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Joy's Story: Part 2 - Trafficked in China

December 17, 2019
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In the first part of her story, Joy shared the details of her life in North Korea and how she made her daring escape. Read "Part 1 - Growing Up in North Korea".

After I finally got picked up by the broker, we got onto a bus. The bus got stopped by Chinese police twice and every time the police came aboard I pretended to be asleep.

I was ready to take the opium pill I had stashed in the collar of my shirt and end my life if I got caught, but thankfully I didn’t have to.

I got some rest for a couple of hours after I arrived at the house and then I was connected with the second broker. The second broker was a North Korean defector. I told her that I wanted to live with an old Chinese couple as their foster granddaughter. She shook her head and told me my only option was to be sold into marriage to a Chinese man so all the brokers who helped me escape could take my bridal cost as payment.

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I couldn't even think of refusing because I was afraid the brokers would do something bad to me or drop me off somewhere alone to get caught by the Chinese police and sent back to North Korea. I had also heard that if North Korean women refused to get married in China, then they could be sold to brothels or sex websites so that the brokers could receive payment. At that point, I realized that I was trapped and I didn’t have any other choice but to be trafficked. The second broker told me that I could escape after living with my Chinese husband for at least six months. If I escape in less than 6 months, the brokers that sold me would return my bridal money to the Chinese husband.

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The second broker took me to different small towns to sell me. Every time I went to a town, many old Chinese men gathered around me to bargain my bridal cost. I felt so ashamed. I was being treated as an animal and not as a human being.

The North Korean broker finally found a man who was willing to pay the amount the broker wanted for me as a bride. I couldn’t even communicate with him because I didn’t speak the language. I remembered looking at the broker’s face. She seemed to pity me. My whole being at the moment was filled with so much bitterness, hopelessness, and sorrow toward everything in the world.

I felt like I was losing everything including my own body to someone I didn’t even know. I was only 18.

Continue reading Part 3 of Joy's story where she shares about her escape from the Chinese man and her rescue journey through LiNK's networks.

You can support North Korean refugees like Joy each month by becoming a Liberty Monthly Donor.

Humans of North Korea: This is freedom

April 29, 2021

I got foreign media from my dad. He was a member of the Korean Workers Party and many of his friends were security agents. They confiscated a lot of foreign media and gave it to my dad and he would bring it home.

Some of my most vivid memories are getting together with my friends at someone’s house, shutting off all the lights, and secretly watching South Korean dramas. It was exhilarating. If you heard anything outside, you’d get startled and think,

“Did they come to arrest us? Are we going to jail now?” It was thrilling doing things we knew we shouldn’t do.

Everything portrayed in the South Korean dramas was so clean and everyone seemed so wealthy. I used to think “Wow, there is such a world out there.” We were taught that South Korea was a poor country but I wondered, “Why can’t we live like that?”


I wanted to wear clothes from the dramas but I couldn’t find them anywhere. We used to get a lot of used clothes from the market down by the harbor. You either find used clothes or fabric and have a tailor make the outfit for you. After three or four days of wearing a new style, everyone would be wearing the same thing because it looked so cool.


My designs were very popular. If I started wearing something new, there was always someone who would wear similarly styled clothes because the number of South Korean dramas that inspired us was so limited. Girls would ask me where I got my clothes and if I wanted to exchange outfits. Bartering was very common and sometimes they’d offer their more expensive clothes in exchange for mine.


But you had to look out for the Inspection Unit. If they caught you wearing jeans and a hoodie, they’d cut the bottom of the jeans with scissors. My sister and brother were older than me so their friends were sometimes in the Inspection Unit. If I knew the person, I would just tell them, “I’ll go change right now” or “I’ll give you these jeans but please don’t cut the bottoms off” and I would go get it back from them later.


The regime doesn’t want people wearing those kinds of clothes. I think it’s because things like jeans symbolize freedom. North Korean society is so restricted that if they allowed jeans there would be no end to what people would want to wear.

Even now in South Korea, every time I put on a pair of jeans I think, “This is freedom.”


- Jihyun Kang
escaped North Korea in 2009. She now works in the fashion industry in Seoul.



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