In 2002, the Swiss power company ABB appointed Felix Abt its country director for North Korea. The Swiss Entrepreneur lived and worked in North Korea for seven years, one of the few foreign businessmen there. After the experience, Abt felt compelled to write A Capitalist in North Korea to describe the multifaceted society he encountered.
North Korea, at the time, was heavily sanctioned by the UN which made it extremely difficult to do business. Yet he discovered that it was a place where plastic surgery and South Korean TV dramas were wildly popular and where he rarely needed to walk more than a block to grab a quick hamburger. He was closely monitored and once faced accusations of spying, yet he learned that young North Koreans are hopeful—signing up for business courses in anticipation of a brighter, more open, future. In A Capitalist in North Korea, Abt shares these and many other unusual facts and insights about one of the world's most secretive nations.
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Table of Contents
Preface: On the Verge of Glasnost? 7
Chapter 1 Into the Heart of Darkness 17
Chapter 2 Malaise into Opportunity 37
Chapter 3 Look to the Party, Young Revolutionary, and Buy 51
Chapter 4 Healing the Great Leader's Children 77
Chapter 5 Same Bed, Different Dreams 95
Chapter 6 A Manchurian Candidate? 109
Chapter 7 Southerners, Yankees, and "Chinese Lips" 125
Chapter 8 Feeding the People 145
Chapter 9 Flowers of the Nation 167
Chapter 10 Nurturing Revolutionaries 187
Chapter 11 Coming and Going 209
Chapter 12 Partying, Pyongyang-Style 233
Chapter 13 The Price of Glory 257
Chapter 14 The Loss of Innocence 285
Epilogue: Winds of Change 299
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Should be called "A Socialist in North Korea" or "An Apologist for North Korea". For years, I have be researching North Korea, visiting websites that regularly report events in North Korea, and watching youtube videos. I have read every book I could find on North Korea. If I had just read Mr. Abt's book , I might have believed it there was after all no reason to vilify that state. But this book turned my stomach. This man who refers to sources of information about horrific human rights abuses, then dismisses all the information as exaggerated, is a dishonest author. You can find on the web hundreds of statements from defectors that will make you want to devote your life to saving the North Korean people from that nightmarish place. Did all those people invent stories for money as he claims? Mr. Abt does acknowledge many faults with the country, but then he says the same problems exist all over the world. No. Not like North Korea. His praise of Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un are as reprehensible as praising Hitler. I have gotten good information from the details of Mr. Abt's personal experiences and I would recommend the book to people who want to know about how the Pyongyang elite live. But be sure to read other sources.
There are many who, on a relentless diet of Western condemnation of all things North Korean, cannot stomach any view that does not unequivocally vilify the country. It seems to those with this mind-set that anyone, even if they roundly criticize the country’s governance, are characterized as having been blindly taken in by propaganda or labeled as a stooge or apologist if they attempt to cast an accurate light on the actual, contemporary state of affairs in the country rather than unconditionally trashing everything to do with it. Felix Abt finds himself in just such a position; labeled by detractors as a ‘regime supporter’ for his work “A Capitalist in North Korea: My Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom”. But, such a label is not merely inaccurate, but shows that those who are leveling it have missed the point of the book and read it unwilling to challenge their pre-conceptions. If one was to try and put a single label on Mr Abt, it would be far more germane to use John Feffer’s ‘agent of change’. Mr Feffer, as a widely respected writer, is undoubtedly better informed and less tendentious than the average reader and is able to recognize Felix Abt’s role in helping to bring responsible capitalism to North Korea and to try and improve safety and conditions for ordinary workers. The business school that Mr Abt co-founded in North Korea taught putative business executives to build companies which would in themselves bring about positive change by creating jobs and generating income for workers. But it went a lot further, imbuing the students with the social and ethical responsibility which goes hand-in-hand with good business practice: paying decent wages, doing away with child labor, ensuring workers’ safety, protecting the environment, respecting contractual obligations. Several years on, the growth of private enterprise and associated job creation can be clearly seen in the country along with the implementation of the good practices taught at the school. Some of the school’s graduates also introduced truly pioneering business concepts. One, a bank director, introduced the first debit card and another became the CEO of the first advertising company. The latter might not sound that remarkable until one understands that formerly advertising had been banned as “anti-socialist” and is, therefore just one very tangible example of Mr Abt’s role not as a ‘regime supporter’, but an ‘agent of change’. As those who have read the book will know Felix Abt was also president of the first foreign chamber of commerce in North Korea. This became a significant forum for change as he lobbied decision makers for reforms and the establishment of a level playing field for all businesses. The organization was increasingly listened to and changes implemented by those in power helped facilitate the development of businesses and all the associated benefits. “A Capitalist in North Korea” contains many further examples of how Abt helped bring about change in the country; not to help line the pockets or enhance the power of the elites, but to improve the lot of workers and ordinary residents of the country: He sold equipment, specifically safety gear, to mining concerns to modernize and improve the working conditions of the workforce and as the CEO of the first foreign-invested pharmaceutical factory the enterprise was the first to achieve an internationally acknowledged quality standard recognized by the WHO. Strange to many, and counter to the cynical, hard-nosed, profit driven image of foreign capitalists he shared the knowledge with his local competitors to help increase quality standards generally. Neither of these two examples in any way helped the regime in itself; either its members personally or in terms of control of the populace: members of the elite weren’t in danger from dying from working down mines nor were they likely to suffer from the consequences of treating illness with poor quality and ineffective medicines (they had ready access to expensive, imported brands). Doubtlessly people’s lives were not only improved, but also many lives were actually saved. Labels are not always helpful, they are by definition simplistic, but if one has to allot one to Felix Abt is ‘regime supporter’ fair or accurate for someone who is critical, tried to bring about many changes and did nothing to benefit the members of the elites? Or in the light of what he actually did in North Korea is not ‘pioneer’ or John Feffer’s ‘agent of change’ far more pertinent and, indeed, factual?
Clearly not a regime supporter, but a shrewd pioneer and agent of change! A Capitalist in North Korea: Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom” is a well constructed account of conditions in present day North Korea by a man with the cojones ‘to boldly go’ where few capitalists have gone before. And I use the sci-fi allusion quite deliberately as setting up and running capitalist enterprises in such a staunchly socialist, anti-free enterprise (at the time, although as we learn from Mr Abt things are changing) environment is about as alien as setting up a fast-food outlet on the moon!
North Korea has been in the news a lot recently. Of course, much of the attention has been negative and rightly so--it's sort of a mess, what with threats of missile launches, nuclear weapons, and allegations of serious human rights violations. I was curious to read about the country and its people from the perspective of someone who had once, at least sort of, been an insider. I found it here! Felix Abt has written a comprehensive, honest piece about life in North Korea. He truly seems to write objectively, which is refreshing. His anecdotes and observations are so interesting, especially to someone who knows nothing about the region. Overall a great read and highly recommended.
North Korea revealed by an insider: an amazing must-read! It was greatly refreshing to read a first-hand account of what is really happening inside North Korea at the moment, rather than second-hand accounts of what was happening 15 or 20 years ago. Most of what I have read previously has been coming from one viewpoint and has focused on the shockingly grim years of the 1990s, when the country was ravaged by natural disasters, famine and millions died from starvation. I found Abt’s version of contemporary North Korea and its willingness to face change greatly encouraging. It would be nice to think that a few copies could make their way into the upper reaches of the White House and open a few eyes there!