Sure, propaganda is abound in North Korea, but patronizing literature like this doesn’t give credit to the North Korean people where it’s due. When I traveled around the countryside, school children narrated old Korean folktales to me, rather than regime propaganda. And my staff, along with all sorts of other North Koreans I’ve met, have read foreign books such as Alexandre Dumas’s thriller “The Count of Monte Cristo” or Ernest Hemingway’s “Men Without Women.” Some of them could even recite lengthy passages from the works. At home and sometimes at their universities, they watched foreign movies like “Gone with the Wind” and “Titanic.”
Journalist Melanie Kirkpatrick, a longtime member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, published another North Korea book in September 2012 called “Escape From North Korea.” She portrays North Korea as a “hellhole” that is “rife with suffering and starvation.” The country, she added, “keeps its citizens in the dark ages.” “Foreigners and foreign goods are kept out,” was another tall claim of hers.
Had that been true, I would, of course, not have been able to sell foreign goods like mining equipment, foodstuffs, and medicine in North Korea. I once even met an unemployed steel worker who migrated from an industrial city to the countryside, where he began cultivating his own private plot on a slope. He proudly told me that his family now earns enough money so that, within two years, they could buy a motorbike. Even though that’s not a sign of enormous wealth, it puts North Korea on par with other developing countries like Cambodia which have undertaken market reforms.