North Korea's Hidden Revolution


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How the Information Underground Is Transforming a Closed Society

Jieun Baek

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The story of North Korea's information underground and how it inspires people to seek better lives beyond their country’s borders

One of the least understood countries in the world, North Korea has long been known for its repressive regime. Yet it is far from being an impenetrable black box. Media flows covertly into the country, and fault lines are appearing in the government’s sealed informational borders. Drawing on deeply personal interviews with North Korean defectors from all walks of life, ranging from propaganda artists to diplomats, Jieun Baek tells the story of North Korea’s information underground—the network of citizens who take extraordinary risks by circulating illicit content such as foreign films, television shows, soap operas, books, and encyclopedias. By fostering an awareness of life outside North Korea and enhancing cultural knowledge, the materials these citizens disseminate are affecting the social and political consciousness of a people, as well as their everyday lives.

Jieun Baek is a Ph.D. candidate in Public Policy at the University of Oxford. Previously, she was a research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University and worked at Google, where, among other roles, she served as Google Ideas’ North Korea expert. Baek received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Public Policy from Harvard. Visit her at

"In the last two decades, North Korea has gone through dramatic changes, largely because the old system of self-isolation began to crumble. In vivid detail, Jieun Baek’s book shows this hidden transformation and how it changed the lives of North Koreans. A truly interesting read for all people interested in North Korea."—Andrei Lankov, author of The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia

"For those befuddled by the Hermit Kingdom's antics and frustrated by our apparent impotence in addressing its challenge, Jieun Baek's North Korea’s Hidden Revolution provides a powerful beacon of light."—Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kenendy School

"A fascinating and intelligent overview of the ways that information is liberating North Koreans' minds."—Robert S. Boynton, author of The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea's Abduction Project

"Drawing on deeply personal and thoughtful interviews with North Korean defectors from all walks of life, Jieun Baek's North Korea's Hidden Revolution sheds invaluable light on North Korea's information underground. It is a fascinating, important, and vivid account of how unofficial information is increasingly seeping into the North and chipping away at the regime's myths—and hence its control of North Korean society."—Sue Mi Terry, former CIA analyst and senior research scholar at the Weatherhead East Asia Institute, Columbia University

"North Korea's Hidden Revolution humanizes a dark part of our world, gives agency and voice to North Koreans, and underscores the power of information in a uniquely closed society. A must-read."—Wael Ghonim, Egyptian human rights activist

"Our usual image of North Korea is of an isolated society cut off from the outside world and trapped in another time. But Jieun Baek shows that this is far from the case. Through detailed observation, exhaustive  research, and extensive interviews with defectors, she reveals a society undergoing tremendous change and becoming connected to the world as never before. Despite the best efforts of the regime to control information flows into and out of North Korea, the country is undergoing an 'information revolution' with far-reaching and unpredictable effects."—Charles K. Armstrong, Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies in the Social Sciences, Columbia University

"This insightful, well-written and disturbing book adds depth and texture to what we think life inside North Korea must be like."—Ambassador Robert Gallucci

"[A] timely and cogent book."—Stephen J. Gallas, Los Angeles Review of Books

"Well written and readable, the book will be of interest mostly to academic specialists and graduate students."—Choice

"A fine primer on the country, based on extensive interviews with defectors."—Min Jin Lee, Times Literary Supplement

"This excellent book shines a light on the lives and feelings of ordinary citizens of North Korea. It lifts a veil that is imposed by the isolation and controls of the current regime. It reveals people thirsting for access to information and motivated by unquenchable  human curiosity and rationality. These are great allies for liberty. At such a worrying time for peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, these human qualities afford us a measure of reassurance and encouragement."—The Honourable Michael Kirby, former chair of the United Nations commission of inquiry on human rights violations in North Korea and Justice of the High Court of Australia

“A fascinating book.”—Nicholas Kristof, New York Times

“The central concern of the book is timely and relevant: What are the social and political effects of media flows in a politically unfree society where information is tightly controlled? . . . The narrative of the book is driven more or less entirely by Baek’s interviewees. This is one of the book’s main strengths.”—Steven Denney, Pacific Affairs
ISBN: 9780300217810
Publication Date: November 15, 2016
312 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
9 b/w illus.

Inside North Korea on the Yale Press Podcast