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The Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom [Hardcover]

Ralph Hassig , Kongdan Oh

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Book Description

Sept. 24 2009 0742567184 978-0742567184
This unique book provides a comprehensive overview of all aspects of life in North Korea today. Drawing on decades of experience, noted experts Ralph Hassig and Kongdan Oh explore a world few outsiders can imagine. In vivid detail, the authors describe how the secretive and authoritarian government of Kim Jong-il shapes every aspect of its citizens' lives, how the command socialist economy has utterly failed, and how ordinary individuals struggle to survive through small-scale capitalism. Weighing the very limited individual rights allowed, the authors illustrate how the political class system and the legal system serve solely as tools of the regime. The key to understanding how the North Korean people live, the authors argue, is to realize that their only allowed role is to support Kim Jong-il, whose father founded the country in the late 1940s. An intelligent and experienced dictator, Kim controls his people by keeping them isolated and banning most foreigners. This control has loosened slightly since the late 1990s, but North Koreans remain hungry and oppressed. Yet the outside world is slowly filtering in, and the book concludes by urging the United States to flood North Korea with information so that its people can make decisions based on truth rather than their dictator's ubiquitous propaganda.

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Review

Wonderful. . . . Solid and persuasive. . . . Focuses on an often-overlooked facet of the North Korean story: the people. . . . Hassig and Oh actively and judiciously introduce other very rich data sources to complete their picture. . . . This comprehensive and careful work analyzing almost every aspect of North Korean society is not only very informative, but also turns out to be a surprisingly pleasurable read. Overall, the lucid, precise and prosaic writing makes this work an even more significant landmark contribution to the field. . . . Hassig and Oh's The Hidden People of North Korea would make wonderful briefing material not only for lay readers, but also as introductory reading for undergraduate as well as graduate level courses on North Korea and the Korean peninsula. (Journal of Asian Studies 2011-05-01)

In The Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom, longtime Korea watchers Ralph Hassig and Kongdan Oh cover topics from the ruling Kims down to the struggles of ordinary North Koreans. In their view, buttressed by interviews with some 200 defectors, the state is fraying. . . . Experts have been predicting the endgame for the Kim regime for decades. [This book]—[an] important [addition] to the North Korea canon—suggest[s] that the moment of change is approaching. (Time.Com 2010-06-01)

As Kongdan Oh and Ralph Hassig note in their informative book, the apparatchiks are soon holding lectures warning that North Korea could go the way of the Warsaw Pact if Party functionaries can't stem the corrosive effects of entertainment from the outside world. (The New York Review Of Books)

Hassig and Oh . . . offer a detailed picture of the lives of Kim Jong Il and the members of his entourage and a study of why and how defectors break for the outside. [They] show that the regime is under stress, but they also reveal the mechanisms by which, for the time being, it is holding tight. (Foreign Affairs)

The Hidden People is important as the first comprehensive guide to a new, post-famine North Korean society made available to an English-speaking audience. . . . I am often asked what I consider to be the best introduction for readers curious about the basics of North Korean life. From now on, The Hidden People will be my recommendation. (Pacific Affairs)

Mr. Hassig and Ms. Oh’s portrait of Mr. Kim’s hyper-sybaritic lifestyle is detailed and devastating. (The New York Times 2011-01-01)

Revealing the haunting details of daily life in an authoritarian state, the authors boldly declare that the current regime is unraveling despite its feverish attempts to hold on to power; even sprouts of capitalism are appearing in North Korean society. . . . Western readers will gain a rare view of the hidden world of North Korean citizens. Recommended for those interested in international affairs or inquisitive about this last remnant of the Communist world. (Library Journal 2010-02-01)

[The authors] provide a fascinating account of the political forces that have shaped the barriers between the Hermit Kingdom and the rest of the world. . . . It's in these tales of everyday life that the book makes its greatest contribution. . . . The North Korean people, long denied any voice in their society, will decide the fate of the nation, and as this book convincingly shows in preceding pages, they have finally turned their back on the regime. (The Wall Street Journal 2011-01-01)

Examining the history and present of the regime, the authors provide a lucid guide to the mechanics by which Kim Jong Il’s Soviet-style socialist totalitarianism has endured into this century. . . . [Readers] will find much that’s fascinating and shocking: a nation of castes and concentration camps, replete with a politics of fear that rivals the worst Orwell could imagine. . . . Hassig and Oh provide a valuable catalog of oppression. (Publishers Weekly)

As often as North Korea is in the news, we have little reliable information about what life is actually like in this 'hermit kingdom,' and that’s no accident. Husband-and-wife Korea experts Hassig and Oh begin this illuminating national portrait with a quote from its leader, Kim Jong-il: 'We must envelop our environment in a dense fog to prevent our enemies from learning anything about us.' . . . Hassig and Oh provide chilling information and haunting photographs that starkly delineate the crisis state of North Korea’s economy, agriculture, and health care; the abundance of political prisons; and the tyranny of perpetual surveillance. (Booklist 2009-11-01)

And if you really wonder what life is like under Dear Leader, the team of Kongdan 'Katy' Oh and Ralph Hassig have produced the definitive work to date. (The Nelson Report)

An extraordinarily penetrating look behind the walls of North Korea's secretive society by two renowned specialists who identify the cracks developing in the ideological, economic, and political foundations of this totalitarian system. (Roberta Cohen, codirector of The Brookings Institution; University of Bern Project on Internal Displacement)

Kongdan Oh and Ralph Hassig—analysts of unique experience and depth—look behind North Korea's bluster, blasts, and missiles to the eroding country they hide. The authors shine a light on the country's people—from dictator Kim Jong-il and his privileged inner circle to the millions of Koreans who struggle through desperate lives of hunger, want, and fear. That this system has changed in recent years makes the book especially timely and invaluable for making sense of an inflammatory and unpredictable rogue state. (James A. Kelly, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs)

Ralph Hassig and Kongdan Oh have opened a peephole through the locked door that is North Korea. They draw on their deep knowledge of the country and extensive interviewing of refugees to provide a rich and textured picture of the life of a people who are victims of their leaders’ megalomania. New insights and information spring from every page. (Richard C. Bush, director, Center for East Asia Policy Studies, The Brookings Institution)

A must-read for serious students of North Korea. The wealth of information peels back layers of mystique to provide a genuinely understandable glimpse of the inner workings of Kim Jong-il's North Korea. The chapter on the Kim family is absolutely essential to understanding why North Korea is the unique nation that it is. It should be required reading for American policymakers. (Ambassador Jack Pritchard, former special envoy for negotiations with North Korea)

About the Author

Ralph Hassig is an independent consultant and adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Maryland University College. Kongdan Oh is a research staff member at the Institute for Defense Analyses and a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Authors Hassig and Oh hit it out of the park again: a must read on North Korea Nov. 9 2009
By Merrily Baird - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The ever-growing community of government officials, scholars, and ordinary citizens concerned about North Korea has cause to celebrate the issuance of "The Hidden People of North Korea" by Ralph Hassig and Kongdan Oh. A decade ago, in publishing "North Korea through the Looking Glass," this husband and wife team established themselves as leading observers of North Korea. "The Hidden People" reaffirms that status by showcasing their superb ability to synthesize a vast amount of information without policy bias. At the same time, the strengths of Hassig and Oh in sorting out signs of change and training a powerful light on the fault lines between illusion and reality provide the raw material for others to judge whether North Korea can long survive as we currently know it.

"The Hidden People" is divided into nine chapters. Chapters 2 through 8 focus on Kim Chong-il, his family, and his leadership style; the economic system as it operates in theory and is lived by people on an every day basis; the government's crumbling control of the information environment; human rights issues; and the growing number of defections. Neither the final chapter, "The End Comes Slowly," nor any other offers a significant focus on the strategic questions with which policymakers most often grapple. In this regard, there is very limited attention paid to the country's dependence on weapons of mass destruction, its willingness to proliferate WMD technology, and its inclination (or lack thereof) to abide by disarmament agreements. This matters little, however, because numerous other authors have addressed these issues.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding a Closed Society Feb. 15 2010
By Robert G. Rich, Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is the most authoritative and complete report yet available outside the hermit kingdom on life in North Korea. I have known "Katy" Oh for some years as a top American analyst of Korean issues, and this husband and wife product is a tour de force indeed considering how difficult the subject. With this deeper understanding at hand, perhaps we will hear fewer simplistic assumptions about the North in the future. The Hassigs persuasively suggest that the foreign aid we and South Korea have provided actually served to help prolong the regime. As one of those who predicted Kim Chong-il's reign would be short after the death of the Great Leader, it is clear to me now why so many of us were wrong, and why this anachronistic closed totalitarianism may well even survive his own death. Highly readable, thorough, and well written.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Useful but flawed June 20 2013
By John Martin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
When reading any book, especially one that is politically sensitive such as this one, it is important to know the biases and views of the authors. In this case one of the authors (and I think the primary one) is a native of South Korea and carries the prejudices and biases of many ROK people toward the North. The other author is her husband and presumably shares her basic views toward the DPRK.

That said there are three problems with the book that one should consider. First of all it is dated, having been written some five years ago. A lot has happened in the DPRK in these years, including the death of the leader and the establishment of a new one. Thus most of the book is concerned with the rule of Kim Il Sung and especially Kim Jong Il. The second problem is that much of the information comes from defectors who have their own biases. There is no first hand account or life there by objective persons. Finally there is the biases of the authors.

However this book is still worth reading as it does give some insights into live in this mysterious land. Such a reading should be combined with reading other, more recent and objective works such as North Korea in Transition.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Misleading Jan. 11 2012
By Robert K. Klimt, Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is supposed to be a book about life in North Korea. Instead it is a hodge-podge of statistics, the living conditions of the leadership, how bodyguards are selected and about three hundred pages of other ramblings. I was very disappointed in this book as I hoped for a look into the actual living condition's and lifestyle of average North Koreans. If I had wanted a statistical and economic briefing of the country, I would have called the state department.
4.0 out of 5 stars most useful for essays April 10 2014
By Jesse Sor - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book of all the North Korean books is the most useful and easy to use to write essays, and understand things quickly without being bogged down on details.

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