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North Korea in the 1980s and 90s (2)
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North Korea in the 1980s and 90s (2) 

 

Sang-Ok SHIN

 

1926 Born in Chongjin, Hambuk Province, North Korea 
1944 Graduated from the Tokyo Arts College and began his career as a film director 
1951 Established Shin's Film in Seoul, Korea, a film production company, and has since directed some 90 films, some which received national as well as international prizes 
1978 Kidnapped to North Korea, was detained in prison for 3 years, and assisted film production in North Korea after release from prison. 
1986 Defected to the west with his actress wife. 


Lee Na-Yong, a Naive Prisoner

It has already been 4 years since I was kidnapped. Indeed, time flows like water.

One day in January, 1982, an old man in a prisoner's uniform, was led into my cell by a security officer. The officer declared that the old man was to stay with me in the same cell from that day on.

"This old man will stay with you from today on, do you understand!."
"Yes, Sir."

The man was over 60, looked quiet and gentle but, at a glance, I was able to see that this man had been detained for a long and long time. He introduced himself to me. 

"I am Lee Na-Young. Let's be good mates."
"Thank you. I am Shin Sang-Ok."

The old man used to crouch by the desk and write something, whenever something occurs to him. He would wirte any time of the day, from dawn until it was time to go to bed.

He was a renowned North Korean historian. He was born to a poor farming family and earned his way to finish an agricultural high school in North Korea. He studied art in Japan College and, later, worked for a Japanese Colonial Company in China. After the end of the World War II, he returned to his hometown in North Korea and worked for a communist training institute and became a history professor at the Pyongyang Institute, the predecessor of the North Korean military academy. While lecturing in the college as a history professor, he was an active member of the Labor Party. He is the author of "Korean People's Struggle for Liberation, 1958," which inspired many South Korean students in their fight against the conclusion of Korea-Japan Treaty in early sixties.

Then, one day in the spring of 1967, 15 years ago, he was deprived of his post as a history professor and Labor Party membership, without any explanation, and sent to a paper mill factory in Shinyang. He worked there as a labor for 3 years. The books he authored and papers he published were all collected and destroyed.

In 1970, after three years as a laborer, he was arrested and detained in the General Ward No. 6 of the Politburo. He was never tried, had no idea of what his charge was , and, accordingly did not know how long he would be detained. Even though he was over the age of 50, he was forced to divorce his wife and, consequently but fortunately, his family continued to live in his hometown.

The only charge known against him was obstruction to "Anti- Japanese Struggle" of Kim Il Sung. The charge, he believed, was because he was a member of Pro-Japanese company during World War II and impeded the armed struggle of Kim Il Sung in Manchuria, China. He was arrested 22 years after the alleged crime was committed. He had been in prision for the past 15 years.

In my view, Lee Na-Young was a prisoner without a charge. In other words, he did not know the reason why he had been arrested and imprisoned. Of course, he never denounced or objected to Kim Il Sung's anti-Japanese struggle. He was a typical scholar and had very little knowledge of what's going on in the world outside his library. Crouching down, he was, in fact, writing new theories every day in his own perspective to idolize Kim Il Sung.

It was clear that his arrest was not for the charge of obstruction of Kim Il Sung's anti-Japanese guerrilla activities as he believes was his charge. Obviously, he was arrested for his genuine interest in, and complete knowledge of, the genealogical record of the family of Kim Il Sung. He understands, as a historian, that the Kim Il Sung's anti-Japanese guerrilla activities were not particularly remarkable. Kim Il Sung was indeed engaged in the anti-Japanese battles but only as a leader of a small guerrilla unit which operated in a very small area under the command of the Chinese Communist Party. The true knowledge of the family background of Kim Il Sung was an obstruction to making him a hero. Therefore, the North Korean leadership, at that time, needed to fabricate his history to make the Great Leader a hero. Therefore, honest historians, like Lee Na-Young, would indeed be an obstruction. As a result, historians like Lee were arrested as reactionaries and imprisoned. A new history and genealogical record of Kim Il Sung and his family has it as follows:

As a 14 years old boy, on a very cold winter day, Kim Il Sung crossed the Yalu river into China, with his books on his back, in determination to fight for the liberation and independence of Korea. As a 20 year old young man, he already organized a guerrilla force, called the Korean People's Revolutionary Army, and commanded battles against one million Japanese soldiers of Japanese armies in Manchuria. His anti-Japanese fight was entirely his own initiative and independent of any outside influence. The Russian support was insignificant. It is Kim Il Sung who made Japan to surrender and, as a result, liberated Korea from Japan. The spirit of Korean independence and revolutionary struggle was inherited from his grand- grandfather, grandfather and his father and Kim Il Sung finally achieved the objectives of Korean independence and revolution. 

The fabricated story gradually became the officially accepted version after historians like Lee Na-Young were all sent to factories and prisons. He had no knowledge of the personality cult and idolization of Kim Il Sung which took place during his detention. Therefore, he was so naive to believe that he would be released by showing his loyalty to Kim. He crouched everyday to write a new history for Kim Il Sung.

Kim Il Sung, Son of a Bitch!

I was often surprised at his knowledge of technologies during our conversations.

"I thought you were a history professor. How come you have such a profound understanding of technology?"

"Don't mention it. I learned all this knowledge from other prisoners."
"How was it possible?"
"Well, for example, a microbiologist, Park Won-Kyu, was with me for several years at the Ward Unit No. 6. He was released last year. He was so intelligent and competent. But he had awful life here simply because of a silly remark he made. You better meet him if you are released some day. I am sure he will help you. I learned a lot from him."

According to him, Park Won-Kyu was from South Korea. He went to Japan to go to high school but was unable to proceed to a college for financial reasons. He started his work as an assistant researcher in the microbiology laboratory of the Tokyo Imperial University. Years of hard study of his own initiatives made him a research expert.

At the end of the World War II, he returned to South Korea and worked for the US military government. He did a good job as a member of the medical team for the control of cholera at that time. He was about to go to USA to study when the Korean war broke out in 1950. Influenced by his brother, who was a Marxist, he went to North Korea and became a microbiology professor at the Kim Il Sung University. He accomplished a scientific achievement in developing artificial food called Florela. Later, he was demoted to a country side laboratory for political reasons. One day he found a worm in the apple he was eating. As he was alone in his office, he said to himself, "What is this? You son of a bitch Kim Il Sung!" He was arrested for the remark which was wire tapped.

In North Korea, apples are produced abundantly and, often, a whole district, called apple district, produces nothing but apples. All the good apples are exported to Russia. What is left for Koreans are inferior- grade apples. Best apples of this category are eaten by the senior party members and ordinary people get only what is left over.

Park Won-Kyu was studying a special revitalization herb which was originally believed to grow only in Japan. He found it growing in North Korea, processed it in a microbiologic formula for mass production when he was arrested. In North Korea, if condemned as being ideologically corrupt, no one is safe. Whether one is competent and useful or not is not important.*

* "You know I am Kim Jong Il," I, Choi Un-Hi & Shin Sang-Ok, 1994, Haengnim Publishing Co., Seoul, Korea. pp. 453-458, 476-477