As we move into the new millennium, more so than decades, quarter or half centuries, we reflect back on the past. A vast number of books and other publications have come out which review certain areas of the past, a Y2K in review. Of course, the term Y2K immediately evokes the image of a world of computer technology going haywire. The world has had its share of tragedies and hardships, as well as great technological achievements and human advancement in this last century. As we enter Y2K, perhaps one of the major events we will speculate on is the rise and fall of communism.
For the US, it has had a great influence on foreign policy. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent shift in power of former Soviet satellites, as well as the change in the centralized communist government in China to a market economy, many wrongly suspected that other smaller communist nations must follow suit. Such was the case for North Korea. Many times, especially in the last decade, it was assumed that North Korea was on the verge of collapse, only to rebound and somehow stay afloat.
How is this possible for an impoverished country where the military take precedence over the citizens, and even the military lacks the means to upgrade its equipment and conduct training due to lack of fuel? With allies running short, and old comrades, China and Russia, not only stopping support, but trying to persuade North Korea to abandon its missile project and not to go through with hereditary rulership, North Korean officials must certainly feel the strain.
Unable to get loans due to multiple defaults, having numerous foreign diplomats expelled from Third World countries for indecent behavior and setting everyone on edge with an alleged satellite missile launch, North Korea has had to resort to threats and concessions of nuclear production and inspections to obtain food and other aid, such as the promise for the development of two light-water reactors.
But even a North Korean defector, Kim Shin Jo, states, I cant understand how people can be so naive that they let themselves be used by North KoreaIt is wrong just to give food to North Korea, because those people who are really starving will not get the food (Hidden, p37). And furthermore, why help a country that spends tens of millions of dollars celebrating the birthday of Kim Il Sung with ever bigger statues and staging massive military parades(Hidden, p38)?
Nonetheless, the North Korean legacy continues, and the war continues. More than a thousand South Koreans have been killed [on the DMZ] since 1953, as have fifty Americans (In the Land, p58), and the DPRK has gone as far as to beef up their missile capability recently along the DMZ with the alleged ability to hit any part of Japan. As Bruce Cummings states, we need to look at Koreas history to find a better approach to dealing with North Korea. The New Dynasty
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines dynasty as 1: a succession of rulers of the same line of descent 2: a powerful group or family that maintains its position for a considerable time. Following the formation of the Democratic Peoples Republic in late 1945, Kim Il Sung quickly gained full control over the government and the central party. Orville Schell describes it as [b]y occupying all the highest positions in the state, the party, and the military, he managed to turn North Korea into a private fiefdom. (In the Land, p59).
Though nominally a communist nation, it also has the strong makings of a fascist state. Following the 20th Party Congress, the Soviet leaders pressed Kim to adopt the principle of collective leadership, which was tantamount to the abandonment of his near dictatorial position (The NK Communism, p105). And with the passing of power from father to son, Korea was apparently advised by Deng Jiao Ping not to go through with the family legacy (A World W/O, p27). However, there seems to be little suppression of the citizens for cooperation.
Orville Schell was told by his guide while in the DPRK You must never ever allow yourself to think that our loyalty is forced (p58). This is due to North Koreas unique system of Juche, or Chuche, which shows Kims unique diversion from communist creed: As early as December 1995 Kim Il-song, in the midst of pressure from Moscow, expressed his determination, though cautiously, to strike out on an independent road for North Korea by calling for the establishment of Chuche among Koreans (The NK Comm. , p126).
Juche mixes aspects of Marxism, Leninism, Christianity, Confucianism and xenophobia (In the land, p 59). Hwang Jang Yop, a North Korean official who defected in February of 1997, described the system as an abnormal system, a mix of socialism, modern feudalism and militarism (Hidden, p38). The article Kim the Father, Kim the Son states that lumping the North in with other communist regimes is a mistake. Its claim to legitimacy is based not on Marx, but on something more likely to last: religious sense of nationalism. 56) The Kims are viewed by the people as something more like gods or divine rulers, a view strongly supported by the government run papers, publishers and radio. Korea is Tanguns country and Kim Il Sungs country. (Kim the Father, p58) Despite this almost fanatical devotion, one rumor is that attempts were made on the life of President Kim Il Sung] in 1986 and 1987 and also two explosions on trains are believed to be the result of sabotage, and there are said to have been several industrial strikes (Signs, p38).
Despite rumors of political unrest and possible military revolt, it can not be doubted that the Kim Il Sung’s, and now Kim Jong Ils, power is firmly entrenched. Various statues dot the landscape dedicated to both rulers. Photos of one or both are required to be hung in meeting halls, public areas and most houses. Kim Il Sungs various titles range from the Eternal Sun of the Nation and the Greatest Genius of Mankind(Hidden, 37), the Lodestar of Human Emancipation(In the Land, p59) and the Great Leader.
His legacy, now passed on to his son, Kim Jong Il, has also passed on titles like the savior of present-day human music (Hidden, 37), the genius of 10,000 talents (NK Under, p3) and the Dear Leader. Both are known together as Our Sun and Star (inside [US News], p53). There is nothing the Korean establishment craves more from foreigners than the appearance of respect for its leaders and revolution (In the Land, p6). Various grand structures, with no practical use or economic justification, are expected to impress the thousands of foreign visitors.
Signs, pg38) While Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il have fought endlessly to demonstrate North Korean superiority in various fields, they never fail to receive bad reviews by foreign visitors who may marvel at the stunning parades, but are stuck by the apparent falseness of it all, the empty streets, the often strange presentations, strict guided tours and ominous structures. The North Korean government, who believes the Western World is trying to slander them for their own gain, naturally, poorly receives these reviews. However, it is important to analyze the government to find some means of understanding it.
North Korea has once again put itself into a unique position. With the inauguration of Kim Jong Il, the Dear Leaders lasting achievement is to have established the first dynasty in communist history. (Looking, p12) Having presented North Korea in this manner, it seems appropriate to look at North Korea from the perspective of dynastic rule. Whereas communist regimes look unfavorably upon the centralized, Confucian-based Dynasties of old, which the communist parties in Korea and China had struggled against, the centuries of dynastic rule have left lasting impressions on the Asian societies.
The individual dynasties of both Korea and China have lasted centuries, with one ending and another taking its place. Such is the legacy that many assume was left behind with the fall of Koreas Yi and Chinas Ching Dynasties. However, as the barbarian forces of the Mongols and the Manchurians learned, centuries of tradition hold a lot of weight, and they carried on the dynastic tradition with the founding of the Yuan and Ching Dynasties.
In understanding this legacy and showing how it may be seen in the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, it may become easier to understand why the country continues to survive, despite evidence supporting its collapse. To do this, it is necessary to view history and present not in the negative, but in a manner becoming the great tradition of dynasties. As China once saw itself as the center of the world, North Korea now sees itself as the last bastion of strength against imperialist aggressors, the last great nation on earth where many citizens believe there to be maybe only four other countries (presumably Russia, Japan, U. S. A. , and China, South Korea being part of Korea), and furthermore consider any reliance on the outside world as a source of weakness. (Looking, p13) Therefore, this paper will look at the general dynastic cycle of China, specifically the Ming dynasty, in comparison with the new North Korean Dynasty as well as compare one of the great Ming rulers, Wan-Li, with Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
In choosing a comparative dynasty, consideration was given to the Ming governments nationalistic and ethnocentric sentiment, indoctrination through education, hierarchical methods, the dynastic decline and centralized style government. In choosing Emperor Wan Li, his position as a divine ruler, great accomplishments in the early part of his rule, an eccentric patronage of the arts, later anti-social behavior and his ability to maintain power were the main factors.