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 Part horror story, part historical document, part memoir, part political tract, this record of one man's suffering gives eyewitness proof to an ongoing sorrowful chapter of modern history.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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kind and its Great Leader magnanimous. He has granted you a reprieve and the chance to redeem yourselves. You should be grateful, but instead you commit further offenses! Commit too many and you will not be forgiven!” We would all lower our eyes, wishing for our torturer’s death. Boys and girls were equal beneficiaries of his undiscriminating brutality and his favorite punishment, which consisted of ordering a student down on all fours and making him or her crawl in front of the class, saying,

memory of my aquariums, but I now thought of them as belonging to another world, the abandoned world of Pyongyang; of my grandfather, who was condemned for being a “criminal”; of my mother, whom they’d kept back and forced to divorce my father; of Japan, as it had come alive in the stories of my uncle and father. This past had no place in my new life, which could accommodate no softheartedness, mine or anybody else’s. That’s how I gradually grew into adulthood, though as far as the camp was

related to political prisoners, they had long ago been dispersed to small towns and villages at a remove from the capital. (One of my aunts thus wound up in Changjin, a mountain village made famous by the dramatic defeat dealt there to the Americans during MacArthur’s retreat in December 1950.) Yet my relatives had remained free—as free as anyone can be in North Korea—and by giving the bureaucratic wheels a generous greasing, my first uncle was eventually able to reassemble my father’s side of

dropped by with our orders. We were neither to mention the camp nor complain about anything whatsoever. We could chat, but it was forbidden to mention anything implying criticism of the government. To make sure we obeyed, agents listened in on our conversations around the clock. By the mid-1980s, after some ten years of protest—much of it from the Chosen Soren—the authorities decided to limit their surveillance to the daytime. Not that it really mattered. If we wanted to have a frank discussion,

oppose the Party openly or act too suspiciously, you can do as you like. . . .” It took me a long time to fall asleep that night. Images of the North and of my family paraded through my mind, punctuated by snapshots of the young Chinese woman who had asked me to dance. I began to wonder if I would ever meet her again and whether I would ever overcome my shyness. I felt like laughing: my first night out of North Korea, and here I was worried about how best to comport myself on the dance floor!

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