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Sunday, July 21, 2024

‘Prison without bars’: New book exposes the harsh realities of North Korean life

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“I wanted to capture the daily struggles of the North Korean people as they endure yet another challenging day,” Professor Dongwan Kang wrote in his new book, “Life in the Prison State.”

In this book, Professor Kang compiles extensive research materials depicting the daily lives of North Korean residents living in the border regions between North Korea and China, as well as North Korea and Russia. This English edition builds on his previous work, “Shouting for North Korean Human Rights through Photos,” published last November.


One scene from the North Korea-China border shows passengers being asked to disembark for inspection at a checkpoint. [Provided by Professor Dongwan Kang]

Since 2008, Professor Kang has spent 17 years studying the social lives and culture of North Korean residents from a distance in the border regions of China and Russia. The 1,400 km border region along the Yalu and Tumen Rivers has served as his field laboratory, offering a unique vantage point to observe North Korean life.


View of guard posts near the border between North Korea and China [Provided by Professor Dongwan Kang]

In his book, Professor Kang shares his experiences capturing the diverse facets of North Korean life through his camera lens, often facing dangerous situations. From slipping down steep slopes to evading Chinese authorities, his dedication was fueled by a sense of duty to share even the smallest gestures with the world.

His new book is structured around themes of civil and political rights, economic and social-cultural rights, and the rights of vulnerable groups. The photographs include scenes of passengers being inspected after disembarking from taxis, children working, young soldiers carrying food sacks, and workers at hazardous construction sites without basic safety gear.


construction site in the North Korea-China border area shows workers without basic safety equipment. [Provided by Professor Dongwan Kang]

Professor Kang notes, “The scenes captured with my telephoto lens across the Yalu and Tumen Rivers vividly depict the dire human rights conditions faced by North Korean residents, living in what can be described as a ‘prison without bars.’”



Life in the Prison State
By Dongwan Kang
Published by NunadrI

BY YEONGGYO CHUNG, YOUNGNAM KIM [chung.yeonggyo@joongang.co.kr]