Propaganda, Survival, and Living to Tell the Truth: An Analysis of North Korean Refugee Memoirs

  • Tony Docan-MorganEmail author
  • Sarah A. Son
  • Golnar B. Teimouri


Recent international events have heightened global interest in the North Korean regime’s engagement with the world; however, information about North Korea remains largely nebulous, due to the continuing secrecy of the regime. This study provides a rich understating of North Korean refugee identity and gives voice to individuals who have experienced the oppressive conditions of North Korea, their often dangerous escapes via multiple countries, and nonlinear or frequently difficult times of readjustment. It takes as its focus the role and impact of deception in different stages of North Korean refugee life before, during, and after escape. Specifically, we examine how North Korean refugee memoirists discuss the topics of truthfulness and deception in their own words. Using thematic analysis, we discovered three primary themes, including discovering and dealing with propaganda, deceiving as a means of survival, and finding the truth and living to tell it. Lastly, we end with a call to action aimed at empowering survivor voices, utilizing information to create change in North Korea, and offering future directions for scholars, practitioners, and human rights advocates.


Refugee Defector Identity Democratic People’s Republic of Korea DPRK North Korea Republic of Korea South Korea Memoir Autobiography Propaganda Human rights Survival Life-saving lies Truth Narrative 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tony Docan-Morgan
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sarah A. Son
    • 2
  • Golnar B. Teimouri
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Communication StudiesUniversity of Wisconsin-La CrosseLa CrosseUSA
  2. 2.Korea University Human Rights CenterSeoulSouth Korea
  3. 3.University of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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