Saturday, February 26, 2011

It's Not True Just Because You Wish It

Since it won't be brought to you in English until Monday over at The Daily NK, here's a sobering English-language exclusive;
The recently reported news that a protest involving a few hundred traders and others in a Sinuiju market had erupted on the 18th was actually the mis-reporting of the fact that market management and traders at Chinseon Market in the city argued violently over stall fees, which had just been raised. It was, in other words, an argument about the right to make a living that did not spread.

Meanwhile, it appears that at other Sinuiju markets; namely Daehyeong, Chaeha, Sumun and Namsong, nothing special took place.

Although Kim Jong Il has apparently launched the formation of "riot squads" at the provincial level to deal with any whiff of unrest, there has been nothing for them to do thus far.

So there we go. Hopes, for the time being, dashed. But we shouldn't be downhearted; arguments about livelihoods are currently the most likely way for real unrest to begin.

While we wait, though, the whole situation does at least give me a chance to discuss something;

This is last Thursday's Chosun Ilbo, the very edition which revealed the news of this (alas) non-existent demonstration in Sinuiju. There's the front page, a piece on the right with the somewhat over-the-top image of a man in a flat cap looking not unlike a British miner circa 1940 from page 5, and an editorial (middle left) from page 39.

Aside from running the protest story on page 1 (below the commentary, bottom left), the main story on page 5 repeats the same, brings together news of anything else that has looked like unrest since late 2009 (the currency redenomination, which is taken by many to be a watershed), describes it and marshals together a nice graphic of the same events, with dates. It looks, at first glance, like the very makings of a revolution.

But it isn't, and the Chosun Ilbo knows this. I know it knows this because it admits it knows this on page 39 in the editorial which, while it continues to take the protests as fact, of course, also simultaneously contrives to offer plenty of doubt; not only pointing out that there are in fact no grounds upon which to guess that this news will turn into meaningful action that could hurt the regime, but also adding that the North Korean people are too interested in finding food to protest, that there is no infrastructure through which to communicate grievances between people, that Kim Jong Il won't hesitate to crucify anyone who protests, and that the people are well aware of this.

Which begs the question; if you think so on page 39, why does page 5 look like this? Take a closer look;

One doesn't really need to know what it says, so much as note both when these events happened (i.e. between November 30, 2009 when the currency redenomination was implemented overnight and February 18, 2011, when this alleged protest occurred in Sinuiju) and more importantly how it is said (i.e. "LOOK AT ALL THESE FLASHPOINTS!") and the way it is designed (red spots of doom, barbed wire, man with gun, fire etc etc).

It is, I'm afraid, pretty, but highly misleading. We ought to keep hoping for a revolution in North Korea, but despite the best efforts of the Chosun Ilbo, I think hopes are all we have just at the moment.

P.S. It's worth zooming in to the left of the protesting British miner, where you'll see mention made of a story the Chosun Ilbo carried on the 14th about a series of protests in some small towns in North Pyongan Province, in which several tens of people supposedly protested their lack of electricity and food, the former allegedly a result of electricity being diverted to Pyongyang for the celebration of Kim Jong Il's birthday.

Here's the problem.

First of all, three protests in three towns at one time in a country where cellphones don't actually work nationwide and the internet doesn't work at all seemed a bit farfetched. According to a source, cellphones in North Hamkyung Province only work within 8kms of one's location at any given time. Koryolink may eventually turn out to be Kim Jong Il's greatest mistake, but it isn't there yet, and without it, I don't think the protests could have been sparked simultaneously.

Second, the report states that people fashioned megaphones out of old newspapers and started using them as loudhailers. This, in particular, seems rather silly. Newspapers in North Korea are available in single copies in individual enterprises and government organs, and are stuck behind glass on subway platforms and in the street in Pyongyang and major cities for the people to read. They are not, on the other hand, available willy-nilly from street-side stalls for the impromptu broadcasting of grievances.

I don't buy this story, and I don't recommend anyone quoting it as evidence of unrest in term papers, either. It's as dodgy as the one about Sinuiju, I'm afraid.

1 comment:

  1. Apart from this essay being a bucket of cold water as regards the non-existent "Sinuiju Uprising of February 2011," it was good to see how the Chosun Ilbo has covered the issue in its paper edition. Those of us who are dependent on the electronic edition of various papers (in my case, more Huanqiu Shibao/Chinese Global Times than Chosun Ilbo) sometimes forget at our peril that the layout and graphic emphasis of the paper versions of those periodicals still render a certain influence on reader perceptions. Including perceptions of Chinese naval power! There is just nothing like a double-page spread about Chinese aircraft carriers or North Korean would-be rebellions. So here's to paper, and to Destination Pyongyang.