Yeonmi Park’s Escape from North Korea: Go to Where the Light Is
This is the journey of one North Korean survivor, Yeonmi Park, who escaped North Korea’s borders and then had to break free from its brainwashing.
- In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom (book): Want to hear more of Yeonmi’s story? Check out her book detailing her life in North Korea and escape.
- Warsaw’s Blinking Lights – Learn Liberty (video): One of Learn Liberty’s own professors, Professor Peter Jaworski, grew up under a communist regime. In this video, Professor Jaworski and his family tell the story of their involvement in Radio Free Poland.
- Civil Disobedience: One Lone Man and the Tanks of Tiananmen (blog post): Dr. Wade Shol tells the story of the Tiananmen Square Massacre and one man who stood up to the communist regime.
Yeah it’s a long journey. A lot of tragedy involved. Basically, my sister left with her friends because we just didn’t have enough frozen potatoes. There’s no way we could just maintain our survival. The only way is to escape. All I knew was China has lights. And I thought,”Okay, if I go back where the light is there will be some food.” I didn’t even know what it means to be free. All I wanted was a bowl of rice.
At the age of 13 my mother and I crossed the frozen river but unfortunately the Chinese government they don’t acknowledge us as refugees and they send us back to North Korea even though that we would face death or imprisonment. A lot of Chinese people are taking advantage of our vulnerability and that’s how human trafficking is happening for the North Korean people. Myself and my mother were both victims of that.
Years later I found out that if I go to South Korea I can be free, and I crossed the Gobi Desert to Mongolia with my mother. You accept you might die, because there’s no way of going back. It’s just dying from the … executed by the regime. We brought knives, poisons with us. That was the last try to live like human beings with dignity. When we arrived in Mongolia the soldiers caught us. They were like, “You are going back to China and then you will be sent back to North Korea.” That’s why we did not hesitate to tell them, “We’re going to kill ourselves,” because we know what that consequences are. We will be executed or imprisoned forever, and starve to death anyway. So we were pleading them and threatening them, and somehow luckily they didn’t send us back.
When I came to America I was really nervous, because we don’t have Internet. In this country you can just type “Americans” and see their photos, but for us were not allowed to travel, we don’t have Internet so we just see the paintings the government draws for us, which is like USA and big nose and blue eyes, like looks like monsters. For me that was the image of Americans. A year ago or something more than that, that was the first time that I was in America and sitting in the room there are thousands of white people. I got on the stage and I looked at them and they looked all the same. And to see the power of the brainwashing, and like even that way, even the songs that you sing, the books you read, and the math problems, the science you learn, everything will be the brainwashing.
Law and power existed for protecting the wealthy strong people. That’s how I understood the power. I understood power that way. I never knew power existed to protect the weak and the voiceless. All my life I just thought that was normal. People disappear for no reason. Like my sister’s friend’s mother she just got executed and several months later the government said, “Oh, we just made a mistake.” That was it. Seeing rats eating people. Yeah, I think you can only imagine those kinds of images in the head. There are a lot of people going through that. There’s no surprise. There’s no terms or word like justice. No word for liberty, or even love. It’s different planet I think. There’s no way I can explain North Korea with our human language.
Without freedom we cannot fulfill our potentials. We cannot be who we are. So that’s why I think I was ready to die for freedom and I have no regrets, the choices that I made to be free.