Alleged Chinese Police Report Supports Allegations of 2003 Massacre of North Koreans

Writing in the Wall Street Journal in October 2006, Melanie Kirkpatrick first raised shocking claims about North Korean border guards’ massacre of a large group of people trying to flee from North Korea to China across the Yalu River. Her report was based on documents purporting to come from official Chinese documents, including a local police report from Badaogou Precinct, near Baishan City:

“At 7 a.m. on Oct. 3, 2003,” Case Report No. 055 begins, “a report was received from the public of several corpses floating in the Yalu River. Officers from the Precinct immediately responded and organized personnel and by 10 a.m. 53 corpses had been recovered.

“At 5 a.m. on Oct. 4 an additional three corpses were recovered for a total of 56 corpses. There were 36 males and 20 females, including seven children (five male and two female). After examination of the personal effects it was determined that the dead were citizens of the DPRK [North Korea]. Autopsies confirmed that all 56 had been shot to death. It is estimated that the dead were shot by Korean border guards while attempting to cross into China.” [Melanie Kirkpatrick, Wall Street Journal]

Kirpatrick’s report contained more chilling information — according to a Chinese Border Police document,

“To date, almost 400,000 North Korean illegal immigrants have entered China and large numbers continue to cross the border illegally.” And, “As of the end of December 2004, 133,009 North Korean illegal immigrants have been deported.” While Chinese authorities obviously know how many refugees they have deported, by definition they can’t know how many are in hiding. The estimate of 400,000 is sure to be low.

And that was as of January 2005.

[The body of a North Korean woman lies frozen into the ICE of the Yalu River, from the BBC documentary, “On the Border”]

We’ve since seen it reported by the NGO Helping Hands Korea that North Korea has deployed snipers to the border, with orders to shoot to kill.

Today, Michael Rank, blogging at NK Econ Watch, links to an image of the alleged Chinese police report on the 2003 massacre.


I’d be interested in the thoughts of several regular readers of this site who speak and read Chinese. Are there any reasons to doubt the document’s authenticity?

Ordinarily, I would eagerly await Selig Harrison’s defense of this as the only recourse left to the leaders of a besieged nation, but that would require Harrison to actually acknowledge this.


  1. Baishan is not technically a “border town” as described by Michael Rank, but a mid-sized heavy-industrial city about three hours by car from the border. Badougou is indeed a small border town with its own Gong’anju (public security office), at least when I was there about 60 days ago. Badougou is across the river from a North Korean town which appears to be slightly better off than other communities as a result of the timber industry. Border security there, at least recently, did not seem very tight at all.

    In the first sentence of the relevant document, given that there was almost certainly a public security office in Badaogou in 2003, it seems strange that the “masses” who reported the incident would call distant Baishan to report on the bodies in the river, but it’s certainly feasible.

    However, as a historian who prefers to touch the actual documents I cite, I would personally be quite skeptical about relying on this kind of document. Letterhead is really quite easy to obtain in China, but more sketchy is the provenance.

    The “original source” appears to be a flikr photo grab , the poster of which does the courtesy of offering a partial but accurate translation of document. Unfortunately this is as specific as he gets: “A PRC blog carried without comment a photo, apparently reposted from…”

    That’s it? Who is this guy? As specific as he gets is “a PRC blog”? That’s about the vaguest phrase I have heard all week, and, as I have been dutifully listening to President Obama’s radio addresses, that is really saying something.

    I suppose that someone could contact “treasuresthouhast” but unfortunately it won’t be me. To borrow the method of self-promoting MSNBC windbag Lawrence O’Donnell, as much as I would love to sleuth it up, editors at Acta Koreana, Journal of Cold War Studies, and Korean Studies are all waiting for my article revisions, like, today.

    However, I did a few minutes of rooting around with related search terms (长柏朝鲜族资者县公安局, etc.) on, which is in fact a popular platform in the PRC, and came up empty handed.

    So what we apparently have is a document of completely unknown origin on flickr — and somehow it ends up in the Wall Street Journal this way:

    Now, three official Chinese government documents–obtained privately and smuggled out of the country–show that the humanitarian crisis may be more dire than widely believed and the burden on China heavier. Two of the documents are from the Public Security Bureau–one from the Border Police and the other from a police station along the border. The third is from the Finance Bureau of the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in Jilin Province, home to many ethnic Koreans.

    The documents were obtained by a U.S.-South Korean group that helps North Korean refugees navigate the underground railroad to safety out of China. The group prefers to remain anonymous for fear that its work could be endangered. They have been vouched for to me by two other sources, one on Capitol Hill and another at an international human-rights organization.

    I guess this is how journalism works. Maybe the WSJ reporter knows something about this document that I don’t, but “posted on a Chinese blog” and “smuggled out of the country” seem to be two different things.

    I haven’t yet gone through the 17 minutes of the BBC report and other sources (some embedded in your previous posts) which corroborate the notion that North Korean border guards shoot fleeing refugees. And I certainly had intuitions of this at Hyesan and especially in the rural areas around Samjiyeon — the KPA border guards are there to keep the North Koreans in, and it’s a pretty ugly display of force all around.

    Normal frustrations apply regarding the lack of information generally about this and related topics, and the need to use documents or sources (such as single-source stories in the Daily NK) which otherwise one might dismiss because they can’t be verified. Thanks as usual for bringing forward what’s out there for us to consider.

  2. Quick self-correction — document does not indicate that locals called Baishan for cops, but indicates they called the local office at Badougou. If it took the police three hours to get mobilized and to the scene of the alleged massacre, they must have had quite a time finding it. They cc’d the Wujing in Baishan city, but the document doesn’t mention any armed Chinese border guards who were involved.

    Having been through my share of dust-ups with Japanese revisionists and Chinese massacre-marketers regarding WWII, I’ll keep my qualifying adjective, “alleged,” for the time being.

    As repentance, here’s a photo I took recently from Badougou, a wonderfully atmospheric place which is almost as dumpy as (and certainly smaller than) the pictured North Korean lumber town across the river.

  3. Adam, You seem to be assuming that Melanie Kirkpatrick took the document from the Chinese BBS. I don’t see a basis to assume that. We don’t know anything about the sourcing of the Chinese police report used in either the WSJ report or uploaded here. It may be the same as Ms. Kirkpatrick’s source, or a completely different source. For that matter, I can’t say for certain that this is the same image or document that Ms. Kirkpatrick saw. Hence my question, which was really probing for facial indicia of inauthenticity.

  4. Joshua, I think that your comment is correct about everything except, if I understand you, for the penultimate sentence. The document you’ve posted here is necessarily the same document referred to in the Kirkpatrick editorial, because it matches up precisely with her extended translation of “Case Report 055.” We just don’t know where she got it, or how it ended up on a BBS, or even on which BBS, for that matter.

    As for the type of proof of forgery you are driving at, I would submit that it is very possible that the letterhead was scanned into a jpg. and then the text of the “incident report / 案情报告” simply typed in underneath. And that font below is awfully crisp. I would repeat that letterhead like this is pretty darned easy to get in China if you know the right folks. And the Chinese themselves are so skilled at forgery that it’s also possible that a Chinese entrepreneur, maybe an astute reader of the Daily NK, hawked a print copy of this to someone at Helping Hands. In Yanji, for instance, there is a small but brisk market at particular bookstores in Korean War soldier’s diaries that would be ripe for similar forgeries. I don’t have any idea, but these things are all possible.

    To find out more I would suggest contacting Ms. Kirkpatrick and the flickr guy.

    While I’m on the mike here, and not to detract from the very serious humanitarian issue you raise in this post, I should add that the North Korean area across from Badaogou appears to be relatively more prosperous than some other border towns due to export of wood to China. (A couple of examples are on my photo blog which is linked above.) As for the question of Chinese sanctions on North Korea, it appears that most of the lumber trade isn’t going through the customs houses or 国门, but is simply being ferried from NK shores down the Yalu to Chinese middlemen. And no one appears to be shooting at these particular North Korean rivermen/lumberjacks. Maybe the timber business is dominated by the KPA? OK, I’m out.

  5. That’s it? Who is this guy? As specific as he gets is “a PRC blog”?

    According to the guy’s profile, he is an American living in Chengu and has a spouse or partner. From his photo sets, one can conclude that he’s well-traveled and has a strong interest in human rights and social issues in China. I left a comment asking for a link to the source and will go back and send him a message, too. Once I finish my housework, I’ll sniff around at and see if I can locate the image. My gut feeling is that it is a fake because a) it has surfaced 6 years after the alleged incident; b) there’s no clear source; c) Chinese netizens are a creative bunch; and d) Chinese with access to this document aren’t going to risk imprisonment for leaking state secrets.

  6. I decided to procrastinate on the housework, did a little searching, and like Adam, came up with nothing. It is entirely possible that the Chinese government not only deleted any webpages containing the document or a discussion of it but also got Google to pull it from the cache. This has happened before. Shortly after the Sichuan earthquake, I saw with my own eyes a cache copy of the Wenchuan County Government announcement published the day before the quake, reassuring local residents that reports about an impending earthquake were false. The cache copy disappeared soon after along with a reference to it on the Wiki page.

  7. It is entirely possible that the Chinese government not only deleted any webpages containing the document or a discussion of it but also got Google to pull it from the cache.

    Thanks Sonagi, for some reason I hadn’t considered that angle at all. Joshua comments on this issue in 2006; more discussion of how China’s internet lockjaw hampers the refugee issue would be helpful. I don’t read all of the hearings, but to my knowledge the internet censorship thing never comes up in Congressional hearings that deal with China-DPRK relations. Perhaps this is another example of where coalition-building with relevant people inside China, like Ai Weiwei, might be possible although everyone’s ultimate goals are slightly different.

    China may be a bridge to the internet for North Koreans (I learned that people are using wireless connections in Hyesan, for instance), but it’s still the Chinese internet!

    Something else relates: I have done a small amount of translating about Chinese internet censorship, started an absolutely terrible Chinese blog on account of WordPress being blocked in China (along with One Free Korea), but yesterday I blog a story about Chinese espionage in Canada and cyber-warfare and all of a sudden, for the first time, I have lots of funny hits from the PRC. Go figure.

    Joshua has three link-laden posts on the summer cyber-attacks here. I was never quite clear on the rumor that DPRK had set up some crazy academy for such things in the second floor of a building in Sinuiju.

    As to the main point, your a)-d) make plenty of sense, especially c). Some kid could have whipped that document up in ten minutes in a smog-choked internet cafe, although your point d) would still apply to him, perhaps? Probably the most disturbing aspect comes back to your comment about Google, whose complicity with PRC web-crawling and censorship could certainly be argued to be hampering the free discussion of the North Korean refugee issue in China. Whether or not the Badaogou police documents are forged, that much is certainly true.

  8. Sonagi, what are you getting at about the Sichuan earthquake? Earthquakes are notoriously near impossible to predict — but scientists are always trying — so I wonder what the document, even if it were found, is supposed to mean.

    Far be it from me to defend Chinese authorities, but such a document’s existence the day before the quake seems like it would just be dumb luck, but dumb luck that could cause massive rioting that could leave even more dead. (As I noted before, dumb luck can play cruel tricks, like the Kyoto earthquake happening exactly one year after Japanese authorities said they wouldn’t have suffered damage like that found in the Northridge earthquake.)

    But maybe you’re onto something, which is why I’m asking. The latter half of this post talks about the highly speculative possibility that poor planning in China may have led to the earthquake, and this “information” is not reaching the Chinese people.

    So, Sonagi, whaddya got?

  9. I don’t think the absence of a chain of custody means anything here, unless the ChiCom government enacted a Freedom of Information Act when I wasn’t paying attention. What I’m looking for are patent discrepancies in the document itself.

  10. @Kushibo:

    Within 24 hours of the earthquake, I found on the Wiki page a reference to a Wenchuan County government webpage refuting rumors of an impending earthquake. The page had already disappeared from the government website but was still viewable in Google cache. I read the page. It listed several rumors, including (to the best of my recollection) a seismologist’s warning, evacucations, and strange animal behavior, and denied all of them to be true. The webpage announcement was dated the day before the earthquake. It disappeared from the cache within a day or two after I viewed it. I believe the webpage was authentic because a) it was in Google cache so soon after the quake: and b) it disappeared from the cache so soon after it appeared on Wiki. If it were a forgery, why wouldn’t the Chinese government just say so instead of apparently getting Google to delete it? Why cover one’s tracks if one has nothing to hide?

    I cannot address the science of earthquake prediction. I can only state that I saw the webpage described above.

  11. The story has appeared on Boxun, a Chinese-language news portal blocked in mainland China, and DW News, a Chinese language site in New York. A Chinese-language blog about the DPRK has reposted the story and asked readers to judge the authenticity of the document. No comments so far.

  12. There is a discussion about the authenticity of the document on Hangzhou BBS forum. The OP declares the report a fake and warns others to beware of forgeries like this one. In the discussion that follows, some commenters debate the terminology, names, and titles of local authorities on the document. Not much empathy for NK refugees, save for this comment: 重要的不是文件的真假,而是北逃者确实有。What matters is not whether or not the document is real or fake but the reality of North Korean refugees.

  13. Sonagi wrote:

    If it were a forgery, why wouldn’t the Chinese government just say so instead of apparently getting Google to delete it? Why cover one’s tracks if one has nothing to hide?

    Well, I could think of a bunch of reasons for people wanting something like that to not exist, even if it is fake, just because of the headache.

    There will be people who assume that if the government is denying it, then it must be true (look at the 9/11 inside job conspiracy theorists), and the Chinese government was dealing with enough death and mayhem without having their people attacked by an angry public who thought they had been left to die by the authorities.

    Those with the means to do it (and the previous modus operandi of making unpleasant things disappear to the far reaches of the countryside) might opt to just make it disappear. Especially Beijing, methinks.

  14. In any case, the example was cited to demonstrate that China will even erase tracks from Google cache. Whenever I hear or read about a problem or a conflict in China, the saying “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” often comes to mind. I’ll leave you with one more example. A few years ago, two Canadians investigated FLG accusations that imprisoned practioners were being executed for their organs. I read their long, detailed report on the same day it was published and checked out the links to Chinese hospitals mentioned in the report, viewing pages in Chinese, English, and Korean. On the English FAQ page of one hospital was the following:

    Q: Do you perform living pancreas transplants?

    A: We do not perform living pancreas transplants on foreign patients.

    Until I read that and made a highly disturbing yet almost unavoidable inference, I had been skeptical of FLG claims. Not surprisingly, the hospitals in the report either took down or modified their webpages.

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