Red Herring: North Korea's Juche Myth

Brian Myers
Tuesday, September 24, 2013 -
7:30pm to 9:30pm
Second floor Residents’ Lounge, Somerset Palace
7,000 won (non-member); free for members

Foreign observers chuckle at the North Korean personality cult, but when it touts the centrality of Kim Il Sung’s Juche Thought, they see no reason for skepticism. Researchers at top American universities quote from Kim’s colonial-era Juche speeches, which were not “discovered” until the 1970s, as if they were actual historical documents. But Pyongyang-watchers share North Korean tour-guides' reluctance to explain Juche. The standard practice is to breeze through its trite maxims – “man is the master of all things,” etc – before jumping to the real-world policy-making they somehow “translate into.” Thin though it may be, however, outsiders’ knowledge of the humanist pseudo-doctrine is sufficient to function as a cheese-cloth through which they view the reality. An implacable xenophobia rooted in Japanese race-theory is thus misperceived as a philosophically-grounded state-nationalism or patriotism compatible with Marxism-Leninism. In this way the Juche fallacy sustains the misperception of North Korea -- one of the most race-obsessed, most highly militarized countries in world history -- as a last bastion of what the LA Times calls “undiluted communism.” Juche is, in short, the reddest of red herrings. In today’s lecture, Brian Myers will present a preview of his upcoming book, explaining how the regime launched the Juche myth in 1967, how it won the West, and how it continues to serve Pyongyang's interests.
Born in the US, educated in Germany, and now living in Busan, South Korea, B.R. Myers specializes in the research of North Korea's official culture, a subject on which he has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic. His books include Han Sorya and North Korean Literature (1994), A Reader’s Manifesto (2002), and The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters (2010).

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