정치적 스포트라이트가 켜질 때: 북한의 두 화학공학자 리승기와 려경구에 대한 사회적 평가 연구

When the Political Spotlight is On: Social Evaluations of Ri Sŭnggi and Ryǒ Kyǒnggu, Two Chemical Engineers in North Korea

Article information

Int J Korean Hist. 2021;26(1):255-285
Publication date (electronic) : 2021 February 28
doi : https://doi.org/10.22372/ijkh.2021.26.1.255
*Kyujanggak Fellow, The International Center for Korean Studies, Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies, Seoul National University, ec2887@snu.ac.kr
*서울대학교 규장각 국제한국학센터
Received 2020 December 05; Revised 2020 December 28; Accepted 2020 December 30.


리승기 박사는 북한에서 비날론과 함께 기념되는 인물이다. 폴리비닐알콜계 합성섬유 비날론은 1939년 리승기가 소속돼 있던 교토제대 연구팀에 의해 발명되었고 1961년 북한에서 공업화되었다. 그런데 1958년까지는 또다른 주목받던 화학자 려경구가 있었다. 려경구의 폴리염화비닐섬유 연구는 빠른 발전 가능성이 있는 것으로 여겨졌고 한때는 그의 연구가 리승기의 폴리비닐알콜섬유 연구보다 언론의 관심을 더 받았다. 그러나 폴리비닐알콜섬유에 비날론이라는 이름이 붙고 공업생산이 시작되면서 리승기와 려경구 이들의 연구와 화학자로서의 사회적평가는 차이를 보이게 되었다. 이 논문은 비날론의 상징적 중요성과 같은 북한에서의 기술의 사회정치적 맥락이 리승기와 려경구라는 두 유명 화학공학자에 대한 평가에 어떤 영향을 미치게 됐는지를 다룬다. 이를 통해 본 연구는 과학자들에 대한 북한의 평가가 변화하는 사회정치적 관심에 따라 달라졌다는 것을 보여줄 것이다.

Trans Abstract

Dr. Ri Sŭnggi is celebrated alongside vinalon (also known as vinylon) in North Korea. As a synthetic fiber produced from polyvinyl alcohol, vinalon was invented by the research team to which Ri Sŭnggi belonged in 1939, and industrial production began in North Korea in 1961. Yet, until 1958, it was another chemist by the name of Ryǒ Kyǒnggu whose project on polyvinyl chloride was deemed to have the potential for further rapid advancement and thus received more media attention than Ri’s research on polyvinyl alcohol fiber. Once the polyvinyl alcohol fiber was dubbed vinalon and its industrial production was accelerated, however, the social evaluation of the two chemists’ research and even of the chemists themselves changed. This paper addresses North Korea’s two famous chemical engineers, Ri Sŭnggi and Ryǒ Kyǒnggu, paying attention to how the sociopolitical context of technology in North Korea conditioned the evaluation of these two chemists in accordance with vinalon’s symbolic importance. This research will demonstrate that North Korea’s evaluation of scientists was contingent upon its shifting socio-political interests.


In the history of North Korean chemical engineering, two scientists stand out above all others: Ri Sŭnggi (李升基, 1905–1996) and Ryǒ Kyǒnggu (呂慶九, 1913–1977). Ri and Ryǒ were both born in the southern region of the Korean peninsula, studied in Japan, and returned home after Korea’s liberation from Japan in 1945. They were both professors at Seoul National University for some time and then went to the North. In North Korea, Ryǒ and Ri conducted experimental projects on polyvinyl chloride (PVC) fiber and polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) fiber respectively. Ryǒ was once a leading scholar in his field; however, his top position was taken over by Ri after the PVA fiber that Ri was researching was successfully industrialized. Despite the fact that Ryǒ Kyǒnggu also contributed to the development of the North Korean chemical industry, his name and where-abouts received little attention in North Korea for quite a while.

Experimental science is closely intertwined with society and politics. Socio-politics influences the direction of experimental science and the result of the experiment is connected to the evaluation of the political regime. A striking example is the competition for economic progress and the space race by way of the development of science and technology between the capitalistic bloc and the socialist bloc. Beyond the competition over legitimacy in the Cold War context, modern nation-states globally have utilized certain technological achievements as a means to strengthen their nationalism. Creating a heroic figure in science and technology is also in the same vein. In North Korea, science and technology are more deeply connected to politics, which often gives excessive prominence to certain things that North Korea considers exemplary. Vinalon is such a case.

Melissa Leach, a British social anthropologist, argues that experimentality is part of power relations and thus experimental projects have winners and losers.1 Although her focus was to examine the development project as experiment in relation to disciplining governmentality, her insight offers a useful concept that can be applied to the analyses probing how experimental projects operate in each society in different ways. In this paper, I bring in the concept of winners and losers as a framework in analyzing how the evaluation of Ryǒ and Ri’s research and as scientists was linked to North Korea’s socio-political interests. In other words, the evaluation of these scientists was dependent more on how their research could be portrayed socially, rather than on their level of technological achievement.

This paper examines the stories of the two chemical engineers in relation to experimental projects propelled by North Korea, focusing on why Ri’s PVA fiber (vinalon) had more appeal in the political narrative than Ryǒ’s PVC fiber.2 I argue that Ri’s vinalon was more fit to strengthen North Korea’s techno-nationalistic discourse in that Ri was the inventor of the polyvinyl alcohol fiber and its successful industrial production in North Korea was the first among the socialist bloc countries. As North Korea highlighted Ri’s vinalon and exaggerated the merits of vinalon, the prospect of developing Ryǒ’s PVC fiber as a textile fiber was put aside for a fairly long time in North Korea. In addition, I investigate when Ryo’s name resurfaced in North Korean media and why. In doing so, this paper will show that the evaluation of scientists depends on the political and social interests at a given historical juncture.

In regard to Ri Sŭnggi, since he was a central figure in the history of North Korean science who even received the title of labor hero thanks to the industrialization of vinalon, Ri’s life story has been covered by existing studies3 as well as the North Korean media. Likewise, vinalon has been dealt with in the ways that it related to Juche ideology, appropriated colonial legacies, played a role in weaving the North Korean nationalistic structure materially, and so forth. In contrast, Ryǒ Kyǒnggu and PVC fiber have yet to be addressed in the North Korean historiography. This paper will be a new addition to the existing literature by bringing Ryǒ Kyǒnggu in comparison to Ri Sŭnggi.

This article mainly uses North Korean primary sources such as media reports, periodical articles, books, and memoirs. Although there are differences of degree depending on what kind of material, all publications in North Korea are propagandistic since they are issued under the control of the North Korean authorities. However, what this paper aims to look at is how Ryǒ and Ri have been described within North Korean society and how the evaluation of the two scientists has changed over time. Therefore, it is appropriate to analyze North Korean sources produced from its own perspective.4, In particular, there are two books written by Ryǒ and Ri, P’olli yǒmhwa pinil chejo [The making of polyvinyl chloride] and Hwahaksomyu iyagi [The story of chemical fiber].5 Since these were published before their synthetic fibers were industrialized, we can see the prospect that Ryǒ and Ri had regarding their projects in the early stages.

The Early Lives and Careers of Ryǒ and Ri

Ryǒ Kyǒnggu6, (left) was born in 1913 in Kwangju, Kyǒnggi Province near Kyǒngsǒng (present day Seoul) to a wealthy family during the colonial era.7, He graduated from Chungang High School or Chungang kodŭng pot’ong hakkyo 8, in Seoul in 1929 and went to Japan to study. Ryǒ studied polymer chemistry and graduated from the Department of Applied Chemistry of Waseda University, Tokyo, in 1936. Waseda University was a school where a fair number of Korean students who were interested in engineering studied during the colonial period, although not as many as went to Kyoto Imperial University.9 After graduation, Ryǒ worked at a research institute in Japan and returned to Korea before Japan surrendered in World War II on August 15, 1945.

He became a professor in engineering at Seoul National University immediately after liberation from Japan; however, his appointment period was not very long. Many professors at Seoul National University were disappointed with the forced restructuring of the university under the United States Military Government,10, and Ryǒ was one of those who opposed the proposal and as a result was removed from his teaching position. In September 1946, Ryǒ Kyǒnggu along with some other scientists received an invitation to come to the North from an agent dispatched by Kim Ilsŏng.11, He decided to go to the North and put his plan into practice in the fall of 1946.12, As a matter of fact, from the late 1940s to the year 1950, quite a number of scientists moved to the North. It was mainly because North Korea implemented active policies of supporting science and technology from its founding.13

As a chemical engineer, Ryǒ was called to the Hŭngnam area, which had been the center of Korea’s chemical production since the colonial period. North Korea was struggling to restore the factories destroyed shortly before the end of World War II,14, and Ryǒ was well suited to lead the effort. He contributed to the reestablishment of the factories in this area and trained technicians as a chief engineer. In recognition for his work in restoring the factories in Hŭngnam, he won official commendation from Kim Ilsŏng and was made the director of the Hŭngnam Research Institute, under the Ministry of Industry, in 1948.15

Ri Sŭnggi (pictured on the right on page 259.) was born in 1905 in Tam’yang, South Chǒlla Province. When he was sixteen he moved to Seoul where his paternal aunt lived for a better education for there were no adequate schools in the countryside where he grew up.16, Ri graduated from Chung’ang kodŭng pot’ong hakkyo, which Ryǒ also attended, in 1925. At that time, Korean students could go to a three-year high school17, when graduating from kodŭng pot’ong hakkyo. At that time, most students wanted to go to Japan to study, including Ri. After he passed an entrance examination to Matsuyama High School (present day Ehime University) in Shikoku, Ri was able to attend the school with the financial support of a distant relative.18 Yet when the financial aid from his relative was cut off, he barely managed to graduate from high school since he had to make his living and tuition fees by delivering newspapers and milk. Considering that the North Korean source about Ryǒ Kyǒnggu narrated that he was born to a rich family, we can presume that Ryǒ did not experience such financial problems that Ri went through in his period of studying abroad.

Ri Sŭnggi entered the Department of Industrial Chemistry of Kyoto Imperial University as the only Korean among a total of 24 students in 1928, and graduated from the university in 1931.19, While working at the Institute for Chemical Fiber Research at Kyoto Imperial University, he succeeded in the development of a new synthetic fiber made from polyvinyl alcohol in 1939. This fiber was titled “Synthetic Fiber No. 1 (合成一号),” which was the second synthetic fiber after nylon. Ri received his Ph.D. from Kyoto Imperial University in that year. He was the first Korean to earn a doctorate in engineering in Japan. Ri Sŭnggi continued experiments to realize the industrialization of the polyvinyl alcohol fiber until Japan was defeated in World War II; however, he returned to Korea without attaining the object of his ambition for three reasons. One was that there was lack of resources for investment due to the war. The second reason was that the research institute to which Ri belonged was forced to support the armaments industry by the Department of the Army of Japan in 1944.20 Another reason was that Ri was placed in the custody of a military force in Osaka in July 1945 on the suspicion that he had seditious ideas against Japan, and he was not released until August 15, 1945.

After returning home, Ri began teaching as a Professor at Seoul National University and assumed the position of the Dean of the College of Engineering in 1948. Yet, the social environment including the Kuktaean21, crisis made him very disappointed and he left Seoul to retire to his hometown. When the Korean War broke out in the summer of 1950, Ri Sŭnggi crossed the border to North Korea, finally accepting North Korea’s invitation to come to the North that he had received since the middle of 1946. Compared to Ryǒ, Ri Sŭnggi’s decision to go to North Korea was rather late. In his memoir, Ri described the anecdote of the day when Ryǒ came to his home and talked about the social situation of the South very critically;22 he wrote the following in retrospect:

“Ryǒ Kyǒnggu (Ryǒ XX – marked in the text), his attitude was firm and his own view also clear. I could not give a definite answer. If I agreed with his opinion, I should have behaved like him, but I was not ready to do it at that time. ··· I had no such courage to leave without having obvious knowledge about the North. So I could not but close my mouth and lower my head. ··· Ryǒ Kyǒnggu left for the North on the following day.”23

Ri’s memoir also tells the stories of which he went to North Korea and met Ryǒ. Herein Ri expressed his gratitude for the support of his research by the North Korean Party even during the war. In addition, Ri described that he felt sorry as well, mentioning his lack of contribution in comparison with Ryǒ; for instance, according to Ri’s memoir, Ri said to Ryǒ, “You have a clear conscience because you have accomplished a lot already.”24 In North Korea, Ri strived to realize the industrialization of the polyvinyl alcohol fiber that he invented, and later succeeded in the industrial production of the fiber, which I will discuss in the following section.

Between Competition and Cooperation

During the war, Ri and Ryǒ conducted their own research in laboratories with the support of the North Korean authorities, looking forward to the day when they could (re)construct the North Korean chemical industry. In the case of Ryǒ and Ri, in particular, there was a cooperative aspect since both PVC and PVA are based on carbide produced from limestone and anthracite. After the war was over, they began their own research project in earnest and a sort of tension between the two gradually formed. It was because they had a strong desire to succeed in their projects as soon as possible and both required resources from the Party. If one received more support required for his research, that scientist would be in an advantageous position for the success of his research. Aside from this support issue, in general there is a certain amount of rivalry between scientists in the same field.

In North Korea, the Academy of Sciences, which was established in 1952, forms the core institution of scientific and technical studies. After the war, Ryǒ Kyǒnggu worked at the Institute for Chemical Research of the Academy of Sciences as the director. Given that war-ravaged North Korea suffered from a lack of daily necessities such as clothes, shoes, bags, toothbrush handles, and cases for cosmetics, Ryǒ launched a research project on vinyl chloride and polyvinyl chloride. Vinyl chloride is used as feedstock in the production of the standard plastic material polyvinyl chloride. His research, like Ri Sŭnggi’s, received full support from the Party even during the Korean War. This was because polyvinyl chloride, commonly abbreviated as PVC, is one of the most widely produced synthetic plastic polymers and is used in many applications, such as pipes, electric cables, construction, and clothing. Furthermore, PVC fibers are also produced from carbide, which is made from anthracite and limestone which are abundant in the North.

With high expectations for PVC products, the Third Party Congress held in April 1956 made a decision to include the construction of a polyvinyl chloride factory within the First Five-Year Plan from 1957 to 1961.25, In the Third Party Congress, Kim Ilsŏng said that “by restoring the Pon’gung carbide workshop completely, we will produce alcohol from carbide, and have to prepare for producing organic synthetic industry products such as synthetic fibers, vinyl chloride, and so on. Since our country has a lot of electric resources and abundant raw materials like limestone and anthracite, we have the potential to develop a large scale electric chemical industry.”26 This suggests Kim Ilsŏng’s blueprint for the path that Korea should take instead of blindly following a pre-existing path established by the colonial powers.

The reason that the word vinalon did not appear in Kim’s speech above was that in those days the word did not exist yet. North Korea’s brand name for polyvinyl alcohol fibers, vinalon, was coined in 1957. Until that point, Ryǒ’s PVC research had appeared to have greater prospects for developing the chemical fiber field as compared to Ri’s vinalon research. Yet, since Ri Sŭnggi’s experiments for vinalon’s industrial production in a pilot plant produced positive results and the Kim Ilsŏng group nearly overpowered the pro-USSR/pro-China factional groups,27, a Cabinet decision on accelerating the construction of vinalon and vinyl chloride factories was reached on October 9, 1958. The decision stipulated that the Party would build a 6,000 ton-scale vinyl chloride factory and a 10,000 ton-scale vinalon factory by 1959 and 1960 respectively.28

With regard to the vinyl chloride factory, North Korea constructed a pilot plant that had the capacity to produce 6 tons yearly in 1954 and then barely succeeded in building a bigger pilot plant with an annual production capacity 10 times higher than the previous one in 1957.29, Given that in the second half of 1958, North Korea made plans to operate a 6,000 ton-scale vinyl chloride factory in 1959,30, it seems that Ryǒ Kyǒnggu’s research on manufacturing the PVC products attained significant progress in 1958. The vinyl chloride factory (yǒmhwa pinil kongjang) was completed in Hŭngnam in 1960, a year later than originally planned. The science movie titled “Yǒmhwa pinil” or “Vinyl Chloride” was produced in 1961,31 and many North Korean newspapers and magazines reported a variety of products being made from PVC, such as raincoats, bags, shoes, combs, cosmetic cases, children’s toys, pipes, and so forth.

In the case of the vinalon factory, it was not until a year after the 1958 Cabinet decision that factory construction was undertaken. As experiments for the industrial production of vinalon began to bring about positive results, the factory site located between Hŭngnam and Hamhŭng was chosen by Kim Ilsŏng on March 25, 1959.32, In 1960, the North Korean leadership changed plans for the factory from an annual production capacity of 10,000 tons to one of 20,000 tons.33 This was to make the vinalon factory a symbol of the North Korean economy that was rapidly developing. The factory, with an annual production capacity of 20,000 tons, was the largest polyvinyl alcohol fiber factory in the world in 1961. Moreover, the estimated completion date moved up from August 15, 1961 to May 6, 1961. As for why the North changed the completion date, it may be construed as North Korea’s strong determination to make sure it was done before the Fourth Party Congress scheduled for September 1961, so that they could boast about vinalon as a representative achievement of their development in science and technology. At the time, the Kim Ilsŏng group pushed forward the idea of an independent national economy and vinalon was considered a perfect fit for it.

The production of vinyl chloride products. [Left-top] The polymerization workshop of the Hŭngnam vinyl chloride factory. Source: Chosǒn nyǒsǒng (February 1961). [Left-bottom] Members of the Wǒnsan cooperative for producing necessities are making various vinyl chloride products. Source: Chosǒn nyǒsǒng (April 1961) [Right] Two members of the Hamhŭng cooperative for the production of industrial goods are making raincoats from vinyl chloride. Source: Chǒllima (February 1961).

After the construction of the vinalon factory hit its full stride in 1960, reports of vinalon began to overtake those of vinyl chloride in the media. After the February 8 Vinalon Factory was completed, vinalon products virtually monopolized the spotlight. There are a few cases that suggest the shifting positions of the two chemists. For example, Ryǒ Kyǒnggu was the director of the first North Korean chemical research station, the Hŭngnam Research Institute; however, in the Hamhŭng branch of the Academy of Sciences established in September 1960 as the expanded version of the Hŭngnam Research Institute, Ryǒ Kyǒnggu was appointed as vice-director while Ri Sŭnggi was made the director.

Although Ri Sŭnggi took the spotlight and was extolled as the greatest scientist after the industrial production of vinalon, Ryǒ Kyǒnggu was elected as a representative of the third and fourth Supreme People’s Assembly, which were held in 1962 and 1967, along with Ri Sŭnggi. It is clear that Ryǒ was a prominent scientist and held an important position in the development of North Korean science and technology. Interestingly, however, from the late 1960s, it becomes very hard to find Ryǒ’s name in the North Korean media. For instance, in Rodong Sinmun, the organ of the Central Committee of Workers’ Party of Korea as well as a daily newspaper, the news about the result of the Supreme People’s Assembly representative on November 27, 1967 was the last report where Ryǒ’s name was mentioned.34, After that, there are no reports mentioning his name in the Rodong Sinmun until the report that introduced three scientist sons of Ryǒ on May 15, 1986.35 The social context in which Ryǒ’s name reemerged in the late 1980s will be discussed in the next section.

Ryǒ and Ri’s research were highly interlinked in that the products of polyvinyl chloride and polyvinyl alcohol are both formed from carbide, which is made from anthracite and limestone that are abundant in North Korea. The process of making vinyl chloride is much simpler than the making of vinalon; to be specific, acetylene is created by reacting carbide with water, and reacting acetylene with hydrogen chloride produces vinyl chloride. Since the processes of making carbide and acetylene are shared in the manufacturing processes of PVC and PVA, the vinalon factory was built alongside the polyvinyl chloride factory, which had been completed earlier. In fact, the completion of the vinyl chloride factory was the first step towards constructing the vinalon factory.36 This shows that the building of the vinalon factory, which comprises various but connected workshop buildings, was carried out step by step. Yet, as the sociopolitical interests spotlighted the vinalon factory, it was inevitable it would eventually overshadow the vinyl chloride factory (which is located next to the vinalon factory). The vinyl chloride factory and the initial February 8 Vinalon Factory were consolidated into the current February 8 Vinalon Complex (2.8 pinallon ryǒnhap kiǒpso) in 1974.

The spinning shop within the February 8 Vinalon Factory area. Source: Vinalon kongjang kǒnsǒl (1961).

[Left] Vinalon was produced for the first time on August 25, 1961, which was 111 days from the completion of the factory. In the picture, Ri Sŭnggi and workers are rejoicing at the sight of the first produced vinalon. Source: Rodong Sinmun, on August 27, 1961, 2. [Right] Workers producing vinalon fabrics for coats at the Shinŭiju Textile Mill, Rodong Sinmun, July 12, 1962, 1.

The Winner and Loser?

It is true that the manufacturing process of vinalon is much more complex than that of polyvinyl chloride; in that sense, it could be argued that Ri accomplished more than Ryǒ in terms of his technological break-through. Also, since polyvinyl chloride fiber was not considered a textile fiber in North Korea at the time, for North Korea there was no comparison with the accomplishment of PVC fiber and PVA fiber. In fact, the fibers which competed with vinalon in regard to the synthetic fiber to be industrialized first as textiles were nylon and acryl,37 not polyvinyl chloride. Although PVC fiber was used in making raincoats and swimsuits, its initial major production use was for daily necessities, not for everyday wear. Yet, considering that polyvinyl chloride fiber could have been developed as textiles and eventually developed in that way during the 1980s, such interpretations are not enough to explain the context in which Ri Sŭnggi was praised as a heroic scientist and why vinalon monopolized media attention. The fundamental reason that North Korea brought vinalon to the forefront was that for the North, vinalon was a much greater example of what a scientist of a former colony was capable of achieving in the liberated fatherland. In particular, vinalon’s attractiveness was based on the fact that Ri Sŭnggi was the inventor of the fiber by which North Korea claimed.

According to Edgerton’s definition, invention is “the creation of a new idea” and innovation is “the first use of a new idea.”38, These two are core components of techno-nationalism.39 Although Ryǒ contributed to the creation of a manufacturing system suited for domestic circumstances in North Korea, polyvinyl chloride was already a commonly used industrial chemical worldwide at the time. In contrast, Ri was the inventor of a fiber of polyvinyl alcohol for textile products, and the industrial production of the polyvinyl alcohol fiber succeeded only in Japan and North Korea in 1961. Thus, vinalon had more attractive selling points in the political narrative than vinyl chloride even though North Korea was not the first country that industrialized polyvinyl alcohol fiber.

According to North Korea’s records, Ryǒ Kyǒnggu died in April 1977. His death was not reported in any press at the time, although he currently lies buried at the Patriotic Martyrs’ Cemetery.40, This is in sharp contrast to the case of press reports when other famous scientists died. For instance, when the chemist Ma Hyǒng’ok who led the industrial production of reed fiber during the 1960s died on April 28, 1993, the Rodong Sinmun reported this news on the front page with Kim Ilsŏng and Kim Chŏngil having sent wreaths to the deceased comrade Ma Hyǒng’ok.41

When it comes to the death of Ryǒ Kyǒnggu, a South Korean historian of science, Pak Sǒngrae claims that Ryǒ Kyǒnggu committed suicide;42, however, the source of his claim is unknown. The Federation of American Scientists (FAS)43, also claims that Ryǒ committed suicide. On its website posting about Ryǒ Kyǒnggu, the FAS claims that Dr. Ryǒ Kyǒnggu protested against the prospect of vinalon.44, According to this posting, Ryǒ contended that the vinalon industry would not guarantee a future for light industry and so a nylon factory instead should be constructed; owing to this, Ryǒ was later subjected to ideological struggle by the Kim Ilsŏng group and finally killed himself in 1977.45 Since this website does not present any proof, we do not know whether Ryǒ really opposed the vinalon factory or not, and whether he committed suicide or not. North Korean sources report that Ryǒ died of an incurable illness. Whether or not it is true that Ryǒ was not in favor of vinalon at the outset, it was clear that as North Korea gave political meaning to vinalon and Ri received the spotlight as a national hero, whereas Ryǒ’s presence waned and his name eventually disappeared from North Korea publications, resulting even in the absence of an obituary.

In regard to Ryǒ’s sudden disappearance from the public domain, one hypothesis is that he was demoted to the provinces when the people from the South were relegated to less important posts in the provinces during the process of developing the succession system in the mid-1970s.46, In the early 1980s, a considerable number of people from the South returned to Pyongyang after Kim Ilsŏng noticed that Ryǒ Unhyǒng’s son and daughters were dispatched to the provinces. Ryǒ Unhyǒng’s adult children and their sons and daughters returned to Pyongyang around this time, and their pictures were published in the North Korean media.47, According to North Korean press reports, Kim Ilsŏng met Ryǒ Unhyǒng’s adult children in 1991 again and asked them how the grown-up children of Ryǒ Kyǒnggu were.48 Yet, it is hard to know the exact reason why Ryǒ was erased from North Korean official publications from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s.

In fact, Ryǒ Kyǒnggu’s name, which was difficult to find from the late 60s onwards, reappeared along with the greater emphasis on the discourse of Juche science, due to the reinforcement of the Juche idea in the mid to late 1980s. Ideology is often called into play by a state in a time of crisis. In North Korea, the reemphasis on Juche science was an ideological response to the crisis within the socialist bloc at the time. As we know, protests to resist the USSR were taking place in the Eastern Bloc countries from the late 1980s and the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, which led to the official dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Juche ideology became strengthened and rigid in 1986 with the addition of the theory of the socio-political organism (sahoejǒngch’ijǒk saengmyǒngch’e ron). This theory argued for oneness of the body and soul of the Supreme leader (suryǒng), Party, and the People and thereby demanded loyalty to the Party and supreme leader from the people.49 By emphasizing one’s eternal socio-political life, unlike one’s finite physical life, this theory was designed to play a role in reinforcing social integration, which was North Korea’s response to the critical situation of the socialist bloc in the late 1980s. The creation of the Patriotic Martyrs’ Cemetery in 1986 should also be understood in this context.

On May 15, 1986, a Rodong Sinmun article mentioning Ryǒ reappeared in the report that shed light on his three sons who were contributing to the field of science.50, According to this report, Ryǒ’s first son In’ung and second son Insŭng51 graduated from Hamhŭng College of Industry and both were working at the Hamhŭng branch of the Academy of Sciences, while Ryǒ’s third son Ingwang graduated from Kim Ilsŏng University and was working at the Institute of Physics of the Academy of Sciences as deputy director. The article introduced that these three brothers were born into the family of a scientist, adding that their father was Professor Ryǒ Kyǒnggu who contributed to the inaugural development of the vinyl chloride industry in North Korea. Although Ryǒ Kyǒnggu’s name appeared in tandem with his sons’ services to science, there is again no mention of him until 1992 in the Rodong Sinmun.

Another important context that should be noted in terms of the reevaluation of Ryǒ is that the workshop of polyvinyl chloride fiber, which was named Mobiron, was completed within the Vinalon Complex in 1981 and began to produce cotton for blankets. In the book Polli yǒmhwa pinil chejo that Ryǒ wrote in June 1959 and published in 1960, he suggests the development prospects of polyvinyl chloride fiber; one of them was that the synthetic fiber produced from polyvinyl chloride could be used for making overcoats and cotton batting since the fiber was thermal.52 Such prospects, however, were realized much later.

When the Mobiron Factory was constructed in the city of Hamhŭng on October 10, 1981, North Korea propagated that mobiron was a new chemical fiber and the mobiron factory was completed with North Korea’s own technology, equipment, and resources per the usual.53, Before the construction of the mobiron factory, the new name mobiron was given to the synthetic fiber produced from polyvinyl chloride. In the Rodong Sinmun, the word mobiron appeared for the first time on June 6, 1979.54, The story that Kim Ilsŏng named the fiber mobiron in the sense that this fiber can substitute wool (mo in Korean) and cotton (som) was added later.55

According to North Korea’s explanation, in July 1980 Kim Ilsŏng received a report that the scientists at the Hamhŭng branch under the Academy of Sciences obtained promising results from the research project on vinyl chloride fiber and were operating a pilot plant.56, The scientist who led this project was Dr. Ryǒm Sǒnggŭn who decided to go to the North from Japan in 1961.57, Ryǒm Sǒnggŭn was born in Seoul in 1923, was trained as a chemist at Kyoto University, and worked at the laboratory of the February 8 Vinalon Complex, belonging to the Hamhŭng branch of the Academy of Sciences. After the mobiron factory was completed and began producing mobiron cotton that was used for quality blankets, Dr. Ryǒm received the title of Merited Scientist for his contribution to the development of the vinyl chloride industry.58 Since then, mobiron has been placed next to vinalon whenever North Korea displays its proud chemical fibers. Yet, North Korea does not celebrate mobiron as much as it extols vinalon. Accordingly, it is presumed that there was a need to reevaluate Ryǒ’s contribution to the initial development of the vinyl chloride industry.

Workers in the workshop of mobiron under the February 8 Vinalon Complex. Rodong Sinmun, March 20, 1983, 1.

As the Patriotic Martyrs’ Cemetery was completed in 1986, North Korea moved the graves of some patriots that were scattered throughout the country. Ryǒ Kyǒnggu was laid in this cemetery as one of the figures who greatly contributed to the development of North Korean science and technology. However, it is uncertain whether North Korea laid Ryǒ in state when the Cemetery opened, because initially only 190 bodies of the deceased were laid to rest.59, Ri Sŭnggi was also laid in state here when he died in 1996. The rehabilitation of Ryǒ took place in earnest after Kim Chŏngil visited the Hamhŭng branch of the Academy of Sciences, where Ryǒ had worked, in 1999 and praised Ryǒ’s research accomplishments highly.60, As of 2002, 14 percent of those who were laid in the deceased patriots’ cemetery were associated with the realm of science and technology; this indicates that scientists have been highly rated as national heroes in North Korean society. 61, Currently, in North Korea media Ryǒ Kyǒnggu’s name ranks third among the scientists who greatly contributed to the development of Juche science, 62, preceded only by Kang Yǒngch’ang63, and Ri Sŭnggi. However, it is still difficult to find specific documents about Ryǒ Kyǒnggu compared to other scientists. Even in the book entitled “The Scientists of Contemporary Chosǒn” edited by a Professor of Chosǒn University in Japan,64, there were only two sentences about Ryǒ Kyǒnggu.65, In a similar vein, North Korea has never issued a memorial postage stamp featuring Ryǒ Kyǒnggu while various stamps featuring Ri Sŭnggi have been issued.66 This again shows the special position of Ri, who is celebrated alongside vinalon.

Gravestones of Ryǒ Kyǒnggu (left) and Ri Sŭnggi (right) in the Patriotic Martyr’s Cemetery in Pyongyang. © Chǒng Ch’anghyǒn


This paper investigated the rise and fall of the two chemical engineers Ri Sŭnggi and Ryǒ Kyǒnggu in North Korean society, focusing on the way in which North Korea’s socio-political goals and interests affected their path in life, research products, and particularly the social evaluation of their research and the men themselves. As for the reasons why Ri Sŭnggi received greater veneration than Ryǒ beginning around the late 1950s, this article highlights the fact that Ri Sŭnggi was an inventor of vinalon. It is true that vinalon was a great example to showcase that North Korea, a former colony, was very successful in catching up with the advanced industrial nations at the time. More importantly, however, the fact that Ri was an inventor of vinalon and North Korea succeeded in the industrial production of vinalon first among the socialist bloc countries functioned as important factors with regard to constructing a technonationalistic narrative in North Korea. Furthermore, Ri’s life story was more dramatic than Ryǒ and thus offered a richer story capable of attracting popular attention.

What this research focused on was the social description of scientists rather than the synthetic fibers themselves. Thus, I did not cover the technical specifications for PVC and PVA fibers in this paper. For further research, going beyond the discussion of the relationship between politics, research projects, and scientists within North Korea, it would be a fascinating project to expand the scope and explore how the social descriptions of scientists were constructed in relation to the dimensions of inter-Korean competition and the global Cold War.



“Experimentality,” Lancaster University, accessed November 10, 2018, https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/experimentality/blog/workshop1-leach.html


This paper is based on a section of the fifth chapter in the author’s dissertation titled, “The Thread of Juche: Vinalon and Materially-Embodied Interdependencies in North Korea, 1930–2018” (Ph.D. Diss., Columbia University, 2020).


For instance, Kim Kŭnbae, “Ri Sŭnggi ŭi kwahak kwa pukhansahoe.” Han’guk kwahaksahakhoeji 20, no. 1 (June 1998): 3–25; Kim Taeho, “Ri Sŭnggi ŭi pukhan esǒŭi ‘vinalon’ yǒn’gu wa kong’ǒp’wa,” Han’guk Kwahaksahakhoeji 23, no. 2 (Dec. 2001): 111–132; Kim Dong’won, “Two Chemists in Two Koreas,” AMBIX, vol. 52, no. 1 (March 2005): 67–84; Kim Kŭnbae, “Nambuk ŭi tu kwahakcha Yi Taekyu wa Ri Sŭnggi,” Yǒksabip’yǒng (Feb. 2008): 16–40; Kim Kŭnbae, “50–60nyǒndaebukhan Ri Sŭnggi ui pinallon kongǒp’wa wa chuch’e hwangnip,” Yǒksabip’yǒng (Aug. 2015): 111–131; Cheehyung Harrison Kim, Heroes and Toilers: Work as Life in Postwar North Korea, 1953–1961 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018); Eunsung Cho, “The Thread of Juche: Vinalon and Materially-Embodied Interdependencies in North Korea, 1930–2018” (Ph.D. Diss., Columbia University, 2020).


In regard to Ryǒ Kyǒnggu, in particular, North Korean materials are almost the only way to trace his life after going to the North.


These sources are new source materials that I found at Lenin Library in Moscow.


Ryǒ Kyǒnggu was the nephew of Ryǒ Unhyǒng, to be specific, Ryǒ Unhyǒng’s younger cousin Ryǒ Unil’s eldest son. Ryǒ Unhyǒng was a very famous and popular independence activist who was categorized as a center-left leader in the South. He made a great effort to make the left and right as well as the North and South cooperate in post-liberation Korea; however, he was assassinated by a right-wing extremist in Seoul on July 19, 1947. It was the 12th attack on him, and news of his death was reported even in The New York Times. “Lyuh, Leftist Chief, Is Killed in Korea,” The New York Times, on July 20, 1947. Although his last name is spelled as Yǒ in South Korea, I herein Romanize it as Ryǒ, since I refer to him in relation to Ryǒ Kyǒnggu. Meanwhile, it is interesting that Ryǒ Kyǒnggu was Ryǒ Unhyǒng’s reletive and Ri Sŭnggi was a distant relative of Rhee Syngman who was a right-wing politician and the first South Korean president.


“Salm ŭi pogŭmjari,” Uriminjok kkiri, accessed October 10, 2018, http://www.uriminzokkiri.com/index.php?ptype=book&no=2503&pn=4 Rim Yich’ǒl’s book entitled Salm ŭi pogŭmjari [A place for happy living in one’s life] (Pyongyang: Pyongyang Ch’ulp’ansa, 2009) was published in a series on the North Korean website Uriminjok kkiri. The North Korean media Tong’il Sinbo described that Ryǒ was born in Seoul, but the South Korean encyclopedia Doopedia stated that he was born in Kwangju, Kyǒnggi Province. Kim Chǒngju, “Minjok ŭi kwahakcha rŭl akkigo naesewǒjusiyǒ” [Cherishing and putting up a national scientist], Tong’il Sinbo, September 23, 2006; “Yǒ Kyǒnggu,” Doopedia, accessed November 1, 2020, https://www.doopedia.co.kr/doopedia/master/master.do?_method=view&MAS_IDX=101013000817869


During the colonial era, kodŭng pot’ong hakkyo meant secondary education, which was comprised of middle school and high school by today’s educational system.


Kim Kŭnbae, Han’guk kǔndae kwahak kisul illyǒk ǔi ch’ulhyǒn [The emergence of the modern Korean science and technical personnel] (Seoul: Munhakkwajisǒngsa, 2005), 267.


This was called the “Kuktae’an (Seoul National University Building Proposal, kuklip Seoultaehakkyo sǒllip’an) crisis.” As for this, refer to Choi Hyaeweol, “Kuktaean P’adong,” Nonjaeng’ǔro ingnǔn han’guksa [The Korean history reading through debates] (Seoul: Yǒksapip’yǒng, 2009).


Kim Chǒngju, “Minjok ŭi kwahakcha rŭl akkigo naesewǒjusiyǒ,” Tong’il Sinbo, September 23, 2006.


In regard to the period when Ryǒ went to the North, there are several different dates mentioned in North Korean materials. According to a North Korean weekly newspaper Tong’il Sinbo, it seems that Ryǒ Kyǒnggu crossed the 38th parallel in September 1946 with other scientists who received the same invitation. The book entitled Salm ŭi pogŭmjari describes that Ryǒ went to the North in October 1946. According to Ryǒ Unhyǒng’s daughter Ryǒ Wǒngu’s testimony in the interview with a South Korean magazine, however, Ryǒ Kyǒnggu entered Pyongyang across the 38th parallel in March 1946. She also stated that Ryǒ Kyǒnggu went to the North on the recommendation of Ryǒ Unhyǒng. Sin Chunyǒng, “Interview with Ryǒ Wǒngu-ch’ongubaeksasipnyǒn abǒji Ryǒ Unhyǒng, ilwang gwa chosǒndongnip tamp’anhaetta,” Minjok 21 2, May 2001, 29.


With regard to this, refer to Kang Hoje, Pukhan kwahak kisul hyŏngsŏngsa I [The history of the formation of the North Korean science and technology] (Seoul: Sǒnin, 2007); Kim Kŭnbae, “Wǒlbuk kwahakkisulcha wa Hǔngnam kongǒptaehak ǔi sǒllip” [Scientists and engineers who went to North Korea and the establishment of Hǔngnam Technical College], Asea yǒn’gu [Asian Studies] 40, no. 2 (December 1997): 95–130.


As its defeat in the Second World War was approaching, Japan destroyed the factories that could be used by their enemies; after liberation, the Soviet army that entered northern Korea extracted equipment from the factories, which was recorded as a social problem by the Korean provisional people’s committee. According to Pak Pyǒng’yǒp who was a high official of the Korean Workers’ Party, in the Su’p’ung power plant there was an incident where a Korean technician who tried to stop Soviet soldiers from taking the generators off was shot. He also said that “while Soviet soldiers claimed that the facilities are the Japanese property, we stood against it by arguing that those are in fact ours.” Pak Pyǒng’yǒp, Chosǒn minjujuŭi inmin konghwaguk ŭi t’ansaeng, ed. Yu Yǒnggu and Chǒng Ch’anghyǒn (Seoul: Sǒnin, 2010), 28.


“Salm ŭi pogŭmjari,” Uriminjok kkiri, accessed October 10, 2018, http://www.uriminzokkiri.com/index.php?ptype=book&no=2503&pn=4


Although Ri Sŭnggi’s memoir briefly touches on this, his biography, which was published in 2005, includes more details on the circumstances in which Ri went to Seoul for a better education. Ri Sŭnggi, Kwahakcha ŭi sugi [A Scientist’s Memoirs] (Pyongyang: Kungnip Ch’ulp’ansa, 1962), 4; Kim Hyesǒn, Kkumŭl silhyǒnhan kwahakcha [A scientist who realized a dream] (Pyongyang: Kŭmsǒng Ch’ǒngnyǒn Ch’ulp’ansa, 2005), 15–17, 20–23, 27–29.


This high school is equivalent to a current college education; to be specific, it is around the sophomore to junior level.


Kim Hyesǒn, Kkumŭl silhyǒnhan kwahakcha, 32. Ri’s memoir mentions the fact that Ri’s father asked Ri Mongjae, who was a distant relative and a large landowner, to support Ri Sŭnggi’s school expenses in Japan so Ri could go to Japan on the condition that Ri taught Ri Mongjae’s younger brother as private tutor in Japan. Ri Sŭnggi, Kwahakcha ŭi sugi, 6. Meanwhile, a slightly edited version of Ri’s memoir was serialized in the magazine Choguk (published by Ch’ongryǒn in Japan) from the June issue of 1966 to the August issue of 1967. In this version of his memoir, the fact that Ri Mongjae was Ri’s relative was not mentioned, and it was only mentioned that Ri Mongjae was a large landowner.


Kim Hyesǒn, Kkumŭl silhyǒnhan kwahakcha, 43.


Ri Sŭnggi, Kwahakcha ŭi sugi, 19. Kim Taeho also briefly mentioned that Ri was ordered to switch his study to the study for military use, based on Ri’s memoir. Kim, op. cit., 118.


See on page 259, footnote 10.


Ri, Kwahakcha ŭi sugi, 36–7.


Ri, Kwahakcha ŭi sugi, 37.


Ri, Kwahakcha ŭi sugi, 85.


Ryǒ Kyǒnggu, P’olli yǒmhwa pinil chejo [Producing polyvinyl chloride] (Pyongyang: Kungnip Kongǒp Kisul Sǒjǒk Ch’ulp’ansa, 1960), 8.


Kim Ilsŏng, “Chosǒn rodongdang che 3ch’a taehoe esǒ han chung’ang wiwǒnhoe saǒp ch’onggyǒl pogo (April 23, 1956),” in Pukhan munhǒn yǒn’gu: munhǒn gwa haeje I, ed. Suh Daesook (Seoul: Kyǒngnam University Press, 2004), 118; originally from Chosǒn rodongdang che 3ch’a taehoe chuyo munhǒnjip (Pyongyang: Chosǒn Rodongdang Ch’ulp’ansa, 1956), 3–105.


The Kim Ilsŏng group pushed forward to the industrial production of vinalon, while the other political groups were against the idea.


Cabinet decision No. 122 “Pinallon mit yǒmhwapinil kongjang kǒnsǒl ŭl ch’okchinsik’ilde kwanhayǒ” (October 9, 1958); “Pinallon mit yǒmhwapinil kongjang kǒnsǒl ŭl tǒuk ch’okchinsik’ija [Let’s accelerate the construction of vinalon and polyvinyl chloride factories],” Sǒndongwǒn such’ǒp –sanǒp pumun [Agitators’ notebook - industry sector] no. 22 (November 1958), 17–8.


Ryǒ Kyǒnggu, op. cit.


Pang Ponghwal, Illyu e pongmuhanǔn hwahak [Chemistry being in the service of humankind] (Pyongyang: Adong Tosǒ Ch’ulp’ansa, 1958), 119.


Chosǒn yǒnghwa [Korean film] reported about this movie in September 1961.


Kim Hyesǒn, Kkumŭl silhyǒnhan kwahakcha, 160.


Cho Ch’ǒnho, “Ri Sŭnggi paksa rŭl ch’ajasǒ [Looking for Dr. Ri Sŭnggi],” Chǒllima (March 1960), 31. In the interview with this magazine, Ri Sŭnggi said that he and other researchers were conducting research not only on vinalon but also on nylon and nitron in the laboratory within the Pon’gung chemical factory.


“Kim Ilsŏng tongji rŭl suban ŭro hanŭn tanggwa chǒngbu chuwi e kutke mungch’in chosǒn inmin ŭi widaehan sŭngni manse! Chǒnch’e sǒngǒjadŭl ŭi 100% ka t’up’yo e ch’amga chǒnch’e sǒngǒjadŭl ŭi 100% ka ch’ansǒngt’up’yo ch’oego inminhoeŭi taeŭiwǒnsǒn’gǒ sungnijǒk ŭro chinhaeng,” Rodong Sinmun, November 27, 1967, 1–2. Ryǒ’s name appeared as the representative of the election district of Hamju.


“3hyǒngje chunbaksa – Ryǒ In’ung, Ryǒ Insŭng, Ryǒ Ingwang tongmudŭl,” Rodong Sinmun, May 15, 1986, 4.


Yim Kijae, “Vinalon kyobok e pulgŭn nekt’a’i rŭl hwinallil saehae rŭl ch’uk’ahamnida” [Congratulations on the new year when red neckties are flying in vinalon school uniforms], Adong munhak (January 1961), 7–8.


Ri Sŭnggi, Kwahakcha ŭi sugi, 125. In terms of this, refer to Kim Taeho, “Ri Sŭnggi ŭi pukhan esǒŭi ‘vinalon’ yǒn’gu wa kong’ǒp’wa,” 127; Eunsung Cho, “The Thread of Juche,” 66. In his book Hwahaksǒmyu iyagi, Ri Sŭnggi introduced potential synthetic fibers, such as polyamide, polyester, polyacrylonitrile, and polyvinyl alcohol; however, PVC was not on the list. Ri Sŭnggi, Hwahaksǒmyu iyagi (Pyongyang: Kungnip Ch’ulp’ansa, 1957).


David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 (London: Profile Books, 2006), ix.


Mahatma Gandhi’s promotion of homespun textiles by using Charkha (spinning wheel) is a good example. The Charkha was “re-introduced into India in the twentieth century as a result of a campaign led by Gandhi to promote production by the masses,” and became a great symbol of Indian nationalism. David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900, 107.


The Patriotic Martyrs’ Cemetery, which is located in Sinmi-li in Pyongyang, was founded in 1986 at 33 square meters. In North Korea, the Patriotic Martyrs’ Cemetery is placed on a lower level than the Revolutionary Martyrs’ Cemetery where the people who took part in anti-Japanese struggles are buried.


Rodong Sinmun, May 1, 1993, 1. In regard to Ma Hyǒng’ok, refer to Eunsung Cho, “Pidansǒm ŭi kaltaebat: Pukhan ŭi kalsǒmyu gong’ǒp yǒn’gu [The field of reeds on silk island: A study on North Korea’s reed fiber industry],” Taegu sahak 142 (Feb. 2021).


Pak Sǒngrae, “Ri Sŭnggi ŭi sǒnggong, Ryǒ Kyǒnggu ŭi chasal, wǒlbuk kwahakchadŭl ŭi myǒng’am [Ri Sŭnggi’s success and Ryǒ Kyǒnggu’s suicide, light and shade of the scientists going to the North],” Chu’gan Tong’a 476, March 15, 2005, 65.


The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) was founded in November 1945 by Manhattan Project scientists who built the first atomic bombs; the initial name of this organization was the Federation of Atomic Scientists.


“Vinalon, the North’s Proud Invention,” Federation of American Scientists, accessed January 10, 2019, https://fas.org/nuke/guide/dprk/facility/industry38.htm




For example, in the 1970s, there was an evacuation operation in Pyongyang led by Chang Sǒngt’aek who was the husband of Kim Chŏngil’s younger sister. At the time, North Korea categorized people according to their social component or sǒngbun (成分) stemming from family background or social class, which is divided into three strata: core (核心) stratum, agitation (動搖) stratum, and hostile (敵對) stratum. The evacuation operation led by Chang was seen as an attempt to make Pyongyang a city of the core stratum. A lot of the people from the South, such as the first Minister of Health Lee Pyǒngnam, were evacuated from Pyongyang. In this manner, Ryǒ might have been swept away to the localities of less importance at this time.


Ryǒ Yǒn’gu, Na ŭi abǒji Ryǒ Unhyǒng, ed. Sin Chun’yǒng (Seoul: Kim’yǒngsa, 2001), 284.


Kim Chǒngju, “Minjok ŭi kwahakcha rŭl akkigo naesewǒ chusiǒ,” T’ongil Sinbo, September 23, 2006.


According to this theory, people’s political life is given by the supreme leader and nurtured by the party, although their physical life is given by their parents. As Sonia Ryang stated, “in a society like North Korea, the body is always socially appropriated and never individually owned, yet, at the same time, the individual is held responsible for its maintenance improvement, and transformation. This is the logic that sustains the socialization of the body in North Korea.” Sonia Ryang, “Biopolitics or the Logic of Sovereign Love - Love’s Where-abouts in North Korea,” Sonia Ryang ed., North Korea: Toward a Better Understanding (New York: Lexington Books, 2009), 76.


“3hyǒngje chunbaksa – Ryǒ In’ung, Ryǒ Insŭng, Ryǒ Ingwang tongmudŭl,” Rodong Sinmun, May 15, 1986, 4.


Ryǒ Insŭng, in particular, was described that he played a role in solving some technical problems in the development of vinalon industry. “3hyǒngje chunbaksa – Ryǒ In’ung, Ryǒ Insŭng, Ryǒ Ingwang tongmudŭl,” Rodong Sinmun, May 15, 1986, 4.


Ryǒ Kyǒnggu, Polli yǒmhwa pinil chejo, 108.


“Widaehan suryǒng Kim Ilsŏng tongjikkesǒ mobiron kongjang kǒnsǒlchadŭl ege ch’ukhamun ŭl ponasiyǒtt,” Rodong Sinmun, October 11, 1981, 4; Chu Hanryul, “T’iǒpshi malkko kkekkuthan ch’ungsǒngsim ŭl an’go – sumŭn yǒng’ungdŭl ŭi mobǒm ŭl chǒkkuk ttarabaeugo yitnŭn kwahakwǒn hamhŭngbunwǒn kwahakchadŭl,” Rodong Sinmun, December 14, 1981, 4.


“Widaehan suryǒng Kim Ilsŏng tongjikkesǒ Hamkyongnamdo anui inmingyongje yoro pumun saop ul hyonji eso chidohasiyotta,” Rodong Sinmun, June 6, 1979, 1–2.


Kim Ch’anho, “Choŭn kǒsŭl yǒnguhayǒttago kippǒhasimyǒ,” Rodong Sinmun, December 4, 1986, 2.


Ri Gŭn, “Inmin ŭi ch’ungbok ŭro ilkundŭl ŭl k’iusimyǒ,” Rodong Sinmun, June 29, 1983, 2.


Ryǒm Sǒnggŭn, “Chǒguk ŭn nae hŭimang ŭl kkotp’iwǒjun kot,” Chosǒn Sinbo, November 26, 1984.


Ryǒm Sǒnggŭn, “Chǒguk ŭn nae hŭimang ŭl kkotp’iwǒjun kot,” Chosǒn Sinbo, November 26, 1984.; Ryǒm’s contribution to mobiron was mentioned in the Rodong Sinmun too. Che Hanryul, “T’iǒpshi malkko kkekkuthan ch’ungsǒngsim ŭl an’go – sumŭn yǒng’ungdŭl ŭi mobǒm ŭl chǒkkuk ttarabaeugo yitnŭn kwahakwǒn hamhŭngbunwǒn kwahakchadŭl,” Rodong Sinmun, December 14, 1981, 4.


“Ch’oe Chaeyǒng moksa pangbukki 17,” T’ong’il News, March 9, 2015.




Kim Taeho, “Tarŭn killo tŭrǒsǒn nambukhan kwahak kisul [North and South Korea’s scientific technology that went another way],” Kŭnhyǒndae kwahak kisul kwasalm ŭi pyǒnhwa [Contemporary scientific technology and changes in life] (Kwach’ǒn: Kuksa p’yǒnch’an wiwǒnhoe, 2005), 156.


Ryo Myǒnghŭi, “Widaehan t’aeyang ŭi ryǒksa, pulmyǒl ŭi ǒpchǒk – ǒbǒi suryǒnnim maryǒnhayǒjusin juche kwahak palchǒn ŭi mannyǒn t’odae,” Rodong Sinmun, March 27, 2007.


He was appointed as the President of the Academy of Sciences in March 1961, and served as the Minister of the Metal Industry of the Party. Kang Hoje, “Nambukhan kwahakkisulsa,” in Nambuk kwan’gyesa (Seoul: Ehwa Womans University Press, 2009), 291.


Chosǒn University is operated by Chongryǒn (chaeilpon chosǒnin chongryǒnhaphoi, the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan).


Im Chǒnghyǒk ed., Hyǒndae Chosǒn ŭi Kwahakchadŭl (Seoul: Kyoyuk Kwahaksa, 2003), 50; this book was originally published in Japanese in 1997.


As for the scientists on the stamps of North Korea, there are only two: Ri Sŭnggi and Kye ǔngsang.


Article information Continued

The production of vinyl chloride products. [Left-top] The polymerization workshop of the Hŭngnam vinyl chloride factory. Source: Chosǒn nyǒsǒng (February 1961). [Left-bottom] Members of the Wǒnsan cooperative for producing necessities are making various vinyl chloride products. Source: Chosǒn nyǒsǒng (April 1961) [Right] Two members of the Hamhŭng cooperative for the production of industrial goods are making raincoats from vinyl chloride. Source: Chǒllima (February 1961).

The spinning shop within the February 8 Vinalon Factory area. Source: Vinalon kongjang kǒnsǒl (1961).

[Left] Vinalon was produced for the first time on August 25, 1961, which was 111 days from the completion of the factory. In the picture, Ri Sŭnggi and workers are rejoicing at the sight of the first produced vinalon. Source: Rodong Sinmun, on August 27, 1961, 2. [Right] Workers producing vinalon fabrics for coats at the Shinŭiju Textile Mill, Rodong Sinmun, July 12, 1962, 1.

Workers in the workshop of mobiron under the February 8 Vinalon Complex. Rodong Sinmun, March 20, 1983, 1.

Gravestones of Ryǒ Kyǒnggu (left) and Ri Sŭnggi (right) in the Patriotic Martyr’s Cemetery in Pyongyang. © Chǒng Ch’anghyǒn