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Archive for July, 2008

So much to blog about, so little time…

The results of the IMUSE “China in my eyes” competition came out.  I noticed the following photo though, taken by one of the runners-up in the photo competition:

Dog meat snacks... We have dog meat today

I'm not sure whether or not the photographer noted the irony of this photo, they didn't mention it in the caption... translation of the sign: "Dog meat snacks... We have dog meat today".

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Here is the report I had to write about my visit to the regions of China bordering North Korea.  Sorry, it’s in Chinese 🙂  I’ll try to post an English synopsis over the coming days/weeks as I get time.  The amount of new info I absorbed during this trip was huge, I only got literally about 5% of the content of my notes into this report.

There’s a Google translation of this article here if you want to read the content in (broken) English.  I certainly hope the original reads better to a Chinese speaker than the Google machine translation does to an English speaker :o)  Funnily enough, Google translates my Chinese name “何奇森” (He Qisen) as “Dr. Dogson”!

北朝鲜:一个与世隔绝的国家
何奇森

1953年7月27号朝鲜战争停战了,在北纬38度朝鲜被迫被分成两部分。不久以后,中国军队也从朝鲜撤出了,于是北朝鲜成为一个与世隔绝的国家,开始由金日成的社会主义思想控制。

韩国被分成两个国家以来,不仅家庭被分开了,而且曾经是一个民族的韩国人在思想、文化、经济、政治制度等方面上也一年一年变得不一样了。韩国的经济发展得非常快,而且韩国人享受自由和民主,但同时北朝鲜的经济越来越落后,而且朝鲜的政府让人承受的压力一年比一年大。结果,最近几年这两个国家之间的区别变得很明显。1996年北朝鲜发生了一个非常严重的饥荒,全国的人民中至少百分之十饿死了。从2008年开始,又开始发生一个更加严重的饥荒,可能这一次更加多的人会饿死。并且,北朝鲜的政府经营好些广大的劳教所和集中营,现在包括的人口超过23万,跟二战结束时在纳粹的集中营的人口差不多。我去奥斯威辛的时候看到一个牌子,上面写着一句话:“不能记取过去教训的人, 注定要犯同样的错”–桑塔雅纳。但是现在还存在着一样的问题,而且谁都没听说过。

北朝鲜所有的问题都是来自政府的统治方法。任何最简单的人权和自由朝鲜政府都不给人民:言论自由,宗教自由,新闻自由,活动自由,等等都没有。政府让人民把领导看成是活着的神。通过所谓“军事第一”的政策,甚至连国际食品援助都到达不了人民手中,尽管如此,人民却无法抱怨,反对的人都消失了。

谁都没听说过朝鲜人面对的那些惨剧。这是为什么呢?

为了更好地理解北朝鲜的情况,在HBA社会调查的一个星期中我去了朝鲜边界的一些城市,采访了几个亲身体会朝鲜制度的人。通过自己的经历,他们了解到很多关于朝鲜政治制度的问题,这些问题是通过任何别的方式都了解不到的。例如,我问了一个在北朝鲜出生的汉族女士,朝鲜人是否希望他们自己能够自由,以及他们是否知道自由是什么。她马上回答,他们当然希望自由,但不敢做什么,没有胆量,太危险了。她还说,他们对自由的概念比我们还清楚,还强烈。当时,我们在动物园一边谈话一边走,他指着一个老虎笼子说,连关在这儿的老虎任何时候都会想,我什么时候会再有自由呢?北朝鲜人也整天在想,我要忍受这个悲惨的现实到什么时候?

同时,这个汉族的女士还说得她二十岁第一次离开朝鲜到中国的时候失望了,因为她发现住在“资本主义”国家的人只有收钱才互相帮忙。她认为这样的人不但很自私,而且对他们的自由没有感激之情,随便受别的国家文化的影响,缺乏爱国思想,没有爱心。对她来说,中国的生活水平比朝鲜高多了,但是朝鲜老百姓的人与人之间的相处的方式比中国好得多。

朝鲜的边界绵延一千多公里,大部分沿着从长白山顶的火山湖流下来的两条江:图们江和鸭绿江。很多民族把长白山看成是他们的本原;北朝鲜人和韩国人特别有这样的感觉。图们江沿着延边朝鲜族自治州,鸭绿江靠着一些中国的大城市,比如丹东。

这两条江既不深也不宽,所以至今横过边界寻找饭、衣服、家用产品等、追求自由生活的北朝鲜人一共超过了五十万。其中为了家庭的安全再回朝鲜的人很多,而被中国的警察抓到送回朝鲜的人也很多,但是还在中国隐藏的有数万多人。从北朝鲜跑过来的人并不能告诉别人他们的身份,否则他们就很容易被抓,但是到中国的时候还不会中文,所以愿意留在中国的北朝鲜难民大多数一到中国就去农村躲避警察、找工作。

最近几年,中国的农村发生了很大的变化。因为计划生育政策,重男轻女越来越严重了,所以中国女生数量变少了。在中国的一些省份,男女比例是1.3比1,所以很多男人找不到女人结婚。结果,和别的国家相比中国完全相反的情况是不管一个女生有多大都可以结婚,但男人超过某年龄以后就不能结婚了。因此,在中国北朝鲜难民之中女人比男人容易找到一个新的生活:都跑到乡下,嫁给农村的光棍儿。其实,我在吉林认识的人告诉我朝鲜、中国两个国家都有“红娘”,他们可以为中国的男人安排购买北朝鲜妻子,把他们从朝鲜偷渡到中国。不能生育孩子的中国夫妻也可以买到朝鲜的孩子。农村男人一旦买了北朝鲜的妻子,就用二十万块钱买给妻子一个假的户口。一旦被卖的,也常常被拐子又几次三番地转卖,或者学会中文以后最终从她的家庭跑出去。今天百分之七十多的北朝鲜的女难民都遭受这种拐卖。

北朝鲜人难道离开朝鲜的时候不知道他们会面对这样的问题吗?并不是,其实一个住在北朝鲜的女人告诉我全国的人都知道跑到中国的最安全的方法,而一旦到中国就不会被抓了。现在朝鲜的问题那么严重,被拐子卖给中国光棍儿跟继续住在朝鲜挨饿相比好多了。一个常常去朝鲜作贸易的中国男士跟我说“朝鲜是个非常穷的国家,最近十年很多人饿死了,到现在还没看到变化。挨饿的人很多,都吃不饱。我对朝鲜的将来不感到乐观呢。”

其实,朝鲜的饥荒情况愈演愈烈。最近几个月可以听到从朝鲜非法出来的关于饥荒的报道。这个报道说,现在因为人没有米饭、玉米吃,所以他们用草做一种汤,但是并没有营养,所以人得病了。另一些报道说军人把他们的牛皮腰带放在水壶里,煮很久以后,喝汤水。边界对面的中国的生活那么丰富,这种悲惨的情况并不是该存在着的事儿。

这样的问题怎么可能被解决呢?其实,北朝鲜人的确需要粮食,但更需要的是信息。朝鲜政府不让人民知道从外面来的信息已经五十五年了。通过控制信息、威胁人民,朝鲜的政府完全控制他的国民。但是随着朝鲜逐渐参与国际贸易,朝鲜人碰到外国文化、思想、丰富的生活的机会越来越多。在这个方面,朝鲜边界的两个城市特别重要:丹东和吉林。

丹东市有一条连接中国和朝鲜的桥。每天早上北朝鲜人坐汽车到丹东买衣服、鞋、食品、家用电器等等在朝鲜买不到的东西;同时开往朝鲜的卡车、火车载满联和国援助食品。晚上,北朝鲜人带着放满了东西的包回朝鲜,空了的卡车、火车回中国。因为朝鲜没有钱,在丹东作贸易的人告诉我朝鲜人常常用金、银、铜、铁甚至连假币来付钱。很多北朝鲜人回朝鲜的时候带着非法的韩国电视节目光盘,所以朝鲜开始受到韩国现代文化的影响。这一定会对北朝鲜的开放有帮助。

因为中国的延边朝鲜族自治州的人民多半儿都是朝鲜族,所以延边人对北朝鲜的影响也很大。住在延吉(延边的首都)的朝鲜族人都可以随便去北朝鲜探亲,通过看望他们的亲人来影响他们的思想。

“不能记取过去教训的人, 注定要犯同样的错。”但是现在还存在着我们以为只在历史里存在的悲惨生活。我希更多的人能知道有这样的惨剧,而且通过国际交流,北朝鲜能很快变成一个有自由的国家。现在这个过程已经开始了,照这样下去不久以后北朝鲜人也能享受跟我们一样的丰富的生活。

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Back to Beijing

I’m back from the regions of north western China bordering with North Korea, and have some really interesting new insights into the situations there and in North Korea, which I will hopefully find time to write up soon.

For now though, here’s a cute video of a Korean kid singing “Hey Jude”…

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I’m currently in Dandong, on the border between North Korea and China, after visiting some other border towns such as Yanji and Tumen.  The situation here has been fascinating.  I will post some of the insights I have gained on this trip over the coming days.

Some people ask me why I am so interested in North Korea… You only have to know a little bit about what is going on there, and have an iota of heart to realize how much these people need us.

A few examples (of many) from the last few triweekly newsletters put out by “Good Friends”, an organization with many ties to “the inside”:

  • “Even in my dreams, there is no food”
    All the students and teachers in Taetan County seem to have lost hope and say that the school is very quiet. Teachers give their students classroom assignments such as reading and other activities, but soon retire to another place to lie down because they are suffering from constant hunger. When recess begins, the teachers leave the classroom. The students barely make any trips to the restrooms and do not run around on the field. Both the children and the teachers sleep on their desks because they feel so hungry. Jung Chul, a 12 year old student, says that he does not have the physical strength for anything other than sleep. He says that he needs to maintain himself with minimal body movements because his hunger makes him feel like he will faint at any moment. He went on to say, “During sleep, I enjoy dreaming about eating. But in the middle of my dream, no food appears, and when it does, somebody takes it away from my mouth. This situation makes me very sad.”
  • Serious Body Swelling Due to Grass Poisoning in Taetan County
    The farmers at the collective farm in Taetan town(태탄읍), Taetan County(태탄군), South Hwanghae Province do their work while living on a few potatoes and grass gruel. Despite the burden of weeding all day long on such minimal sustenance, their workload is never reduced. The farmers are complaining about the pain of such hard work. Although there is an assigned portion that has to be accomplished in a day, many farmers fall short, saying that it is impossible for them to do the work.  Farmers in Taetan County now survive on grass porridge. Unfortunately, in the current season the grass contains a toxin. As a result, people are suffering from serious swelling in the face and in the body no matter how hard they try to remove the toxin. Due to the fear of grass poison people are now eating fresh water fish, marsh snails, and frogs in the rice field or in the marsh.
  • Children Killed By Eating Toads
    In Sambong District of Daehongdan County, Ryanggang Province, there has been an increase in the number of children being killed by eating toads. Children used to catch and eat frogs that hatched in the marsh regions along the Suhdoosoo River until the number of frogs declined noticeably. Presently, toads are hatching. Old wives tales tell of toad’s poisons being used as medicine in cases of cancer. But toads can also kill if eaten without being treated to get rid of the poison, especially weak children whose immunity have been compromised already by malnutrition.  Han Myung-sun (43 yrs old) of Sambong District, Daehongdan County, says, “Frogs that are just hatched don’t have any poison, but they start to develop them just when the tadpoles begin to develop legs and tails. Kids can’t wait till the tadpoles grow into frogs and eat the tadpoles by scooping them up with screens but some died last month through food poisoning. Now we no longer have frogs but have toads. Kids think that they are the same and eat them by roasting them. They ate the toads with potatoes, which also are poisonous when they start to sprout. So 5-6 kids were killed eating toads and potatoes in one night. The whole place was overcome with a sense of foreboding when we had to take care of these little bodies.” Choi Seung-chul (42) also agreed, “Kids thought that they could cook toad meat with corn power into some type of porridge but instead they roasted it and ate, and died.” One class in Sambong Middle School lost over 10 kids in just two months out of a class of 36 to starvation or food poisoning.
  • Soldiers in Ryanggang Province Eat Cooked Leather Belts
    In early June, the commander of a unit stationed in Ryanggang Province was arrested upon inspection. The charge was that he sold army uniforms in the market. The Army had neither rice nor money and the enlisted men cooked their belts to eat. On May 28th, he had witnessed the enlisted men boiling their leather belts in a hope to drink the liquid. He asked them, “What are you doing?” They answered, “We were too hungry.” Shocked and horrified by that answer, he sold the winter uniforms in the market. He bought rice with the money and fed the men once or twice, but caught during the inspection. “Right now the men are dying. I had to sell the uniforms to feed them,” he explained but they did not allow for the extenuating circumstances.

    Kim Chul-seung ( 38 ) said all the leather belts distributed to the soldiers last March had disappeared completely in his unit. “(The liquid from the boiled leather belts) I even tried. It fills your stomach and you feel better. Boiled cow skin tastes pretty good. You cannot eat leather by itself but once boiled in the water, the taste of meat soaks out in the liquid and you drink it. The drums, made of pig skin or cow skin, have all gone without a trace. Even in the time of Arduous March, we did not dream of eating leather belts. But, now everything that was made of leather is cooked for food. Some soldiers can’t wait and rush to chew leather from the drums. Now is tougher than it was in the mid 90s.

    He begged for anything to eat, saying, “What have we done in our previous lives to suffer like this? How resentful are those soldiers that eat even their leather belts? They were all our children, drafted to the army. They were forced to, knowing that they may die of hunger in weakened physical condition. Please find some food to feed them.”

  • Kkotjebis (Homeless Children) Suffocated While Trying To Pilfer Potatoes in Storage Caves
    Daehongdan County of Ryanggang Province has a reputation for being a place where one can eat potatoes that cover the streets. That’s how well the potato crops do here, although it’s too high in altitude for corn to grow well. The first potato crops come in around August 20th. Right now, June and July are the most difficult time of the year for food. They store the potatoes in large storage cave over the winter. When April rolls around, workers cut off chunks of the potatoes with the bud attached and plant them. The rest of potatoes are given to the farm workers, which amounts to less than half of the original volume of the stored potatoes.

    The potatoes are stored in underground chambers that can measure up to 40 meter on each side. The air is filled with the poisonous vapor from potatoes. There is a lid every three meters for ventilation and the potatoes need to be turned over to prevent rotting. It takes one whole day to fully ventilate the storage chamber, and only after that workers get in to remove potatoes that have rotted

    This year, there are many kids who die by suffocation as they tried to sneak into these underground chambers and pilfer potatoes. Although there are guards they are inside the post and the kids sneak by and enter down through the lids and close them behind since they don’t want to get caught. In this state, the kids soon gag on the poisonous vapor and die due to lack of oxygen.

    Kwon Soon-young (35 yrs old) says, “This past May and June, there are many kids who suffocated to death as soon as they entered these storage sheds. You have to have oxygen tanks, but obviously kids don’t have that. Probably less than one out of ten kids succeed in stealing potatoes. But the hungry kids still try out of desperation.”

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The draw of China

So I have received several questions of the form, “How does learning Chinese relate to your PhD thesis?”.

Short answer: it doesn’t.  🙂

Longer answer: actually, studying Chinese may be the most important “major-related” course anyone could be taking right now, regardless of one’s major…

Even longer answer: each person I’ve met who is studying Chinese or working here somehow felt drawn to China in a way that they can’t explain.  Very few people here at HBA seem to have a major that has anything to do with Chinese.

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Word of the day

卧薪尝胆 woxinchangdan : to undergo self-imposed hardships to strengthen one’s resolve to avenge a national humiliation or accomplish an ambition.

Please give three examples of usage in daily life.

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Things I’ve discovered since coming to China:

  • Beijing is significantly cleaner and more liveable than last time I was here two years ago.  The preparation for the Olympics is giving China an enormous leap forward in progress in a very short time.  The Chinese are absolutely set on making this the Olympics to be remembered.
  • People here are far more globally-minded / clued-up and have a much more “normal” (and capitalistic) worldview than the outside world usually gives them credit for.
  • Prices here are already at least as high as US prices for many items — including, to my surprise, clothing… I was shocked to walk into a mall and see suits for US$1200 and ties for US$80…

A few things China has embraced, perfected, and then dominated, in approximately chronological order:

  • Agriculture
  • The art of war
  • Large-scale construction
  • Merchant trading
  • Heavy industry
  • Manufacturing
  • Lean manufacturing
  • Product imitation and refinement

China eventually became the world’s best in each of these areas, while the area was still of high global importance.  Once the following item can be added to the end of this list, the world stage will look very different:

  • Innovation

I don’t think that is far off.  (In my opinion, the main thing standing in the way of China’s development is extreme inefficiency.  I’m sure I’ll write more about this in future…)

It follows that the meteoric rise of prices of goods in China — 2-3x for some goods since I was here last, bringing a lot of prices in line with most other developed countries — will affect the cost of goods in other parts of the world.

The era of the free lunch (on China’s bill) is nearly over.

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