Pyongyang Yeonpyeong

A journalist’s unprecedented access to North Korea

Soldiers watch the military parade from the stands. {{name}}
Soldiers watch the military parade from the stands. {{name}}
01 January, 2011

IN EARLY OCTOBER, the press corps in Beijing was shocked to discover that North Korea—the world’s most isolated state, which rarely permits entry to foreign journalists—had decided to allow dozens of reporters and photographers into Pyongyang to witness celebrations for the 65th anniversary of the ruling Worker’s Party.

The decision was equally surprising for the North Korean officials assigned to escort and monitor visitors to the hermit kingdom, who were quickly overwhelmed by the volume of curious visitors. Without enough minders to keep tabs on every journalist, writers and photographers seized on the rare opportunity to wander the streets of Pyongyang —to speak to ordinary North Koreans, to enter shops and markets, to take the subway.

This unprecedented opening was no accident: the anniversary celebration coincided with the first-ever public appearance of Kim Jong Un, the youngest son and designated successor of Kim Jong Il, whose debut came amid a carefully choreographed ceremony of parades and pageantry, all of it intended to depict the young Kim as the worthy heir of his father and grandfather, who have ruled this enfeebled state without challenge for six decades.