascinating to hear him respond about the structure of both crime writing from an academic perspective and about Doyle from a biographer’s perspective.

You’ve had a varied career – how have your own experiences shaped your writing?

In this story, I was heavily influenced by my own experiences on some investigations, mainly the personal elements, not the crimes. But also as a filmmaker, I am influenced by detail and atmosphere which I try to capture to draw the reader into the particular world.

Give me some advice about writing…

Say something (have some purpose, hopefully people will listen), write everyday (even if you are very undecided about what you have written) and be honest about your work (your finaldraft is an editor’s first.)

What’s your best advice for an author looking to get into the marketplace…

Have a strong story and strong characterisations, try to finish the work or at least have a first quarter with a thorough synopsis, find an agent who you trust and then trust them, work with the editor and help market the book. Finally don’t be too difficult, writing a manuscript and making changes is indeed pretty solitary but publishing books is not.

What’s next for you?

I am finishing the sequel which is currently titled Us and Them and is set in Hong Kong, the UK and Thailand. I’m currently in the UK visiting my father and doing a little research. I am also still working on a documentary about social inequality but I’ve been at it for three years now.


Emperors Once More by Duncan Jepson, Shots Confidential

I have been a regional corporate lawyer across Asia for over a decade and have been involved in a number of investigations relating to fraud, insider dealing and market manipulation. These often begin dramatically but develop slowly.  Here I describe how a dawn raid on a suspect might take place.
The day has barely begun, the lift opens and out stride ten or so law enforcement officers. A dawn raid. The unsuspecting individual at the reception desk is shocked and confused at the sudden appearance of a number of uniformed and plain clothed officers with empty boxes. Too anxious to check the search warrant as they’re innocently laying out the morning papers for what should have been yet another long day directing suits to meeting rooms?
After being allowed to enter, the officers take computers, files and suspects. The first reactions for colleagues sitting at the nearby cubicles as the officers appear, the rough intimacy of open-plan offices, is surprise, then quickly caution and soon solidarity.
Within a few minutes, corporate counsel is alerted and for them there is an immediate problem. They are paid to ensure the company follows the law and the law in this situation is, as everyone knows, innocent until proven guilty. The suspect, suddenly taken away for interview downtown, should be presumed innocent. And yet what if he or she isn’t? What if they are guilty and because let’s face it, it’s what’shisor hername who was always playing it fast and loose, talking cheap, cutting it close, so then perhaps it’s not that surprising. Maybe it’s actually surprising it took so long for the officers to come. But personal observations and perspectives aside, the counsel knows the law, and that as an innocent employee, they must be represented. For the moment anyway.
Yet, there’s a problem, while Mr X or Ms Y are now sitting uncomfortably and being asked all sorts of inconvenient questions, the corporate counsel is also paid to protect the company and must act accordingly. An internal investigation must begin. The computer has gone but everything, emails, text messages, documents, spreadsheets, rubbish cartoons and dodgy photos are all stored in the corporate cloud. The enforcement agency will want some of these in time. So a law firm is hired to go downtown to represent the company and, perhaps temporarily, the employee. The charges are identified and investigation begins – people misuse their company phone and computer.
Mr X or Ms Y, bright and shiny at their desk the day before, exits the interviews and is understandably quite unnerved. They go home, still under contract – a holiday or perhaps for “much needed rest” – but must still be available for internal interviews which start soon afterward. Friends and colleagues become irate, covering for the suspect’s work and responsibilities, but also increasingly concerned they might be involved – even though they know aren’t. Self-doubt sets in, despite reality. And colleagues want to know what has happened but also in disbelief they defend their companion, after all he or she has been with them everyday of the week, at least eight hours a day for years. Weeks pass, the individual is still missing but less missed as colleagues, also the counsel’s colleagues, feel betrayed for some of them too must be now interviewed.