The Washington Post

North Korea’s tablet comes pre-loaded with ‘Gone with the Wind.’ Here’s why.

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in a scene from the movie "Gone With The Wind." (Turner Entertainment)

There's almost no Internet access in North Korea -- but that hasn't stopped the isolated nation from having its own version of an iPad called the Samjiyon. Ruediger Frank, a Professor of East Asian Economy and Society at the University of Vienna and Head of the Department of East Asian Studies, writing at North Korean analysis Web site 38 North took a deep dive look at the tablet after he purchased one on a recent trip to the closed off nation. Frank was pleasantly surprised by his purchase, despite its inability to use the Internet. It runs a custom version of Android, has 14 games including Angry Birds, and comes pre-loaded with 488 dictionaries,  reference works and e-books. And among the e-books was Margaret's Mitchell's 1936 classic "Gone with the Wind."

Yes, you read that right, "Gone with the Wind."

The e-book comes with an introduction that explains that the book is "particularly useful for understanding how modern capitalism spread to all of the United States" because it shows how the exploitation of black slaves was the economic foundation of the American colonies and describes the Civil War as "a struggle between the bourgeoisie of the north and the landowners of the south."

It might seem an anachronistic inclusion to the tablet, but "Gone with the Wind" is actually one of the best known pieces of American literature in North Korea according to a report from Tim Sullivan at the Associated Press. The book was officially translated by the government in the mid-1990s, just before the collapse of Soviet Union support resulted in widespread famine. The motivations behind its importation remain unclear; it may have been meant as a peace offering or as an insult to the United States. But regardless of why it was translated, once it was available, it became incredibly popular -- perhaps because the civil war narrative and survival story rings true with the general population for whom life is a near constant struggle with poverty and starvation.

This isn't the first time "Gone with the Wind" has showed up in unexpected places due to its cult status in North Korea. While the movie remains forbidden to the general public, it's sometimes used in English-languages training material for elite government officials. And sometimes, North Korean officials meeting with U.S. envoys have been known to quote from the novel during negotiations.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.



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Andrea Peterson · November 4, 2013

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