DPRK: The Land of Whispers

2013, Society  -   79 Comments
Ratings: 8.43/10 from 63 users.

North Korea lies somewhere between a 1930's Soviet Union frozen in time and a dark, futuristic vision of society... as imagined back in the 70's.

Land of Whispers invites you to visit arguably the most unique and isolated travel destination in the world - not to criticize, but to observe and listen.

Aside from usual highlights such as Pyongyang or Arirang, this unique one-man documentary brings you to areas such as Chongjin or Wonson, still virtually unknown to even Google or Wikipedia.

There, the author attempts to pierce through the ever-present 'national mythology' and as much as possible, he tries to connect with people - such as the waitress mesmerized by tablet computers, or a tour guide cautiously fascinated by modern pop culture.

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79 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Karl

    This a well produced and presented documentary. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to watch it. I am sure there are things that we will never see but I wish them well.

  2. griggson

    interesting documentary, lousy presentation

  3. matt

    god, one day it will get better for these people. i really hope.

  4. Brogan M

    "they didn't want to be friendly" - I don't know how I would feel if you were up in my face with your camera either. I don't think that particular mannerism visiting such a country would do us foreigners any favors.

  5. fk_censors

    Perhaps the filmmaker (otherwise to be commended) does not give the Koreans enough credit for their intellect, and thinks that indoctrination actually worked and that many of them actually "believe" the propaganda. Fear will make you say many things, see George Orwell's 1984. I lived in a communist country, and private thoughts were never shared outside the home, often times not even inside the home. Therefore, he shouldn't be so sure that people buy that stuff, they just do what they have to do. This filmmaker looks and sounds Eastern European, but he might be too young to have experienced this mindset. Anyone who grew up during that time period can understand and sympathize with the North Koreans (of course, their version of Communism is on steroids compared to the European versions, but that's probably because they take things more seriously as a people). Looking at history, it could very well happen that one sudden day, when the dam breaks (so to speak), all these statues will be torn down or sprayed with graffiti, with the true thoughts of the North Koreans in the open.

  6. Duck.I.Says

    I will watch almost anything about North Korea. I find it fascinating, weird, and frozen in time. However, when I started this documentary, I did not think I would like it. Admittedly, the author/director/narrator grew on me. His heart and his thoughts were open and respectful, (without selling out), and quite beautiful. Ergo, I enjoyed it more than I've enjoyed many other docus on the topic and was excited to see different places than the normal documentaries show. Thanks for sharing what you saw and experienced, Chyrstian.

  7. Armando Gonzalez

    Propaganda is a power tool used to indoctrinate the population under control of dictatorships. Propaganda in western countries has different name: it is publicity. Publicity educate us to consume. Do you have mony in your saving account?

  8. Prchan

    Inspiring. Great job. Hello from South Korea.

  9. Deborah Moderate

    The fact that the woman with the ipad was fascinated due to her not having used or seen one before makes me wonder if this country needs capitalization and democracy. Because they have never had these luxuries, which is what they would be to them, do they truly need them at all? There is no advertizing bill boards, no visual pollution, no air pollution other than what floats across from China. Who are we to say they 'should' have anything, if they have never experienced them. It appeared to me none were particularly fascinated in the film camera, most had smiles on their faces and none were shocked or in awe of the film crew. If there is one thing every other democratic styled county in the world does do it is waste on a grand scale. This is absent in North Korea other than their false flag exotic empty buildings, sadly used to impress the few tourists who visit which creates the opposite to what they most likely wanted to achieve, proof they too are civilized. I wonder if this country were to be left alone, would they then not come out of their shell. So long as the rest of the world demands of them, the more they retreat into their shells.

    1. bazmeque

      That's absolutely bizarre. So long as there is a certain Kim Jong-un at the helm of this wreck of a nation, there is no "they", as in "sovereign citizens". There is just a psychopath leader, and a nation of slaves. So should *he* ever wish to "come out" of some "shell", then perhaps. And then again should he not - which is infinitely more probable - then not. And "waste"? And "proof that they're civilized"? Do give me a break. We waste on tablets and advertisement, they waste on military and let their people starve. Great. And I don't know what "civilized" means in your universe, but in mine, that adjective would generally describe just about nothing in all of DPRK. And "who are we to say they 'should' have anything" - well who the hell is some Kim Jong-un (and his father and grandfather), and his abominable government lackeys, to do the very same?

    2. Rafael Oprinsen

      I was looking for this comment. We westeners think we know everything, when we recieve just as much (if not more) propoganda than them. Do they really need internet, mobile phones, tablets and Xboxes? Look what those things have done to our society.. Kids dont talk anymore, but they sit with their head tilted at 45 degrees looking at a little screen and experiencing the illusion of being social. The kids in North Korea seem smart and very talented. I bet they are teached to play instruments and to respect other people. They dance, sing and talk. They are probably the purest nation out there.
      Im not saying, however that North Korea is perfect, but it sure as hell is more close to it than our animal torturing, propoganda, sick subconsious advertising, GSM signal, fake politician, full of filthy greedy jewish bankers, etc. society. We do not know **** about them, but this documentary showed that even tho they may not lead the best life, they are spared of the devilish idea of capitalism and also the american definition of 'democracy'.

  10. cavebear09

    I found it an excellent docu about N.Korea. Too bad he could not get the ppl to chat with him as much as he tried. The ppl in general are very lovely and the children accomplished and so cute.

    As I thought about this I am sure the children are easily taught to perform since there is little else for them to do. Were it anywhere else the kids would be playing on their smart phones, computers and ipads therefore having little time in general to learn to perform..lol

    I was impressed with this fellow's tenacity to persue his filming. He had a lot more nerve than I would ever have. As in any communist or dictatorship country they 'know' exactly where the tourists are in every minute of the day. You cannot simply 'walk away' but must do as they say.
    Good stuff, hope he gets back there again!

  11. A reply

    Interesting documentary. It's difficult to get a true perspective of that country. A while back I came across a North Koreaan documentary called "Propaganda"; their perspective on our way of life. An fascinating viewpoint to say the least. You might want to watch it. I hope Vlatko posts it here, it would make for interesting discussion. It's on Youtube.

  12. ViceroyOfMars TheAlien

    Best take on NK to date - the producers of this video are to be congratulated. "Thank You". . It all goes to show being different doesn't make you an enemy. The real enemies are corrupt people who start wars for profit & hegemony.

  13. Nick Burd

    Thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating piece. In a non-offensive and personal way it achieves some of the main objectives of what 'documentary film making' is, in my opinion, should set out to achieve. After all, It has obviously made quite a few viewers express quite different emotions and opinions. Some more educated than others but at least we get the opportunity to express, read and reply. It is obviously a highly staged and heavily shaperoned tourist view of the DPRK but that certainly was no fault of either the tour party, the film maker, or not even the Tour Guides themselves. The guides were doing their jobs and after being 'educated' from a young age with the belief in their history and with the experience of the war in the 1950's still having effects and in living memory, it's to be expected.

    I have spent most of my working life in the Services and have had lots of 'interesting' first hand experience of how life is in many so-called democratic, first-world countries and states. And whose people experience, daily, more oppression, poverty, prejudice and fear of violence from leaderships than the people in the DPRK. I don't agree with the fantasies they are force fed and there is no quick fix for that. I don't think pity or suddenly unleashing capitalism on them is right either. But Isolating them is definately not the answer. I hope the attention and the events recently will focus the minds of people and help things balance out and change.

    And if you still think DPRK cities and roads are a mess and oppressive, you should spend a day and night or two in Naples!! In a EU country!!

    Great Film top marks!!

  14. Zorro

    Let's hope the Nth Koreans are liberated from oppression in a peaceful manner. I am not that optimistic though when the adolescent fat boy running the show potentially has deliverable nukes. A sensitive and very well presented documentary with an excellent commentary.

  15. Luis Fernando

    Uau ...Almost no people in the streets.

  16. Facebook User

    White westerner propaganda.

    1. Jack1952

      Its not propaganda if its true.

  17. Facebook User

    The author of this documentary obviously went to North Korea already prejudiced against the country and its people which is not surprising coming from a White westerner.

  18. Susann Eddy

    The contrast between Korea and its empty stores with the US and the kind of liquor stores found in mostly poor neighborhoods is eye opening and hard to imagine unless someone is experiencing it or at least has seen it. These kind of liquor stores often carry "food", such as junk food and processed food which serves as the main "nutrition" of many people who cannot afford transportation and cannot get to markest that offer healthy food items.
    The question is what is worse? to live in a situation where there are empty stores and perhaps also some food shortages for just about everyone except the "dear" leaders? or to live in a Western society where in general people have the privilege to travel and shop freely while certain groups of people do not have that opportunity, and thus are kept away from that kind of freedom.
    Both of these present issues that are not acceptable!

    1. Jack1952

      If the people in those poor neighbourhoods would buy nutritious food, people would sell it to them. Put the good food on those shelves and the locals would walk right by those shelves to pick up the liquor and junk food. The problem is lack of education, drugs and an unstructured family life. The American government does have to answer for some of these problems but the ultimate responsibility lies with the individuals who live in those neighbourhoods. If one is waiting for someone else to fix his problems, he may have to wait a long time.

    2. Kateye70

      Jack, this issue of 'food deserts' has been going on in American inner cities for years.

      Its not just that the nutritious food is there for the taking and is being 'passed by'. It simply isn't there. Over the last 30 years or so, inner city ghettos have lost their supermarkets, period. I've seen it myself.

      They instead are offered 'warehouse' stores that sell only canned, processed foods--sometimes extra cheap because 'slightly damaged'--left in piled up cartons instead of displayed on shelves for the lowest possible overhead. Or corner stores that sell junk food, cigarettes, and liquor if the laws allow. No fresh food to be had. Period.

      Are poor people--who, as you say, walk right past the nutritious food to the liquor and junk--somehow supposed to be better at resisting the incessant marketing done by food, liquor and tobacco conglomerates than middle class people?

      I've been aware since the 1970's that ghettos are disproportionately targeted by liquor and cigarette companies for advertising. Expecting people who by location receive poorer quality education to make better choices than their suburban counterparts who attend well-funded schools isn't very realistic.

      IMHO, Susann has a good point.

    3. Jack1952

      This has a chicken or the egg feel to it. Do those stores not sell the good food because no one buys it or do the people not buy it because it isn't there? A store owner is naturally reluctant to buy fresh fruit and vegetables if this produce rots on the shelves. Canned goods will be sold eventually so it is a better investment for the store owner. If the people want fresh produce and are willing to pay for it someone will be willing to sell it to them. Alcohol and tobacco use increase with poverty and lack of education. Advertisers aim marketing strategies at those most likely to buy. No point in aiming cigarette advertising at the highly educated. Smoking has been on the decline because of social pressure in this group for decades and it would be money poorly spent. Spend it where the return is the highest. Basic economics.

      It may be harsh to say that one has to overcome the realities of living in a poor neighbourhood on one's own but given the circumstances and the unwillingness of the government to help, what other option is there? If no one is willing to help, a person either gives up or stubbornly finds his own way out. I wish things were different but given the attitudes of the Tea Party types I doubt it will change any time soon.

  19. Jim Cramton

    Other docs about North Korea: "This food sucks. This hotel sucks. Those people's lives suck."

    This one: "These people are amazing. I have to show the rest of the world."

    As someone who's seen great and terrible documentaries, this one is very good.

  20. apaulocreed

    Spoilt student Krustys show us their holiday highlights=Riveting!

  21. Kel

    Excellent documentary in content, style and simply for managing to pull it off as you did. The quality exceeds that of many huge media outlets. The dialogue was very well presented and well thought through. Congratulations! I feel lucky to have had the good fortune to happen upon the link. I enjoyed it immensely.

  22. Peter Wilson

    95 % of comments seem oblivious of the fact that the U.S. blew up every building (homes included) until they couldn't find anymore significant properties to destroy and killed millions of civilians---and since has maintained a threatening presence on their borders while constantly sabotaging North Korean efforts to trade productively with the rest of the world. To suggest N. Korea's current state of affairs is their own doing and to criticize their "sabre-rattling" as if the U.S. were not an actively-engaged enemy is delusional. None of the commenters so far can imagine the psychological impact of deadly drones flying overhead each day, of U.S.-funded death squads making rounds through your neighborhood, or, in the case of North Korea, of being threatened with invasion by a proven powerful and murderous regime (yeah, that is the USA for them). I oppose coercive governments period (especially ones that don't respect property rights---which is basically all of them), but having a deadly and threatening enemy that won't let up must be reckoned with and is a serious disadvantage that westerners can't comprehend.

    1. Jack1952

      They blew up every home in North Korea. When did they do this? More importantly, where did you get this information from?

    2. Peter Wilson

      "On 12 August 1950, the USAF dropped 625 tons of bombs on North Korea;
      two weeks later, the daily tonnage increased to some 800 tons.[253] U.S. warplanes dropped more napalm and bombs on North Korea than they did during the whole Pacific campaign of World War II.[254]

      As a result, almost every substantial building in North Korea was destroyed.[255] The war's highest-ranking American POW, US Major General William F. Dean,[256] reported that most of the North Korean cities and villages he saw were either rubble or snow-covered wastelands.[257][258] US Air Force General Curtis LeMay commented, "we burned down every town in North Korea and South Korea, too."[259] [citations of course at wikipedia---"Korean War"" While my original statement had some ambiguity, it certainly does not state "They blew up every home in North Korea"

    3. Jack1952

      That was over sixty years ago after North Korea invaded South Korea backed by China and the Soviet Union. The world had just went through WW2. To give you an example...my parents grew up facing the horrors of Nazi occupied Holland. They firmly believed that the Communist threat was another danger just like Nazism. The people that lived in the Allied countries did not want to go through again what they saw as another invasion of Poland. They wanted to stop it in its tracks before another world war began. It was a horrific action designed to halt an even larger one.

      You are applying twenty first thinking to post WW2 realities. Also, just because the North was bombed does not give the "dear" leader the right to set up his own cult of personality and force the people to go through great privation to feed his giant ego. Those bombs have nothing to do with the oppression and hunger his own people have had to endure.

    4. Peter Wilson

      Interesting arguments, but I'm going to stick with consistently condemning the intentional murder of innocent humans

    5. Peter Wilson

      Assuming you are countering my original statement, let me complete your statement: " Those bombs [and the U.S.' maintaining a threatening presence on N. Korea's borders while constantly sabotaging North
      Korea's efforts to trade productively with the rest of the world] have nothing to do with the oppression and hunger his own people have had to endure." Amazing. No effect at all.

  23. Kaj

    Very interesting. Thanks you very much for sharing this with us all.
    Greetings from Sweden.

    1. bringmeredwine

      Hello to you too, from Canada!

  24. Meremortal

    As a free spirited traveller you have covered the DPRK scenario quite well. Bravo. However, the point of DPRK opening itself to the world only to provide "cheap" labour is so atypical and unsprited. I think it's important for us to start looking at people and countries from a "non economics" standpoint. All the nobles not withstanding, the Economics school of thought has repeatedly failed (check out the other documentaries listed here).

    1. fonbindelhofas

      well said. No advertising raping my eyes on every step, no homeless people in the streets, no big business trampling on living creatures...
      Im not telling life is good in there, oh no... life is most likely horrible, but whats the difference between radical fanatical left and radical fanatical right? most of us are more horrified by boys from Texas with big guns and bibles shouting encouragements to nuke middle east.

    2. fk_censors

      Go to North Korea. Go to Texas. Compare where people are freer, better off materially, and happier. Then see if you come back with idiotic statements like the above.

    3. Rick Kiriakidis

      The problem is not the DPRK opening themselves up, its imposing sanctions on THEM and closing them off. WE are closing them off to the rest of the world by imposing economic sanctions on THEM. If we were to lift those sanctions they could have better quality of life and maybe start wanting to open themselves up to the 21st century with the internet, tv and free press. Doing business around the world and who knows, even travelling abroad to do business.

    4. Meremortal

      The sanctions are there for a number of reasons. The most significant among them, like I see it, is economic non-compliance. Try this out (I did in India). Disconnect any 1 of your public utility services for a month and see what happens. You will find the service provider sniffing around your home checking for "self reliance / sufficiency". It's simple, you are disrupting the economic cycle. Nobody likes that.

      I feel the DPRK is facing so many issues, not only due to its aggressive foreign policy, but also due its inaccessibility to the economic cycle.

      My point is why should I bother you if you would like to be left alone.

    5. Kaj

      USA and Russia created this whole mess. Of course they are aggressive when always attacked one way or another.

  25. disqus_41nBEHWDWL

    This is the second doc that I see about north korea. They seem to live in another planet. What a lot of good things in life they are loosing. Someone has to release those people from that suffering. Maybe the time has come!

    1. bringmeredwine

      A couple of years ago, I watched a doc about North Korea, made by people who smuggled hidden cameras in their clothes.
      The footage was so sad, showing starving children crawling around the dirt in a market place, trying to find grains of rice to eat.
      The country was suffering from famine. (my understanding is that it never ended).
      There were sacks of food for sale in this market, which had been donated by a relief agency.
      I'll never forget it.

  26. john Palermo

    And which nation among us is not subject to patriotic brainwashing? Question really should be which nation among us has invaded and killed more humans in defense of their patriotic views. This is where the real issue lies.

  27. john Palermo

    Thinking of moving there myself, at least they can see the stars at night.

    1. Jack1952

      You don't have to move to North Korea to see stars at night. I visit the family farm all the time, about ten kilometres out of town, and the stars are spectacular.

      I pay homage to our dear leader every day...Mr. Stephen Harper. I am so grateful for all he has given us. I dare not criticize his wonderfulness nor tarnish his image by complaining. That would be immoral and I would deserve all the retribution our great country and dear leader would wreak upon me. God bless Stephan Harper. I hope to erect a statue of his eminence, soon, to show my loyalty. If I don't eat for two months, I should be able to do it. I'll turn my hydro off, too.

    2. bringmeredwine

      Thanks for the laugh!
      From another loyal Canadian!

  28. dewflirt

    Lovely. Funny that the guy at the end mentioned that their leader wanted the country to be like heaven, strikes me that it already is. Top Dog issuing orders and demanding constant praise and his flock fearing that non compliance will only mean hell ;) Still like to visit though, see what it feels like to be an alien :)

    1. Pysmythe

      You didn't feel a little alien in Alabama? Come on, now!

    2. dewflirt

      A little outlandish maybe, certainly not extra terrestrial though ;)

  29. Carl Hendershot

    israeli mossad spies

    1. Jack1952

      Lol. What in the world are you talking about? Are you sure that you're on the correct comment thread? This one is about North Korea.

  30. adilrye

    I never thought I'd find a documentary better than VICE's. North Korea fascinates me endlessly, and this is a superb one. Thanks.

    North Korea is an absolutist divine right monarchy with Stalinist trappings. A feudal state for the modern world. It's hard not to be compelled.

  31. Nakor

    North Korean girls are cute.

    1. Pysmythe

      Indeed, they are.

    2. rocking

      plz give me for a night

    3. Carl Hendershot

      I agree.

  32. Paul Rohe

    I enjoyed this documentary ... the human side of N Korea for a chnage.

  33. Yohann Therrien

    really good documentary,take's another view on drpk than vice.

  34. Lance

    From the beginning of the film,I could hardly hear what was being said because the background music was too loud.

  35. BetsMcGee

    I was hoping to catch a peep at their unicorns. : (

  36. MalOdour

    All countries call the people democratic ...are not... If we didn't spend so much on military a lot more would be free.

  37. mjnkhr

    I've seen many docus about North Korea before since it fascinates me so much. I think this one is by far the best I've seen.

    It's the first documentary that manages to show some interaction with the local people. Seeing their smiles and their fascination for apps, touchscreens and such was amazing. The kind words that korean tour leader wrote on the phone were very touching.

    Sublime documentary.

    1. HybridStoner .

      Agreed. And it came out at the perfect time.

    2. Deborah Macaoidh Selim

      Not exactly a coincidence.

  38. Highlander

    Very good humanitarian outlook on life, from a young guy who could become a household name ( in the West at least ! ) if given the chance. Thanks Vlatko ,

  39. Evan Jones

    Beautiful Children

  40. Pysmythe

    What a workers' paradise... And the caterwauling communist gospel music interspersed throughout had me ready to lop off my own head with a sickle. It sure is a devastatingly sad commentary on your country, one of the saddest there ever could be, when the best that can really be said for it is that the children that live there are too young to know what they are in for. It looks like this country has a whole lot of potential. What a great thing it would be if it could get its act together someday. For the people. Because that's the thing, isn't it? We all know that none of what is done there is ever for that.

  41. roger bajaj

    I wonder why and when North Korea became the way it is ? The country and it's people do not have to open up to anyone outside.. why should they have to ? Why is the west so interested in North Korea ? Why are the North Koreans not allowed to be themselves and do as they like or want in their country? Why do they have to become like the west ? why should they have to adopt democracy or capitalism etc.? I have more questions after watching this documentary !!

    1. wald0

      The U.S. isn't trying to force capitalism, democracy, or anything else on North Korea, as far as I know. At one time we objected to them being a communist country, during the cold war, but now I think we just want them to stop sabre rattling- which anyone would have to admit they are doing. We also seem concerned they will gain nuclear capability. The reason we worry about this is because they seem to be a country that is often motivated to act against its own interests- in other words we don't think the threat of mutual destruction would deter them if they felt provoked in some way.

      As for why the liberal types that go over there to make these docs try to get them to change, its because they honestly believe that things like government transparency, a free press, freedom of personal expression, etc. improve the lives of human beings. They feel if these people only knew what they were missing, knew how modern technology and the aforementioned ideals could change their everyday lives, empower them, they would want it. You never know how much of what you hear is propaganda and how much is truth but, the western press claims that people died there from starvation while the "Great leader" was living in extravagant opulence. I know, because i saw on another documentary, that even when an eye surgeon made special arrangements and flew thousands of miles to do free eye surgery on these people, and he actually restored people's sight who hadn't been able to see for years- instead of thanking him, modern medicine, or the people that arranged the surgeries they thanked their dear leader. Now this is the very guy that let them go blind from easily preventable causes and did nothing to provide hospitals or modern medical care for his people while he lived in extravagant conditions and got the best of everything. Its not their culture that we object to its the obvious brainwashing and oppression these people are subjected to.

    2. WiseGapist

      I agree with the rest of the comment, but,

      'The U.S. isn't trying to force capitalism, democracy, or anything else on North Korea, as far as I know'

      Given the nature of the West's corporate/banking tentacles, ever-seeking consumers/debt slaves to prey upon I presume many at the top would like to see a new market open up, ofc they would propagandise it as bringing democracy and the 'free market' but we know what that means.^

      I don't agree with the existing regime, I would love to see the people free, but a freedom unlike we have in the West. If Jong-Il had been a benevolent and caring leader he would still have had the US trying to covertly replace him if he didn't want to play ball with their globalization schemes.

  42. WiseGapist

    I pity the North Korean people having to live under such a restrictive and brutal regime... In the West we get corporate propaganda and lying politicians, but at least we can openly question the government.

    An interesting doc though, good to see some footage of the people... I would love to visit and be able to actually talk to the locals and ask whether they enjoyed life there. If I were to go I think the frustration of not being able to leave a tour group or have any local interaction whatsoever would be too frustrating.^

    Cheesey music towards the end was lame, otherwise, entertaining xD

    1. CarimboHanky

      " I would love to visit and be able to actually talk to the locals and ask whether they enjoyed life there. "

      mate most of the provably do enjoy life there because they just dont know anything else... we look at what they are going through and we say "wow that suck" because we are looking from outside-in, but those inside are in but cant look out.

    2. Paulo D

      Ignorance is bliss

    3. Jack1952

      As as example, my father was born in the depression and grew up in Nazi occupied Holland. In spite of no electricity, poor heating in winter, insufficient food, and an overwhelming fear of the Germans, he said he had a fairly happy childhood. Asked if he would go back to those time, if possible, his response was "Are you nuts? We didn't know any better, that's all". He didn't know enough to be unhappy. People have an incredible capacity to make the best of a bad situation when necessary. I'm sure many North Koreans are quite happy. They don't know any better.

    4. CarimboHanky

      amen to that! perfect sample. for sure people in NK are so indoctrinated into what they have that maybe they dont think there is anything better out there.

      really sad situation, but the Arirang is simply amazing!

    5. Jack1952

      Isn't it though. I've seen the Arirang in another video. An entire stadium of entertainers with only a handful of spectators. It would be impossible to pull off almost anywhere else in the world. The concept is mind boggling and the finished product spectacular.

  43. Rick Kiriakidis

    Great doc, I enjoyed it alot.
    I have to agree that cutting them off from the world with embargos and threats is the worst thing we could do. The USSR & China were both very much closed off to the world until they were opened up to trade and industry which brought a revolution within. China DOES still have some way to go but its way better than what it used to be!