North Korea’s Hidden Revolution

One of the least understood countries in the world, North Korea has long been known for its repressive regime. Yet it is far from being an impenetrable black box. Media flows covertly into the country, and fault lines are appearing in the government’s sealed informational borders. Drawing on deeply personal interviews with North Korean defectors from all walks of life, ranging from propaganda artists to diplomats, Jieun Baek tells the story of North Korea’s information underground—the network of citizens who take extraordinary risks by circulating illicit content such as foreign films, television shows, soap operas, books, and encyclopedias. By fostering an awareness of life outside North Korea and enhancing cultural knowledge, the materials these citizens disseminate are affecting the social and political consciousness of a people, as well as their everyday lives. (Published by Yale University Press, 2016)

Some Reviews

‘’This excellent book shines a light on the lives and feelings of ordinary citizens of North Korea. It lifts a veil that is imposed by the isolation and controls of the current regime. It reveals people thirsting for access to information and motivated by unquenchable  human curiosity and rationality. These are great allies for liberty. At such a worrying time for peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, these human qualities afford us a measure of reassurance and encouragement.”  – The Honorable Michael Kirby, former chair of the United Nations commission of inquiry on human rights violations in North Korea  and Justice of the High Court of Australia.’’

“In the last two decades, North Korea has gone through dramatic changes, largely because the old system of self-isolation began to crumble. In vivid detail, Jieun Baek’s book shows this hidden transformation and how it changed the lives of North Koreans. A truly interesting read for all people interested in North Korea.”—Andrei Lankov, author of The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia

“For those befuddled by the Hermit Kingdom’s antics and frustrated by our apparent impotence in addressing its challenge, Jieun Baek’s North Korea’s Hidden Revolution provides a powerful beacon of light.” —Graham T. Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University

“This insightful, well-written and disturbing book adds depth and texture to what we think life inside North Korea must be like.”– Ambassador Robert Gallucci

“A fascinating and intelligent overview of the ways that information is liberating North Koreans’ minds.” —Robert S. Boynton, author of The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea’s Abduction Project

“Drawing on deeply personal and thoughtful interviews with North Korean defectors from all walks of life, Jieun Baek’s North Korea’s Hidden Revolution sheds invaluable light on North Korea’s information underground. It is a fascinating, important, and vivid account of how unofficial information is increasingly seeping into the North and chipping away at the regime’s myths–and hence its control of North Korean society.”–Sue Mi Terry, former CIA analyst

North Korea’s Hidden Revolution humanizes a dark part of our world, gives agency and voice to North Koreans, and underscores the power of information in a uniquely closed society. A must-read.”–Wael Ghonim, Egyptian human rights activist

“Our usual image of North Korea is of an isolated society cut off from the outside world and trapped in another time. But Jieun Baek shows that this is far from the case. Through detailed observation, exhaustive  research, and extensive interviews with defectors, she reveals a society undergoing tremendous change and becoming connected to the world as never before. Despite the best efforts of the regime to control information flows into and out of North Korea, the country is undergoing an “information revolution” with far-reaching and unpredictable effects.” — Professor Charles K. Armstrong, Columbia University

“A fascinating book.”— Nicholas Kristof,  New York Times

“Baek is persuasive about the information underground, and her recommendation is that governments, NGOs, and individuals send more of all kinds…To prepare for some better days, the U.S. and South Korean governments must help get information across the borders. A better-informed populace may react more effectively if there is a break.” — James A. Kelly, former Assistant Secretary of State of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

“Baek draws the guardedly hopeful conclusion that even the most oppressive regime cannot quash human curiosity.” – The New Yorker

“A crisp, dramatic examination of how technology and human ingenuity are undermining North Korea’s secretive dictatorship…An original, authentic take on the fissures developing behind North Korea’s totalitarian facade.” — Kirkus Review

“The central concern of the book is timely and relevant: What are the social and political effects of media flows in a politically unfree society where information is tightly controlled? . . . The narrative of the book is driven more or less entirely by Baek’s interviewees. This is one of the book’s main strengths.”— Steven Denney, Pacific Affairs

“…Baek sees increased exposure to the outside world as reason for hope for the people of North Korea, and while a mind-numbingly challenging task, reunification of the Korean peninsula remains a possibility. How long it takes, and how it may occur, remain major questions that scholars will continue to debate. This timely and cogent book adds considerable information to that discussion.” — Los Angeles Review of Books

“Information shapes a society, and author Jieun Baek takes us on a journey through the underground channels that share information from North and South Korea, as well as the people who create these channels…North Korea’s Hidden Revolution really calls to the theory that information wants to be free. Even with deathly restrictions and consequences, people are willing to take that risk for the knowledge and the money. And with each transfer of information, North Korea’s underground market earns a bit more unintended freedom.” — Office of Intellectual Freedom

“A fine primer on the country, based on extensive interviews with defectors.”—Min Jin Lee (Author of Pachinko)