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Is North Korea ready to fall?

The first systematic survey of defectors lends credence to the wild claims about North Korea.
North korea defectors 2011 08 16Enlarge
The picture of Kim Il Sung flower is seen on the street on April 3, 2011 in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Feng Li/Getty Images)

News out of North Korea ranges from abrupt threats of "all-out" war (like today) to shocking claims of cannibalism, to fanciful propaganda videos of well-stocked shelves at the grocery store.

The picture we get of North Korea is an extreme one, and while conditions there are almost certainly extreme, the point is that we don't really know what's going on there.

Too much news is based on anecdotes and heresay, speculation and the occasional interview.

Defectors, on the other hand, know what they're talking about. They lived there, and they left for a reason.

GlobalPost in Thailand: North Korea defectors take to the "Underground Railroad"

In a new book, "Witness to Transformation," political economists Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland surveyed 1,700 defectors who lived in China and South Korea from 2004 to 2008.

It's the first such survey done in a systematic fashion and the book offers refreshingly precise accounts of what's going on in the Hermit Kingdom, as Geoffrey Cain points out in his review in The Washington Monthly.

Half the respondents, for instance, said they were unaware foreign food aid was ever delivered to North Korea. Among those who did know about aid, more than three-quarters reported not receiving it.

More from GlobalPost: Does North Korea deserve aid?

It's not breaking news. In fact, most of the findings in the book align with what the Western world has long suspected.

What the numbers do, however, is lend much needed weight to the fight for North Korean rights. North Korea is now able to present a more precise account of its reality to the outside world.

And better communication among North Koreans and the outside world, as historian Andrei Lankov points out, is a precondition for revolution.

Oh, and if you're up for reading about North Korea, don't overlook Bradley K. Martin's "Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader." It's a tome, but well worth the read.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/the-rice-bowl/north-korea-defectors-refugees-china-south-korea