As the early North Korean state (1945–50) sought to groom “proper” revolutionary subjects, many Christian leaders publicly confronted the state. When Presbyterian minister Cho Ponghwan upset revolutionary sensibilities with political commentaries during an evangelical circuit around Hwanghae Province, the people’s courts tried him as a reactionary. This article draws on surviving court records in the North Korean Captured Documents collection to elucidate the pedagogic aims that the state invested into Cho’s trial. Instead of dismissing the people’s courtroom as revolutionary excess, I engage Cho’s trial as an intelligible debate over early North Korea’s secularizing project. Beyond discipline, I demonstrate that the state laboriously instructed Christians on embodying desire for the revolution and refraining from transgressing the state-drawn boundary between religion and politics. Yet, due to the instability of this boundary, the courts also used Cho’s trial to articulate and assert the state’s sole authority over defining and redefining this boundary as a way to manage the sacred in North Korean society. Reading along and against the state’s pen, this article excavates the North Korean people’s court as a crucial site for ironing out the state pedagogy on the reactionary and the sacred in a postcolonial, socialist revolution.

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