Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea


Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland


Washington, DC: Peterson Institute for International Economics

Available From: Peterson Institute for International Economics Press
Publication Date: 2011
ISBN: 978-0-88132-438-9
Binding: paper
Pages: xviii, 182


This path-breaking new study of North Korea, based on large-scale and unprecedented refugee survey in China and South Korea finds that a great many transformations are under way in one of the most isolated, poorly understood and dictatorial countries on earth. In their new book, Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea, the authors find that North Koreans hold their government in low regard and are far more skeptical of official explanations of their misery than is generally supposed. An overwhelming majority of refugees surveyed support unification with the South and report that their peers remaining in North Korea hold similar views.

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"Witness to Transformation is an enormously important book in that it marks the first methodical study of public opinion among North Koreans. This of course is practically impossible given the level of repression in North Korea, but Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland have nevertheless mined gold from surveys of refugees who've fled to China and South Korea. The leading scholars of the North Korea famine of the 1990s, Haggard and Noland find a decade later a populace focused on trying to feed themselves through their own market activity, ignoring the regime's attempts to restore the socialist system. Although the North Koreans surveyed were reluctant to criticize Kim Jong Il, or even to make jokes, the majority listened to foreign media and resisted in their own quiet way--by living their own lives with as little interference as possible from the regime."

--Barbara Demick, author of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

"Witness to Transformation breaks new ground in presenting the first comprehensive portrait of North Korea based on the experiences and views of the growing number of defectors who have fled the country. They describe an inhumane system that is steadily eroding, and a population that is beginning to awaken from a long night of totalitarianism. This book is essential reading for anyone concerned about the suffering of the peiople of North Korea and the prospect for peace on the divided Korean peninsula."

--Carl Gershman, President, National Endowment for Democracy

"Witness to Transformation casts a unique window onto the changing dynamics of the world's most brutalized country, North Korea. Haggard and Noland make brilliant use of interviews with the growing ranks of refugees to extend our understanding of the human rights and humanitarian catastrophe that is North Korea, and to expose its mounting corruption, citizen disaffection, and popular willingness to consider political alternatives. For both its stunning research findings and its forceful policy recommendations, this book is indispensable."

--Larry Diamond, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution
and Freeman Spogli Institute, Stanford University

"Human rights and the protection of refugees is not a concern of left or right, or of the US only; it is an issue of importance to all Koreans, and indeed all countries. Haggard and Noland provide compelling evidence of the ongoing transformation of North Korean society and offer thoughtful proposals as to how the outside world might facilitate peaceful evolution."

--Yoon Young-kwan, former Foreign Minister, Roh Moo-hyun government