New Publication: “Beyond safe haven: a critique of Christian custody of North Koreans in China”

I’m happy to share a new essay of mine that was just published in Critical Asian Studies. It kicks off a special issue focused on “Reframing North Korean human rights,” guest edited by Christine Hong, Assistant Professor in Literature at University of California, Santa Cruz.

Han, Ju Hui Judy. 2013. Beyond Safe Haven: a Critique of Christian Custody of North Koreans in China. Critical Asian Studies 45 (4): 533-560. Online.


From providing the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter to facilitating travel for those seeking refuge, decentralized underground Christian networks in China have assisted countless undocumented North Korean migrants in situations both dire and desperate. However, with no systems for transparency or accountability in place, and with conservative religious agendas structuring spaces of aid and advocacy, these networks also produce troubling paradigms of custodial confinement and discipline. Drawing on field research in the United States, South Korea, and China, this article examines the way a Christian missionary safe house in China illustrates a political theology of custody through its employment of care and control as well as its attention to and detention of vulnerable populations. The author shows that missionaries justify their custodial authority by stressing good intentions and a pastoral prerogative, but deny the unequal power relations that undergird the very structure of their missionary activities for undocumented North Korean migrants.