About the Author
View more articles by Kim Yoo-sung
Kim Yoo-sung is an Ask a North Korean contributor who left Gil-joo County of Hamkyungbuk-do, DPRK in 2005
Every week we ask a North Korean your questions, giving you the chance to learn more about the country we know so little about.
This week Jacob from the USA asks:
I am an American, my wife is Chinese and our son is mixed. How would people in North Korea view my family?
It has been several years since I came to live in South Korea. From time to time, I forget that I originally came from North Korea. Thus, I’m going to answer your question, thinking as if I were still living in North Korea. Also, I’d like you to keep in mind that some North Koreans may agree with me but my opinion could be different from those of other North Koreans.
First, you asked me how your family would be viewed by North Koreans. I’m sorry to tell you this but North Koreans wouldn’t have a good opinion of your family. To make it worse, you have a Chinese wife – North Koreans have a very bad opinion of Chinese people.
You may wonder why North Koreans dislike Americans and Chinese. North Koreans are taught that Americans are bad, evil people while growing up. North Koreans tend to hold Americans accountable for the division of Korean Peninsula as well as the outbreak of Korean War. North Koreans receive education at school that all international conflicts of this world are caused by America and that it doesn’t respect the autonomy of other countries in this world. When I was growing up in North Korea, I also heard that a starving North Korean boy ate an apple which had fallen from a cathedral. When an American missionary found out about this, he supposedly wrote T-H-I-E-F across the forehead of the North Korean boy. Because I grew up hearing stories like this, I couldn’t help but think that Americans were evil, scary people. Therefore, many North Koreans despise Americans and believe that we need to drive Americans out of the Korean Peninsula. Even the main slogan and chant of the North Korean People’s Army reads “Destroy the American imperialists – the main enemy of the Korean people!”
I couldn’t believe that Americans helped and saved my life
As I grew up being taught to develop hatred toward Americans, I was one of those North Koreans who thought Americans were evil. But my whole opinion about Americans changed completely while escaping from North Korea. While I was on my way to South Korea, I got caught by Chinese cops and was about to be sent back to North Korea. But thanks to some Americans from a non-profit organization, I was released from the Chinese prison holding North Korean refuges in order to send them back to North Korea. When I first found out about this, I couldn’t believe that Americans helped and saved my life. They were so different from the kind of Americans were supposed to be. I couldn’t believe that Americans took their time and money in order to help me of different race and nationality. It was hard for me to believe that Americans donated their money to help North Korean refugees like me. At first, I didn’t believe all of this. But when my parents who had escaped before me and arrived in Thailand told me all about this in detail, I was so touched. I haven’t forgotten how grateful I am since then. To this day, I still think that Americans are the people who saved my life.
WHAT ABOUT CHINA?
Now, I’ve told you that North Koreans aren’t likely to have a good opinion of your family since your wife is Chinese. You may wonder why North Koreans dislike Chinese so much. First of all, Chinese look down on North Koreans purely based on the reason that North Korea is poorer than China. Chinese treat North Koreans as if we’re beggars. Plus, the North Korean economy was once better off than Chinese economy. Now, the Chinese economy has improved and surpassed North Korea. North Koreans aren’t very happy about this. I didn’t hate Chinese but I didn’t like them, either. That’s because I thought that China bought all the underground resources from North Korea at a very low price solely because China is richer than North Korea.
Moreover, while I was escaping from North Korea and on my way to South Korea, I was caught by Chinese police who beat me up and broke two of my ribs. I haven’t forgotten this. Plus, my younger brother couldn’t make it to South Korea and lost his life while in China. That’s why I think it is hard for me to like China. I’m sorry to say this to you, but I still don’t have a good opinion of the Chinese, today. At first I hated the Chinese for those reasons. But now, I think it’s more that I hate the Chinese government and the Communist Party of China.
… younger North Koreans think that nationality and race shouldn’t be a problem in one’s marriage
Now, I think you’re wondering more about how international marriage and mixed-race children would be viewed by North Koreans. Older North Koreans who are 50 and over are very conservative and they take pride on the homogeneity of Koreans. Thus, they tend to oppose international marriages. But younger North Koreans think that nationality and race shouldn’t be a problem in one’s marriage. They would think that if they fell in love with someone of a different race and nationality, they should be able to marry them and have children together. Personally, I was always in favor of international marriage even while in North Korea. That’s because I always thought that nationality shouldn’t be an obstacle to who you love. I also thought that concepts such as “nationality” and “race” were created by rulers so that they could rule others.
Please, keep in mind that some North Koreans may like Chinese and others may dislike them, just like I do. My opinion doesn’t represent that of the entire North Korean people. Also, I wanted to be honest about how your family would be viewed in North Korea. I’m sorry if my response hurts your feelings but I don’t want to distort the facts in order to not offend you. In conclusion, I believe most people in most countries are nice people. But it is the governments that we should criticize, not their people. Among the governments in this world, it appears to me that the so-called communist governments are the worst of all.
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Translation by Elizabeth Jae
Artwork by Catherine Salkeld