New from RWC – From East, From West, The Red Flag Relay Comes

Red Flag Relay Starts at Samjiyon

The Red Flag Relay Begins at Samjiyon : Image KCNA

In a series of pieces for Sino-NK known as “…and did those feed in ancient times…” during 2015, this author examined in detail the narratological and political content and technique generated and suggested by what North Korea had described as the “250 Mile Schoolchildren’s march”. For more than a week a group of schoolchildren re-enacted Kim Il-sung’s journey which would lead him out of colonial Chosen to the terrain in which he was later to become a General of Paektusan and Eternal President of North Korea. It was an extraordinary event rich in connection and intriguing in its presentation of its participant children as worthy inheritors of the charismatic revolutionary flame and vessels for its contemporary re-territorialisation. It was always fascinating for its skirting of the obvious and significant fact that unlike Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-suk or in fact any of those revolutionary progenitors of Pyongyang’s contemporary charismatic, theatric politics, none of the school children on the march nor any its’ of current inhabitants could be useful or legitimately be allowed the chance to cross the rivers of the Amnok. Instead this contemporary manifestation of political charisma were to be innately and impossibly bound by their temporality and geography, their journey and its power limited and restricted by the current remit of Pyongyang’s sovereignty.

The 250 Mile Schoolchildren’s march however was an intriguing and seemingly new tool in Pyongyang’s armoury and repertoire of theatric and commemorative practice, one replete with possibility given the extent of North Korea’s potential and predilection from and for the generation and exploitation of powerful narrative (imagined, constructed or otherwise). It would not of course have been surprising if North Korea’s propagandist or presentational authorities were to have put the practice to further, more developed use or in order better to extract further charismatic power and reflection from its utility. As 2015 is a year rich in moments of commemoration and memory those interested and focused on such matters would surely not have long to wait, and indeed so it was to be.

On August 4th, 2015, Rodong Sinmun announced the “Red Flag Relay of the Servicepersons of the Korean People’s Army (KPA)”. From the opening description it was clear that this project was a clear effort to connect the ideological and narrative dots between past, present and commemorative future. It was of course primarily to mark the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule, but the report focusing on its beginning also made sure to overtly connect the revolutionary legitimacy earned by North Korea’s past charismatic leadership to both the new leadership and to continue older preoccupations and concepts. Through a demonstrative act of will and as the report puts it “iron faith” undertaken by those undertaking the relay, appropriate commemorative connection might be made under the rule of Kim Jong-un through “fluttering the red flag of the revolution associated with the whole life of President Kim Il-sung and leader Kim Jong-il.”

This initial report focusing on the setting out of those involved also cites its moment of departure, as might be expected, from one of the most charismatically important terrains in North Korea, the Samjiyon Grand Monument. The politically sacred architecture of this place and others near it geographically, commemorates the mythography of struggle undertaken by Kim Il-sung and his guerrilla band in the hills, mountains and wildernesses to the north of the lake, as well as the coyly expressed moment in which the relationship between Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-suk that would produce Kim Jong-il as its offspring was first denoted in the historiography of North Korea. The statues and commemorative landscapes of this space are extraordinary, even in photographs and the report asserts that “the relay would offer a good occasion for arming the servicepersons with the revolutionary spirit of Paektu.” Of course it would not be the first time in 2015 that the famous mountain holy to the politics and historiography of North Korea has been mentioned by Pyongyang’s political writers and reporters. Most importantly Kim Jong-un’s New Years Message explicitly framed 2015’s North Korea’s institutional and political year within the commemorative space of Paektu, articulating a new revolutionary spirit “the spirit of the blizzards of Paektu.” Accordingly and physically manifesting this spirit, the participants in the relay would re-territioralize its imperatives elsewhere in North Korea, taking two journeys through the nation and eventually arriving at Panmunjom on the DMZ (the better to represent the notion of national reunification to actually physically appear at the division which would need to be overcome in that instance), as the report makes clear “a red flag embroidered with the letters ‘the revolutionary spirit of Paektu, the spirit of the blizzards of Paektu” in hand.

Red Flag Relay visits Musan

Red Flag Relay Visits Musan : Image Rodong Sinmun

Similarly to the reportage which covered the march of the school children a year earlier, the red flag relay and its participants in its journey would reconnect distant and dislocated places within a physical narrative articulated by their urgent footprints. The western half of the relay would take its re-territiorializing imperatives firstly to the battle monuments of Musan and the port city of Chongjin on the 7th of August , Kosanjin and Kumchon revolutionary sites (commemorating the Headquarters of the KPA during the second, less dynamic half of the Korean War) and the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetary on Mt Taesong (to pay vital homage to Kim Jong-suk), on the 11th of August. On the same day the eastern division of the relay would also arrive at Mt Taesong having travelled through Hamhung and Wonsan and encountered not simply the “field guidance of the peerlessly great men of Mt Paektu” as one might expect, but rather extraordinarily “a meeting for learning from the spiritual world of the fighters who displayed the self-blasting spirit.”

August 13th’s visit to the hugely expanded Sinchon Museum with its detailed North Korean historiographic account of what is known to Pyongyang as the Sinchon Massacre will no doubt be incorporated by many scholars of the narrative for the report’s extensive photographic detailing of the museum’s exhibits. Whether the feelings of revenge elicited by those within the Relay group were envisaged as a key component of the “spirit of the blizzards of Paektu” earlier this year will of course never be known, but the museum’s dramatic, visceral vision of history absolutely drove the emotional pitch of the relay to new heights. Little re-temporalization of political energy nor imagination is necessary from the reported words of some of those involved, KPA members Kim Jong-su and Choe Kum-sil asserting that “they keenly felt once again [that] the US Imperialisst and class enemies were a group of cannibals regarding massacre of human beings as hobby [and] this made them whet the class sword more and more sharply.”

Red Flag Relay Visits the Sinchon Museum Image: KCNA

Red Flag Relay Visits the Sinchon Museum Image: KCNA

After finally on August 14th, visiting Jikdong Pass, Height 1211, Chol Pass and Mt Osong (reported as being “the mountain of Songun”), met with a group of war veterans and perhaps as a nod to the important activities commemorated in the first march of the schoolchildren in 2014 engaged in a “river crossing”, the relay groups arrived at their destination. Assembling in front of the monument at Panmunjom inscribed with Kim Il-sung’s signature on August 17th, those who had participated in the relay were joined by members from all three of North Korea’s military forces, members of the Workers Party and the Socialist Youth League to reiterate the narrative and philosophical messages of the event. Moments of diplomacy and international connectivity were, it has to be said put to one side in an almost orgiastic outburst of re-territorialization and connection between past and present. Dynamism, final victory, advance, reunification and revolutionary spirit were called upon to legitimize the relays path and arrival here at the physical manifestation of division, both a metaphorical gnashing of teeth and a reminder that with the “spirit of the blizzards of Paektu” in mind, for Pyongyang in 2015 wherever paths, journeys and travels may roamed or taken, whichever elements of charisma, narrative and authority may be deployed, October 10th and its crystallisation of North Korean political sovereignty may be the only destination.

The Red Flag Relay Reaches Panmunjom Image: KCNA

The Red Flag Relay Reaches Panmunjom Image: KCNA

From the Sino-NK Archives (32) – 07.05.2015 – The Legendary Women of Baekdu: “And did those feet in ancient times…”

kIm Jong-suk warrior

A recent state-produced rendering of Kim Jong-suk | Image: KCNA

The Legendary Women of Baekdu: “And did those feet in ancient times…”

by Robert Winstanley-Chesters

Wonderful Natural Fortress: Theater of Struggle | Kim Jong-suk was semi-mythic even before she became intrinsically connected to the territory at the place of her eventual immortalization. Kim and the guerrillas did not reach the terrain of Mt. Baekdu until the summer of 1936, having crossed “boundless primeval forest” and (once more) the narrow span of the upper Yalu River. Her official biography, published in 2002, announces the moment in portentous, dramatic terms, evoking “[t]he grand spectacle of the snow-capped ancestral mountain, the symbol of the long history of Korea.” Naturally Kim Il-sung is there to set the narrative terrain in conversation with his future wife, explaining that this “wonderful natural fortress stretching from the summit of Mt. Baekdu… will provide us with a theater of our sacred future struggle.”[1]

Kim Jong-suk, in response, appears to already consider the physicality of the recent past as a topography of difficulty for the guerrilla revolutionaries. It is a space which she sees as being ripe for transformation and future territorializations, deterritorializings, and charismatic theatric presentations.

Bearing his teachings in mind, she looked back upon the road the Korean revolution had traversed to Mt. Paektu. It was indeed a course of a bloody struggle, which had to break through a forest of bayonets.[2]

Having made an assortment of physical and conceptual crossings to arrive at the sacred Mt. Baekdu terrain, Kim embeds her revolutionary femininity and political commitment through performative acts in interaction with what would later become “the secret guerrilla camp.” The camp and the physical manifestation of her interaction with its “constructed remains” are key to the contemporary North Korean touristic experience of revolutionary space at Mt. Baekdu, and provide further evidence for Kwon and Chung’s charismatic political thesis:[3]

When the construction [of the camp] was complete, Kim Jong-suk peeled bark from trees in the surrounding area and wrote meaningful slogans on them: “A General Star has risen on Mt. Paektu,” [and] “Oppose the predominance of men over women. Long live the emancipation of women! Humiliated Korean women, wise up in the struggle against the Japanese!”[4]

Dualistic Femininity: Becoming a Human Fortress | Kim Jong-suk’s behaviour and personal interaction in the “natural fortress” exhibit a dualism of feminine and militaristic qualities, sometimes merging the two to construct an image of “militaristic femininity.” One key example is her maternal support for the guerrilla Ma Tong-hui. Described in semi-comic tone, Ma apparently “had flat feet… [which] made it difficult for him to act in concert with the other guerrillas…. [H]e was too exhausted to notice that his trousers were falling down.”[5]

In-spite of this obvious lack of utility to a band of revolutionary guerrillas, Kim Jong-suk seems determined to nurse the inept soldier to usefulness: “Kim Jong-suk walked together with him on marches, to encourage him, and helped improve his marksmanship.”[6] In addition to helping him learn to shoot straight, she also mended his clothes.[7] Such maternal support is fundamental to the narrative of Baekdu, and of primarily importance to her contemporary transformation into a militaristic saint. In engaging in pedagogical practice toward the unlikely young soldier, encouraging and teaching him to fight and providing him with a role model, Kim functions as father and mother. In this sense, she shows androgynous qualities of both female and male.

Beyond the mountain but in similar topography, North Korea’s narratives recount an important event in March 1940. This moment is categorized in hagiographies of Kim Jong-suk as the moment of “becoming a human fortress and a shield,” echoing the status of Mt. Baekdu as a “natural fortress.”[9] This is another vital moment in her semi-deification, without which moments of deterritorialization and reterritorialization would not be possible. Having, counter to conventional military strategy, attacked uphill and engaged Japanese forces high in the mountains, the guerrilla band was subject to a challenging counter attack.

The narrative describes the events:

Kim Il-sung commanded the battle from a rock on the ridge of the mountain. Mindful of his safety, Kim Jong-suk kept a close watch on the surroundings. Noticing reeds swaying strangely, she turned her eyes and saw half a dozen enemy soldiers hiding in a reed field, taking aim at Kim Il-sung on the ridge… at the hair-raising moment, Kim Jong-suk raced to Kim Il-song, shouting “Comrade Commander!” and shielding him with her body. Then she pulled the trigger of her Mauser. The enemy soldier in the front fell down, dropping his gun. A gunshot followed. Kim Il-sung had shot over her shoulder. In this way they both shot all the enemy soldiers in the reed field dead….[10]

pedagogy and violence

North Korean soldiers living out Kim Jong-suk’s militant legacy. Via KCNA.

Maternal Strength: Pedagogy and Violence | Kim Jong-suk’s selfless moment of sacrificial charismatic intent denotes a moral obligation towards the physical person of the leader, Kim Il-sung; one that goes beyond simple protection. Equally, it co-opts the difficult, fractious terrain of the mountainscape into the realm of Kim Jong-suk’s commitment and obligatory sensibility. North Korean landscapes in which these moral obligations were dramatically put into practice by Kim Jong-suk are now further marked by the institutional utilization of that drama and authority .

The ridge on which Kim Il-sung was nearly killed now forms part of an educational program for civil servants at Mt. Baekdu; these “study tours” of the revolutionary topography are meant to underpin their own ideological commitment. The birch trees at Lake Samji, under which the female guerrillas led by Kim Jong-suk rested, and under which the Kims’ relationship was abstractly confirmed and consummated, are now a site of revolutionary reflection and pilgrimage; a place of reterritorialization.

Leaning on a birch tree on which spring tints were emerging, he [Kim Il-sung] posed with the commanding officers…. One of them suggested to him that he should have his photo taken with Kim Jong-suk. Hearing this, Kim Jong-suk grew shy and hid behind the backs of the women guerrillas. They pushed her forward to his side. In order not to miss the moment, the “cameraman” clicked the shutter. For Kim Jong-suk, it was as good as a wedding photo….[11]

The role of other female guerrillas pushing forward this shy, almost coy Kim Jong-suk echoes another gentle moment in which a fellow female guerrilla and Kim convey a jar of hot water up an icy hill:

One night while the battle was still raging, she [Kim Jong-suk] was climbing a mountain with a woman guerrilla carrying a jar of hot water for the combatants when she slipped on some ice and tumbled down a slope. The woman guerrilla hurried down, and found that though she had lost consciousness, she was holding the water jar tightly. Her affection for her revolutionary comrades and fighting spirit encouraged the guerrillas to endure cold and fatigue in the battle….[12]

While other female protagonists are not frequently mentioned, they play a narrative role as Kim’s “ladies in waiting” and create a background territory upon which Kim’s revolutionary glory shines and can be reterritorialized. Their stories are sometimes directly told. The primary vehicle for female participation in the struggle was a group known as the Anti-Japanese Women’s Association, which served as a logistics and operational support unit for the main guerrilla group. While not directly involved in fighting, they did cross front lines and engage in dangerous activities. Their capture and harassment by Japanese forces is recounted in very distinct terms:

The Japanese aggressors ran amuck in an attempt to hamper the people’s support to the guerrilla army. The bestial aggressors recklessly arrested and slaughtered those people who purveyed provisions and commodities to the guerrilla army….[13]

KIm Jong-suk and statue

A recent artistic depiction of Kim Jong-suk’s post-liberation activities prior to her death include endorsement of Kim Il-sung statuary in Pyongyang. Image via Mansudae Arts Studio.

This passage describes resistance to torture and sometimes death. Similar instances play a part in the stories of particular female guerrillas. For example, fellow female guerrilla Kim Myong-hwa recounts Kim Jong-suk’s own torture: “The enemy locked her up in the house of a peasant there and put her to severe torture, threatening to kill her.”[14]

While Kim Jong-suk survived this ordeal, the same could not be said for Chang Gil-bu, mother to a number of revolutionaries. Not only was Chang’s son Ma Dong-hui tortured so severely that he “bit off his own tongue” rather than reveal anything and was then killed “viciously in a police station;” also, her daughter and daughter in law, Ma Guk-hwa and Kim Yong-kum, both reportedly died “a heroic death in battle.” Chang is portrayed as also undergoing torture, wherein “clubs and leather whips struck her until she was badly smeared with blood.”[15] Thus we can see that the action on the field of battle and violent deaths of some of the women following Kim Jong-suk are important elements in the story. A narrative element of their own, they are not just a supplement to bolster the fame of Kim Jong-suk.

Kim’s apparently selfless actions in collaboration with the topography allow future generations to access the charisma of her militaristic, transcendental femininity. Within the narrative, Kim Jong-suk emerges as a demiurge, the text of her biography explicitly mentioning that she barely sleeps or eats; indeed, “many times she only had water for her meal.”[16] Through her reported actions, Kim Jong-suk depersonalizes and de-materializes herself into the realm of the saintly, the mythic and the immortal.

[1] Kim Jong-suk: A Biography (Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 2002), 61.

[2] Ibid., 61.

[3] Heonik Kwon and Byung-Ho Chung, Beyond Charismatic Politics (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2012).

[4] Kim Jong-suk: A Biography, 62.

[5] Ibid., 65.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 66.

[8] Brian Myers, The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why it Matters (New York City: Melville House, 2012), 48.

[9]Kim Il-Sung, Reminiscences With the Century, Vol. 3 (Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1992).

[10] Kim Jong-suk: A Biography, 165.

[11] Ibid., p.132.

[12] Ibid., p.49.

[13] “Anti-Japanese Women’s Association and its Assistance to Guerrillas,” Women of Korea 91 no. 3 (1991).

[14] “In Memory of Comrade Kim Jŏng-suk,” Women of Korea 63 no. 3 (1974).

[15] “You Must Follow the Leader with All Devotion,” Women of Korea, Vol. 63 no. 3 (1974).

[16] Kim Jong-suk: A Biography, 51.


This post was originally published at – The author wishes to acknowledge the editorial support from colleagues at Sino-NK such as Dr Adam Cathcart, Christopher Green, Steven Denney and Darcie Draudt. Any edits or additions to the piece from its original authored draft are acknowledged. The author asserts his right to republish his own work here, but also acknowledges the element of co-production implicit from pieces originally published on

Mountains and Seas of Gold: 2015’s New Years Message


Kim Jong-un visited the KPA-run No.18 Fisheries Station in November 2014. | Image: KCNA


Mountains and Seas of Gold: 2015 New Year’s Message

by Robert Winstanley-Chesters

Forecasting the genuinely new in an annual message from North Korea’s Supreme Leader is to anticipate category failure and disappointment. Novelty by definition requires the potential for change or difference… and contemporary North Korea has never been marked by either. It seems that no matter how much it is wished for and conceptualized, Pyongyang has deflected, co-opted, negativized or outright ignored potential challenges to the core of its system. Nevertheless, that does not mean that the New Year’s Address can be discounted.

The 2014 New Year’s Address was acutely demonstrative of the genre’s form as a ‘directional beacon’ highlighting the narrative and developmental direction of the state for the coming year. Where 2013 had been a year of multiple revolutionary speeds, Masik Pass and other megaprojects, so 2014 focused on a key text from Pyongyang’s developmental history: 1964’s Rural Theses on the Solution to the Socialist Rural Question, a conceptual linchpin of practical and ideological progress in agriculture during a more governmentally coherent (though no less difficult) period in North Korean history. The return of the Rural Theses in 2014 suggested a structural cohesiveness to the developmental strategy of the Kim Jong-un government that, of course, may not really be present (a fantasy on the part of Pyongyang agricultural institutions); but, vitally, it politically underpinned the developmental goals of the Address.

Like most North Korea watchers, I was caught unawares by the prominence of the Rural Theses in the 2014 speech, in-spite of having written a considerable portion of my recent monograph on their structure and impact. The anniversary had not seemed significant. The 2014 Address sought to move on from the construction of dramatic megaprojects such as the Masik Pass Ski Resort, applying the Theses’ charismatic impetus to programs that had seemed fairly esoteric and diffuse, such as the Sepho Grassland Reclamation Project. Doing so appeared to be an exercise in reinforcement of their potential, which had hitherto appeared tenuous at best. The North Korean media continued to make reference to the Theses and their place in the New Year’s Address for much of the year, with mentions in Rodong Sinmun as late as the end of October.

Caught between the Tides: Predicting 2015 | In the lead up to January 1 this year, I racked my brain and delved deep into Kim Il-sung’s Works in search of agricultural/developmental focal points around which Kim Jong-un’s statement could coalesce. Of course, environmental historians of North Korea will be aware that the next significant developmental publication following the publication of the Rural Theses in 1964 was 1968’s ‘For the Large-scale Reclamation of Tidelands’. Therefore, lacking an obvious textual anniversary for 2015, the potential of the coming January remained a mystery.

Kim Jong-un’s message of January 1, 2015 heavily focuses on narrative, legitimacy and authority. It makes deep connection (as ever) with the historical narratives of Korean liberation in 1945 and the pre-history of that moment; one embedded deep within the Mt. Baekdu discourse of guerrilla struggle. Mt. Baekdu as a historical revolutionary terrain and physical topography has been a focal point of recent North Korean narratological themes, connected where possible to historical figures and anniversaries (such as Kim Jong-suk’s 97th birthday commemorations in December 2014), and contemporary institutional agendas and processes (the use of Baekdu revolutionary architecture, monuments and sites as epistemic space for the ideological training of Pyongyang bureaucrats early in 2014). Of course Mt. Baekdu has long been a vitally important political stage for the authority of the family Kim; but further than this, the 2015 Address makes great play at the coagulation of as many themes as ideologically and linguistically possible in a single text, on the physical site and within the metaphysical remembered space of Mt. Baekdu.

Leading Party Officials Visit Battle Sites in the area of Mt Paektu.

The biography of Kim Jong-suk recounts similar connections between the geography of Mt. Baekdu and contemporary North Korean political and institutional need, as well as, usefully for his revolutionary and political legitimacy, the physical and metaphysical characteristics shared by Kim Jong-il and the topography of Mt. Baekdu itself.

A saying has it that a man resembles his birthplace; it’s true to say that Kim Jong-il resembled Mt. Baekdu. The mountain fascinates people with its majestic appearance – the enormous lake at its summit and its chain of high peaks – and its mysterious natural phenomena, all these are symbolic of the traits and mettle of Kim Jong-il, who possesses a far-reaching ambition, outstanding wisdom, firm courage, strong willpower, great magnanimity and perfect leadership ability… (Kim Jong-suk Biography, 2005, p.2)

Further to this, and extending the connection beyond the personhood of Kim Jong-Il and other members of the Kim dynasty, this year’s Address bestows the authority and charisma of Mt. Baekdu’s revolutionary topography upon the entire nation, its army, developmental approach and technological output.

This year we should display the revolutionary spirit and mettle of Baekdu to scathingly thwart the challenges and manoeuvres by hostile forces and score a signal success in the struggle to defend socialism and on all fronts of building a thriving nation…Upholding the slogan “Let us all turn out in the general offensive to hasten final victory in the revolutionary spirit of Baekdu!”…Bearing in mind the soul and mettle of Baekdu, we should become honorable victors in the general offensive to exalt the dignity of our socialist country and promote its prosperity on the strength of ideology, arms and science and technology. (Rodong Sinmun, 2015)

All Eyes on August? Transcending Liberation | Much of the metaphysical and narratological connectivity in the 2015 Address is aimed squarely at the lead up to the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Korean peninsula from the Empire of Japan in August. However, this newly reasserted sense of revolutionary authority is not designed simply to alight on preparations for commemorative events marking the septuagenarian anniversary, but also to connect them to annual Workers’ Party of Korea founding ceremonies, all at “blizzards of Baekdu speed”. Possibly successful developmental strategies (even if only “successful” in a narrative or presentational sense) from recent years are also reconfigured to these aims, redeploying the wind themed narrative structure of early 2014.

We should raise a stronger wind of creating the Korean speed…by completing with credit the major construction projects, including the multi-tier power stations on the Chongchon River, Kosan Fruit Farm and Mirae Scientists Street, we should splendidly adorn the venue of grand October celebrations. (Rodong Sinmun, 2015)

This reconfiguration is a trope of institutional and ideological focus common to many other periods of North Korean developmental history, moments of urgency and instances of Kimist demand. Fruit production, in particular rising apple production (the key focus of Kosan Fruit Farm), has a long, auspicious history dating all the way back to the agenda of the First Seven-Year Plan (1960-1967) and Kim il-sung’s landmark text, On Planting Orchards Through an All-People Movement (1961).

We are struggling for the future. We must build a communist society and hand it down to the coming generations. . . . We are creating everything from scratch in our time. . . . This is the only way we can be as well off as other peoples, and hand over a rich and powerful country to the new generation. If we plant many orchards, our people will become happier in seven or eight years. (Kim Il-sung, 1960, p. 21)

Kim Jong Un visits the Central Tree Nursery Image

Five Orchards and Two Fisheries Stations: Mountains of Gold | Of course it remains to be seen (and may never be) whether the citizens of North Korean became happier in seven or eight years due to the planting of orchards, nor whether they were planted with the manner or urgency envisaged by Kim Il-sung. Similarly, a feature shared with President Park Chung-hee of South Korea, Kim Il-sung’s desire to reforest his sovereign domain following the impact of the final extractive, destructive years of Japanese colonialism has long been a key feature of North Korean developmental aspiration. In the lea of 1964’s Rural Theses, Kim Il-sung’s Lets Make Better Use of Mountains and Rivers with its assertion, “Using mountains does not mean only living by them. In order to use them fully it is necessary to create good forests of economic value before anything else” (Kim Il Sung, 1964, p. 256), set the stage for extensive focus on timber resources, one which is again echoed in the 2015 New Year’s Message.

The whole Party, the entire army and all the people should, as they carried out rehabilitation after the war, turn out in the campaign to restore the mountains of the country so as to turn them into “mountains of gold” thickly wooded with trees. (Rodong Sinmun, 2015)

Ultimately, the 2015 New Year’s Message reads akin to a hymn or paean to revolutionary stasis, a developmental treading of urgent water in anticipation of imagined new Utopian possibility. The Message’s diplomatic and political vision of trans-peninsular unification and Korean nationalism is configured with virulent aggression through the lens of Mt. Baekdu, anti-colonialism, perceived anti-imperialist victory and the embedding of revolutionary politics. This makes a non-starter out of any movement towards a resolution with those whom Pyongyang sees as the inheritors of colonial collaboration, the new colonizers, the old enemy and the not-so-new imperialist. Equally, 2015’s Message brings a developmental agenda frozen in urgent, assertive aspic. Perhaps KPA Unit 534 will bring in bounteous catches of pollack on the jetties of the January 8th Fisheries Station, revealing, as the New Years Message hopes, “a sea of gold”; however, for the North Korea analyst the counterbalance is the lead weight of history and narrative. Even in developmental terms, this Message required an acute awareness of North Korea’s revolutionary history to negotiate its sloughs and sumps.


Biography of Kim Jong-suk. (2005), Foreign Languages Publishing House, Pyongyang

Kim Il-sung. (1961). “On Planting Orchards Through an All-People Movement,” Works 15, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Pyongyang

Kim Il-sung. (1964). “Let us Make Effective Use of Mountains and Rivers,” Works 18, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Pyongyang

Kim Il-sung. (1964). “Theses on the Socialist Rural Question in Our Country,” Works 18, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Pyongyang

Kim Il-sung. (1968). “For the Large Scale Reclamation of Tidelands,” Works 23, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Pyongyang

Rodong Sinmun. (2014). “Kim Jong-un’s 2014 New Years Message”,

Rodong Sinmun. (2014). “Kim Jong-un Visits New Aquatic Products Refrigeration Facilities”,

Rodong Sinmun (2015). “Kim Jong-un’s 2015 New Year Message” ,