In The Economist this week an intrepid reporter accompanies a group of Chinese tourists into the top part of North Korea, just past the border with China. These Communist Party members mourn the days gone by – back when the state provided and free enterprise was forbidden. Today ordinary Chinese have to work to survive and many are forgotten in a country overtaken by business.
“During their four days in North Korea in October, the Maoists found a country that appeared to be following the right path: one that, in their view, Mao had started down but which his diminutive successor, Deng Xiaoping, had abandoned. “Dwarf Deng destroyed the lives of peasants,” says one member of the group, staring from the bus at new two-storey houses in the countryside on the way to Mao Anying’s memorial in Hoechang county.” The Economist
Living in Hong Kong and traveling regularly in Mainland China, it’s hard to see why anyone would envy the lives of North Koreans. In her groundbreaking book “Nothing to Envy“, Barbara Demick describes the day-to-day lives of ordinary North Koreans in biographical format. The landing page for the non-fiction book has an eery description:
“What if you had to live in a country where radio dials were fixed to a single government station? Where the surroundings were entirely black-and-white except for the red lettering of the propaganda signs? Where you were required to keep a large portrait of the president on your living room wall and bow to it on national holidays? Where sexuality was repressed except for purposes of reproduction?”
It really does sounds like, ehr, nothing to envy!
But change can force strange bedfellows. You may not like where you are but in retrospect the “good old days” like, uhm, good. In 2003 the German film “Goodbye Lenin” told of a passionate Communist mother falling into a coma just before the Berlin Wall collapsed. Her doctor says any shock could kill her – so when she wakes her children go to absurd lengths to recreate for her the life of an ordinary East German.
So maybe it’s not unusual for Chinese to miss the “good old days” of state-run enterprises, free healthcare, guaranteed housing, low-cost food and all the other benefits. In America I have friends who listen to nothing but “classic rock” radio stations. They miss their gas guzzling muscle cars and cell phone-free existence. Imagine the good old days before Facebook?
Perhaps there’s an opportunity here. Maybe we can run tour groups into North Korea to experience all that has been lost. We can air drop in Tori Spelling and others for a round of “I’m a Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here.” The obese can experience below-subsistence diets as ways of removing unwanted pounds.
And think of the merchandise opportunities! T-Shirts, photos with dictators, canned meals and more. (Note to self: Check if merchandising Communist purity is a Catch 22.)
For those missing state planning and a derelict economy then North Korea is the holiday destination for you. It sure appeals to die-hard Communists from China!