Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag

Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag

Chol-hwan Kang, Pierre Rigoulot

Language: English

Pages: 166


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

North Korea is today one of the last bastions of hard-line Communism. Its leaders have kept a tight grasp on their one-party regime, quashing any nascent opposition movements and sending all suspected dissidents to its brutal concentration camps for "re-education." Kang Chol-hwan is the first survivor of one of these camps to escape and tell his story to the world, documenting the extreme conditions in these gulags and providing a personal insight into life in North Korea. Part horror story, part historical document, part memoir, part political tract, this record of one man's suffering gives eyewitness proof to an ongoing sorrowful chapter of modern history.</Div>

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2 was the “Royal Pine Village,” workers’ group number 4, the “Chestnut Tree Village,” and workers’ group number 10—where we lived—was “The Village on the Plain.” Each village consolidated a specific category of detainees. Ours, which was built in 1974, was inhabited solely by former Japanese residents and their families. The segregation served as tacit recognition of our difficult integration into North Korean society, as well as a way of isolating all mention of the capitalist hell existing

disregard for our well-being, sometimes even letting us nap with our heads on our desks under the pretense that this was teaching us self-sufficiency and discipline. Apart from the ideological regime, which was more or less the same everywhere in North Korea, there was simply no comparison between the lives of Yodok students and those of students on the outside. Our teachers generally addressed us in the harshest, crudest manner. Instead of using our first or last names, they blurted things like

barriers of Yodok, a place conceived for human misery, whose gloom still has the power to overwhelm me. ELEVEN MADNESS STALKS THE PRISONERS In the summer of 1982, my situation improved further. I finally made a friend. The camp had received two new prisoners, space aliens practically, whose extraordinary clothes and looks reminded us of our lost world. They were an elegant woman with dark glasses and her handsomely attired son, whose delicate white skin contrasted invidiously with our

which in turn transformed into indignation and silent denunciation. We had always been taught to think and speak in accordance with our Great Leader’s irrecusable axioms, but the guards’ actions continually contradicted them. I had memorized almost entirely A Letter to New Korea’s Much Beloved Children, which Kim Il-sung wrote for the occasion of the Day of Children, “who are the treasure of our country and its future. . . .”4 And yet I was being made to pay for my grandfather’s crimes. I was no

that erotic movies were basically softcore porn, hardcore being illegal in South Korea. We opted for the erotic films—four in a row! One night seemed too short a time to make up for a lifetime of North Korean prudishness. We had entered a fairyland. We couldn’t believe our eyes: What actors would play these roles? How could they get naked in front of the camera? We recalled the charges of debauchery we had heard leveled against the South. It was said, for example, that the Ehwa women’s university

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