Podcast: North Korea’s Information Underground

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Episode Guests
  • Elizabeth C. Economy
    Senior Fellow for China Studies

Show Notes

On this week’s Asia Unbound podcast, Jieun Baek, author of North Korea’s Hidden Revolution: How the Information Underground is Transforming a Closed Society, tells the story of the outlawed political and social information that is penetrating North Korea’s hermetic borders. Through dozens of interviews with North Korean defectors, Baek finds that everyday North Koreans crave news and entertainment from the outside world—from romantic television dramas to basic weather reports. Most of all, the foreign knowledge they seek helps to dismantle the façade of total information control the North Korean government has tried to erect around its citizens. Brokers smuggle DVDs, USB sticks, and SD cards with illicit media into the country, and citizens use black-market radios to pick up forbidden stations from South Korea, the United Kingdom, and beyond. The North Korean government fights back in a deadly game of cat and mouse, dealing out fines, detentions, and even public executions to individuals it catches consuming or exchanging contraband content. At the same time, defectors say that information from the outside world is one of the best tools available to help citizens resist the country’s oppressive regime. Listen below to hear Baek’s account of North Korea’s information underground, and about her own efforts to send fragments of the outside world into the hermit kingdom.

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