Yeonmi Park is a North Korean refugee who is one of the most famous American women born in North Korea. Ever since her escape she speaks about the same and about what is happening in the most closed country in the world. Park miraculously escaped from her native country and moved to China in 2007. Two years later, she received permission to enter South Korea, and in 2014 she moved to the United States. Let’s explore these interesting facts about Yeonmi Park’s life and career!
Yeonmi Park: From Escaping North Korea To American Podcasts (14 Life Facts)
1. Who is Yeonmi Park?
Yeonmi Park is a human rights activist and journalist who works as an advocate for the rights of victims of human trafficking and draws attention to the tragedy of the people of North Korea. She is after all a girl who escaped from North Korea.
Since 2016, she has fought for human rights and is engaged in human rights work for victims of human trafficking.
2. Why is Yeonmi Park’s story important?
Yeonmi Park grew up in North Korea and survived hunger and sexual slavery. Her story surprised the world, although not everything is so simple in it. About a thousand people flee North Korea every year with YeonmiPark being one of the most famous fugitives.
The state of North Korea was formed in 1948. From the very beginning, the only dominant ideology in the country has been a special form of communism – Juche , “self-reliance.” Since 2011, the head of state has been Kim Jong-un, the grandson of the founder of the DPRK, Kim Il Sung.
It is known that even today there are several concentration camps in the country, where some people spend their whole lives from birth to death. Residents of North Korea, with the exception of the party elite, are completely isolated from the outside world. There are many cases when the North Koreans managed to escape from the country and make public what is happening in their homeland. One of these people was born and raised in a concentration camp refugee Shin In Geun. He fled the country in 2005 and in 2013 published the book Escape from the Death Camp.
You can also learn about life in North Korea from Vitaly Mansky’s documentary “In the Rays of the Sun” (2016).
3. A carefree childhood:
Park was born on October 4, 1993 in the city of Hyesan, located in the province of Yanggan-do, into an educated and influential family. But the key thing to note is that Park was born in 1993, which happens to be a period of mass famine in North Korea. From an early age, she was taught at school to hate Americans, and she was used to seeing human corpses on the streets.
4. She was wealthy until her father got caught:
Her father, Park Jin-sik, was an official in the Hyesan administration, and her mother, Byeong Geum-suk, was a nurse in the army. Parki’s family was wealthy by North Korean standards until his father was sentenced to hard labor for smuggling and running an illegal business.
Wanting to improve the family’s financial situation during a famine in the 1990s, Jin-sik took up smuggling in Pyongyang, spending most of the year there while his wife and two daughters (oldest, Eunmi, and youngest, Yeonmi) lived in Hyesan.
After some time, Park Jin-sik reunited with his family and began to rush them, persuading them to flee to China. The eldest daughter, Eunmi, fled to China without notifying her family, and they parted ways. The rest of the Park family fled with the help of brokers who transport North Koreans to China. There, Yeonmi and her mother fell into the trap established by human traffickers.
5. Sex slave in China:
In 2007, Yeonmi fled North Korea with her mother but they hired smugglers to help them cross the border, and on March 31, 2007, they entered China via the Yalu River. The ice on it was already beginning to melt, but in some places it was still dense, and the mother and daughter were able to cross to the other side.
After becoming a victim of a Chinese broker, her mother offered herself in return and was raped in front of her daughter. Youngmi’s mother was later sold to a Chinese farmer for $60. Yeonmi herself was bought out by one of the brokers for $260. He promised that he would reunite her with his family if the girl became his mistress and helped smuggle other North Korean women. The girl agreed. In the book, Yeonmi notes that shortly thereafter, a broker smuggled her ailing father to China. The father died of cancer a few weeks later.
6. Mongolia, South Korea, and now the United States:
Yeonmi and her mother managed to escape as Christian missionaries helped the Parks move to Mongolia, and diplomats from South Korea facilitated the move to Seoul. Since 2009, Park has lived in South Korea, and in 2014 she moved to the United States where she lives now.
7. Park is one of Donald Trump’s vocal critics:
In 2017-2021, she couldn’t believe that the President of the United States was praising and meeting in person with one of the most brutal people on the planet.
Trump, we recall, organized a large summit of the leaders of the two countries, where the flag of North Korea for the first time appeared next to the flag of the United States. Then even his faithful supporters were disappointed in the president, who considered what was happening “the greatest humiliation of the country in its 400-year history.”
After leaving the White House, Trump stole letters he received from Kim Jong-un. This fact once again demonstrated the attachment of the 45th US President to the North Korean terrorist.
8. Her 2017 Global Teen Leaders speech was a main viral hit:
Yeonmi Park rose to worldwide fame after she gave a speech at the 2014-15 One Young World Forum in Dublin, where she talked about her escape from North Korea. The video of her speech on YouTube has been viewed by more than 2 million people.
But it was when she was only 23 years old when she gave a speech at the 2017 Global Teen Leaders conference at the Just Peace Summit. In this regard, a video of her performance in 2014 surfaced on the network, which quickly spread through social networks.
In her speech Park paints how she managed to escape from North Korea and outlined many details from the daily life of ordinary North Koreans. For example, the country has only one TV channel and no internet, and people are publicly executed for making unauthorized phone calls and watching banned movies (in the case of Park’s friend’s mother, a Hollywood movie). When Yeonmi was 14 years old, her family fled to China, where on the first day the girl and her mother were caught by human traffickers.
9. How did she escape Korea?
North Korean survivor Yeonmi Park escaped from the open-air prison built by the Kim Jong dynasty – a country called North Korea.
A very high-risk journey during which she had to face the hostility of the elements, but also those of men. She says: “I waited for the river that separates North Korea and China to freeze over to cross it with my mother. I knew it was very risky. If caught, I would be forced to work in a labor camp. But if I stayed, I could die of hunger or disease.
Joining China was the hope of a better tomorrow but she was caught by human traffickers and sold for $260. Still, nothing will dampen Yeonmi Park’s determination. She has endured too much pain and overcome too many obstacles to give up this fight. “When we arrived, my mother was raped in China and I was sold for 260 dollars by a human trafficker. I was 13 then,” she says. Her will to live was stronger than anything. His journey could not end at a dead end. She will flee once again and will try everything for everything: the night crossing of the Gobi desert (Mongolia) with, as the only landmark, the North Star. “Sometimes in order to escape the surveillance of the Chinese military, I would crawl on the ground, ” she testified.
Fate and the good hearts of some people finally allowed Yeonmi Park to reach South Korea and recover enough to begin her journalistic story with first hand information.
10. She was interviewed by Joe Rogan:
American stand-up comedian and one of the most famous martial arts commentators in the world, Joe Rogan hosts the Joe Rogan Experience (JRE) podcast with ten million subscribers.
His YouTube channel contains episodes with Musk, Snowden, and Bernie Sanders gaining millions of views.
JR released a podcast with her, which has already been called “one of the best.”
11. Yeonmi Park exposes Anti-American hate in North Korean schools:
Park claims that at school she and other children were taught that they live in the best country in the world, that they have no one to envy, and “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il was born to protect them from the “Western world.”
Youngmi writes in her book that Anti-Western propaganda was carried out in educational institutions and that all classrooms and children’s textbooks were plastered with grotesque images of Americans. On some of them – painted, with blue eyes and big noses – they executed the civilian population of North Korea. On others, it was the opposite – North Korean children stabbed the Americans with bayonets.
Propaganda was even present in math lessons.
A typical math question was posed like this: “If you kill one American bastard and your friend kills two, how many dead American bastards will you have?” It was impossible to call Americans simply Americans – it was too respectful. It was correct to say “American bastard” or “Yankee devil.” At recess, children beat mannequins dressed in American uniforms. The students were told that they belonged to the “Kim race”. “I never knew I was Asian. The regime said I was of the Kim race,” Yongmi says.
12. Yeonmi Park explains how young North Korean children are brainwashed:
Everything that could contradict ideology was forbidden to be voiced even in the family. According to Yeonmi, even her grandparents, who knew how Koreans lived before the revolution, never talked about it. Mother warned me never to think anything bad about the Kim dynasty: “When I was old enough to understand what was going on, my mother said: “Remember, Yongmi, even when you think you are alone, birds and mice can hear your whisper.” Because of this, Yongmi believed that Kim Jong Il was a god who could read her mind.
The government was obsessed with keeping “bad ideas” out of North Korea. All foreign media were banned. Many North Korean families had televisions and radios. But they were sealed and tuned to state-approved channels. If someone tried to change the settings, they could be arrested and sent to re-education.
Youngmi’s uncle, Jin, had a VCR. The girl recalls that when she was little, she often watched Hollywood films on it, which could be bought on the black market. When she was seven or eight years old, she watched Titanic and was shocked that someone could make such a “raunchy” film: “In North Korea, directors would be executed. It was forbidden to create stories about people there – nothing was allowed except propaganda about the leader. I was struck by the idea that people can choose their own destiny.”
13. Where is Yeonmi Park now in 2023?
Yeonmi Park’s new book, While Time Remains: A North Korean Defector’s Search for Freedom in America was launched in U.S. stores on February 14. Yeonmi’s book is priced at Amazon for $17.00 (hardcover) and $14.99 (digital version for Kindle tablet).
Yeonmi is widely known for her detailed accounts of life in North Korea. In particular, she talked a lot about the labor camp system that her father went through, as well as criminal gangs that are endowed with a number of powers from the top leadership of the DPRK.
In her new book, Park is urging the people of the US to fight a series of dangerous trends that could turn the freest country on the planet into something like North Korea. The author considers it extremely dangerous not only right-wing, but also left-wing politicians. Pak calls constitutional freedom of speech, checks and balances the main guarantors of US prosperity.
Before reading her latest book, check out her first book:
In 2015, Yeonmi released a book called- In Order to Live. “In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom” will be translated into seventeen languages.
14. Criticism and story discrepancies about Yeonmi Park:
If you have read the main things we’ve written about Yeonmi Park in all the points above, get ready for the information to become strange. Because a number of publications point to discrepancies.
For example, in Park’s story the details of the escape and crimes of the North Korean authorities as written in her book vary.
She was wealthy but lived very poorly:
According to Wikipedia, she said that by North Korean standards, the family was considered wealthy, but she also said she lived in “a small one-story house that was blown through by the wind.” Like most North Koreans, the Pak had almost no running water. Electricity appeared rarely – once every few weeks. Y-Park also writes that the family had clothes and food. From time to time, the Packs shared food with their neighbors.
But we do know that the famine did strike and that things got bad. The famine began with the economic crisis in North Korea. Since the 1950s, the state has been actively supported by China and the USSR. However, in the early 1990s, the USSR demanded that North Korea pay market prices for imported products. China has simply reduced the amount of international aid. North Korea’s GDP began to fall, which has been developing in the country since the early 1990s, and has escalated against the backdrop of large-scale floods. There is famine in North Korea. Then a number of countries sent humanitarian aid to her – almost all of it went to the needs of the army. Smuggling has become the main way for the inhabitants of the country to survive.
Youngmi points out that due to increased competition, her father’s business went into decline, “It seemed normal to me that sometimes we had food, and sometimes we only ate one meal a day and went hungry.” In the end, the father began to earn money by smuggling gold, copper, nickel and cobalt to China, and the family’s affairs improved slightly.
However, according to Youngmi, almost everyone she knew had relatives who starved to death. She recalls that she saw the corpses of people right on the streets. My parents told me not to pay attention to them. “It was normal to see piles of bodies and do nothing when a stranger screamed for help.”
In an interview, Youngmi noted that she sometimes ate dragonflies, locusts, and sparrows. In the end, the sisters decided to flee to China.
Classroom story details are messed up:
Next, she has published a book about her life in North Korea and is involved in helping the victims of sex trafficking and human rights in North Korea and around the world. The activist was invited to the One Young World summit in Dublin, Oslo Freedom Forum and TED.
However, critics note that things are not so simple with Yongmi. Her story often changes, and she herself is confused in the details. There are many examples – in 2014, in an interview with The Guardian, the girl spoke about the case when the whole class was forced to watch the execution of the mother of a classmate. The woman was accused of watching a South Korean film. In an interview with the Irish Independent, Youngmi said the same thing, but noted that the woman was executed after watching the American film James Bond. Later, The Diplomat took comments from other North Korean dissidents – they said that there had been no executions in Hyesan since the early 2000s.
Running away with her mother and father, or only mother, or mother and sister?
Evidence of her escape from North Korea is also changing. In a radio interview with the San Francisco station, Youngmi revealed that she fled the country with her mother and father. In subsequent materials, the story has changed – now the girl says that she ran away only with her mother – as we have written about under the heading: Sex Slave In China.
But according to Yeonmi, when she was 13 and her elder sister was 16, they decided to run away. “We didn’t have detailed plans or maps. We knew nothing of what lay ahead of us. Imagine your house is on fire. What are you going to do? Will you wait for death in the fire or jump out of the window, and come what may? So we did. We decided to run away from home instead of burning down, ”Yeonmi told TED.
But we have also read that her sister escaped on her own without involving the father, mother or Yeonmi.
According to her, while the sisters were supposed to cross the border, one of them was admitted to the hospital with abdominal pain. The doctors did not have the equipment to make an accurate diagnosis. They decided to perform the operation without anesthesia. According to Yeonmi, this is how most operations in North Korea are conducted. Yunmini had to run on her own with just her mother.
Youngmi and her mother planned an escape the following week. As it turned out, their smugglers were sex traffickers. They delivered women to Chinese men.
The differences in the stories Youngmi attributes to the language barrier, childhood memories, and also the fact that at first she was afraid of being judged as a victim of sex trafficking: “I thought if I told someone that I was sold and raped at 13, no one would marry me. I thought that if I told the truth, it would be the end of the world. So I came up with a story where I wasn’t a victim of the sex trade and my parents protected me in China.”