Defector poet Jang Jin Sung's poetry collection, "I am selling my daughter for 100 won," which subtly yet realistically portrays the "March of Tribulation" period in the 1990s, has been generating significant interest.
In 2004, Mr. Jang, hiding 70-some poems in his chest, crossed the Tumen River. "I am selling my daughter for 100 won" was also written at this time. The Daily NK met Mr. Jang, who produced his first poetry collection at the end of many ups and downs and in four years after he defected to the South, in his office.
The following is the interview with the poet Jang Jin Sung.
- What did you decide to publish the poetry collection?
"North Korea is a country which allowed 3 million people to die during a peacetime period. The fact that the administration still exists is a shameful thing. North Korea is a country which calls the period which produced 3,000,000 starvation victims the "March of Tribulation." If Hitler was a despot who massacred foreign citizens, Kim Jong Il is a despot who has slaughtered his own people. If this truth is not made known, we cannot find justice."
I initially posted the memoir on the internet and the South Korean citizens expressed warm acknowledgement. Some people expressed that they could not help but to shed tears. I produced the collection, because I wanted to make a tearful petition in a country where humanity and compassion are alive.
I also wrote the book as a form of resistance against the leftist government of the last 10 years [in South Korea]. I was very disappointed after entering South Korea in 2004. The leftist government, caught up in North Korea's "Uriminzokkiri (amongst our people)" strategy helped to disguise the reality of North Korea."
- Didn’t you come from an “upper class” in North Korea? What is the reason you began to harboring skepticism of the North Korean regime?
"The more one serves the regime, the more one knows its true nature, which means that the reality of average citizens is detached from the government.
North Korea's Kim Jong Il has two sides. There is Kim Jong Il as the god, and Kim Jong Il as a person.
I had the opportunity to get to know a worker at a chodaeso
. Through him, I got to know more about Kim Jong Il's complicated women situations, his life of blind debauchery, and his decayed and diseased capitalistic personal life."
- I had heard that you were Kim Jong Il's most favored poet in North Korea.
"North Korea's economic situation is difficult, so they are not able to provide books to children and necessary manuscripts to writers. Paper is one of the most prized items in the North. It is difficult for writers to succeed there. Even if they are published, there are not enough people who will buy the works with their limited provisions.
Kim Jong Il has a lot of interest in poetry and in order to preserve the regime, he tends to confide in and eulogize poets. Compared to other areas, poetry can infuse a political consciousness with rapidity and through emotional impact."
- Have you ever met Kim in person?
"I have met him twice. Before the food shortage crisis, I met him with the esteem of meeting a god. Even having such an opportunity was fortune itself.
After the food shortage, I met Kim Jong Il again, but then, I kept thinking, “Only if he did not exist,” and not with the same heart of respect. When seeing the image of him not even concerned about the deaths of 22 million citizens and living lavishly, I found him to be the culprit."
- The gradual slackening in North Korea's regime has been surfacing, but do you think there also has been a change in North Korea's upper classes?
"The cadres of the past had very traditional mentalities. They are people who lived thinking, “Anything for the party and the General...” The cadres, with the change in generations, started to think about their security. Corruption and self-interest stemmed from that.
In actuality, the North Korean cadres are the first ones to have changed internally. On the outside, they maintain their security by serving the regime, but internally, they will be the first ones to abandon it if the circumstances permit."
- It must not have been easy to write poetry which contains the reality of North Korea while living in the North...
"People have asked whether the many writers in North Korea can write such poetry under the North Korean regime. They also have posed their wonder at the sense of duty that have allowed us to smuggle the poems outside of the country.
Many writers in North Korea are writing pieces that surreptitiously criticize the regime. Many people have gone to political prisons after having been exposed. I think that is the conscience of a writer. If they do not write about truth, they cannot create a powerful work that can make people laugh or cry. In North Korea, writers are the ones who have a lot of conscience and struggles.
I have written a poem called "scratches." I wanted to write a poem based on the truth, but I did not want to write poems which only praised the regime and would rather produce scratches. So I wrote a poem based on that.
Truly, if I cannot write about the reality, I cannot genuinely cry or laugh."
- It has been 10 years since North Korea underwent a mass-scale famine. Since then, the true conditions in North Korea have spread to the South, but a majority are still disinterested in the North Korean issue. Have you ever felt despair upon seeing this?
"South Korean people think of North Korea from too much of an ideological perspective. They do not look at the reality in North Korea as reality, but try to understand it from a political yardstick. The administrations of the last 10 years were at the forefront of this. They tried to hide the reality in North Korea and whatever truth leaked out, they covered as fiction.
They tried to acknowledge that North Korea is no longer in a state of shock to many South Korean citizens. The reactions that would otherwise have surfaced are curiosity and incitement, but North Korea's 'uriminzokkiri' strategy and the leftist administrations of the last 10 years have hindered people from recognizing truth as truth, reality as reality.
From now on, there will be a lot of concern on the part of the government. The new administration seems to be prioritizing pragmatism rather than ideology, so I hope that it will treat the North Korean issue as it really is."