Category Archives: publishing

Early Chinese Dictionary Orders

From A Place for Everything, by Judith Flanders (Basic Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 45-46:

On the other side of the globe and in an entirely nonalphabetic writing system, in China during the Han dynasty (206 BCE–221 CE), organizing principles were well in advance of the West’s as far as government administration was concerned. Emperor Cheng (51–7 BCE) commissioned an inventory and catalog of all documents in the imperial archives. Three imperial libraries were built and catalogs were drawn up, organized into subject categories: general summaries, the Confucian classics, philosophy, poetry, warfare, divination, and medicine. Dictionaries were also compiled. The Cangjie Primer (c. 220 BCE) was intended as a textbook to teach children their Chinese characters. It has not survived, but was said to have categorized the characters by meaning and by their structure. So “madness,” “blemish,” “sore head,” and “burn” were grouped together, all being related to the character for “illness.”

This was followed by the Erya (c. 200 BCE), which has been called the first Chinese dictionary. It too was divided topically, by subject, with linked words grouped together within each category, although the connections are not necessarily ones we recognize today: roads and bridges were considered to originate from the court of the emperor, and thus they appear under the heading “Interpreting the Court”; warfare too was the province of the ruler, who was divinely ordained, and thus it fell into the section dedicated to “Interpreting the Heavens.” In around 100 CE the Shuō wén jiě zì dictionary, containing some 9,500 characters, originated a sorting system based not on meaning but on the manner in which a character was written. Each was defined as either a single unit or a compound character, and then categorized by 540 elements, called radicals, which might be semantic elements of the character or might be graphic ones—the direction of a stroke, for example. Each character was then listed under a single radical, which came to define it for lexicographical purposes.

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Neutrality of Alphabetical Order

From A Place for Everything, by Judith Flanders (Basic Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 18-19:

This alphabetic predominance makes it hard for us to remember today that the phrase “alphabetical order” has two parts, and that they might be of equal weight: “alphabetical,” yes, but also “order.” And that all order, and ordering, is not of necessity alphabetical—indeed, for centuries the idea of ordering by random chance, by the letters of the alphabet, was considered less useful than a multitude of other sorting methods—geographical, chronological, hierarchical, categorical. Sometimes things had, and continue to have, no visible organizing method, their innate order being so essential that it is simply remembered. For a medieval clergyman, what would have been the point of putting the books of the Bible in alphabetical order? To him, it was obvious that Genesis comes before Exodus, just as, to us, it is obvious that Monday comes before Tuesday, September before October. In fact, it is surprisingly difficult to put the days of the week or the months of the year into alphabetical order, because the days and months have a “natural” order, one that is not alphabetical.

Other types of categorizing and sorting that were natural to generations past today seem as peculiar to us as April heading a list of the months of the year because it begins with A. Yet in a world more stratified than our own, sorting things hierarchically was once a natural impulse. The Domesday Book, that summary of land occupancy in England and parts of Wales produced for William the Conqueror in 1086, assessed the values of 13,418 places, organizing them first by status, then by geography, then by status again, and finally by wealth. The king came first, followed—broken down by region—by the great clergy, the powerful barons, and, lastly, each district’s most humble tenants.

But of course, for the information in the Domesday Book to be accessible to later readers, they had to know the regions of England and Wales, and the orders of hierarchy—who outranked whom. For, in all the millennia of reading and writing, only one major sorting system has evolved that requires no previous knowledge from the searcher: alphabetical order. To use it, the only thing searchers need to know is a list of approximately (depending on the language) two dozen characters, in an established order. They do not need to know on what continent a city is located to find it in an atlas, nor if a bishop outranks a cardinal to find him in a list of participants at a clerical summit. Neither do they need to know whether the English Civil War preceded or postdated the American Civil War to locate it in an alphabetical list of “Wars Through History”; nor, indeed, do they need to know whether a pumpkin is considered a vegetable or a fruit to search for it in a seed catalog.

Alphabetical order is in this way entirely neutral.

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Potage and Reportage in Vietnam, 1966

From Eat Your Heart Out, Ho Chi Minh: Or Things You Won’t Learn at Yale, by Tony Thompson (BookSurge, 2012), Kindle pp. 139-140:

Cubello took a bunk in a corner of the tent next to Bob Gaylord, a career soldier, former short order cook, and petty thief. Bob found or stole a one-burner kerosene stove and then began to filch food from the mess hall and cook it for us. So we all liked Gaylord despite personal hygiene deficiencies on his part, such as never changing his green army T-shirt.

Army food wasn’t bad as long as the army cooks had nothing to do with it. Gaylord mixed jars of stuffed green olives and anchovies—yes, from somewhere he got dozens of those small flat cans of anchovies—with a stolen gallon can of army beef stew and heated it to tepid on his stove. We craved salty food because of our constant sweating. With enough Tabasco, we thought the salty, fishy stew was delicious.

Time magazine claimed on several occasions that GIs in Vietnam had shrimp cocktail, steak, and ice cream on a regular basis. I suppose that you have to expect a certain level of bollocks from a mass audience magazine, as Time used to be. Time was printed on a useful quality of paper, though. In Vietnam, if you saw a soldier walking in a purposeful manner with a rolled-up copy of Time, you knew where he was going.

Time’s reporting of Vietnam had a more basic flaw. Time’s main local correspondent, Pham Xuan An, had remarkable sources of information. In The Making of a Quagmire, David Halberstam described An as the linchpin of his “small but first-rate intelligence network” of journalists. Halberstam thought that An “had the best military contacts in the country.”

In claiming this, Halberstam was certainly correct. An was a colonel, and later a general, in the North Vietnamese Army. An sent invaluable reports about American activities to North Vietnam via the Cu Chi tunnels.

A full description of An’s role is in The New Yorker of May 23, 2005.

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Effects of Petrograd Soviet Order No. 1

From 1917: War, Peace, and Revolution, by David Stevenson (OUP Oxford, 2017), Kindle pp. 112-114:

The [Petrograd] Soviet’s newspaper, Isvestia, published Order No. 1 on 2/15 [Julian/Gregorian] March. It provided for elected soldiers’ committees in all units above company level, which should send representatives to the Soviet; for the committee to control each unit’s weapons and not issue them to officers; for military units to be subordinated to the Soviet in all political actions; and for them to obey orders from the Duma’s Military Commission only if such orders did not contradict the Soviet’s. Order No. 1 was drafted independently of the Soviet/Temporary Committee agreement about the formation of the Provisional Government, which the order fundamentally modified. And although it supposedly applied to the Petrograd garrison, it circulated rapidly and soldiers’ committees were soon elected across much of the army. Officers remained unelected, but their authority increasingly rested on cooperation with the committees. Although most of the army stayed in place and violence against officers was rare, military authority had been compromised and Russia’s ability to keep fighting and launch a spring offensive would now depend substantially on ordinary soldiers. To judge from the petitions submitted after the revolution to the Provisional Government and the Soviet, opinions were divided. Working-class petitions most frequently supported a democratic republic and constituent assembly, and better pay and conditions, especially an eight-hour day. Foreign policy comments were rarer, and divided between support for a defensive war and support for a peace without annexations and indemnities. Peasant petitions called for a democratic republic but also for an early and equitable peace (and the countryside was where most soldiers lived). Soldiers’ petitions were less pacifist and their main demand was to end officers’ disciplinary powers, although garrisons in the rear were more likely to demand peace negotiations and others inclined towards peace because they feared that officers hoped through war to restore control. The petitions bear out the evidence from the February Days that although lower-class Russians were rarely unconditionally pacifist they were less warlike than were the military, business, and parliamentary elites, and they resented the discipline in the factories and armed forces that underpinned the war effort. During February and March, however, war aims and strategy were not yet central to Russian politics. During April and May they became so, with the consequences of a late and unsuccessful offensive and the rise of the intransigently anti-war and social revolutionary Left. Whereas the Russian elites hoped through the February Revolution to find an honourable exit from the conflict by more effective participation in the Chantilly II offensives, much of the country remained unconvinced and would be drawn increasingly to the Bolsheviks’ advocacy of a more direct escape route, by transmuting the imperialist war into a civil war or by withdrawing unilaterally from the conflict. While the internal struggle proceeded, the revolution proved a delayed action mechanism that might or might not lead to Russia’s withdrawal before America’s involvement became effective. On this issue’s resolution, Europe’s future turned.

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A New Novelist’s Lucky Break

From The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue, by Frederick Forsyth (Penguin, 2015), Kindle pp. 235-238:

The Day of the Jackal had a major problem here because the first chapter is ridiculous. It purported to outline plans for the killing of a former French president who was very much alive, and everyone knew it. So the junior readers’ judgments probably said, “We know the climax already, the plan fails.” Manuscript returned.

Two of my rejections were simple printed forms. One was kind enough to write a letter. I wish I had retained and framed it, but I threw it away. It said the very idea would have “no reader interest.” Then I had yet another lucky break.

I was at a party and was introduced just socially to someone called Harold Harris. I had no idea who he was. Toward the end of the party, someone mentioned that he was the editorial director of Hutchinson, a major publisher.

I had already decided my solution might be to write a three-page synopsis of the plot, pointing out that the point of the story was not the death of de Gaulle, which clearly did not happen, but the manhunt as the assassin came closer and closer, eluding the huge machine ranged against him.

The following day, a Friday in September, I am afraid I ambushed Mr. Harris quite blatantly. I turned up at Hutchinson’s office in Great Portland Street and faced the usual screen of secretaries in place to keep unwanted wannabes away from the Presence behind the big door.

But I explained we were close friends and my call was social. I was allowed in. Harold Harris was puzzled until I pointed out we had met socially the previous evening. His perfect manners caused him not to summon the burly commissionaire, but to ask what he could do for me. I replied: I have a manuscript of a novel.

His eyes glazed over in horror, but I had got this far, so I plunged on. “I know you have no time, so I will not take it up, Mr. Harris. Well, maybe five minutes, tops.”

With this, I advanced to his desk and placed the brief synopsis upon it. “All I ask is that you glance at this and, if you think it is worthless, then chuck me out.”

Looking as if root canal surgery would be more welcome, he started to read. He finished the three pages and started again. He read it three times.

“Where is the manuscript now?” he asked.

I told him with which publisher it had lain for eight weeks. He stared pointedly at the ceiling.

“It is quite out of the question for a publisher to read a manuscript while a copy resides with another publisher,” he told me.

Asking him not to move, which he had no intention of doing, I was out of the office and down the stairs. I could not afford taxis, but I hailed one anyway and drove to the other publisher. It was the lunch hour. I could raise only the hall porter with my demand for my manuscript back, and he found a junior secretary on her sandwich break who retrieved my paper parcel from the reject pile and gave it back to me with a pitying smile. I returned to Great Portland Street and handed it over.

He read the whole thing over the weekend and rang on Monday morning.

“If you can be here at four this afternoon, with your agent, we can discuss a contract,” he said.

I had no agent, but I was there anyway. With my ignorance of publishing, royalties, and contracts, he could have skinned me alive. But he was an old-fashioned gentleman and gave me a fair document with an advance of five hundred pounds. Then he said:

“I am toying with the idea of offering you a three-novel contract. Do you have any other ideas?”

The thing about journalists is that they lie well. It comes from practice. It is also why they have great empathy with, or antagonism for, politicians and senior civil servants. Common territory. “Mr. Harris, I am brimming with ideas,” I told him.

“Two synopses, one page each. By Friday noon,” he suggested.

Back on the street, I had a major problem. The story about the Jackal was supposed to be a one-off, something to tide me through a bad patch. I had not the slightest intention of becoming a novelist. So I tried to analyze the story that had been accepted and to recall what I knew about from personal experience and could use as background. I came up with two conclusions.

The Day of the Jackal was a manhunt story, and I knew a lot about Germany. While in East Berlin, I had heard about a mysterious organization of former Nazis who helped, protected, and warned each other in order never to have to face West German judicial hunters and answer for their crimes. It was called ODESSA, but I had thought it was part of the relentless East German propaganda against the Bonn government.

Perhaps not. Ten years earlier, the Israeli Mossad had hunted down Adolf Eichmann, living under a pseudonym outside Buenos Aires. Perhaps another hunt-down of a disappeared mass murderer?

And I knew about Africa and white mercenaries hired to fight in jungle wars. Perhaps a return to the rain forests, not to another civil war but to a mercenary-led coup d’état?

I wrote both down, as required, on a single sheet of A4 paper and presented them to Harold Harris that Friday.

He skimmed through them and decided without a second’s hesitation. “Nazis first, mercenaries second. And I want the first manuscript by December next year.”

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Path to War in Biafra, 1966-67

From The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue, by Frederick Forsyth (Penguin, 2015), Kindle pp. 163-165:

After August 1966, relations between the pretty traumatized Ibos of the east and the federal government in Lagos deteriorated. In London the mandarins of the Commonwealth Office and later the Foreign Office quickly showed a passionate favoritism toward the federal regime, stoked by the resident high commissioner. British governments do not habitually show such adoration of military dictatorships, but this was an exception that stunned even Jim Parker.

Sir David Hunt quite liked Africans, so long as they showed him respectful deference. Colonel Gowon apparently did. When the high commissioner entered his office at Dodan Barracks, he would leap to his feet, slap on his cap, and throw up a quivering salute. Just once, as the crisis became deeper and deeper, David Hunt came east to visit Ojukwu in Enugu, and quickly developed a passionate loathing for the Ibo leader.

Emeka Ojukwu did indeed rise as his visitor entered the room, but in the manner of one welcoming a guest to his country home. He did not throw up a salute. It quickly became plain he was the sort of African, meaning black man, that the former Greek don Hunt could not stand. Emeka was a British public schoolboy, an MA of Oxford, once a first-class wing three-quarter for the college rugby team, and almost a Blue, an award earned for competition at the highest level. His voice was a relaxed drawl. He showed no deference. Jim Parker, who told me this, was standing a few feet away. Hunt and Ojukwu detested each other on sight, something that was made clear in my London briefing.

Early in his time as governor of the Eastern Region, Ojukwu tried, against all the prevailing wisdom elsewhere, to reinstitute a form of democracy. He formed three bodies to advise him; one was the Constituent Assembly, mainly the professional class, doctors, lawyers, graduates. Second was the Council of Chiefs and Elders, vital in an African society, where age and experience at clan level are revered. Third, surprising to Western eyes, was the Market Mammies Association.

Jim Parker explained to me that Ibo society is almost a matriarchy. In contrast to women in the north, Ibo women are hugely important and influential. The market was the core of every village and city zone. The mammies ran them and knew everything there was to know about the mood on the streets. These were the forces urging Ojukwu to pull eastern Nigeria out of the federal republic.

The public mood was not aggression but fear. Radio broadcasts out of the north threatened that the Hausa were preparing to come south and “finish the job.” Most Ibos believed these threats, the more so as neither federal nor northern government would close them down.

But the real secession point was eventually compensation. Ojukwu had about 1.8 million refugees, all penniless. They had fled, leaving everything behind. At the one single meeting that might have saved the day, at Aburi, in Ghana, Gowon had conceded a withholding of federal oil taxes as an income stream to cope with the crisis. After Aburi, Gowon returned to Lagos and, under pressure, reneged on the lot.

British official sources in Lagos and London briefed the British media that Ojukwu had been grossly unfair to Gowon. He had turned up fully briefed and was simply smarter. That sort of behavior, journalists were told, was obviously unacceptable. After that, the path slid downhill to May 30 and formal secession, and on July 6 to war.

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From Reuters to the BBC, 1965

From The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue, by Frederick Forsyth (Penguin, 2015), Kindle pp. 143-145:

Reuters simply sent me back to Paris to rejoin Harold King, and it was in a silent Paris café in the early spring of 1965 that I watched on a TV screen the state funeral of Winston Churchill.

There must have been a hundred or more around me, all Parisians and not world-famous for their admiration of things British, but they sat in awed silence as the bronze coffin of the old Bulldog was taken to its final resting place in a country churchyard.

I had already made my decision that the future of foreign-sourced news journalism was in radio and television, and that meant the BBC. I got a transfer back to London in April, applied for a job with the BBC, attended the necessary interviews, was accepted, and joined as a staff reporter on the domestic news side that October. As it turned out, that was probably a mistake.

I learned quite quickly that the BBC is not primarily a creator of entertainment, or a reporter and disseminator of hard news like Reuters. Those come second. Primarily the BBC is a vast bureaucracy with the three disadvantages of a bureaucracy. These are a slothlike inertia, an obsession with rank over merit, and a matching obsession with conformism.

Being vast and multitasked, the BBC was divided into more than a score of major divisions, of which only one was the News and Current Affairs Division, which I had joined. That in turn was divided into radio and TV, then Home and Foreign. All starters began in Home Radio, which was to say Broadcasting House on Portland Place, London.

But there was more. It was also and remains at the very core of the Establishment. The calling of a true news and current affairs organization is to hold the Establishment of any country to account, but never to join it.

Then it got worse. The upper echelons of the bureaucracy preferred a devoted servility to the polity of the ruling government, provided it was Labor, and it was.

The icing on the cake was that back then the leadership of the BBC was in turmoil, which prevailed during most of my time there. The former chairman of the Board of Governors had died in office. His deputy, Sir Robert Lusty, presumed the succession to be his. But Labor prime minister Harold Wilson had other ideas. He wanted an even tamer national broadcaster.

Rather than confirming Sir Robert, Wilson transferred his friend and admirer Sir Charles Hill, almost immediately to become Lord Hill, across from the top of BBC’s fierce rival Independent TV to chair the BBC board. There was chaos.

Sir Robert Lusty resigned. Several lifelong veterans went with him. The powerful post of director general was held by a former giant of journalism, Sir Hugh Carleton Greene, brother of novelist Graham Greene, who had set up North German Radio after 1945 to teach the old principles of rigor, integrity, and impartiality. He was the last journalist to head the BBC, and thus to protect the News and Current Affairs Division.

The best German news organization for years was the one he left behind him, but twenty years later in London, he was being sabotaged, and eventually he, too, quit in disgust.

As with any ship, when there is chaos on the bridge, vices were adopted belowdecks. Talentless little empire builders proliferated, using all the Machiavellian tricks of office politics instead of a dedication to the business of news. But at the time this was far above my pay grade and seemed of small interest. Only later did I learn about office politics, just as they effectively destroyed me.

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Under Surveillance in East Berlin, 1964

From The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue, by Frederick Forsyth (Penguin, 2015), Kindle pp. 110-111:

It takes time to accustom oneself to being under surveillance morning, noon, and night. Some people are badly unsettled to know that their office and apartment are heavily bugged; to see the figures in long raincoats pretending to be window-shopping on the streets as they follow you around; to watch the black car with darkened windows moving into position in the rearview mirror on the highway.

My own recourse was to take it as lightheartedly as possible, to realize that even the goons coming up behind are human beings, albeit only just, and we all have a job to do.

It did not take long to find the main “bug” in my office. There was a television, a four-valve model that happened to have five. When I removed the fifth, there was a television repairman on the doorstep within an hour. Before answering the bell, I replaced the fifth valve, then went to make a coffee in the kitchen while he fiddled inside the cabinet. A very puzzled technician left an hour later with profuse apologies for the disturbance.

Opposite the office was an apartment block and, right opposite my own windows, a single black aperture that was never closed and whose lights never came on. The poor mutts sitting beside their telescope must have nearly frozen to death in winter when the night temperature went down to ten below. At Christmas I sent over a bottle of good scotch whiskey and a carton of Rothmans King Size, asking the concierge to send them up to the number I figured had to correspond to the window. That night there was a brief flicker from a butane lighter, and that was all. But it was not all fun and games, and yanking the tiger’s tail needed a bit of caution.

One of the nastiest pieces of work in the regime was the press secretary to the Politburo, a certain Kurt Blecha. He had perhaps the falsest smile on earth. But I knew a few things about Master Blecha. One was his birthday, and another was that in the thirties, he had been a red-hot member of the Nazi Party.

Captured in 1943 on the Eastern Front, he had taken no time to convert to communism, being plucked from the freezing prisoner-of-war camp and installed in the retinue of exiled German Communist leader Walter Ulbricht. Blecha returned with the Communist veteran on the tails of the Red Army in 1945 to become part of the puppet government, the most slavish of all the satellite regimes.

At Christmas, Easter, and on his birthday, I sent him an anonymous greeting card at his office. It was bought in East Berlin but typed on a machine in the West Berlin office of Reuters, in case my own machine was checked. It wished him all best, with his Nazi Party membership number writ large and purporting to come from “your old and faithful Kamaraden.” I never saw him open them, but I hope they worried the hell out of him.

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Western Journalists in East Berlin

From Checkpoint Charlie: The Cold War, The Berlin Wall, and the Most Dangerous Place On Earth by Iain MacGregor (Scribner, 2019), Kindle pp. 121-123:

Mark Wood, embedded in East Berlin, still has distinct memories of the city during that pivotal time. “In the seventies, my overall impression of the city was on the one hand utterly depressing, and on the other, a place of pure decrepit drabness. Walking through East Berlin, one was surrounded by unpainted, bullet-pockmarked buildings, all of which were in poor general repair. The winters were not only renowned for being unforgivably cold, but I also recall the all-pervading smell of briquette dust. The only heating fuel available to us East Berliners were the industrial brown coal briquettes, and I would use copious amounts (my Reuters salary helped) in the old pre–World War Two stove I had in my kitchen (one of only two in the whole building that worked). It still had old pieces of Soviet shrapnel in the tiles. Quite often, a balcony of a nearby neighbor within the block would simply fall off the building through decay and disrepair. At that point the authorities would round up a group of ‘experts’ to inspect one’s own balcony, which usually involved all of them jumping up and down on it in unison to make sure it was ‘safe.’

“East Berliners’ clothing was drab; restaurant interiors, such as existed, were likewise drab. To those marooned in the austerity of the GDR with no access to the delights of the West, only one wine was available and then only sometimes, joyfully labeled ‘Bull’s Blood’ and shipped in from their Communist ally, Hungary. There were regular shortages of everything but the staples, and what could be bought was invariably of poor quality. If an East German saw a queue, they would join it immediately, and only then check what might be on offer. It was no wonder that shopping and entertainment for the very few who had access, like me, was all done in the west.”

For Uli Jörges, the thrill of finding the story was mixed with the energy of youth and living for the moment every day. “There is a special relationship between journalists that cuts across nationalities, language, and culture because you are all in it together, trying to get to the truth of a story amid tough times. We all worked and covered stories in East Germany for Reuters. For Mark and me, it was tricky to get information from the local SED [Socialist Unity Party] press officers, and it made it more fun going up against them to try to find the story we thought was there, that they were hiding.”

For Wood, East Berlin was by its very nature in 1978, to a foreign correspondent’s eyes, never dull. Granted, he didn’t lead the cut-and-thrust life of one of his esteemed Reuters predecessors, the thriller writer Frederick Forsyth, who had not only lived in the same apartment Wood later had but claimed he had rather colorfully managed to circumnavigate his actual day job of reporting to instead enjoy various sexual and undercover escapades in Her Majesty’s service with MI6. “My flat was the only one in the block with a working bathroom. Needless to say, that did not stop the Stasi from bugging it. In fact, I was later told by an ex-Stasi operative in the 1990s that the flat had fourteen listening devices placed in the bedroom alone, as well as my phone being tapped. Two doors down my corridor was a Stasi-owned room, which was the ‘listening center’ for the whole building—I never knew.

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Reporter Meets Minder in North Korea

From Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite, by Suki Kim (Crown, 2014), Kindle pp. 23-26:

On the Philharmonic trip, Mr. Ri and I had chatted so effortlessly that at times it was confusing to make sense of our relationship, since his job was to report on me, and my job as a magazine correspondent, reporting on the event, was not all that different. It is remarkable how quickly camaraderie develops when tensions are high.

The thirty-six hours in Pyongyang on that trip were a whirlwind. It turned out that that was the whole point. It was a PR event carefully orchestrated by the DPRK regime, with the American orchestra providing the incidental music. There was nothing any of us could write about except what we were allowed to see, which was a concert like any other, a few staged welcome performances, and the usual tourist sites. It was a lesson in control and manipulation. The real audience was not those in the concert hall but the journalists whose role was to deliver a sanitized version of North Korea to the outside world, and what shocked me was how easily seduced they were. Both CNN and the New York Times reported that the performance drew tears from the audience, and soon the major newspapers around the world followed with stories about this successful experiment in cultural diplomacy. Lorin Maazel, then the conductor of the Philharmonic, declared that seventy million Koreans would thank him forever. I witnessed no crying in the audience—all handpicked members of the Party elite—nor did any of the correspondents I spoke to after the performance. The tears I recall from that trip were a different kind.

Although it was my second time visiting North Korea, I burst into tears while saying goodbye to my minder. I was not a journalist on assignment in that moment. Instead I was thinking of my grandmother and my uncle, and my great-aunt and her daughters, and of the millions of Korean lives erased and forgotten. Right there, on the tarmac, before boarding the chartered flight with everyone in our mission, I told Mr. Ri that I was sick of this division, and that I would probably never see him again because the people of his country were not allowed to leave or even have contact with the rest of the world, that his country was so isolated that even I, a fellow Korean, could only visit it as part of the American delegation, shadowing the American orchestra, and that it broke my heart to see how bad things really were there. I said all this standing on that tarmac, my face covered with tears, the floodgates open after thirty-six hours of enforced silence. This, in hindsight, was thoughtless of me. I was about to climb onto that flight and return to the free world, but he was stuck there, and the other minders saw this encounter. But, surprisingly, tears ran down his face too, along with the faces of two other minders nearby. They said nothing, just cried and cried.

My first reaction to seeing Mr. Ri here, three years later, was that of relief. He had not been punished for crying with me at the airport. He was okay! Then I felt afraid. He had met me as a journalist, so what would he make of the fact that I stood before him as a missionary teacher? It was a mystery to me why I had been allowed in. Joan and President Kim knew that I was a writer, although they thought of me as a novelist, which they must not have considered a threat. But they had only to Google me to find out that I had in fact published a fair number of articles and op-eds about North Korea. The most recent piece had been a feature essay on defection, a taboo topic. But President Kim had also been very interested in the Fulbright organization—which had given me a fellowship—and asked me to arrange a meeting between him and the Seoul division’s director, which I did. And I had been referred to him by the powerful Mrs. Gund. Whatever the reason, I had passed their vetting.

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