Yeonmi Park: North Korea | Lex Fridman Podcast #196 | Summary and Q&A

June 30, 2021
Lex Fridman Podcast
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Yeonmi Park: North Korea | Lex Fridman Podcast #196


North Korean defector, Yon Mi Park, shares the harrowing experiences of famine, censorship, and human rights violations in North Korea, highlighting the need for global attention and action.

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Key Insights

  • 🇰🇵 Hunger and suffering have been used as tools of control in North Korea, with the government intentionally silencing any mention of famine or hunger.
  • 🤕 North Korean citizens are denied basic human rights and are taught to idolize the government and its leader from a young age.
  • 🇰🇵 The international community must address the human rights violations and suffering in North Korea, challenging the oppressive regime and advocating for change.


the following is a conversation with yon mi park a north korean defector human rights activist and author of the book in order to live quick mention of our sponsors balcampo gala games better help and ate sleep check them out in the description to support this podcast let me say a few words about north korea from 1994 to 98 north korea went through... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How did Yon Mi Park's perception of North Korea change after escaping to South Korea?

Yon Mi Park initially believed North Korea to be a paradise, but upon escaping and learning the truth about government-controlled oppression and suffering, her perception drastically changed. She realized the extent of the lies and propaganda fed to the North Korean people.

Q: Why were concepts like love and compassion forbidden in North Korea?

The North Korean regime wanted absolute loyalty and worship from its people, so any form of love or compassion that could divert attention or loyalty from the government was seen as a threat. The regime aimed to control every aspect of its citizens' lives, including their emotions and relationships.

Q: How did Yon Mi Park's experiences in North Korea compare to other famines in history?

The famine in North Korea was characterized by extreme suffering and starvation on an enormous scale. The government's denial and control of information made it difficult to accurately assess the number of deaths, but the silent suffering endured by millions of North Koreans was devastating.

Q: Is there hope for a change in North Korea's oppressive regime?

Yon Mi Park remains hopeful but acknowledges the difficulty of initiating change. She emphasizes the need for global awareness and intervention, particularly addressing the role of China in supporting the North Korean regime. Park believes that speaking out against the regime and advocating for human rights is a crucial step in potentially bringing about change.


In this conversation with Yeonmi Park, a North Korean defector, human rights activist, and author, they discuss her journey from North Korea to South Korea, her experience of living under the oppressive regime, and her thoughts on love, suffering, and the world's response to the atrocities in North Korea. Yeonmi shares how she was raised to believe that North Korea was the best country in the world, but later realized the harsh reality of living in a country where basic human rights were violated and love was forbidden. She talks about her escape to China, the struggles she faced there, and the importance of speaking out against the Chinese government's role in supporting the North Korean regime. Yeonmi also expresses her frustration with the world's indifference towards the suffering in North Korea and calls for greater action and accountability.

Questions & Answers

Q: Can you tell your story from North Korea to today, as you describe in your 2015 book, and with the extra perspective on life, love, and freedom you've gained since then?

Yeonmi was born in Northern part of North Korea and grew up believing she lived in the best country on earth. She had enormous pride in her country and love for the leader. However, after escaping and arriving in South Korea, she realized that everything she believed was a lie. She went through a period of chaos and disbelief, trying to figure out who to trust and what was true. Yeonmi credits the book "Animal Farm" by George Orwell as her awakening, as it made her understand the manipulation and oppression she had experienced. She reflects on the moments of happiness, mainly from her family, but also acknowledges the delusion that existed in her belief system. Yeonmi's memories of North Korea are often colorless and devoid of joy. She also talks about the lack of knowledge about fashion and other cultures in North Korea.

Q: What was life like in North Korea as compared to the rest of the world in terms of basic necessities like food, water, and human rights?

Life in North Korea was drastically different from the rest of the world. The country lacked basic necessities such as electricity, clean water, medical supplies, sanitation, and food. Yeonmi describes it as a different planet with no color, limited access to healthcare, and severe food shortages. The regime controlled all aspects of life, and the people were denied the concept of romantic love and other human rights. Yeonmi emphasizes that life in North Korea was unimaginably difficult, with mass starvation, famine, and the constant threat of death. Many people suffered in silence as the regime banned words like "famine" and "hunger" since they implied government failure.

Q: How did the book "Animal Farm" impact you and your understanding of the manipulation and oppression in North Korea?

"Animal Farm" had a profound impact on Yeonmi. The book helped her make sense of her experiences in North Korea and understand the gradual transition from freedom to oppression. It made her realize that individuals are responsible for creating and sustaining oppressive systems, not just the leader alone. Yeonmi reflects on the failure of people who knew about the atrocities but chose to remain silent out of fear. She also questions why the suffering of others, especially in North Korea, doesn't elicit a stronger response from the world. The book gave her a different perspective on the power dynamics and made her question her beliefs and the narratives she had been fed.

Q: Are you angry and do you experience fear and dark thoughts? How do you find peace amidst the suffering you've witnessed and experienced?

Yeonmi acknowledges that she still experiences anger, fear, and dark thoughts, especially when she thinks about the suffering in North Korea. However, she has found ways to cope and maintain peace. She attributes her resilience to her family's love and support, as well as the love she has for her own child. Yeonmi finds solace in speaking out and actively working to help others in similar situations. She also emphasizes the importance of finding joy and happiness in the simplest moments, as well as having hope for a better future. While she still struggles with the memories and pain, Yeonmi also believes that suffering can lead to a deeper understanding of love and empathy.

Q: What role does love play in your life and how has your perception of love changed since leaving North Korea?

Love was forbidden in North Korea, and the only love Yeonmi knew was the love for the leader. After escaping, she discovered the many different forms of love that exist in the world. She believes that love is what gives life meaning and purpose. Yeonmi highlights the importance of love for family, friends, oneself, and even for subjects like science and robots. She sees love as the driving force behind happiness and finding meaning. Through her own journey, Yeonmi has learned that humans are capable of experiencing and giving love, and she encourages others to recognize the value of love in their lives.

Q: Can you share the story of your father's struggle and death, and how it has shaped your perspective on suffering and the longing for home?

Yeonmi's father struggled to survive in North Korea and ultimately died in China. He wanted to go back to North Korea to be buried in his homeland, even if it meant being executed. This longing for home and connection to their identity is something Yeonmi also strongly feels. She describes it as a deep desire and dream to return to North Korea despite its horrors. Yeonmi believes that her longing for home is what drives her activism and the work she does to bring attention to the suffering in North Korea. She also reflects on how her perspective on home has changed over time, with South Korea becoming a place where she finally feels a sense of belonging.

Q: How did you escape from North Korea to China, and what were some of the struggles and emotions you experienced during that time?

Yeonmi escaped from North Korea to China when she was 13 years old. She describes her time in China as extremely difficult, filled with fear and uncertainty about her future. She faced the constant threat of being captured and sent back to North Korea, as well as the challenges of living without basic necessities. Yeonmi also reveals that she and her mother were sold as sexual slaves in China in order to survive. She reflects on the numbness and lack of emotion she experienced during that time, which she describes as a form of torture. Despite the hardships, Yeonmi remained determined to survive and eventually found hope and healing when she had her son.

Q: How do you feel about the suffering of others in North Korea, and what should people know about it?

Yeonmi feels anger and frustration towards the suffering of others in North Korea and the world's indifference towards it. She believes it is important for people to acknowledge the role of the Chinese government in supporting the North Korean regime. Yeonmi calls for greater accountability and action in addressing the human rights abuses in North Korea. She criticizes the tendency to prioritize animal rights over human suffering and emphasizes the need for compassion and action to alleviate the immense pain experienced by the people of North Korea.

Q: Is evil perpetrated by a tiny minority of people or does it permeate larger parts of the population?

Yeonmi believes that humans are capable of both good and evil, and there is no exception. She suggests that evil can be attributed to a few individuals at the top who seek power, but it can also be perpetuated by a larger part of the population in certain environments, such as the one in North Korea. She highlights how living under an oppressive regime can influence people to lose their sense of compassion and morality. Yeonmi emphasizes the importance of understanding human nature and the potential for both good and evil within all individuals.

Q: What can individuals and countries do to address the suffering in North Korea?

Yeonmi suggests that the first step is to speak out about the Chinese government's role in supporting the North Korean regime. She challenges the mainstream narrative and calls for greater awareness and accountability. Yeonmi believes that love and compassion can be powerful agents of change, and individuals can make a difference by actively advocating for human rights and holding their governments accountable. She also highlights the need to explore new ways of directly communicating with the people of North Korea and inspiring reform from within. Yeonmi encourages people to learn about the suffering in North Korea and take action to alleviate it.


Yeonmi Park's conversation sheds light on the immense suffering and human rights abuses in North Korea. She speaks passionately about the need for greater action, awareness, and accountability in addressing the atrocities happening in the country. Yeonmi emphasizes the importance of speaking out against the Chinese government's support of the North Korean regime and highlights the role of love and compassion in driving positive change. She reflects on her own journey, from believing in the regime's propaganda to discovering the truth and finding hope in fighting for human rights. Overall, Yeonmi's powerful message serves as a call to action to address the suffering in North Korea, raise awareness, and work towards a more compassionate and just world.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • North Korea experienced a devastating famine in the 1990s, resulting in mass starvation and cannibalism. The government denied the extent of the suffering, silencing any mention of famine or hunger.

  • Yon Mi Park describes the complete control and propaganda of the North Korean regime, where love and compassion are forbidden, and citizens are taught to worship the government and its leader.

  • Park emphasizes the urgent need for attention and intervention in North Korea, challenging the world to address the suffering and oppression faced by millions of North Koreans.

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