I have been meaning to write something on the increasing shift in Russia to appreciating the positives of the Soviet era. Or rather, the increasing numbers of Russian scholars at Chinese conferences drawing upon the Soviet experience for common ground with China. However, that will have to wait, for my bed-time reading of late has been none other than Anecdotes of the Life of Kim Il Sung, the founding president of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. So here is the first of a selection, called ‘Arranging Grace Before a Meal’:

On July 3, 1981, Kim Il Sung met the Rev. Kim Song Rak, a Korean resident in the United States.

Kim Song Rak was the president of the Society for the Promotion of National Reunification, an advisor to the South Korean Churches Association and a member of the Corps of Chairmen of the Asociation of the Overseas South Koreans for Democracy and National Reunification in the United States. He had previously served as president of Sungjon University in South Korea.

He had received religious education in the United States and obtained permanent residence there: he was influential in US religious circles and was widely known among US politicians. He was the only Korean to be receiving an annual salary from the US government. In short, he was deeply immersed in anti-communism.

As soon as he arrived in the north, he asked the relevant officials to make arrangements so that there was no news coverage of his activities there, saying that he wanted to return to the United States soon, after a quiet visit to his home-town, Pyongyang.

President Kim Il Sung met him and called him a patriot, praising his national conscience out of which he had made up his mind, though belatedly, to devote himself to the reunification of the country. The President arranged a luncheon in honour of his guest.

Kim Il Sung advised him to say grace before eating.

The Rev. Kim Song Rak was completely taken aback at his host’s advice. His face turned red and his heart beat faster.

His face beaming, his host again urged him to say grace, arguing that he should not violate the rules of Christianity he had observed for his whole life.

The guest’s deep-seated fear and doubts about communism disappeared in an instant.

In fact, he had decided not to say grace on that particular occasion, even if it meant violating the rules of his faith. Moved by his host’s broad-mindedness and magnanimity, he said grace, just as he had done for decades. However, the grace he offered there was totally different from anything he had done before.

He prayed for the good health of President Kim Il Sung, a peerless great man, and for the country’s independent reunification and complete sovereignty.

Before his departure, the Rev. Kim Song Rak asked for a press conference to be convened, contrary to his previous request made upon his arrival. He talked about his feelings when he had said grace before the luncheon: ‘I offered grace because I could not reject the President’s advice. I earnestly prayed for him’ (Anecdotes II, pp. 18-20).

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