In the early 1960s, the synthetic fiber vinalon became North Korea's national fiber, a product that symbolized the independence and ingenuity of its state-led socialism, from the raw materials needed to make it (the abundant coal and limestone) to the person who invented it (the colonial chemist Ri Sŭnggi, scouted by North Korea in 1950). The Vinalon Factory near Hamhŭng City—a factory originally built by a Japanese chemical company and a city rebuilt with the assistance of East Germany—also became a national emblem of its own, as a factory that arose solely from the toil of the North Korean people. The history of vinalon is a confluence of the colonial industrial system, the postliberation nationalist ideology of state building, the dynamics of multinational postwar reconstruction, and the monopoly of economy and politics by the regime of Kim Il Sung. Vinalon City, as the immense factory was called, was a transnational object par excellence, but at the same time, it was immutably localized for the ordinary North Korean people, replete with its labor heroes who achieved superhuman levels of productivity. This industrial narrative has a dimension of concrete, everyday reality, as vinalon is worn as clothing and produced by the workers. The everyday dimension is precisely where the ideological workings of state power are hidden. Furthermore, the history of vinalon reveals a characteristic of ideology of work—the subsumption of life by labor—a characteristic that is certainly not limited to North Korea.
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Cheehyung Harrison Kim; North Korea's Vinalon City: Industrialism as Socialist Everyday Life. positions 1 November 2014; 22 (4): 809–836. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-2793197
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