Pyongyang in Ink and Concrete: North Korean Urban Modernism in Kim Il Sung Period Fiction, 1967-1994

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This research fills a lacuna in the research on North Korean official culture by elucidating North Korean urban modernism of the Kim Il Sung period (1967-1994), a period which has been framed in extant research as a move away from, rather than toward modernity. I explore the urban modernism of capital construction fiction, that is, North Korean fiction which portrays the construction of the North Korean capital Pyongyang from the perspectives of manual labourers, architects, urban planners, managers, party functionaries and the Leader (Kim Il Sung/Kim Jong Il). Capital construction fiction first emerged as a genre during this period and is intimately connected with both the personality cult of the Leaders, and a unique vision of urban modernism. This research explores Ch’oe Haksu’s Pyongyang Time (1976), the seminal work of capital construction fiction and one of the most important novels in the canon of Juche literature, and two other examples of capital construction fiction. I analyze the way in which this body of literature presents its own version of the city strolling flâneur, how it prizes urban planning, and how it frames its own picture of urban modernism in contradistinction to the capitalist city. The picture of North Korean urbanism that emerges is one that is decisively modernist: North Korean flânerie is in evidence and calls on characters to participate in construction. Urban planning allows for the compression of time, enabling Pyongyang to speed its way into new stages of teleological development as part of an ever-accruing schema of progress. Marked differences to capitalist urban modernism result from it being a form of Asian, anti-Western alternative modernity in its self-conception, with grounding in “ethnic form”—but this is not traditionalism. If modernism is defined according to belief in progress, North Korean urban modernism may even be hypermodernist.


Type of resource text
Date created August 27, 2021
Date modified December 5, 2022
Publication date August 27, 2021


Author Sigley, Alek ORCiD icon (unverified)
Degree granting institution Stanford University, Stanford Global Studies, Center for East Asian Studies
Thesis advisor Zur, Dafna


Subject Korea (North)
Subject Fiction
Subject Literature, Modern
Subject City planning
Subject Korea (North) > Pʻyŏngyang
Genre Text
Genre Thesis

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Sigley, A. (2021). Pyongyang in Ink and Concrete: North Korean Urban Modernism in Kim Il Sung Period Fiction, 1967-1994. Stanford Digital Repository. Available at


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