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The Hidden People of North Korea

Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom

Ralph Hassig and Kongdan Oh

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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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 296Size: 6 1/2 x 9 1/2
978-0-7425-6718-4 • Hardback • September 2009 • $44.95 • (£27.95)
978-0-7425-6720-7 • eBook • September 2009 • $38.99 • (£24.95)
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.
Chapter 1: The Illusion of Unity
Chapter 2: The Life of the Leader
Chapter 3: The Economic System
Chapter 4: The Economy of Everyday Life
Chapter 5: The Information Environment
Chapter 6: Hidden Thoughts
Chapter 7: The Law, Political Class, and Human Rights
Chapter 8: Defectors
Chapter 9: The End Comes Slowly
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

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.

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

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

[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

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.

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