May 24th, 2009
A Tale of Two Heavens: Escaping North Korea
Lesson Overview

Funding for the educational materials was provided by The Overbrook Foundation.

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TIME ALLOTMENT: One to two 45-minute class periods

In this lesson, students will learn about the conditions in authoritarian North Korea that have compelled many North Koreans to attempt a dangerous escape to what they see as the “Heaven” of capitalist South Korea. Also discussed is often-successful propaganda used by the North Korean government to convince its citizens that North Korea is in fact the real “Heaven.”


New York State Standards
Standard 2: World History
Use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of major ideas, eras, themes, developments, and turning points in world history and examine the broad sweep of history from a variety of perspectives.
• Key Idea 1: The study of world history requires an understanding of world cultures and civilizations, including an analysis of important ideas, social and cultural values, beliefs, and traditions. This study also examines the human condition and the connections and interactions of people across time and space and the ways different people view the same event or issue from a variety of perspectives.
• Key Idea 2: Establishing timeframes, exploring different periodizations, examining themes across time and within cultures, and focusing on important turning points in world history help organize the study of world cultures and civilizations.
• Key Idea 3: Study of the major social, political, cultural, and religious developments in world history involves learning about the important roles and contributions of individuals and groups.


Selected clips from Crossing Heaven’s Border, an episode of the PBS documentary series Wide Angle

Access the streaming and downloadable video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.

1. Worth the Risk?
A glimpse of the human drama—and tragedy—which unfolds regularly on the Tumen river dividing North Korea and China.

2. Heaven on Earth
The history of North Korean defection, which mainly dates from “The Great Famine” of the mid 1990s, when government mismanagement under “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il resulted in 2 million starvation deaths.

3. Brainwashed
A North Korean defector attempts to convince her younger sister to stay with her rather than return to North Korea.

4. Flight To Freedom
A North Korean defector living illegally in China must leave her son behind to attempt an escape to South Korea with a forged passport.

Access the streaming video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.

The Escape Route
An annotated map from PBS’s Wide Angle website tracing the circuitous route taken by many North Korean defectors to South Korea.

Helping North Korean Defectors
A list from PBS’s Wide Angle website of several organizations that work to support human rights for North Korean citizens and refugees like those featured in Crossing Heaven’s Border.

Students will be able to:
• Summarize the conditions in authoritarian North Korea that have led to large-scale attempted defection.
• Summarize the appeal of South Korea’s capitalist democracy to the defectors.
• Understand the power of a government tightly controlled media apparatus to “brainwash” its citizens.
• Describe the nature and necessity of the circuitous escape route taken by most North Korean defectors to South Korea.

Although this lesson does not strictly require them, five internet-enabled computers are optimal for the completion (as written) of step #8 in the Learning Activities and the Culminating Activity.

Proceed to Lesson Activities.

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