Kang Chul-ho, now 42, can still vividly recall the oppression his family suffered in North Korea more than 30 years ago.
"My grandfather, who worked at a government division, equivalent to the Education Ministry, publicly denounced the textbooks, which warped the facts as if our history had been created under the leadership of Kim Il-sung," said.
"He was immediately sacked and taken to prison, and has not been heard from since. My father, who was a city government official, was subsequently fired and our whole family had to move to the countryside, where my father had to work at a brick-making factory to feed our family."
His whole family was branded by their connection to a political prisoner, after which none of their neighbors wanted to associate with them.
"In such a communal society, everybody knew my grandfather was a political prisoner and held my family in great suspicion whenever something bad happened. We couldn't even contact our relatives for fear that we could adversely affect them," he said.
As the hardships continued, his father became seriously frail, dying in 1978 when Kang was only 11 years old. His mother died six years later.
"I worked my fingers to the bone at school because I thought I could do away with all accusations against our family only by becoming a powerful person. But I realized it was impossible and felt hopeless," Kang said.
Seeing no means of success in his country of birth, he decided to attempt escape. Though well-aware that he could face death if caught and repatriated, he crossed the border into China via the Amnok River by himself in 1992.
[The Korean Herald]