So … does this mean KCNA believes in unicorns?

America’s finest news source, The Onion, is presented as parody but can be mistaken for reality. North Korea’s finest news source, KCNA, is presented as reality but can be mistaken for parody. But if you compare the best work of each news source, KCNA is clearly funnier:

Pyongyang, November 29 (KCNA) — Archaeologists of the History Institute of the DPRK Academy of Social Sciences have recently reconfirmed a lair of the unicorn rode by King Tongmyong, founder of the Koguryo Kingdom (B.C. 277-A.D. 668).

The lair is located 200 meters from the Yongmyong Temple in Moran Hill in Pyongyang City. A rectangular rock carved with words “Unicorn Lair” stands in front of the lair. The carved words are believed to date back to the period of Koryo Kingdom (918-1392).

Jo Hui Sung, director of the Institute, told KCNA:

“Korea’s history books deal with the unicorn, considered to be ridden by King Tongmyong, and its lair.

The Sogyong (Pyongyang) chapter of the old book ‘Koryo History’ (geographical book), said: Ulmil Pavilion is on the top of Mt. Kumsu, with Yongmyong Temple, one of Pyongyang’s eight scenic spots, beneath it. The temple served as a relief palace for King Tongmyong, in which there is the lair of his unicorn.

The old book ‘Sinjungdonggukyojisungnam’ (Revised Handbook of Korean Geography) complied in the 16th century wrote that there is a lair west of Pubyok Pavilion in Mt. Kumsu.

The discovery of the unicorn lair, associated with legend about King Tongmyong, proves that Pyongyang was a capital city of Ancient Korea as well as Koguryo Kingdom.”  [KCNA, Nov. 29, 2012]

Unlike the Editor of The Peoples’ Daily, I’ve paused to ask myself, “Can they really be serious?” A S.T.A.L.I.N. search of KCNA’s archives reveals previous references to unicorns, but in those cases, KCNA characterized them as “mythical,” and this report does use the word “legend.”

Perhaps North Korea is throwing a lifeline to its embarrassed Chinese sponsors by planting this cunning and cryptic parody in the U.S. press, although if there’s any place you’d expect to see parody in North Korea, this isn’t it. (The North Koreans are deadly serious about establishing Pyongyang as the historical capital of a unified Korea.) Or perhaps KCNA is offering us scientific evidence that King Tongmyong deceived his people with myths and legends about himself … to bolster the credibility of its own historical claims. Or perhaps they’re telling people to believe in freaking unicorns!

I know I’ve been a little hard on KCNA for its faked photographs, its calls to slit the throat of the President of South Korea, and its attribution of supernatural powers to Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un, but not even I can deny that KCNA reports like this one provide us unique and exclusive access to a world no one else is showing us.  As Jean H. Lee recently put it:

Even though the images and words that the AP produces from Pyongyang are clearly shaped and influenced by the regime, Lee defended her bureau’s presence against accusations from media critics that it is serving the interests of a brutal regime rather than investigating the truth about starvation and a vast gulag system. “Some critics don’t want us there,” she said. “But isn’t it better that we are there? We try to get on the ground to see what’s happening. We have to flesh out the narrative.”

Who, me? I want the crack AP-KCNA Truth Squad right where it can tell us what a keun of unicorn flesh sells for in Chongjin today! Far better that we know just the officially-shaped part of the story of North Korea’s unique biodiversity than none at all! Surely there’s a fragile ecosystem here that requires protection through a generous U.N. grant.  So far, however, the AP hasn’t put this exclusive KCNA report on the wires.  I hope they dare to believe in their sweet dreams, because nothing cloaks a news agency in an air of global respectability like shouting “Look! Unicorn!” to the whole world.

Speaking of which, who else has noticed how quiet the AP’s Pyongyang Journal has been recently?  The last report hosted there is this (seriously, no-kidding) excellent October 7th report from Tim Sullivan.  Sullivan has published at least one other report since then, about the supposed popularity of “Gone With The Wind” in Pyongyang.

Hat tip to (no, not The Onion) Chico Harlan’s Twitter feed.


  1. Maybe it’s one of those mutilated goat unicorns like that guy had leased to the circus.


  2. It would appear to be the qilin/kirin, a regional folkloric chimera of an ox and deer and horse. And, one source I’ve found says the translation of “lair” as discussed above was more a reference to Dongmyeong’s palace; with the Juche archeologists bigging Pyongyang up as the centre of ye olde kingdom of Goguryeo.