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Yeonmi Park’s North Korean Defector Story

Park's survival story has captivated thousands of readers. But how much of it is true? 

“I didn’t know what freedom was,” says Yeonmi Park, author of In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom. “I didn’t even know the word. I didn’t know the concept. I never heard of that word, ‘freedom’. To me, the happiest thing was having food.”

Yeonmi's story begins with her first steps out of North Korea on March 31, 2007. She crossed the frozen Yalu River with her mother in the dead of night, arriving in China with only a vague idea what to do next. She was only thirteen years old. It was the beginning of a harrowing, years-long journey that would take her across China, through the vast Gobi desert, all the way to the Mongolian border, before finally reaching South Korea by plane. 

It took exceptional strength of character for Yeonmi to survive the journey. Living outside of the law, she was subjected to constant abuse; starvation and suicide were rarely far away. Her father crossed the border to join her, but he died of untreated cancer a few months later.

“My father died without knowing even this kind of democracy exists in the world," she told Reason TV. "He didn’t even know this much food was available in the world. And if I could've had the things that Americans throw away, I never would’ve escaped North Korea. That’s how much we were desperate.”

Yeonmi Park's survival story has captivated thousands of readers and propelled her into the spotlight around the world. But how much of it is true? 

Pyongyang has produced a lengthy video that attempts to discredit key parts of story. In melodramatic fashion, Park Yeon Mi, The Puppet of the Human Rights Plot vilifies Yeonmi and her mother, accusing them of being agents of the United States. Doubters have emerged from outside North Korea, as well, calling her a “celebrity defector”. Critics say they've found discrepancies in her life story and inaccuracies in her depiction of her native country. 

For her part, Yeonmi insists on the truth of her story. Some details, she says, were changed to protect family members still living in North Korea. Other events, such as the sexual abuse she endured during her defection, have been shrouded in shame. “I had a reason to hide my secret,” she told Reason TV. “I didn’t want to admit I was raped when I was thirteen years old.” She has attributed other misstatements to her poor command of the English language.

As compelling as her story is, the stakes couldn’t be higher for the community of tens of thousands of North Korean refugees worldwide. Any exaggeration of the facts threatens to undermine their own narratives of widespread human rights abuses and political persecution. Their cause depends on the credibility of stories that are locked inside the world's most secretive nation, making them difficult, and sometimes impossible, to verify.

“I know the truth of North Korea,” Yeonmi said. “The oppression and their tragedy. It cannot be silenced.”

Original release date: November 13, 2015

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  • ||

    Looks like she may have had cosmetic eyelid surgery since arriving in South Korea.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    I don't see it.

  • ||

    East Asian blepharoplasty, also known as "double eyelid surgery", is a type of cosmetic surgery where the skin around the eye is reshaped (blepharoplasty). The purpose of the procedure is to create an upper eyelid with a crease (i.e. "double eyelid") from an eyelid that is naturally without a crease (a.k.a. "single eyelid" or "monolid").
    Blepharoplasty - Society and Culture

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    Ok. Maybe.

  • Haskell_Hunter||

    Yup, spot on. She's had a lot of cosmetic surgery. Hooray for "freedom"!

  • GILMORE™||

  • Hanab||

    CharelsWT: Her features are natural. You'll see more western-like features as you go north in the Korean Peninsula.
    The Chosun minority in Northeast China also tends to exhibit similar characteristics. These people are all Korean by ancestry/heritage.
    My grandfather is from North Korea but was poisoned by the commies prior to the war break-out(for his wealth). He also looked maybe 1/2 or 1/4 western/white in photos which I saw. So his son one of my uncles have large eyes with distinct double eyelids. While my father has faint lines or eyelids which crease only when tired.

  • ||

    Hanab, thanks for the clarification. Her eyes look a bit like those of the South Korean actresses who have had the eyelid surgery. With HD TV and the right camera angle, you can sometimes see the almost invisible scars on the tops of their eyelids.

  • guitargeek||

    Seriously, have the bots gained sentience?!

  • prolefeed||

    It's a hell of a story. Saying it could be untrue because the North Korean govt has tried to discredit it is ludicrous. That being said, how do you verify anything that happens inside that black hole of a regime.

  • Hanab||

    Maybe you don't need to verify. It's enough to know there's a lot of human rights violations, torture, unfairness. That's what the defectors want the world to see. There is injustice anywhere. But they don't get a chance at all.

  • Kure'i||

    Shriek has visited and verified that the NoKo system has problems, but at least everything there has access to medical care. S. Richman has also pointed out that it is, in many ways, also better than Israel.

  • kibby||

    Any exaggeration of the facts threatens to undermine their own narratives of widespread human rights abuses and political persecution. Their cause depends on the credibility of stories that are locked inside the world's most secretive nation, making them difficult, and sometimes impossible, to verify.

    I'm sorry, is there even a question that North Korea is guilty of widespread human rights abuses? Even if some stories are exaggerated it certainly doesn't change the fact that millions of people are living under Stalinism in the year 2015.

  • Raven Nation||

    One of the great mysteries of the modern world: the determination of some people to offer defenses of totalitarian regimes from Stalin's USSR, through the Central American dictatorships, to North Korea and Cuba.

  • Sevo||

    Yep. The links to the 'debunkers' are interesting:

    "In one interview, Abt had lamented that Westerners often misunderstand how people in Confucian societies such as North Korea show respect to their leaders and expect to be cared for in return."
    See, starvation, mass-murder, prison camps - they're all just a difference in culture!

    "Michael Bassett [...] “She wants to sensationalize the narrative to make everybody think that, you know, this is the ‘90s North Korea. It’s not,”
    It's NOT the '90s; Kim doesn't have as many people to kill any more.

  • MSimon||

    Only Jihadis (and the KKK) lament the Austrian Corporal's failure.

  • GILMORE™||

    "One of the great mysteries of the modern world: the determination of some people to offer defenses of totalitarian regimes from Stalin's USSR, through the Central American dictatorships, to North Korea and Cuba."

    Apologists tend to believe that simply because there have been some inaccuracies or inconsistent information in reporting re: Totalitarian Regimes, that they are justified in believing 'none of it'.

    i.e. they take an ounce of doubt to justify a metric ton of bullshit

    Its the attitude that, "If the capitalist West hates these people so much, why, there *must* be something good about it!"

    Throughout the Cold War, there was propaganda slinging by both sides. If you go *looking for them*, you can certainly find lies.

    However, apologists will stride confidently past a mountain of damning evidence in order to highlight any tiny detail they think supports their case. "Not AS MANY starved as claimed!" "They never had people torn apart by dogs! (their bodies were fed to them, duh!)" Even if this woman's story turned out to be false, none of it would change the reality that the North Korea has operated death-camps for political prisoners for decades.

    I can appreciate academics who try to maintain an objective view for the sake of history; lefty journalists who praise Cuba, on the other hand, make me physically ill. Nothing is so abominable as a nation which treats its citizens like prisoners and makes it a crime to leave.

  • ||

    However, apologists will stride confidently past a mountain of damning evidence in order to highlight any tiny detail they think supports their case.

    "The other mayor change in his story is that of the execution he witnessed of his mother and brother in Camp 14 did not take place in Camp 14, but in Camp 18."
    Even Professional Liars will be Exposed

  • GILMORE™||

    "It is hard to tell if Yeon Mi Park was actually born in the DPRK herself as it is highly likely, and suspicions points to, that she have had a plastic surgery, so the available pictures that is claimed to be taken in the DPRK when she was a child can’t be verified at all besides by her own words. Yeon Mi Park ...have an older sister who left the DPRK for China in according to her official story, without notifying the rest of the family. Still compared to the testimony of the celebrity “defector” Shin Dong Hyuk, the rest of the family didn’t get punished for having a family member escaping or three generations of the family and relatives punished. The “three generations punishment” is something that happens to Koreans who have a relative who escapes the DPRK apparently, where all relatives to the person who escapes, will go to labor camp for the rest of their lives. Unless Yeon Mi Park fails incredibly in her act to slander the DPRK like the child-rapist Shin Dong Hyuk recently did, we won’t get any more evidence of her false testimony."

    There's just something incredibry hirrarious about the way Nork propagandists write.

    Its not just the "Cringlish" mistakes with grammar. Its the bombastic, preening, arrogant/cynical tone... mixed w/ pedantic rhetorical flourishes to sound "educated"

    "We know better than accept false words made of Facelift-Getters! obvious corrupt, decadent product of spoiled upbringing, overfed most likely to be sure!"

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    It's very similar to Scientology. Go to the website where they slander their critics. It's hilarious. They take unflattering pictures from very far away, blow them up, and use them as though they're evidence of some sort.

    Lemme see if I can find the site.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

  • Rhywun||

    Oh wow, that's great. "A Violent Psychopath", "The Lady Killer", "The Drama Queen", "The Raging Bully" and on and on.

    Freedom Mag. *rolls eyes*

  • ||

    Millions of American citizens want Stalinism in the year 2015.

  • ||

    They call this 'progress'.

  • Hanab||

    Well put

  • John C. Randolph||

    Pyongyang has produced a lengthy video that attempts to discredit key parts of story.

    ...and a pack of mass-murdering commie rat bastards like the Baby God Dictator's minions wouldn't LIE, would they?

    Fuck the Nork regime.

    -jcr

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    It's a tough call. Who do you believe, this woman or the vast propaganda machine that is the hermit kingdom ?

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    Yeah, who do you believe? Defectors, or Scientology.?

  • ||

    Trump, definitely Trump.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    I'd like to see Scientologists invest in Chipotle.

    Just to see Playa's nugget explode.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    I hate Chipotle more than Scientology, but I wouldn't mind seeing them go down in flames together.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Chipotle will kill you with E-coli in their food, BUT, do not worry, it is GMO-free E-coli!

    Scientology will take all of your money and then try to force you to commit suicide (to prevent you from saying bad things about them), but do not worry, you will be "clear" while you commit suicide!

    ... I'm not sure which is better or preferred, it baffles me to no end ...

  • Sevo||

    "Chipotle will kill you with E-coli in their food, BUT, do not worry, it is GMO-free E-coli!"

    I thought this was a throw-away line, so I searched.

    "When it comes to our food, genetically modified ingredients don’t make the cut."
    https://chipotle.com/gmo

    Yep, 100% natural E-coli, no GMOs added! Die a natural death!

  • ||

    I don't believe the midget dictator and I highly doubt at least parts of the woman's story.

  • Sevo||

    "I highly doubt at least parts of the woman's story."

    What parts?

  • Vampire||

    "He didn’t even know this much food was available in the world. And if I could've had the things that Americans throw away, I never would’ve escaped North Korea.

    Many Americans throw away more than food, they throw away their freedom and liberty as well.

  • ||

    Yeonmi has a very compelling story. She's believable. Terrific interview.

  • s7te2013||

    I don't believe the midget dictator and I highly doubt at least parts of the woman's story.
    http://www.s77e.com/informatio.....owers.html
    http://www.s77e.com/informatio.....ve-me.html

  • برامج انترنت||

    Yeonmi has a very compelling story. She's believable. Terrific interview.

    programs2017
    programscomputerfree

  • ahmed magdy||

    keep going Yeonmi i believe you
    my computer games website http://www.3esha-t7mel.com/computer-games/
    my chat website hola

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