North Korea defector compares woke US ideology, education to regime tactics
“They were in Manhattan, living in the freest country you can imagine, and they’re saying they’re oppressed? It doesn’t even compute,” Yeonmi Park told The Post of students at her alma mater, Columbia University. “I was sold for $20 as a sex slave in the 21st century under the same sky. And they say they’re oppressed because people can’t follow their pronouns they invent every day?”
The 29-year-old defected from North Korea as a young teen, only to be human-trafficked in China. In 2014, she became one of just 200 North Koreans to live in the United States — and, as of last year, is an American citizen.
Now, four years after she graduated from Columbia with a degree in economics, Park is raising alarm bells about America’s cancel culture and woke ideology.
In her book “While Time Remains,” out February 14, Park writes how she made it all the way to the United States only to find some of the same encroachments on freedom that she thought she left behind in North Korea — from identity politics and victim mentality to elite hypocrisy.
“I escaped hell on earth and walked across the desert in search of freedom, and found it,” she writes. “I don’t want anything bad ever to happen to my new home … I want us — need us — to keep the darkness at bay.”
She implores readers: “I need your help to save our country, while time remains.”
Park first made headlines back in 2015 with her book “In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom” and for her bold claims that the woke environment she endured as a student at Columbia reminded her of North Korea.
In an interview this week with The Post, Park recalled what it was like to be a North Korean defector who escaped tyranny and oppression only to meet college students intent on claiming victim status and earning oppression points. She dubbed her alma mater a “pure indoctrination camp” and said many of her classmates at New York City’s most elite school were “brainwashed like North Korean students are.
“I never understood that not having a problem can be a problem,” Park said. “They need to make injustice out of thin air or a problem out of nowhere, because they haven’t experienced anything like what other people are facing in the world.”
She was born in Hyesan, North Korea, the second child of a civil servant and an army nurse, and grew up under the rule of then-Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il under the bleakest of conditions.
In the first five years of her life, an estimated 3.5 million North Koreans died of starvation. Park recalls hunting for cockroaches on the way to school to quell her hunger — even as the Kim’s regime banned the words “famine” and “hunger.”
“Darkness in Hyesan is total,” Park writes. ”It’s not just the absence of light, power, and food. It is the absence of dignity, sanctuary, and hope. Darkness in Hyesan is … watching your parents and neighbors hauled away by police for the crime of collecting insects and plants for their children to eat.”
After her father was arrested and sentenced to hard labor for the crime of trading salt and sugar, the Park family’s life in North Korea deteriorated even further. Finally, they planned their way out.
“I didn’t escape in search of freedom, or liberty, or safety. I escaped in search of a bowl of rice,” she writes.
Park’s sister fled North Korea first. Park, then 13, and her mother followed, crossing the freezing Yalu River into China. But rather than finding her sister, the pair fell into the hands of human traffickers who sold Park into sexual slavery.
After years of forced slave labor, a still-teenage Park was finally able to break free and travel across the Gobi Desert to Mongolia with the help of Christian missionaries. From there, she went to South Korea where she found refuge and was granted citizenship.
Seven years after they were first separated, Park also reunited with her older sister. But they found out that their father had died shortly after he managed to escape to China.
Losing him, Park said, made her “step into a different life: one dedicated to human rights, and improving the lives of people suffering under tyranny. A life of meaning. A life that would make my father proud.”
When Park was a young girl, her mother told her the most dangerous thing in her body was her tongue and warned her that, if she said the wrong thing or insulted the regime, her family could be imprisoned or even executed.
“That’s the end of cancel culture,” Park told the Post. “Of course, we’re not putting people in front of a firing squad in America now, but their livelihoods, their dignity, their reputations, and their humanity are under attack. When we tell people not to talk, we’re censoring their thinking as well. And when you can’t think, you’re a slave — a brainwashed puppet.”
Since her time at Columbia, the New York City-based author and activist has started a YouTube channel, “Voice of North Korea,” where she shares information about life under the regime. She also joined the board of the non-profit Human Rights Foundation, where she works with dissidents from around the world and, most recently, helped with efforts to drop anti-regime leaflets in North Korea.’
Recently divorced, Park is also now a mother to a five-year-old son. She wants him to have the same freedoms she found in America — but is afraid they’re under attack by pernicious woke ideology, and especially identity politics.
In North Korea, Park said, the government divides citizens into 51 classes based on whether their blood is “tainted” because their ancestors were “oppressive” landowners.
“That’s how the regime divided people. What an individual does doesn’t matter. It’s all about your ancestors and the collective,” she explained.
Now, when she sees Americans indulging in race essentialism and identity politics, she said, it feels eerily familiar.
“They say white people are privileged and guilty and oppressors,” Park said. “This is the tactic the North Korean regime used to divide people. In America it’s the same idea of collective guilt. This is the ideology that drove North Korea to be what it is today — and we’re putting it into young American minds.”
Park told the Post she hopes her second book serves as inspiration for Americans to fight back against false promises of “equity” while they still can.
“I really don’t think that we have that much time left,” she warned. “Already all our mainstream institutions have the same ideology that North Korea has: socialism, collectivism and equity. We are literally going through a cultural revolution in America. When we realize it, it might be too late.”