Hyeonseo Lee grew up in the closed and regimented society of North Korea, and at 17 she escaped into China, living there illegally for a decade, always under the fear of being reported to the Chinese authorities and being sent back to North Korea. She wrote a book telling her story, and has now started an organization, Tongil, that primarily works towards preventing the rampant trafficking of female North Korean defectors living in China. Following is an excerpt from an interview:
Q: After escaping from North Korea, you lived in China for 10 years constantly under the fear of being discovered. What did that do to you?
A: The title of my book, The Girl With Seven Names, means that I had seven different lives. For a North Korean defector, life in China is difficult. If we are repatriated to North Korea, (we face) torture, imprisonment and sometimes, even public execution. … I did my best to hide by changing my name many times. But I was captured by the Chinese police. But because my Chinese was so good, they thought I was Chinese and released me.
As North Korean defectors, once we cross the border, we don’t know where to go, and we don’t know how to speak the language. Most women defectors are sold as sex slaves. In China the gender imbalance has driven up the demand for trafficked brides. …That is what I am fighting against. Read more