[KS] BAKS website

Keith Pratt k_l_pratt at yahoo.co.uk
Thu Aug 12 14:36:45 EDT 2004

Perceptive BAKS members will have noticed that the
BAKS website (www.durham.ac.uk/BAKS) has not been
updated recently, and worse, that the Book Review
section is defective. I apologise for this. The reason
is that a fault has developed in the system governing
the MS hyperlink function of my computer, and the
engineers inform me that the operating system of the
machine is now too old (it is all of six years...) to
make it worth the expense of repairing. I intend
changing the machine in the New Year anyway, but this
means that in the mean time I am unable to amend or
add to any of the existing files. I have two or three
book reviews to upload, and am awaiting several
others. So with profuse apologies to their authors,
and to all BAKS readers, what I intend to do is to
publish them on the Electronic BAKS network, and then
upload them on to a revamped BAKS website once I have
a new computer. Here is the first, by Jim Foley.
Others will follow.

Keith Pratt
Website compiler

KOREA, Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 280 pages

Kim Ilpyong’s book Historical Dictionary of North
Korea consists of a 26-page chronology of major events
in Korean history from 1918 to 2001; a 23-page
introduction; and the actual dictionary itself, which
contains 147 pages. The text is also supplemented by
four appendices containing the texts of the DPRK’s
1998 constitution, the 1953 Armistice Agreement, the
2000 North-South Joint declaration and the October
2000 DPRK-US Joint Declaration; and a 26-page
Given the dearth of information on the DPRK and the
absence of works of reference in particular on the
North Korean state, Kim’s book does provide a welcome
addition to the literature. As the author states in
the preface, the dictionary relies heavily on the two
main South Korean reference works on the DPRK: Pukhan
Taesajon (1999) and A Handbook on North Korea (1998).
As a simple, easy to use work of reference for the
non-expert on North Korea the book provides a valuable
service. However, for those whose knowledge of Korea
surpasses that of the well-educated layman, or who
wish to use the text as a prompt to further study the
text has a number of serious shortcomings.
The introduction and dictionary itself contain a
number of inaccuracies: some of these are perhaps the
result of the constraints imposed by the brevity of
the book itself, at 280 pages it is difficult to see
how the book can live up to its preface and provide
"the most up-to-date and
comprehensive history of
North Korea"; and some are the result of poor grammar
obscuring the meaning of the entry, or, as in the case
of the heading ‘Central Committee of the Korean
Workers’ Party’ (page 14), albeit unintentionally,
giving inaccurate information. Explanations under such
essential headings as ‘Juche’ also fail to develop or
elucidate vital differences between the DPRK’s
homespun ideology and Marxism-Leninism. For Koreanists
the text is also weakened by inconsistent and
sometimes inaccurate romanisation or the absence of
Korean transcripts or Chinese characters. For example,
headings such as ‘March under Trials’ do not contain
Romanised transcripts of the original Korean. 
Further, although the book includes a long
bibliography, no references are to be found in the
text itself as to the sources of statistics given.
This makes the task of further study and verification
of sometimes contentious data very difficult: for
example, the heading ‘Agrarian Reform’ includes the
claim that "approximately one million
escaped from
North Korea and took refuge in South Korea" (page 3).
However, it is well-known that even the ROK’s leading
demographers cannot agree on the numbers of North
Koreans who crossed the 38th Parallel in the
Post-Liberation and Korean War periods — estimates
range from 250,000 to 4 million. Moreover, important
linkages are not made between aspects of North Korea’s
politico-social system and Korea’s more distant
history: the entry under ‘Five-household System’, for
example, contains no reference to the ‘five families
system’ (O-ga-tong) introduced in the mid-15th century
in the Choson period. On a more basic level, the text
has been poorly edited and errors such as spelling
mistakes abound; dates of birth and death for some of
the biographical information on leading figures in
North Korea’s history also sometimes contradict the
information provided in the entries.

James A. Foley

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