War Orphans, Capitalist Family, and Postwar North Korea’s State Form as Exchange

Cheehyung Kim, Assistant Professor
University of Missouri

While a war raged on the peninsula, the North Korea began, in November 1951, sending its children and young adults abroad, a portion of them orphans. The first group of went to Hungary, and over the next decade, as many as ten thousand settled throughout Eastern Europe’s state socialist countries. China alone welcomed twenty thousand. Toward the end of the decade, North Korea called them back home. The circulation of North Korea’s children of war evokes some observations. First, their movement was a part of global circulation of a quarter-million children after the Second World War. An intriguing aspect of this circulation was the movement of children from state socialist countries of Europe to the United States, the very socialist countries that accepted North Korean children. Second, the political economy of socialist solidarity reveals the need for surplus production and international loans in the name of industrial growth. The state’s appropriation of the children’s lives and their transport abroad were carried out as enormous amounts of loans arrived from the countries that took these children. In this process, the children, now removed from the traditional family, immediately attained the economic function of potentially productive workers within North Korea’s production regime, if not already as symbols of collateral for the loans. Finally, the circulation of children is North Korea’s moment of critique of the capitalist family form. The state’s appropriation of the children was an attempt to eradicate the first source of exploitation, the liberal family. The subjugation of women and children within the patriarchal bourgeois family form was to be thwarted by the state form. Moreover, the placement of the transported children not with families but at institutions was a rejection of the adoption market, which North Korea saw, particularly in South Korea, as a new system of slavery.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *