March 04, 2021

Facts unknown: Navigating North Korea’s elephant in the dark

The nature of North Korean studies means researchers are often unsure what is true or false

There is a well-known parable that is usually ascribed to ancient India. It concerns three blind men who are asked to investigate and then describe an elephant. One of them finds the animal’s leg and says that it must look like a tree. Another finds the trunk and says that an elephant must be some kind of snake. The third, having felt the tail, says that the elephant is similar to a rope.

We should keep this parable in mind when we talk about the major problems that students of North Korea face: North Korea is the proverbial elephant.