Free Speech

Ronery Reading


According to The Daily NK, there is a secret library in Pyongyang where party cadre can read the works of Milton Friedman, John Meynard Keynes, Dale Carnegie, and Boccaccio. This replaces the more restrictive system established by the "May 25 Instruction" of 1967, in which most

books on western literature and philosophy have been burnt or smeared with ink, or pages have been torn out of books. Such vandalism was carried out under the so called "Book Arrangement Activity." For some time thereafter, the general public had no access to books, even to those related to Karl Marx.

"Pyongyang Foreign Literature Publishing House" began to publish foreign books in 1984. From then on, the western classics in literature were made available. However, books on modern economics and modern thought are accessible only to the Party officials or some special groups at the "closed library."

It's virtually impossible to confirm the stories you hear about North Korea, so this hidden stash of western literature might be as fictional as the Vatican's vast library of porn. But I like to think there's a secret remnant in the Korean communist establishment, quietly absorbing the subversive lessons of How to Win Friends and Influence People.

[Via Knife Tricks.]

NEXT: The Heart of Whiteness

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  1. Jesse Walker,

    I’ve read that in the PRC in the 1980s there were lists of books which one had to have special clearance to read. However, it was often the case that some number of these books (say The Golden Lotus) would slip through the cracks of the bureaucracy and make it into local libraries and the like. In other words, the contents of this library may not be so secret after all.

  2. I am so confused. First, there was the Pillow Humping Girl. Then, there was the Conservative Bitch. Now, there’s some freakish, spining skull. My Pavlovian response is that I want to skull-fuck it right in the nose hole.

  3. megamerkin,

    Seek help!

  4. “I like to think there’s a secret remnant in the Korean communist establishment, quietly absorbing the subversive lessons of How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

    As opposed to Kim Jong Il’s manual, How to Torture Your Friends and Terrorize People?

  5. Maybe The Tyranny of the Status Quo is Exhalted Ruler Kim’s favorite book.

  6. Jesse Walker,

    In other words, censorship is rarely wholely successful.

  7. Megamerkin –

    The Conservative TShirt Girl upsets me too sometimes.

    She just keeps staring back at me… like an evil temptress…

    What does she want from me!?

  8. What’s worse is Fat Albert Gore staring back at me from the left side of the screen.



  10. Seek help!

    Ah, yes. A fast right fist has alleviated the problem. All’s back to normal. Although my co-workers look appalled.

  11. “My Pavlovian response is that I want to skull-fuck it right in the nose hole.”

    You definitely want to stay clear of those teeth.

  12. Jesse

    I can appreciate that North Korea & its Dear Leader are awful enough to be a sick joke. However, I ask that you please desist with the mock oriental usage – i.e. “Ronery”.

    It is racist and distasteful, not suitable for a commentary meant to be taken seriously.

  13. Aresen,


    You may still be offended.

  14. I ask that you please desist with the mock oriental usage – i.e. “Ronery”.

    I appreciate what you’re saying, but at this point I think any use of the word “ronery” in connection with North Korea is going to be recognized as a Team America allusion and nothing more. That’s all I intend it as, anyway.

  15. North Korea’s “closed library” also offers the party faithful such best-selling titles as: “The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective Dictators” and “Who Moved My Grass? An Amazing Way To Deal With Starvation In Your Work And In Your Life.”

    Re: Aresen’s comment on “mock oriental usage” in the headline. If we want to get all PC about it, who still says “oriental?”

  16. Jesse

    The “Team America” reference whiffed over my head.

    Don’t mean to be hypersensitive and Drew W rightly tweaks me back, it’s just that maknig a point of the “l/r” confusion many Chinese/Japanese/Koreans experience with European language. (I’ve been told that those languages don’t have/distinguish between those sounds, so native speakers have difficulty hearing the difference. In the same way, English speakers have difficulty distinguishing the “u” and “u” sounds in French.)

  17. If we want to get all PC about it, who still says “oriental?”


  18. OOPS

    “…many Chinese/Japanese/Koreans experience with European language…”

    Should read

    “…many Chinese/Japanese/Koreans experience with European languages irks me.”

    Preview. Dammit.

  19. Aresen, I’m confident that native english speakers are ridiculed in other languages/cultures. It doesn’t bother me.

    Should it?

  20. J sub D:

    You might still use outdated, racist terms like “oriental,” but in today’s ethnically-sensitive world, you don’t stand a Chinaman’s chance of avoiding widespread condemnation.

  21. J sub D

    If my French were better than “la plume de ma tante” or my German better than “Kein Deustche sprecht”, I’d mock you in one of them.


    Drew W @ 2:09 wins the thread!

  22. Dale Carnegie’s books are full of good general advice for interacting with other people. I doubt anyone finds that objectionable. However, he frequently holds up great American industrialists and presidents as examples of the character traits we should emulate. Perhaps that is why North Korea considers the books subversive.


    -buried corpses at midnight so they won’t get eaten by the starving;

    -when top level military are near Kim Jong-il, they do a hand wave all-finger wiggle while making warbling sounds;

    -entire families commit suicide by sleeping and freezing to death outside to avoid the misery;

    -everyone is a spy because everyone is subject to the policy that when one strays, many will go to prison or die; public executions emphasized the consequences of straying;

    -everyone but the very top is prone to bribes and corruption because of sheer poverty;

    -for years, radios were listened to under the covers, subject to random checks by police to enforce reception of only one station;

    -tourist guides who were trained to coax North Koreans to tears within two minutes in tribute to the memory of Kim senior;

    -stray children ending up as body parts in stew and fake animal meat sold on the street;

    -farmers forced to grow opiate drugs;

    -a transparent cube around which scientists would sit and record details as families were put to death with experimental poisons;

    -prisoners forced to stone each other to death;

    It’s a fascinating place due to the contrasts-bright lights of China on one side of the river, dark on the North Korean side – cell phones were banned as Kim Jong-il enjoyed his wine and porn collection – strangely barren streets at all hours of the day – many speak perfect English as they spit out the required rote condemnation of capitalism.

    There’s good reason to believe that they know much more than just the basics of western economics, at least secretly. A few cartons of cigarettes goes a long way to smuggle all types of electronic media past the guards.

    In terms of surveillance and intimidation, it’s disturbing how much like them the U.S has become … Dear Leader Bush …

  24. Such vandalism was carried out under the so called “Book Arrangement Activity.”

    Hey, when they airbrush a cigarette out of the hand of an author’s bio stateside, can we now refer to that as “Book Arrangement Activity”?

    Has a nice ring to it.

  25. Christ, Barry, after listing a string of atrocities that do not and will not happen in the US, you say it’s disturbing how much like them the U.S has become?

  26. Hey, we’ve all watched forbidden television “under the covers”.

  27. R C Dean

    Thanks. Succinctly put.

    There may be restrictions on personal liberty in the US, Canada, and Western Europe, but to compare our situation with the plight of the North Koreans is a cruel slight to the latter.

  28. Because no one else will, let me be the one to point out that it’s no surprise whatsoever that the Kims wouldn’t allow their people to have access to Marx, and for the same reason that the Church long kept the Bible on the Index.

    To believe that Marx’s thoughts might inevitably lead to the Kims and to Stalin would be a fair thought; to believe however that Karl’s personal reaction to that being the case (not that I’m saying it is) would be anything other than absolute unadulterated horror is to be a mindless cheerleader for capitalism who’s intelligence is fit for nothing more complex than viewing the world through “US v. THEM” corneas.


  29. mnuez

    I agree that Marx would be horrified at the manifestations of ‘Marxism’ in the present world, but only because he did not forsee the implications of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ and thought that freedom of speech and expression would be enhanced in a Communist Society due to the disappearance of the state, which failings leave Marxism itself open for the criticisms against which you protest.

    It would also be easier read your posts if you didn’t use run-on sentences.

  30. I had a Russian history professor tell me that Czarist Russian censors weren’t all that concerned about Marx’s tomes being smuggled into the country. They were of the opinion that Marx was so boring, he wasn’t much of a threat.

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