Book Description

Despite its nuclear capability, in certain respects North Korea resembles a failed state sitting uneasily atop a shifting internal foundation. This instability is due in part to the devastating famine of the 1990s and the state's inability to fulfill the economic obligations that it had assumed, forcing institutions, enterprises, and households to cope with the ensuing challenges of maintaining stability with limited cooperation between the Korean government and the international community. The ineffective response to the humanitarian crisis triggered by the famine resulted in the outflow of perhaps tens of thousands of refugees whose narratives are largely overlooked in evaluating the efficacy of the humanitarian aid program.

Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea uses extensive surveys with refugees who now reside in China or South Korea to provide extraordinary insight into the changing pathways to power, wealth, and status within North Korea. These refugee testimonies provide an invaluable interpretation of the regime, its motivations, and its capabilities and assess the situation on the ground with the rise of inequality, corruption, and disaffection in the decade since the famine. Through the lens of these surveys, preeminent North Korean experts Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland carefully document the country's transition from a centrally planned economy to a highly distorted market economy, characterized by endemic corruption and widening inequality. The authors chart refugees' reactions to the current conditions and consider the disparity between the perceived and real benefit of the international humanitarian aid program experienced by this displaced population. Finally, the book examines these refugees' future prospects for integration into a new society.

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Editorial Reviews

Witness to Transformation is an enormously important book in that it marks the first methodical study of public opinion among North Koreans. ... The leading scholars of the North Korea famine of the 1990s, Haggard and Noland find a decade later a populace focused on trying to feed themselves through their own market activity, ignoring the regime's attempts to restore the socialist system. Although the North Koreans surveyed were reluctant to criticize Kim Jong Il, ... the majority listened to foreign media and resisted in their own quiet way....

Barbara Demick, author of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Witness to Transformation breaks new ground in presenting the first comprehensive portrait of North Korea based on the experiences and views of the growing number of defectors who have fled the country. They describe an inhuman system that is steadily eroding, and a population that is beginning to awaken from a long night of totalitarianism. This book is essential reading for anyone concerned about the suffering of the people of North Korea and the prospect for peace on the divided Korean peninsula.

Carl Gershman, President, National Endowment for Democracy

Witness to Transformation casts a unique window onto the changing dynamics of the world's most brutalized country, North Korea. Haggard and Noland make brilliant use of interviews with the growing ranks of refugees to extend our understanding of the human rights and humanitarian catastrophe that is North Korea, and to expose its mounting corruption, citizen disaffection, and popular willingness to consider political alternatives. Both for its stunning research findings and its forceful policy recommendations, this book is indispensable.

Larry Diamond, Stanford University

Human rights and the protection of refugees is not a concern of left or right, or of the US only; it is an issue of importance to all Koreans, and indeed all countries. Haggard and Noland provide compelling evidence of the ongoing transformation of North Korean society and offer thoughtful proposals as to how the outside world might facilitate peaceful evolution.

Yoon Young-kwan, former Foreign Minister, Roh Moo-hyun government

...this volume makes a significant contribution to knowledge of North Korean life and institutional changes...Highly recommended.



Selected chapters and sections are provided for preview only.




1. Introduction

2. Perils of Refugee Life

3. Marketization, Reform, and Retrenchment

4. The Penal System and Criminalization of Economic Activity

5. Political Attitudes and Nascent Dissent

6. Conclusion

Appendix A The Surveys: Implementation, Method, and Inference


About the Authors


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