≡ Menu

‘Marry a North Korean Woman’ banners draw public ire

The Sports Chosun (Korean) reports that with Korean international marriage brokers experiencing a shortage of Vietnamese and Malaysian women, a few firms specializing in arranging marriages with North Korean women have resorted to rather questionable marketing techniques that have earned public ire.

One North Korean human rights group said that while marriage information services specializing in North Koreans are probably necessary to help the skyrocketing number of female North Korean defectors better adjust to life in the South, they need to avoid demeaning and commercializing them.

There are currently four or five firms specializing in arranging marriages with North Korean women operating in the South. Unlike other international marriage brokers, they take money only from the men, who pay twice of what they’d pay to other companies.

Some of the banners these groups have run have drawn criticism, however. Like this one:

Marry a North Korean women! Confirmed identity. Compare them with foreign women. Company president appeared on KBS1TV

This, of course, brought to mind the posters advertising Vietnamese women that had been the source of controversy.

One of the companies specializing in North Korean women had even posted photos of the faces of the women on its homepage before taking them down due to public criticism. Even the Unification Ministry was shocked, given how it tries to keep the identities of defectors as closely guarded as possible for security reasons.

As of March of this year, some 10,300 defectors have come to the South (I take it the total is since 1948 since August 1953). Of these, 6236 are women. In fact, through 1989, women made up only 7 percent of defectors, but the ratio has been increasing to the point that last year, 78 percent of the defectors who came South were women.

An employee of one firm dealing with arranged marriages with North Korean women told the Sports Chosun that most of its customers are older bachelors and divorced men over the age of 32 who have failed in marrying a South Korean woman. He noted that it could be quite cumbersome marrying a Vietnamese women, including shelling out 10 million won to visit Vietnam. On the other hand, he said, his customers prefer North Korean women because the only thing different with them is the system under which they have lived; otherwise, their language and physical appearance are the same.

The employee also said that some South Korean men had been abusive verbally with North Korean women, taking advantage of their insecure position in society.

Meanwhile, some men send photos of models, asking the company to find them a North Korean girl who looks like the model. These men, said the employee, often use derogatory language with the women. He also said many men were sending photos of North Korean dancer Cho Myong-ae, who you’ll remember did a cell phone advertisement with Lee Hyo-ri last year.

Of the 300 male clients of the employee’s firm, about 40 of them have settled down with North Koreans. Formal marriages, however, are rare. Prior to legal changes in March, it was impossible to divorce spouses still in North Korea, so there were many instances of couples simply living together.

An official from an association of North Korean defectors told the Sports Chosun that marriage information firms — properly run — were necessary to help North Korean women to settle in South Korea in a stable way. He also said some firms were trusted more because they were run by defectors themselves. He said, however, that slogans and actions degrading or commercializing North Korean women needed to stop.

About the author: Just the administrator of this humble blog.

  • neastud

    I’m surprised the market for African women hasn’t taken off yet.

    They’re great with children and other livestock, and come with a full trunk and everything under the bonnet.

  • arthjourneyman

    Aye…this reminds me of East German ordered brides near the end of the division, hopefully reconciliation between the North/South will also come in a a few years.

  • Fantasy

    Please do not push the German analogy too far…

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,485942,00.html

  • http://rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

    That was uncalled for, neostud.

  • Sonagi

    Who is this witty troll neastud, whose flag keeps changing with each new proxy? If you’re gonna troll, have the balls to do it under your real IP address.

  • Lankov

    Small correction. YOU WROTE “As of March of this year, some 10,300 defectors have come to the South (I take it the total is since 1948).” No, from August 1953.

  • http://rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

    Thanks for the correction, Dr. Lankov.

  • http://www.dprkstudies.org/ Richardson

    Generally I think this can be a good thing for both the North Korean women who’ve defected and the South Korean men who marry them, though the notion that only losers will choose that route hopefully won’t turn out to be the norm.

    It’s surprising that it’s taken this long for it to happen, as one of the benefits of reunification – along with cheap, Korean speaking relatively educated labor for Korean factories – being touted in the 1990s was all the North Korean women that would be available to South Korean men, especially farmers. Any mention of farmers and North Korean women in the Korean language press?

    One North Korean human rights group said that while marriage information services specializing in North Koreans are probably necessary to help the skyrocketing number of female North Korean defectors better adjust to life in the South, they need to avoid demeaning and commercializing them.

    The sentiment is that commercialization is fine for SE Asians, but not for those with Korean blood. I see. Reminds me of the, “treat them like foreigners, but with respect” comment in a WaPo article a few months back.

    The employee also said that some South Korean men had been abusive verbally with North Korean women, taking advantage of their insecure position in society.

    Meanwhile, some men send photos of models, asking the company to find them a North Korean girl who looks like the model. These men, said the employee, often use derogatory language with the women.

    Turn it into such a meat market and that’s going to happen, probably similar to a lot of American men with Russian wives in the past decade. I’ll guess that a clear caste system will emerge after reunification, which is too bad. Probably will be a lot of social chaos as the revolution of rising expectations could cause North Koreans to be extremely dissatisfied, once the novelty of having consumer goods wears off.

    Great post Robert.

  • Pingback: A Market for North Korean Wives in South Korea at DPRK Studies

  • Ut videam

    I agree with Richardson: excellent post.

    There seems to be something missing, though. I read it very carefully, but nowhere could I find a restaurant recommendation. Perhaps you could rectify this lacuna in an update. Given the topic of the post, might I suggest directing us to some good 평양식?

    ;)

  • http://www.metropolitician.com The Metropolitician

    I love saying, “I told you so.”

    Check out the bottom of this post I made at the beginning of last year, when I said:

    “North Korean women, however, will be the #1 hot commodity for South Korean men, as the recent disgusting media display of public (male) salivation over “North Korean beauties” and the re-popularization of the old saying of “남남북녀” (southern men for northern girls) indicate. Considering the fact that advertisements for “Marrying Vietnamese Virgins” are a common sight all over any Korean city – because of the ever-present problem of the male-tilted gender disparity caused by pre-natal screening that leads to the increasingly higher rate of abortions of girls as a couple without a son heads towards 2nd, 3rd, and 4th children – who better to marry than someone within “our” own minjok? I wonder which will win out – the dropping birth rate and the increasing expense of raising kids leading to less children overall and increased use of pre-natal screening to exterminate would-be daughters, or the inevitable (and positive) decreasing importance of gender itself in South Korean society. Hopefully the latter factor will grow such as to decrease the power of the former one, but only time will tell. But considering the myriad ways that women’s bodies are already commodified as objects of consumption in South Korean society, North Korean women, with their lack of economic and social power, don’t have much bright to look forward to in South Korea.”

    And also:

    But mark my words, the Korean notion of “minjok” will be utilized – as it has for a little more than 100 years – to accomplish the goals of the state and the elite that is largely in control of it. Images of reunited families and touching stories will abound on Korean televisions after any big national reunification. But that is, ladies and gentlemen, will be simply the beginning of another sad story, even as it will seem like the ending to one previous. Ideologies of nationalism shift and change with the times, but their utility to the group in power does not. I know many people won’t agree, but see if this little chart of social hierarchy doesn’t seem like it won’t make sense, even before the fact:

    – South Korean man
    – South Korean woman
    – North Korean woman
    – North Korean man

    Who would you want to be 10 years from now? Who do you think will have the most soci0-economic options? The least? How much will the power of the concept of minjok have once North and South are reunited? Who do you think will have the power to dominate the way North Korean history will be written and taught in the schools if North Korea ceases to exist?

  • http://www.dprkstudies.org/ Richardson

    I love saying, “I told you so.” . . .

    I’ve been hearing about North Korean women being the cure for the male/female imbalance after reunification and the whole “남남북녀,” language/racial “pureness” advantage since the late 1990s, complete with minjok references, and that’s only when I started listening. Such talk also picked up seven years ago after the North-South summit and the crazy optimism that followed.

    I remember the racial aspect of such talk in particular, as it was at that time I decided that if I married my then Korean girlfriend (I did) and we ever had kids (we will in late July/early August), that we’d never live in Korea long-term, and if we lived there for a short-term the children would not attend any public schools.

    But glad you told us so. . . in 2006.

  • http://www.san-shin.org sanshinseon

    By the way, the old “남남북녀” was explained to me as early as the late 80s NOT as “southern men FOR northern girls” but as meaning “southern men are better-looking than northern men, and northern women are better-looking than southern women”. I would welcome comments on this from those familiar with traditional modern usage of the term…

  • michael

    Sanshinseon–the way you state the saying is how I’ve always heard it said.

    Feel sorry for the North Korean men if S.K. men are poaching the women they are more compatible with (as outsiders and subjects of discrimination).

    As Richardson said, I also heard the 남남북녀 around the 2000 summit when KJI was going to magically share power with KDJ and the peninsula was to be renamed “WellbingVilleFeelUbiquitous” :)

    I might have made up that last bit.

  • dogbertt

    By the way, the old “남남북녀” was explained to me as early as the late 80s NOT as “southern men FOR northern girls” but as meaning “southern men are better-looking than northern men, and northern women are better-looking than southern women”. I would welcome comments on this from those familiar with traditional modern usage of the term…

    That’s how it was explained to me in the late 80s too. However, from the limited amount of North Korean women I’ve seen, I remain unconvinced of its truth. I would say southern Korean men look much haler than their northern counterparts.

    I think it would be interesting if a single expat signed up for this service. It might be a good chance for personal diplomacy. Shelton?

  • michael

    Shelton’s already got a heavy romance going with himself.

  • http://www.jdlink.co.kr Linkd

    High quality blogging, Marmot.

    I’ve read articles from time to time about the many lonely defectors living in Seoul; hard to make friends, barely speak the (South Korean) language, no high-value job skills. It’s sad. One hopes for more than a few reasonably happy marriages to be formed, even if the marketing message is dreadfully cynical.

  • http://www.dprkstudies.org/ Richardson

    Sanshinseon,
    I apologize if I was unclear on that. I didn’t mean that the saying (“south for handsome men, north for beautiful women”) was used in the sense that the northern women were for southern men, just that saying was thrown around a lot when discussing the unification windfall of women scenario.

    As I understand it, “남남북녀” hales from the tradition construction idioms and sayings with four Chinese characters; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four-character_idiom

    My favorite is, “새옹지마.”

  • cmm

    One more vote for #12′s definition of 남남북녀, citation being a Korean who brought it up to me on a recent trip to the south of the peninsula.

    How could a north korean girl possibly look better without a trip or two or three to the chop-shop and a luxury handbag (from her selection of two or three) draped from her arm?

  • Sonagi

    Metropolitician wrote:

    “I love saying, “I told you so.”

    Check out the bottom of this post I made at the beginning of last year, when I said:

    “North Korean women, however, will be the #1 hot commodity for South Korean men, as the recent disgusting media display of public (male) salivation over “North Korean beauties” and the re-popularization of the old saying of “남남북녀”

    Koreans were telling me so way back in the late nineties, even before the summit. Koreans figured out a long time ago that post-reunification, southern men would look to northern women to even out the gender imbalance in the south, northern women would marry southern men to escape poverty, leaving northern men lonely bachelors.

  • Sonagi

    I see from Richardson’s post #11 that I’m not the only waeguk already clued in on this modern twist on 남남북녀.

  • michael

    I was told N.K. women were more submissive than their uppity S.K. counterparts, and so more desirable for S.K. men. One time during lunch a guy in my office actually described them as “pure Koreans,” which almost caused me to spit the rice out of my mouth.

  • cmm

    so I guess under a reunification scenario, on the bright side for the SE Asia marriage brokers, business will be booming like never before…north of the 38th.

  • gbnhj

    ‘Marry a North Korean woman! Confirmed identity. Compare them with foreign women…’ (from the advertisement)

    When and how can customers inspect the product – in this case, a human female offered by brokerage for marriage – in order to provide a firm basis for comparison? May the product be use-tested? How is their identity confirmed?

    Indeed, where is the product? Are customers actually being afforded the opportunity to compare?

    And, regarding the old 남남북녀 saw, I’d always heard that it was a maxim about the optimal relationship. Another such maxim holds that personal relationships are best when the woman is four years younger than the man.

    However, I’ve always heard of both as being simply old wisdoms. These days, such proverbs regarding marriage are suggestions, not directives.

    Note: abcdefg can feel free to jump in here and explain the proper use of ‘maxim’, ‘proverb’ and ‘old wisdom’, so that these terms are not misused in future.

  • http://www.metropolitician.com The Metropolitician

    Well, to be clear, yes, people were talking about things in certain ways in the 90′s, and I first wrote it up in an academic paper and advocated the notion when I came out to Korea in 1997, yet remember many Korean folks pooh-poohing the idea and saying that it was too early to make such “pessimistic” claims – Koreans would never discriminate against other Koreans.

    Then I would point out regionalism and other obvious forms of discrimination, and people would move on and change the subject. After around 1998, I found people I talked to not dismissing the notion of a clear, gendered social hierarchy so quickly anymore.

    I posted about it in 2006, which is the earliest I can refer to anything I’ve publicly written about it. And now, we have the first signs that this is actually going down that road.

    Hence, the post, link, and smug bit of self-satisfaction at what is, however, an unfortunate-but-predictable turn of events.

  • seouldout

    Absolutely amazing no one commented on it before 1997. Tarot card, crystal ball, or tea leaves? Could you move #24 up to #1 ;)

    Just taking the piss.

  • http://www.metropolitician.com The Metropolitician

    Yeah, no one was making specific predictions about a gender-stratified North Korean underclass, one that will probably be enabled by an easier visa process (or special visa) for Nork women) and which will probably allow Nork men into the country on work-specific visas only, given that full German-style reunification seems unlikely.

    Given that situation, and the stigma/stereotype that would come attached with being NK male vs. female, I think being Nork male vs. Nork female is going to be very different, as opposed to just the general assumption that yes, Norks in South Korea will likely experience some discrimination.

  • peninsular aborigine

    Egocentric and nothing to say?

  • Pingback: Vietnamese Brides For Korean Brothers | East Windup Chronicle

  • garrystanley323@yaho

    I would love to have a N.K. wife

  • Pingback: The long dark road to reunification (통일을 위해 힘든 길을) | ghosttree