The top ten most bizarre rumours to spread about North Korea

From unicorns, to assassination attempts. Andray Abrahamian of Choson Exchange takes us through some of the more popular rumours on the DPRK
December 6th, 2012
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North Korea is an information hard-target, to be sure. Something about its media-resistant nature, along with several other factors, gives rise to all manner of rumors, some mundane, some bizarre, some of significance. From unicorns to missiles, these rumors often illustrate as much about how we think about the DPRK as they do about the

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About the Author

Andray Abrahamian

Andray Abrahamian is a freelance writer on North Korean issues. He is currently teaching in the Social Science College of the University of Ulsan where he is pursuing a PhD on media images in East Asia. Abrahamian is also the executive director of the Chosun Exchange, an organization that provides professional training for North Korean students in the fields of economics, business and law. He earned a Masters in International Relations from the University of Sussex where he focused on realist and critical theory approaches to East Asia.

Join the discussion

  • Luke Herman

    Andray, great post. I did a little digging a while back on the Kim Jong Il golfing rumor – as far as I can tell it dates back to a NY Times Op-Ed from October 1994 (http://www.nytimes.com/1994/10/19/opinion/19iht-ederic.html). Here’s the relevant section in full:

    The first hole at the Pyongyang Golf Club is a 340-meter (370-yard) dogleg par four, a severe test of skill even for a Greg Norman or a Jack Nicklaus. It was a cakewalk for North Korea’s “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong Il, when he gave “on the spot guidance” not long ago at the country’s only golf club.

    “Dear Leader Comrade General Kim Jong Il, whom I respect from the bottom of my heart, scored two on this hole,” said the course professional, Park Young Man.

    Clearly, the mysterious 52- year-old son of the late “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung is a hero of the golf course as well as of the nation.

    Mr. Park, who confessed to having never heard of Arnold Palmer, explained that the Dear Leader shot a 34 over 18 holes, including five holes-in- one, and did no worse than a birdie on any hole.

    “He is an excellent golfer,”

    • Kaarle Kulvik

      Actually during my visit the guides did tell us this 18 hole in one story when we were playing at the club. Apparently he got better at playing during his final years. I don’t know however was this story made up by guide on the spot or something they now tell to all the visitors.
      Yes I can verify that the golf course is very hard, some of the longest holes are not even straight so as you would have to hit about 100 meters on top of the forest. Couple of holes have the other side completely covered by ponds. It is in very good conditions, and you can get Heineken beer at the club house. I would recommend this if you happen to visit there. It is probably the best thing you can do, avoid the Fatherland Liberation Museum if you can!!!! They’ll bore you to death with that one.

  • Steven

    Very good article. Along with the golfing myth, the other one that is always ridiculed is the one regarding Kim Jong Il’s birth:

    “He had a supernatural birth

    Kim Jong-il was born in Siberia in 1941 while his parents were during the Japanese occupation of Korea, according to Soviet documents.

    But according to official North Korean literature, he was born in a log cabin at his father’s secret base on North Korea’s sacred Mt Paektu in 1942.

    The same reports claim his birth were heralded by a swallow and caused winter to change to spring, a star to illuminate the sky and rainbows to spontaneously appear.”

    Source: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/from-fashion-icon-to-golf-pro-mind-boggling-facts-about-kim-jong-il/story-e6frf7lf-1226226100974

    They always refer to official NK biographies, but I’ve never read this in any English propaganda published in the DPRK. Does anyone know where one could find this original source for this?

    I’m doubting that this has never been claimed, but do we know how the north Koreans approach this? Could it be that they are popular legends, and not treated as hard facts?

    To quote an interview with B.R. Myers:

    It’s fascinating because, if I’ve read your book correctly, you say the North Korean people know a lot of these stories to be untrue — that’s how they approach them, as fiction about, say, what Kim Il Sung did in his youth — but nevertheless, they treat it as, in a sense, true.

    As I say in the book, you can perhaps compare this to non-biblical tales of Jesus. I grew up in a Christian family, and at Christmas time, or when you read children’s books, you do find stories about Jesus which are not in the Bible. You know — or your parents know, as they’re giving you these stories to read — that they’re not grounded in the Bible, and therefore, in all likelihood, they are simply products of the imagination of a writer. But the important thing is that these stories be true to the essence of Jesus.

    This is how the North Koreans approach those stories. When they read a story about Kim Jong Il having visited, I don’t know, a fishery or a shoe factory, they know that they’re not true, but they believe the essence of Kim Jong Il is properly reflected in the story.

    Source: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2010/04/immersion-in-propaganda-racebased-nationalism-and-the-unfigureoutable-vortex-of-juche-thought-colin-.html

    Any (serious) opinions on this?

    • Steven

      edit: * I’m NOT doubting this has never been said

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