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North Korea: The Politics of Unconventional Wisdom

Han S. Park
North Korea: The Politics of Unconventional Wisdom
ISBN: 978-1-58826-050-5
ISBN: 978-1-58826-403-9
2002/195 pages/LC: 2002017811

"An important and original book.... [Park] brings to this study first-hand knowledge of life in North Korea that no amount of document-reading or parsing of North Korean publications can match."—Charles K. Armstrong, Journal of East Asian Studies

"An excellent introduction to the North Korean mindset."—Bruce Cumings, University of Chicago


Despite isolation, an impoverished economy, mass starvation, and the challenge of leadership succession, North Korea's socialist state continues to survive.

Han Park explores the reasons for this resilience, concentrating on the implications of mass beliefs and political ideology for the country's political life. Park begins with an examination of Juche, or self-reliance, the ideology that so pervasively penetrates the entire spectrum of North Korean society and guides political behavior at all levels. Drawing on personal interviews and on-site observations, he finds a belief system that is comparable to a theology, and a society that exhibits many characteristics of a religious community. In this context, he discusses regime legitimacy, the economy, foreign and defense policy, and the politics of reunification, as well as the regime's reaction to the market forces of globalization.

It is Juche, Park concludes, that is the locus of North Korea's political culture, central to understanding its politics and policies. Though far from proposing a single-factor explanation of the North Korean system, he demonstrates convincingly that an understanding of the country's doctrine of self-reliance is essential to an understanding of the country itself.


Han S. Park is professor political science and director of the Center for the Study of Global Issues at the University of Georgia. His numerous publications include China and North Korea: The Politics of Integration and Modernization, North Korea: Ideology, Politics, Economy, and Human Needs and Political Development. He has visited North Korea regularly since 1981.


  • Introduction.
  • The Perception Approach.
  • The Advent and Evolution of Junche Ideology.
  • The Philosophical Principles of Junche.
  • The Creation of a Theocracy.
  • Juche Education: Agents and Methods.
  • Conditioning the Human Mind.
  • Junche as a Way of Life.
  • Junche in Domestic Politics.
  • Foreign and Unification Policy.
  • Inter-Korean Relations: A Legitimacy War.
  • The Unconventional Wisdom in Negotiating Behavior: The Weapons Controversy and Beyond.
  • North Korea Sees Itself: Perceptions of Policy Goals, Strategies, Tactics.
  • System Stability and Vulnerability.
  • Conclusion: The Challenges Ahead.