Guest Seminar with Dr. James Hoare: North Korea – What We Know and What We Don’t Know

Hi all,

This post is a little late as I have been rather busy and distracted with university work recently, I apologise!

A month or two ago I attended a guest seminar at my university held by Dr. James Hoare. Dr. Hoare is a British academic and historian who specialises in Chinese and Korean studies. He studied at SOAS, the London School of Oriental and Asian Studies and is a long-standing member of the Anglo-Korean Society, the Royal Asiatic Society and the Royal Society for Asian Affairs. He was appointed as British Chargé d’affaires in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Dr. Hoare’s seminar gave us us an insight into his work and life living in the capital of North Korea, a country known for its dictatorship, consequential leaders and, more recently, its government-regulated haircuts. His work involved laying the foundations for the establishment of a British embassy in Pyongyang, following the re-establishment of British-North Korean diplomatic relations.

As someone who attended the seminar with a general interest in the Korean Peninsula, rather than as an international politics/relations student, I rather enjoyed his somewhat casual approach to the lecture which included lots of photos and little anecdotes from his life spent in North Korea. To hear about life for a foreigner inside on of the most secretive countries in the world was fascinating and quite eye-opening.

The seminar left me feeling rather more informed about the situation in which the North Koreans are living in. One of the main points was about the omnipresent surveillance of the people, both foreign and native, something which brought Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Big Brother to mind (something which James Hoare referenced himself, in fact). Besides the very obvious, there was a very interesting point made which made me think a little about the people living in North Korea. Dr. Hoare explained (in better terms than my own) that while all this evil and repression and horror goes on that we as foreigners can see/hear/read in the news, there are thousands of people that live regular lives. They go to work, go to school, care for their children, go grocery shopping, etc. While it is sad that these things happen because they know no better than their leader and their nation, it struck a chord with me that a large percentage of North Koreans are no different to us in that they go about their lives every day without a second thought. Maybe it’s just me, but I found this point quite interesting.

So after a rather rambling and possibly probably unfinished post (thanks to my laziness in completing this entry), I just want to say a big “thank you” to Dr. James Hoare for letting me in on a little of his life and work in Pyongyang, North Korea. It was a very interesting seminar from a very achieved man with some captivating stories!

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