the succession of Kim Jong Eun... is moving at breakneck speed," and I have pointed out repeatedly that the KCNA is providing the North Korean people with virtually no mention of Kim Jong-un even though the Chosun Ilbo and The Daily NK would have us believe that his stature is being raised so high and so quickly that the besieged North Korean people are reacting adversely to his ascension.
So when I saw the above photo in Korea Beat, I thought I'd finally seen evidence that my working hypothesis is wrong, or at least no longer accurate. Maybe I was still a bit bleary-eyed, but at the time I could have sworn that Korea Beat said the two portraits being burned were Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un.
You see, if official portraits and/or badges of Kim Jong-un were distributed for the public to see and wear, that would be a clear, necessary, and even irrefutable sign that the Pyongyang regime has gone ahead with selling the North Korean public on the idea that KJI's son will be their next leader. If that were an official, stylized portrait of Kim Jong-un, then that would mean his rise has been accepted — perhaps irreversibly — by the ruling apparatus and they now are pushing the North Korean people to follow.
But it turned out that the portrait at left in the photo was Kim Jongsuk, the mother of Kim Jong-il and already an established member of the Great Chosŏn pantheon. In other words, not Kim Jong-un. Still no signs of the public deification of Kim Jong-un, despite what the media would have us believe.
[Frankly, I blame a combination of things for my brief oversight: (a) the North Korean portrait makers depicting Kim Jong-il's mom as a bit manly, (b) the portrait defacers giving Kim Jongsuk facial hair, (c) talk of the political significance of Kim Jong-un's otter pelt hat leading me to subconsciously think that Kim Jongsuk's long flowing hair in the back was actually some frilly fur thing worn by Kim Jong-un to keep warm, and (d) the unisex V-neck of the traditional chosŏnbok, which provides no clue of its wearer's gender.]
Well, I'm glad you asked that question, curious reader. Apparently, someone in North Korea is aware of Kim Jong-un and all the talk of his rise to power, and that someone has decided it would be appropriate to write notes about this. The question is, who is that person? North Koreans along the border with China may have enough exposure to Chinese news media that they would be clued into non-Chinese media's obsession with Kim Jong-un's ascension, but would that be enough to precipitate the spattering of Kim Jong-un-related stories coming from defectors?
My working hypothesis is that The Daily NK and other organizations that rely on clandestine reporting methods deliberately or (more likely) inadvertently distort defectors' reports of KJU sightings by asking leading or loaded questions whose answers lead to foregone conclusions: "Have you seen any evidence of Kim Jong-un's rise?" might easily yield an affirmative answer to a new defector who may feel obliged to please this new aid-giver. The result would easily be an apparent picture of Kim Jong-un having a higher profile than he actually does (as evidenced by the dearth of Kim Jong-un mentions in North Korea's official news media).
Now don't get me wrong: I'm not bashing The Daily NK and I think they do incredible work, with many on their team risking their lives to get word out of and into North Korea. But that halo doesn't magically preclude what social scientists call experimenter bias, and that makes me somewhat skeptical. After all, the Kim Jong-un drama has attracted a lot of attention to the North Korean issue — and how pathetic is it that it takes palace intrigue and not the ongoing deaths of hundreds of thousands for the foreign media to pay serious attention! — and it might be forgivable for The Daily NK to milk that new focus for what it's worth. As long as they're not lying or knowingly reporting distortions, I don't have too much of a problem with what they're doing, given the big picture.
Now back to the portrait burning. According to The Daily NK, this was done by some peasant, but by a party official:
The North Korean defector who provided the video clip explained, "A Party official from North Hamkyung Province burned the pictures and wrote 'bastard Kim Jong Il’ and ‘Kim Jong Eun is the child of a concubine' on a piece of paper at his house on January 1st this year. The video clip was produced and leaked to display the person’s hostility towards Kim Jong Il and worsening public opinion within North Korea."Bear in mind that this is all according to the defector who brought the tape, a tape which The Daily NK has chosen not to show. Now, if it's legitimate, protecting the identity of the official who burned the portraits is sound, but there's always something inherently risky in taking someone else's word for something without evidence. The Daily NK suggests that the official portraits could only be in the hands of a party official, though I'm skeptical of that claim as well (is there no theft in North Korea?).
The person also wrote a message on the reverse side of the paper, "Kim Jong Il is a bastard, Kim Jong Eun is the son of concubine. Not once did he talk about being married, and now he is facing death he is suddenly looking for his son? We cannot accept this.”
So at this point I see two major possibilities of who is behind the portrait burning. One is that it really is a North Korean party official way up in North Hamgyŏng Province, and he or she somehow got this tape of this brazen act to a defector who got it to The Daily NK. Getting the word out that there are disgruntled party officials could be useful information. And it certainly would be something I predicted could come out of the Great Currency Obliteration of 2009:
Unless there have been behind-the-scenes provisions for connected people to exchange considerably more than the $40 or $60 limit, then those middle-level party cadres who run the show outside of Pyongyang suddenly have a lot less stake in keeping the regime going.The other major possibility is that this is all the work of defectors, who have gotten wise that South Korean, Western, and Japanese media are eager for "news" of Kim Jong-un's prominence in North Korea, to the point that such defectors are staging such things for their benefit. Now this does not mean the whole story is pointless or useless. Nowadays these things have a way of filtering back to North Koreans themselves, and even if this was staged by a ballsy defector (in or near North Korea), it might have a psychological effect on those North Koreans who later hear about it or see the pictures.
Interesting times, though I still believe Kim Jong-un is The Kim Who Wasn't There™. Maybe this week I should redo the KCNA experiment to see how much the Brilliant Comrade is actually mentioned, since I haven't done that in over a month. Who knows, maybe things have changed... and I would be the first to admit it.