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North Korean Defector says Soap Opera encouraged him to break for freedom

Whilst South Korean soap operas have long drawn a wide fan base for their excellent production values and superb acting, not too mention beautiful actors, no one watching them could guess that they might one day foment the overthrow of a government.

There’s a saying that the Revolution will be televised. But in the case of Jan Se-Gul, it was watching the 2008 K-Drama “Scent of a Man” that led him to leave North Korea and defect to non-communist South Korea.a

Se-Gul led a relatively prosperous life in the country. As a university professor he could sit in a different seats in restaurants and trains. But he couldn’t resist watching the illicit TV episodes, even though to watch such material carries harsh penalties. Mr Jang and five other professors watched the show until dawn. They were careful to pull the curtains to escape the watching eyes of neighbours who are trained to catch their fellow citizens. But they were caught anyway and demoted to work in a labour camp.

It was watching the drama that made Mr Jang aware of the comforts of life in South Korea, and he decided to defect. He is now head of a defectors group that sends soap operas to the North to empower people to bring an end to the authoritarian rule of the Kim Dynasty.

Jang Se-yul risked his career to watch Korean soap operas. He now sends dvds from across the border to encourage North Koreans to bring down the regime.
Jang Se-yul risked his career to watch Korean soap operas. He now sends DVDs from across the border to encourage North Koreans to bring down the regime.

The leader has issued increasingly strong warnings and there has been a severe crackdown on smugglers. Even so, the infiltration of South Korean culture, its music, TV and films is clearly having an effect north of the border. Its harder and harder for Kim Jong-un to rail against capitalism when life as shown on soaps is so much more civilised.

For some North Koreans, the emotional power of watching the soaps has been powerful enough to change their lives, forever.

Kim Seung-hee is one. She watched her first drama “Stairway to the Heaven” after soldiers who asked to use her home for warching, and was hooked immediately. She felt that Korean men as depicted in the dramas were much kinder and considerate towards women. It made her yearn for South Korea, dreaming of meeting such a man.

It’s testament to the oft-quoted Korean wave that has been sweeping the world and another example of soft power, that allows states to influence other nations through their culture rather than using other, often aggressive, means of demonstrating their nationality.

Source: International New York Times.

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