Fascinated by a recent film by J. T. Singh and Rob Whitworth called ‘Enter Pyongyang’, but at a loss at how to interpret it, I invited one of my students to offer a comment on it. Here’s the film, and his two reactions:
1. The below reflects a perspective of a 1.5 generation (south) Korean-New Zealander, who seeks to be authentic to both cultures as a genuine expression of who I am. Though I do not know for certain, I see myself not as an expression of a blended mixture of the two, rather as in Jesus’ mystical hypostatic communion of the two natures, somehow an hypostatic expression of the two cultures. At least, I want to explore this dimension. Technologically, the video clip is stunning and the city landscape of Pyongyang does indeed provide an insight into the country that has continued to be shrouded by interpretations of probabilities and propaganda for the last 50–60 years. I am neither an expert nor an intentional follower of North Korean politics. I am likely to be biased and tend to mistrust and to be cynical. Any talk of North Korea brings with it a historical baggage that cannot be readily put aside. But how do I perceive what Dr. Parag Khanna (Director of Hybrid Reality) is trying to do? I agree with Dr. Khanna (in his Foreword) that what the video does is a ‘multi-media contribution to transcending cliches about North Korea as a society defined by reclusiveness and destitution’. But I am concerned that he too readily interprets the video of Pyongyang to be equated with a North Korean change, in fact a change as he says is ‘an organic society that wants to be a normal country’. What does he mean by organic and normal, I wonder? Why would the tourists be strictly guided within the bounds of Pyongyang? North Korean reclusiveness and destitution must be rescued from its ahistorical cliche but these mustn’t be replaced with an agenda and naive thought of positive progress. I agree with Dr. Khanna that we mustn’t predispose ourselves to judge North Korea. Just as any other geo-political nation, North Korea is a living social dynamic. As any geo-political nation, it has a beginning but a beginning that is quite recent in history and emotionally charged with all the biases and influences of Cold War for the wider-world as well as civil war for Koreans. It would be important to recognise and change the frame of mind to see North Korea as a sovereign nation as we do ourselves. However, I doubt the approach of largely appealing to its technological advancement as the controlling framework to understand the social and political climate is a particularly helpful contribution. It requires to be watched through a critical eye and a filtering mind. Technological advancement neither necessitates nor equate to ethical progress. So, I am grateful to the people who made the video. It gives an insight to the people of Pyongyang. It is a privilege to see at least how some small number of my uncles and aunties and cousins and nephews and nieces are living in the city of Pyongyang. I am joyous that some are able to smile in that city. Especially, seeing the nephews and nieces in the skate park interacting with the camera as any kid would with curiosity and surprise brings some sense of comfort. Yet the discrepancy and paradox is too apparent to me – the grandeur of the city of Pyongyang like the rest of our cities but despite our densely populated cities how sparsely populated Pyongyang is. Some may say that is how we want our cities to be like. To have all the technological advancements yet having enough personal space. For me such is a mere utopian dream of the modernist, capitalist, individualistic western mind, which can only be made possible in a dictatorial religiously fanatic world like Pyongyang. No, I cannot see hope as some tend to in the façade of technological progress. If it is sad to see too many churches and too many red lit crosses in the night sky of most cities of South Korea, it is sad to see none in Pyongyang – the city that was once the epicenter of pneumatological cruciformation of Korea, now a sign of dictatorial religious rule of a self-made god-descent family. I only pray that the rumours of underground church still existing in North Korea is a fact, for here is the hope of change.
2. Recently, on 15 August, Korea celebrated 69th annual freedom day that we call ‘The Return of the Light’ day (광복절 – kwang bok jeol). It is a day of remembering and celebrating freedom from a half-a-century-long Japanese tyranny. I am particularly concerned of the tendency of the west to mourn the tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki without celebrating Korean and, in fact, Asian freedom. Yes, the dead who have been murdered senselessly, we remember and mourn. Yes, Japan was going to lose anyway and the tragedy could have been avoided. But I see the individualistic ignorance of the many western mourners forgetful of those who suffered and still suffer from the pain of the Japanese imperial tyranny – the systematic eradication of a culture, systematic sex slavery of women, and rape of land for imperial ambitions. What does it mean for the West to mourn for Japan’s innocent without at the same time bringing Japan’s war criminals to justice? Many Asians, including Koreans, still have living victims of Japan’s atrocity. There has been no national apology officiated by the Japanese government. Yet on the same day, while Korea celebrates its freedom, Japan solemnly remembers and pays tribute to their fallen soldiers. To mourn the dead of Hiroshima (6 August) and Nagasaki (9 August) without celebrating Korea’s freedom (15 August) is injustice. To celebrate Korea’s freedom without mourning the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is injustice.