After defecting from North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee spent 10 difficult years in China, but those years also revealed she had been lied to her entire life in North Korea.
“For someone who was brainwashed so severely, …I was mesmerized by seeing development, cities.” It took a while to accept that the economic situation in North Korea was 100 times worse than in China. … Lee gradually learned to accept the shocking truth: “Life in North Korea is the worst life”.
Lee also began to appreciate the basic human rights and freedoms that had been denied to her. Being able to move around China without having to get a travel certificate was a revelation. “I could go wherever I wanted if I had money to pay for the ticket, that’s huge,” she said.
Gradually she realized what freedom really meant: “I don’t have to hide to watch China TV, I don’t have to cover the window, I can have the sound loud, I can listen to music loudly. I realized I had lived in a virtual prison [in North Korea].”
Eighteen years later, she thinks more North Koreans understand that they are not living in paradise and that there are problems with the economy, even if the conditions are not as bad as the days of the big famine in the 1990s.
“At least they know they are not the best country, they are not the happiest human beings, they are not living in paradise and they know there are economic problems, nearly 50 per cent know that,” she said.
“But the Kim dynasty’s power is too big, they can’t say that or they will be sent to a political prison camp. Who can risk that?” They also risk the lives of three generations of their family. “They are fully aware that they are not only killing themselves.”