2004 May 20 Thursday
Will Female Shortage In China Bring Down North Korean Regime?

Chinese men are buying North Korean women as wives.

But it's easy for Chinese, including smugglers and human traffickers, to cross illegally into North Korea, they say, and this props up a thriving black-market border trade that helps keep the barren North Korean economy afloat.

Dandong natives such as laid-off factory worker Lao Zhou, whose picturesque home town draws tourists eager to spy on North Korea with telescopes, shake their heads when they talk about refugees.

"North Korean women make good wives. They are beautiful and hard-working," he said, echoing an oft-repeated view. "It doesn't cost much to buy a North Korean girl for a wife and just a few thousand kwai (hundreds of dollars) to get them a residency permit."

There is also a slave trade in prostitutes. The demand for prostitutes will likely rise right along with the demand for wives.

Consider the larger context for this report about wife buying and female sex trade. On my FuturePundit blog I've reported on the sex ratio imbalance in China caused by the selective abortion of females.

Li said the normal newborn sex proportion is 100:104-107, and if China's disproportionate figure is allowed to continue unchecked, there would be 30 to 40 million marriage-age men who would be single all their lives by 2020.

"Such serious gender disproportion poses a major threat to the healthy, harmonious and sustainable growth of the nation's population and would trigger such crimes and social problems as mercenary marriage, abduction of women and prostitution," Li said.

Some believe this sex ratio imbalance will make China militarily aggressive and they may be right.

In a new book, Bare Branches: Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population (MIT Press), Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. den Boer warn that the spread of sex selection is giving rise to a generation of restless young men who will not find mates. History, biology, and sociology all suggest that these "surplus males" will generate high levels of crime and social disorder, the authors say. Even worse, they continue, is the possibility that the governments of India and China will build up huge armies in order to provide a safety valve for the young men's aggressive energies.

But consider a different possibility: Chinese men may buy so many North Korean wives that North Korea will either become militarily aggressive or collapse from within. This is not implausible. Those 30 to 40 million single men in China in the year 2020 mean there wil be 3 to 4 times more single men in China than there are women in North Korea. The Chinese will be more affluent than the North Koreans unless radical changes happen to North Korea's economy. North Korea is the place where Chinese men will have the best competitive advantage in angling for wives. The other East Asian countries are not nearly as poor as North Korea and North Korea shares a long 1,416 km land border with China.

China's economy is growing rapidly. Buying power of Chinese men is rising. Even poor Chinese farmers can afford to buy North Korean women.

Lee, the former clerk, said she was fooled into believing she would have a good life in China. "One day, a man from my home town came to see me. He was looking for good-looking women from North Korea to go to China. The prettier the better. I decided on the spot to go.

"Of course, he fooled me. He said he would introduce me to a good man, a university graduate, who was looking for a wife. Then I realized North Korean women were being sold at a cheap price to rural farmers in China."

The fact that even a rural farmer in China can afford to buy a North Korean wife means that there are far more people in China with the buying power to acquire a North Korean wife than there are North Korean women.

Expect the hostility of North Korean men toward China to increase.

Ryu remembers a woman six months pregnant arriving at the camp. The baby's father was Chinese. Four guards grabbed the woman's limbs and threw her toward the ceiling over and over until the woman aborted the fetus. Ryu helped clean up the blood afterwards. "The guards said they hated Chinese babies," says Ryu. "The North Koreans hate the Chinese now, because they are rich and betrayed socialism."

China has been cracking down on North Koreans trying to cross the border into China. But official corruption in China is sufficiently widespread that black market forces will probably prevail over official policy as a consequence of the rising buying power of single men desperate for wives.

Ms Kim was picked up a year after getting married and giving birth to a daughter. Her new family pleaded for her release, arguing that the baby needed her mother because she was still breastfeeding. Ms Kim says they paid a 10,000RMB bribe for her freedom. Three years later she is well established and has a residence permit.

Chinese men will pressure the Chinese government to allow North Korean women to pass into China. The Chinese government will see these women as a source of women to reduce the frustrations of single men who can not find Chinese wives. Chinese leaders are going to have to weigh the foreign policy and domestic policy consequences of their border policy with North Korea. If they continue to clamp down this may just encourage more corruption.

Chinese money is also going to flow to North Korean border guards and officials and corrupt them as well. This is already happening. So the North Korean guards are not all immune to the enticements of cash in exchange for looking the other way. As living standards rise in China and the female shortage worsens the amount of money available for smuggling women out of North Korea will rise.

The shortage of women in China may end up posing an existential threat to the Pyongyang regime more powerful than anything US policy makers are likely to do. North Korean leaders might react to this threat by engaging in market liberalization reforms aimed at raising North Korean living standards enough to reduce the level of desperation of North Korean women.

The regime in North Korea faces a more general economic threat from China because of rising wages in China. The higher the wages go the greater the incentive for Northeast China factory managers and other businesses to turn to the black market to supply cheap North Korean labor. This will pull both men and women out of North Korea. Will that destabilize the regime more or less than the selective removal of women from North Korea?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 May 20 12:15 PM  Korea

BW said at May 20, 2004 2:33 PM:

Where misogyny is concerned, there's no doubt that Islamic cultures are the worst. But China is not that far behind. There was an article in the BBC a year or two ago about a Chinese woman who had found several girl babies alive in the trash, just thrown away. She was also considered odd because she took them home and raised them. They New York Times had an article in 2001 about fetal scanning being marketed to Chinese and Indian immigrants to get rid of those unwanted female fetuses. And these are supposed to be our more desirable immigrants.

Fly said at May 20, 2004 10:22 PM:

Iíve read that Asian cultures in general and China in particular donít believe babies are full humans at birth. Hence their reaction to abortion and infanticide differs from Western perception.

Unlike many Americans, I donít believe a fertilized egg is a human. I donít think there is any specific biological event (such as birth) that separates a non-human fetus with no rights from a human with full rights. I suspect US laws are based more on the biological bonding of parent to their child than on a babyís developed human qualities.

Perhaps Chinese culture is closer to a past in which half the children died soon after birth. Certainly many babies died during the Mao starvation. My uncle showed me our family graveyard in Kansas. There were some graves without names for infants. There was a time in the US when some parents didnít name their children until theyíd survived their third birthday.

(Clearly there is misogyny in China that is acerbated by the one child policy and the passing of the ancestoral name through sons. I just wanted to mention why killing a baby in China might not be viewed as an abominable act in that country.)

Brock said at May 21, 2004 11:10 AM:

Frankly, the Chinese culture mostly lacks a sense of empathy for other living things. The evidence on this is pretty solid. Its everything from throwing girl babies in the trash to eating a monkey's brain while its still alive. The brutality in N. Korea is on a whole different scale (as Randall mentioned tangentally in this post), but China's still pretty bad. Did you see that ring of _47_ people who were busted in China for selling fake baby formula? Disgusting.

This is changing somewhat. Both the exposure to Western culture and the slow Christianization of Asia is slowly turning them into a more empathic society. Also, as Fly mentioned, as it approaches 99% certainty that any given baby will survive to adulthood, parents will attach to them sooner. As the faux hippies in S. Korea and Japan prove, its only a matter of time.

I guess hippies are pretty stinky, but they're better than sadists, right?

On point though - if the drug war has proven anything, its that a rich neighbor with insatiable demand will just take over an entire country. Look was what the US has done to Haiti and Colombia - not through direct public policy per se, but just with black-market forces. The Chinese will do the same to N. Korea.

Maynard Handley said at June 1, 2004 12:59 PM:

"eating a monkey's brain while its still alive"
Everything I've seen indicates that this is an urban legend.
I worry that statements like the above are part of a larger agenda of painting a "them" as inhuman. I mean, damn, the west, not long ago, was doing pretty much the same things, and still shows pretty much no empathy. Prison rape in the US is considered a joke, not an abomination. More people died of malnutrition in the US than died from 9/11 in 2001. The supposedly Christian state of Alabama seemed remarkably hostile to the idea of increasing taxes to help the less fortunate when the matter was put to the vote.

Maynard Handley said at June 1, 2004 1:00 PM:

"eating a monkey's brain while its still alive"
Everything I've seen indicates that this is an urban legend.
I worry that statements like the above are part of a larger agenda of painting a "them" as inhuman. I mean, damn, the west, not long ago, was doing pretty much the same things, and still shows pretty much no empathy. Prison rape in the US is considered a joke, not an abomination. More people died of malnutrition in the US than died from 9/11 in 2001. The supposedly Christian state of Alabama seemed remarkably hostile to the idea of increasing taxes to help the less fortunate when the matter was put to the vote.

Tekdemon said at September 9, 2004 3:13 PM:

Don't be ridiculous Brock. If anything the Chinese culture has shown a sense of empathy far longer than most other cultures.
Being Christian doesn't mean suddenly you care more about other people...under traditional Chinese beliefs you've always had to pretty much be a gentleman who cares about things.

And if you're going to mention crooks selling fake baby formula, what about crack houses in the US? It's absurd to choose 47 crooks out of 1.3 billion people and say "LOOK, CHINESE PEOPLE ARE EVIL!" That's like choosing Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber to represent Americans as a whole.

That monkey brain thing is a myth far as I know too. Chinese people almost pretty much never eat meat raw, in fact they find it quite disgusting that us Americans will eat rare or medium steaks because it's uncooked.

So while you're rambling about how horrible "they" are, they think you're a barbarian who eats with primitive tools like a fork and knife. Things in Chinese cooking are pre-cut in the Kitchen so knives will never be at the table, since having knives at the table is barbaric. And stabbing your food full of holes just to pick it up is barbaric in their opinion too, that's why they carefully use chopsticks.

In all honestly, people should GO to another country before talking about how it actually is. Go to China, interact with the people for a month or two, then make your judgement. In China, families are actually FAR more tight knit than here in the US (same in Japan). Things Americans could never count on their family to do don't even need to be questioned in China.

I remember reading a Greek story about how a son wanted his father to die for him because he was old and the son was young, but the father wouldn't do it, saying that his life was important too. This is an individualistic approach, which is very Western. But in China it's your family that's important, not you individually, so dying to save your lineage from dying wouldn't even be something to mull over.

Anyway, don't be moronic and base your knowledge of China on 2 news articles and two movies or some idiocy. I just spent 2 months in England and you know what, preconceptions aren't ever going to be even close to what reality is when you're talking about someplace halfway across the planet.

katherine said at December 11, 2004 12:26 AM:

yeah! How do you like them cookies. Man!
thanks for putting the facts out Tekdemon.
I just have one thing to say? Never judge a book by its cover because every country and state around the world is different as far as believes, religion, history, and politics goes.
Every nation is made up of this four thing, so where do you get off critsizing there moralities. You may not like what they do, tough! They maynot like what we do. how cares! but before you can talk about someone nationalty and what there wrong doings are, take a look in the mirror and figure out you first before you can critsize my nationalty and history.


Hung Straight Fooky Yakie said at December 30, 2004 7:13 PM:

How many women can a man buy? The kmore the better...HEH HEH

Jache Sang said at December 30, 2004 7:35 PM:

The only problem with them there chinks, is that they are so tiny. I need a WOMAN with big hooters.

Hey! What is Chinesse birth control?

Nooo fookie yakie.

turd beagle said at January 2, 2005 5:07 AM:

korean girls are among the prettiest asia has to offer. am i wrong to want to lift a delicate flower out of tthe manure of poverty and oppression? for a few hundred dollarsw cant i buy happiness for myself and another? screw "save the children"why should i waste pennies a day on some little waif i'll never meet who will probably die in a rat infested hell hole when the usa cluster bombbs her mud hut supposedly looking for terrorists any way? when instead, i could plunk down some cold hard cash to obtain a fine product of asian culture; maybe even the relationship of a lifetime. the least we can do for these downtrodden masses of unappreciated women is pluck them from their festering native soil and offer them the chance to enjoy some of the same hard won freedoms we've come to take for granted. let these girls enjoy the decadent freedoms that we have trampled countless third world nations to attain. buying north korean girls is not just morally sound; it is a sound investment, these girls are used to working hard in their country for very little reward, just imagine how thankful they would be to the man who rescued them from poverty, after a legal immigration process here they could get a job and be supporting theirself in no time at all, even bringing extra cash into my own house hold. never mind how much help she would be in cleaning our house. and say she decided after the papers went through, she didnt want to be with me any longer? fine, as soon as she has paid for my financing of the whole transaction (which , for a hard-working korean girl should be no trouble at all) i will happily grant her a divorce, no prob, and go look for another; if nothing else its a vacation to china that pays for itself. and after all, the more of these girls i can help,the better; especially if what the author here says about pressures on the korean govt to change policies is true. guyys, this is a win-win situation, and besides, i love asian girls, sign me up now!

Laysertag said at March 25, 2005 7:50 PM:

I want to buy a Korean Girl, where do I send the money ??? Can I get more than one?

StPauyGirl said at May 1, 2005 8:40 PM:

I can't belive anyone would consider buying another human being. It's almost as discusting as your attempts to rationalize such an atrocity.

Tim said at June 7, 2005 12:01 AM:

St Pauy Girl, I agree with Trud Beagle. American girls buy men all the time. They get the richest guy they can "pruchase" with their body. Who cares if it doesn't work out? She gets alimony for the rest of her life if they split. I would NEVER marry an American girl without a prenuptial agreement. Most American women think a prenup is insulting. They would rather be able to sue a man for everything he's worth at a later date. It is perfectly legal, under current American law for a women to never have normal a normal sexual relationship with her husband. She can even charge him with rape if he doens't abstain. If he divorces her, she takes him for everything his worth, not only in terms of his present finances, but also his future earnings. He short, a women can destroy a man's life after not having made any real effort to try and make a life with her own husband and she can see to it that he will never be able to makee a life for himself, ever again. If the real father of woman's children isn't around, any male will do, any male she might have been cohabitating with or have married becomes liable for other people's children! The way women in the USA treat men today is nothing short of disgusting.

I am happily married to a nice South Korea woman, who drives, handles my finances, even chose our home before I had even seen it. (I was working the day she went to view it). My wife is an independant women who is not "under my thumb" in any way. Every white male who wants an Asian wife isn't some male chauvinist.

Jane said at August 27, 2005 9:51 AM:

"And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened, which is the BOOK OF LIFE, And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books."-Revelation 20:12 I can't understand how men can only see women as items. For those who are lacking in the word of God, here is some news in the beginning when Eve had sinned and her punishment was to be under the rule of her husband this was true, However when Jesus Christ put his life on the cross he made everything right again.He paid for our sins,both men and women alike.When this happened both Men and WOMEN were mad EQUAL from that day forth.Their are several people lacking in the word of God otherwise they would fear God and his anger because God lives inside his people, which can consist of anybody no matter the race as long as they accept him as his Savior and do what is good and not evil, but his people will always consist of the poor and those who humble themselves before God himself, and once you mistreat one of his people you will pay the ultimate price,HELL FOR ETERNITY!There is several more to say about this subject but I don't have to say it because the Bible says it all.So I will leave with this, For all those "RICH" men who think they can just buy a Korean women and have their "fun" with them without there being consequences you are wrong God will protect them and no matter how much they suffer or have to endure it will never come close to compare to what the wicked men will have to suffer in Hell after being jugded by God,The Almighty himself.Whether you believe in him or not, the truth will always be what survives in the end.So ask yourself,what will your actions show about you in the end? "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away."-Mark 13:31

Richard said at December 14, 2005 12:08 AM:

What do you do with 1 Corinthians 11:3 "Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ and the head of woman is man and the head of Christ is G-d"

If you want to quote Galations 3:28 "There is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for you are all in Christ Jesus." If you examine the context you will see that Paul is talking about our sonship in G-d. Spiritually, when we stand before G-d we are all equal. Our race, degree of freedom or gender do not make any difference in the way he accepts us and loves us. However, G-d has not abolished race and gender. If you look around you will see both. Paul does tell us (and this was after Jesus came) that in the relationship between a husband and his wife the man has the authority in the same way Jesus has authority over us if we're believers. It does not give a liscence to abuse our wives but to love them the way Jesus loves the church.

ben said at December 21, 2005 7:07 AM:

"How much for the little girl?".... Whatever, christ nuts. If she is selling, men can be buying...and vice versa. As far as the moral implications of "purchasing" I think you are just saving time and money by not going to dinner and a movie. Traditionally asians did have arranged marriages where the couple wouldnt meet until the wedding. This is not that far removed.

andrew said at December 25, 2005 10:07 AM:

"The shortage of women in China may end up posing an existential threat.."

Very discordant use of the term *existential*, that is, properly used but
too easily sematically confused with existential(ism) as I have just done

Such is English.

Randall Parker said at December 25, 2005 1:03 PM:


Aside from some college intellectuals few care or know about existentialism and it is becoming an even more obscure little school of dead-end thought. Why let this little blip of intellectual stupidity steal away a perfectly valuable word?

As for the term "existential threat": I see it used quite widely in national security debates. The Israelis use it when referring to the Iranian nuclear program for example. Google lists a half million "Existential threat" entries. The term "existentialism" has more more pages on Google. But it is a single word versus a 2 word combination.

Fred said at April 11, 2006 6:01 AM:

Where misogyny is concerned, there's no doubt that Islamic cultures are the worst...

Randall Flagg said at June 24, 2006 1:14 PM:

I find it amusing that the women here are the ones that are so opposed to a man going to Korea to buy a wife.

iamchineseamerican said at September 27, 2006 7:44 PM:

"eating a monkey's brain while its still alive"

Actually, this is true. In china eating a monkey brain while alive are consider delicacy, the brain isnt all the way raw when being eat. The chef prepare them by dumping boiling oil to the open head and lit a fire to cook the brain right in the head. This is all done while the monkey is still alive beneath the table, somehow restrained. A dish of monkey brain can cause several hundred, I know this because I have personality seen this, and no I don't eat moneky brain or monkey.

Phil said at October 5, 2006 7:02 PM:

I also want to buy a North Korean wife or two, in that authoritarian culture they have certainly been taught obedience. Next time I go to China I will try to get to Yanjin and inquire about buying one or two. How are German laws if you step off an airplane in Frankfurt with two Korean girls and say they are your two wives, I mean is bigamy accepted if the marriage was performed abroad? If you buy two at once they won't be lonely in a foreign country and can chat together while they wash your clothes etc.

Big John said at March 6, 2007 12:03 PM:

Maynard and Tekdemon, get your facts straight. Some people really do eat things that most Americans would find unappetizing, to say the least. It is not just an effort to "dehumanize" foreigners. Yes, some Chinese do eat raw monkey brains. When I lived in China I ate several unusual things, including live lobster (the chef removes it from the water, splits it down the back of the shell, cuts out the raw meat, chops it into strips, and places it back into the shell for presentation. Diners eat it while the lobster is moving on the plate). Live shrimp is a common dish. And even more common are eggs in which the chicken fetus has partially developed when they are boiled and served. Raw meat is not uncommon in China. Just because the Chinese don't typically eat steak doesn't mean they are disgusted by the thought of a good filet mignon cooked rare.

You need to understand that not everybody shares your preferences about food. It doesn't make them less human, that much is true. But it's just as bad, Maynard, to claim that unusual food preferences must be urban legends just because they don't sound good to you. It's even worse, Tekdemon, to make arrogant statements like "the Chinese don't eat raw food" and berate people for not going to China, when you obviously have no idea what you're talking about.

Ulrike said at March 12, 2007 7:35 PM:

Men don't have souls, they are just dark entities. The discussion here is a perfect illustration of the violence that defines the male: after violently culling females from the population, he seeks to do yet more sexual and physical violence to them. In addition, in the process, he degrades their status. He feindish desire for violence, hate and destruction can never be filled. Anyone who thinks men have souls is just a fool.

humble_rumble said at August 16, 2007 6:41 PM:

We should buy their freedom.

foreign-caterer said at September 22, 2007 4:05 PM:

Hot damn, I want me a half dozen Korean wives. One for each night of the week and then a day of rest.

Where can I purchase one?

Loki on the run said at December 27, 2007 9:28 AM:

History, biology, and sociology all suggest that these "surplus males" will generate high levels of crime and social disorder, the authors say.

Except that they forget that CJK males are the least violent of all males.

Moreover, males create technology and drive the economy. I suspect that we have more to fear from their economic striving (so they can get access to females) than their violence.

DAN said at October 22, 2008 12:02 PM:


Anonymous said at May 29, 2010 8:42 AM:

why is dan the dumbass speaking english if asians are the master race?

kp said at December 21, 2011 7:01 AM:

hello fly
indian here
Don't know about the chinese but in India female foeticide is rampant because we still have the "dowry" system where the familiy pays a large amount of money to the groom's familiy upon marriage. The "continuation of familiy name"is also a factor,but secondary.

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