Last week, a North Korean border guard shot four Chinese citizens, killing three, near Dandong along the tense border between the two countries. This comes just over a year since Current TV reporters Euna Lee and Laura Ling were arrested by North Korean guards at a different stretch of border in March of 2009 and sentenced to 12 years in a labor camp (former President Bill Clinton negotiated their release in August of the same year).
While China and North Korea historically have been politically and economically friendly, the increasingly erratic and provocative behavior of North Korea’s leadership has strained relations in recent years. That is precisely the story Chinese-born filmmaker Liang Zhao set out to tell when he went back to his childhood home in Dandong, situated on the border with North Korea. In his film Return to the Border, which airs beginning this Sunday on Global Voices (PBS WORLD), Liang goes back to his hometown only to find it vastly changed from his childhood decades ago. In the intervening years, North Korean President Kim Il-sung died and was succeeded by his son Kim Jong-il. China abandoned its isolationism and began trading with the West, further alienating its fellow communists in North Korea. North Koreans suffered a brutal famine, in which as many as 2 million died.
Liang talks Dandong residents and former North Korean citizens, and tours the border, even covertly entering North Korea to bear witness to the strange militarism of its culture and fearful behavior by its citizens. Border guards appear, and quietly ask for cigarettes and food. The film explores how borders are purely man-made barriers, and how common humanity transcends them on a daily basis.
Tune in to watch Return to the Border — premiering Sunday on Global Voices (check local listings)— for a glimpse into this controversial line on the map for context into the conflicts there that are making the news today.