Meet the Author with James Pearson

John Delury (left) and James Pearson (right)

Part III of Asia Society Korea Center’s “Meet the Author Series” was held on Thursday evening at Pierre’s Bar, Lotte Hotel Seoul. Leading British journalist James Pearson was in attendance to talk about his new book, North Korea Confidential, one of the most informative and contemporary books to be released on North Korea in 2015. Once again the event was moderated by John Delury, renowned Chinese and North Korean historian and expert, current professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, and a fellow of the Asia Society’s Center for U.S.-China Relations.

Dr. Delury opened the event by giving a brief overview of North Korea Confidential explaining how the focus of the book is on what life is actually like in modern North Korea today for the ordinary man and woman on the street. Through a variety of diverse sources, the book explains how the North Korean famine of the 1990s was an important catalyst which accelerated North Korean marketization and paved the way for a form of free capitalism which holds today’s North Korea together.

A wide range of issues were covered on the night with Pearson delivering a fascinating insight into the North and how the famine of the 1990’s sowed the seeds of North Korean capitalism. North Korea’s dual currency system was explained and more importantly how money matters in North Korea – with money you can buy both goods and favors. Pearson described some examples of unusual North Korean businesses such as apartment buildings as brothels, bus services, and private investors. It was described how money is an equalizer in the country and how bribing across “military first” lines can buy yourself both in and out of trouble.

Pearson wrapped up the discussion by talking about how Chinese-North Korean traders, with less ideological obligations and more links to China, are some of the best-placed capitalists in North Korea. It was highlighted how the government’s every day battle is to deal with its new economic order – how that works in the regime’s favor, and why there will likely be change before collapse. The evening proved to be another resounding success with lots of captivating discussion and networking.