In this Ted Talk essay on “My Escape From North Korea” by Hyeonseo Lee, the speaker provides a summary of her early life in North Korea and the adverse conditions she faced as a North Korean refugee in China and South Korea. More so, Lee articulates the challenges she encountered in helping her family to escape from North Korea. In particular, reflecting on the nature and lessons about the miserable life experienced by North Koreans is important because of the growing incidences of human rights violations in North Korea.
The Main Theme of the Video
The video mainly portrays the significance of resilience and hope to an individual even when life seems hard and challenging. For instance, Lee recounts the adverse experience that involved being tested on her fluency in the Chinese language (04:15-05:08). As a young child, the testing by the police exposed her to distress. However, the existence of cultural exchanges between neighboring countries enabled Lee to learn Chinese easily (Yang 72). The hope for a better life in China and South Korea made Lee resilient to the harsh conditions encountered in the defection process. Therefore, Lee’s speech shows that the presence of hope in a person’s mind is very significant in boosting one’s sense of resilience toward challenging conditions.
The video relates to the COVID-19 illness that people experienced in 2021 because both cases needed a sense of hope to survive. Just like Lee, who had never encountered starvation in her early days, most people had never faced any serious illness in their entire life. The new land border law in China continues to deter North Koreans from crossing over (Bartlett par. 1). Migration laws related to COVID-19 are strongly reducing the hope of North Koreans in search of better lives elsewhere. Consequently, people in North Korea, just like Lee’s early starvation experience, are bound to continue facing challenging living conditions.
Most importantly, the video depicts the hard life encountered by the people in and out of North Korea. Human rights activists have often condemned the oppressive rule in North Korea, which involves the denial of basic freedoms to the people (Yeo and Chubb 61). The violation of human rights, such as freedom of speech and the right to a free and fair trial, among others, have led to the loss of lives. Therefore, the violation of human rights continues to prevail, leading to the persistent suffering of people in North Korea.
The Use of the Information
The information can be used in advancing awareness campaigns about the situation in North Korea. Lee provided a highlight of the adversities that North Koreans are facing, such as the public executions that seemed like a normal life in North Korea (00:50–00:57). People can use the information to run an online campaign aimed at influencing organizations, such as the United Nations (UN), to help North Korean refugees, instead of being repatriated to face imprisonment and public executions. Consequently, awareness campaigns can increase the pressure on governments to help North Korean refugees.
The one thing that can surprise readers is the stranger who helped Lee to get her family out of jail. In Lee’s speech, the stranger went ahead to withdraw money to help in saving her family (09:48 – 10:13). The good heart portrayed by this man is a very big surprise as many people today are focused on helping themselves and their families. Thus, the stranger’s actions indicate that there still exist people with good and caring hearts.
Conclusively, Lee’s speech portrays the challenges and suffering encountered by North Koreans in trying to secure better living conditions in and out of their country. In turn, a sense of resilience and hope is crucial in facing challenging situations. Therefore, people need to show more international awareness and intervention about the condition of life in North Korea.
Bartlett, Jason. “China’s New Land Borders Law Is a Nightmare for North Korean Refugees.” The Diplomat, 2021, www.thediplomat.com/2021/10/chinas-new-land-borders-law-is-a-nightmare-for-north-korean-refugees/.
Lee, Hyeonseo. “My Escape From North Korea.” TED, 2013, www.ted.com/talks/hyeonseo_lee_my_escape_from_north_korea.
Yang, EunSook. “The Two Koreas´ Relations With China: Vision and Challenge.” UNISCI Journal, vol. 18, no. 52, 2020, pp. 69-85, doi:10.31439/UNISCI-75.
Yeo, Andrew., and Danielle Chubb. North Korean Human Rights: Activists and Networks. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2018.