Crass commercials on TV? Not in Kim Jong-il's North Korea.
North Korea's Kim Jong-il was reportedly "enraged" by TV commercials for beer, quail, and ginseng that he thought echoed China's early moves toward market reforms.
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Mr. Kim “was enraged,” according to a source quoted by South Korea’s Yonhap TV network, when he saw the North's network broadcasting commercials for state enterprises – and wanted to know where they came from.
Kim said he believed the commercials “were the prototype of China’s early reforms,” said the source, and feared they might lead to Chinese-style capitalism. His remarks seemed to indicate his deep suspicion of the type of reforms carried out by China in recent years as the Communist giant shifts toward capitalism.
Among the commercials that reportedly upset the North Korean leader was one for a beer with the brand name of Taedonggang, meaning the Taedong River, which runs through the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. Appropriately, the commercials featured frothy mugs of the brew, hailed as “the Pride of Pyongyang."
The mugs were in the hands of attractive women, but it seems unlikely Kim found their presence an affront to taste. They were dressed in traditional Korean Hanbok garb, a conservative national dress style often worn by North Korean women.
Rather, the commercials, including others for state-produced quail and ginseng roots – the latter a Korean delicacy that’s said to have aphrodisiac qualities – were believed to represent the insidious influence of foreign capitalism.
Kim was incensed enough, it was reported, to have fired Cha Sung-su, the director of the central TV network.
Mr. Cha had been one of Kim’s top aides – and was on occasion photographed accompanying Kim around the country since Kim reportedly suffered a stroke more than a year ago.
Kim has been photographed on frequent visits outside Pyongyang and also has received foreign visitors, including Bill Clinton in early August and China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao early last month. Some analysts, however, have suspected that doubles may have been standing in for him on some of his travels.
Kim’s unhappiness on seeing the commercials dramatized his ambivalence about reforms as pushed by China, most recently during Mr. Wen’s visit. North Korea has alternately tolerated free markets around the country and then moved to shut them down or severely limit their activities.
According to Yonhap, Cha may have believed the commercials would be one way not only to attract business to state companies but also to fulfill Kim’s call for “more diverse and interesting programs.” Cha had been director of the central TV network for more than 40 years and also was known as a poet.