China and North Korea: A Conversation with John Delury
Each week, the Asia Blog will feature criticism, interviews and cultural reportage by an exciting group of writers and scholars. John Delury, a Seoul-based specialist in Chinese and Korean studies (who has also written about North Korea for this publication) recently sat down with LARB Asia Editor Jeffrey Wasserstrom to discuss commonalities and differences between two of the last surviving communist states in the world.
JW: As someone who has written about and tracks changes in both China and North Korea, I was wondering what you think is an important but often misunderstood commonality between the two places?
JD: Everyone knows that China and North Korea are among the last surviving Communist states in the world. What is less appreciated is that both regimes have continually drawn legitimacy from nationalist, anti-imperialist sources— and still do today. That is the shared Genesis story of the PRC and DPRK— Mao Zedong and Kim Il Sung were blood brothers, partisan guerrillas fighting first to repel the Japanese invaders in the 1930s, and then to push back the American imperialists in the 1950s.
Image of tourists at the 2010 Shanghai Expo, with North Korean and Iranian pavilions in the background, courtesy Jeffrey Wasserstrom.