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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Just Like Heaven

by | July 15th, 2012 | 07:00 am

Last month, we reported on Kim Jong Un’s whirlwind tour of theme parks, zoos, and schools all around North Korea Pyongyang.  Well it looks like this story has legs.  The folks over at ABC news recently released an article and accompanying video highlighting these trips and other signs of a more relaxed attitude toward western influence in the DPRK.  Apparently, under Kim Jong Un’s watch, women are now being allowed to wear pants in public, platform and high heeled shoes are the #2 best selling product, and the kids are getting free trips to theme parks and zoos.  Sign me up!  These moves by Kim Jong Un are partly the result of Jong Un’s stated desire to turn North Korea into a “Children’s heaven nation.”   Now North Korea has been called a lot of things, but I doubt that it has ever been referred to as children’s heaven nation.

That said, these developments certainly are interesting for a country that has long fought against even the slightest influence from western culture (except within Kim Jong Il’s movie collection).  The important question here is how prevalent are these loosening restrictions?  Are they wearing pants and high heels in Yanggang?  Are the kids in Rason taking trips to the zoo?  The likely answer is no.  National media outlets are prone to consider events in Pyongyang to reflect circumstances throughout the country. Improving conditions and expanded privileges are not a new phenomenon in Pyongyang.  Stephan Haggard has referred to “The Pyongyang Illusion“ in describing this phenomenon.  Maybe these developments under Kim Jong Un do signal a long term shift in domestic policy, but don’t pop the cork until we see Jimmy Choos in North Hamgyong.  Private markets wouldn’t hurt either.

“In lieu of Bieber fever, North Korean children swoon over the supreme leader”