New generation of North Korean defectors become YouTube stars

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North Korean defector Lee Pyung, 24, worked as a fashion model for an online shopping mall and appeared on a South Korean’s YouTube channel. Now he banks up to $15,000 a month, he says, having cultivated an online following of 45,000 on his channel by dishing about his tattoos and North Korean cigarettes.

Mr. Lee is also a role model for students at the Priming Leadership Academy, a school that helps young defectors enter college and find careers. In November, the school beefed up its curriculum, adding alongside math and English courses a new “one-person media” class taught by a 24-year-old South Korean YouTuber.

The phenomena of young North Korean defectors becoming YouTube star baffles some older North Korean defectors who have traditionally shunned the limelight. Few spoke up, and when they did, they focused on activism, like sharing their harrowing escapes to condemn the Kim regime.

The younger generation have milder views on North Korea, older defectors say, because few recall the country’s mass famine from the 1990s that killed an estimated two million to three million people. “I wish they would pay more attention to the important issues, but obviously I can’t force them,” says Seo Jae-pyong, 49, who fled nearly two decades ago and now heads a large defectors group.

This generational divide is seen with Kim Myung, 27, who carved out an online niche playing traditional Korean folk songs—including those from the North—with an ocarina, an ancient wind instrument. He had never touched a musical instrument before relocating to Seoul in 2006. His mother initially called the pursuit buffoonery. Mr. Kim’s YouTube channel gins up demand for paid, offline gigs—and he says his mother has now approved a career choice that wouldn’t be plausible in their former homeland.

The rationale for leaving North Korea is changing. Just seven years ago, the leading motive was still a lack of food and economic hardship, according to a survey funded by the South Korean government. Now the top-cited reason is searching for freedom.

[The Washington Post]

This entry was posted in by Grant Montgomery.

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