Archive for July, 2005

Construction Delayed for the First Foreign Church in North Korea

Sunday, July 31st, 2005

Daily NK
Yang Jung-A

Demand for Renovation of Chilgol Church in Pyongyang

The construction of the first church for exclusively foreigners and with state permission, “Harvest Church” has been pending.

Park Min Hee, director of “Nation Loving Christian Missions Alliance” said in his interview with the Radio Free Asia on July 2 that “recently the government of North Korea requested renovation of Chilgol Church located in Pyongyang instead of building a new church, so there has been a delay on the construction.”

Pyongyang International Harvest Church is under construction with the support of missionary groups such as the Campus Crusade for Christ and the Love Network for Korea in Los Angeles. They obtained permission of building a church exclusively for foreigners last fall and the construction was underway.

Harvest Church is to be the third official church in North Korea following the Bongsu Church built in 1988 and Chilgol Church built in 1999, and the first church for exclusively foreigners.

Director Park said, “The construction that had been carried out smoothly until now is being delayed by the new request of the North Korean government to renovate (expand) Chilgol Church and to use it instead of building a new church.”

“It is important for us to build another church in North Korea, so we will be demanding for the building of third church following Chilgol Church,” said Mr. Park. He added “For a better financial assistance we would like to seek help of the churches in South Korea, but North Korean would not like that.”

According to the plan, with the help of NOVA, an American information technology company, a four-story building that could hold 1000 people with lodging facilities is to be constructed. The church will also run a school for foreign students.

Director Park said, “We were going to build a separate school for the citizens of Pyongyang, but the government of North Korea furiously opposed it, but they granted permission to build a school for foreigners.”

The school will hold English and computer courses and other various classes.


The Accidental Leader

Tuesday, July 26th, 2005

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

One winter day late in 1945 or early 1946, V. Kovyzhenko, an officer in the Soviet 25th Army stationed in Korea, had a chat with a fellow Soviet officer, Captain Kim Il-sung. Kim Il-sung was upset. He had recently been told that he would become the head of the local administration. Kim Il-sung told Kovyzhenko: “I want [to command] a regiment and then _ maybe a division. What is this for? I don’t understand anything and don’t want to do this.”

Kovyzhenko, then the head of the 7th political administration department of the 25th Army, often met Kim Il-sung, and told this story to the present author in Moscow in August 1991. Whether it is true, I know not, but at least it sounds plausible. The tragedy of Kim Il-sung’s life is the tragedy of a person who became an absolute ruler almost against his own will, and who was finally crushed by this immense power.

It is hard to find trace of an emerging tyrant in the Kim Il-sung of the 1920s and 1930s. He was a high school graduate and, back in the Manchuria of 1930, this was a remarkably high level of educational achievement. In those days a high school graduate was roughly as common as a Ph. D. holder is nowadays. His education opened before the young man a way to earthly success, but he chose another path and joined a guerrilla band in the Chinese Communist forces.

We’ll probably never know exactly the motivation behind this fateful decision, but one cannot doubt that these reasons must have been lofty and altruistic, based on a mixture of nationalist and communist idealism. The young man joined the guerrillas to fight for the freedom of his country and for equality for everybody. His long campaign confirmed his loyalty to these ideas.

Until 1945 there were virtually no signs of Kim Il-sung’s future political role. According to people who knew him during his days in the Soviet Army camp in Viatsk, Kim Il-sung was quite content with his life, and hardly expected any great political future for himself.

His promotion in late 1945 was largely the result of happenstance. At the time Kim was the highest ranking ‘authentic Korean’ (that is, Korean educated in Korea, not in the USSR) serving in the Soviet Army. He also had a good rapport with the Soviet officers, spoke comprehensible Russian, and was young, brave, and efficient. In short, he was a perfect choice for the Soviets.

By becoming the head of the North Korean Bureau of the Communist Party in December 1945, and the head of the People’s Committees two months later, Kim Il-sung became the head of the de-facto North Korean government, even if in those days this government was under complete Soviet control. He entered the world of politics, and the future transformation of this idealist fighter once again confirmed an old maxim: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

In a Stalinist state a leader can survive only by staying on top. A loss of power does not normally mean retirement, but rather death after a humiliating show trial. In order to stay on top, Kim needed the support of people he could trust, largely his former guerrillas. Everyone else was dangerous and had to be pushed aside and/or destroyed.

This was the logical result of the forced marriage between indigenous Korean factionalism and imported Stalinist brutality. Actually, I do not think that any other Communist leader would have acted differently. Kim Il-sung was simply the smartest and luckiest of these one-time idealists who under the pressure of their environment had to slaughter one another.

Kim Il Sung began to kill. He misled his enemies and made them fight one another. Skilfully maneuvring between powerful sponsors in Moscow and Beijing, Kim secured full power for himself by the early 1960s, killing thousands and thousands of people in the process.

As usually happens, idealism engendered more bloodshed than Machiavellian politicking. Kim Il-sung was the man who unleashed the Korean War, and likely did so not only because it would increase his own power, but also because it served his leftist nationalist ideals. The result? Devastation and death.

In the 1960s and 1970s, when in full control, Kim introduced a number of projects that fit in with his view of the ideal world. But instead of the expected uniquely Korean paradise, the outcome was a highly regimented, militant, and economically inefficient society where the scale of terror probably exceeded that of the terror in Stalin’s Russia. The economy stagnated, but nobody could argue against even the most irrational and bizarre policies of the god-like leader. Dissent was incompatible with his world vision, and dissent was wiped out, together with the dissenters and their families.

Had Kim Il-sung been killed in the 1930s, he would remain in Korean history as one of the second-tier resistance leaders, worthy of respect but half-forgotten. Had he lost the power struggle in the 1940s and 1950s and become a victim of other purges himself, he would probably be idealized as a martyr, an idealistic Communist who would have lead Korea to a better future (like many of his more prominent victims are seen now).

But Kim Il-sung died in 1994, and he is likely to be remembered as one of the most disastrous rulers in Korea’s long history. It seems that the history of corruption by power was repeated in his family more than once. But that is another story…


Stand in Line for Half Day Long to Make a Phone Call

Wednesday, July 20th, 2005

Daily NK
Kim Young Jin

Demand for Wire Telephones after the Government Confiscation of Cellular Phones

Recently in North Korea, demand for house phone skyrocketed and as the government confiscated personal cellular phones, people have also be increasingly using public phones.

It is known that setting a wire telephone for a household costs more than 450,000 Won and it is difficult to get one even after 4-5 months longs reservations.

Even Cellular Phones of Government Officials Confiscated

Park Young Chul (pseudo name, age 45) whom The DailyNK met in Tumen of China testified, “As the government completely banned the use of cellular phones after the Ryonchon Incident, demand for wire phones has been skyrocketing.”

Is the use of cellular phones still banned?

“It is hard to see cellular phones in North Korea. Not in local places, even in cities, people holding cellular phones cannot be seen.”

How about the Party cadres and managers of the state enterprises?

“The government confiscated all the cellular phones after the Ryongchon accident. They are still strictly banned. Even the provincial party cadres, National Security Agency, People’s Safety Agency officials are not allowed to use cellular phones.”

There are two kinds of cellular phones used in North Korea.

One kind is the official one acknowledged by the government, the GSM method of European style, which was used since 2002. Although it costs more than $1300 only to register and it is only usable in the city, it is known that more than 20,000 people are using this kind. Most of the users are foreigners and among the North Korean people, Party cadres and special government officials possessed it as the symbol of their special right.

The other kind is the Chinese wave, which the people use in secret along the Sino-Korean border areas. Although the number of users is unverifiable, it is known that the main purpose of their cellular phone use is to communicate with their family members in China and South Korea or with the dealers for their businesses. Due to the limitation in reach of the wave, these phones cannot be used extensively in inland. They are especially targeted by the government for control.

Then after the Ryongchon accident was known to the outside world by the cellular phones, the government of North Korea confiscated all the cellular phones last May. Although the foreigners are free from prohibition, there is no way for North Korean people to legally possess cellular phones.

Wire Phone Lines Still Hard to Get Even with Money

Then how do the people in North Korea communicate with each other?

“Usually by the wire phones (house phones). People who run business with other sellers and buyers in other verify their deals through phone. Those who have enough money seek to obtain their own phone line.”

Due to the limited means of transportation and communication, price differences between the regions varied much. For example, in Huiryeong of North Hamkyung province, the price of rice was low and the price of pollak pretty high while in Chungjin the opposite. People could take advantage of such price difference and earn money in between, for instance, by buying pollak in Chungjin and selling them in Huiryeong and buying rice from Huiryeong and selling it in Chungjin.

In the past such business were done only with guesses on price, but now phones are used to check the price differences. Recently dollar dealers are known for checking exchange rates through phone calls to China and even across the nation everyday.

How much does it cost to obtain a phone line?

“In the past it was not so difficult if you had money. Now, it is pretty difficult even if you had money. It cost about 450,000 to 500,000 North Korean won. That is a lot of money in North Korea. However, it is not a matter of how much it costs. The problem is that the government does not have enough of IC block necessary for switchboard of the Ministry of Communication to set up the phone line, so even if you had requested for a phone line, you are not guaranteed to get one.

Does that mean that someone has to withdraw a line for another person to get?

“Precisely. In the end, the cost of setting a phone line is actually the cost of selling and buying the IC block. The cost also includes the expense of laying phone line from the place where switchboard is located to the designated house. That is why it is so expensive.”

After the 7.1 Economic Management Improvement Measure in 2002, the average monthly wage of a North Korean worker ranges between 1500∼2500 won, thus 450,000won is the amount which an average worker has to save for 20 years without spending a penny, but the fact that “many people are willing to obtain” shows that there is a significant number of rich people present in North Korea.

Personal Identification and Deposit Money Required for the use of ‘Public Phones’

How is the situation of the public phones?

“They are called “common phones,” and two or three of them are located in each communications office or branch office in each area (district). There is a communications office in every 8km~12km and in the city about 4km.”

How much does it cost?

“It costs 10won for one local call. Before it was 50 jun (half of 1won) but recently the price increased. Of course the price varies for long distance called, they are more expensive. You have to leave your personal identification and 40-50won of deposit at the office prior to your make the call and when you are done you get them back after you pay.”

Why do you need personal identification and deposit money?

“They made this procedure because of some people who ran away without paying”

Are there many people using the public phones?

“There was a communications office about 4km away from my house, usually if I go, I had to wait about 30 minutes to make a call. Sometimes you have to waste as long as half of the day for your turn. Still, there are many people in line waiting.”

Park sighed and said, “Only if the transportation system were a little bit better, the living of the people would be much better. When one thing gets better, the government soon turns it down.” What we see is a scene of discord between the people who are already living in capitalistic style and the government that tries to deject it.


All Things Being Equal

Tuesday, July 19th, 2005

Korea times
Andrei Lankov

Those who joined the Communist movement in its early, heroic stage might have had a lot of shortcomings. They could be (and often indeed were) brutal, manipulative, and over-ambitious. But one cannot deny that they believed in a lofty ideal. They hated the world because of the gross material inequalities they saw first-hand.

They believed that under a capitalist system underdogs were treated unfairly, and they wanted to bring about a great change _ one that would put an end to the sufferings of the poor, and finally establish a society of equality and prosperity.

Contrary to what the early Communists wanted to think of themselves, few of them came from the ranks of the underdogs _ the vast majority of the first generation of Communists were born in comfortable middle class or landowning families. But perhaps this makes them even more worth of respect: after all, these people risked their lives and sacrificed their privileges to bestow a happier life on fellow human beings.

However, history is rich with ironies. Once these youthful idealists took power, they began to change, and the system they created began to re-produce the inequality it was supposed to destroy.

In the early stages of the Communist revolutions in countries like Russia and China, the party cadres indeed led a life not so different from that of the common people. But soon they discovered that maintaining their daily life was time-consuming, especially in a shortage-ridden socialist society. Thus, as a matter of course, the emerging bureaucracy began to distribute more and more perks between its members.

Once a truly manipulative leader (Stalin, a great Machiavellian, is probably the best example) reached power, he began to use these perks to ensure the support of the bureaucracy, corrupting them even further. Very soon, a socialist country developed an extensive network of shops, hotels, service centers, and hospitals for the exclusive use of the elite.

In the Soviet Union, by the early 1930s, cadres came to live a life that distinguished them from commoners. In the days of the widespread famine they enjoyed a good supply of food. They were attended to by the best doctors, without the need of spending long hours in queues. They were allocated best drugs, unavailable to the lesser folk, and could take holidays in special resorts.

When the Soviet armies took over a large part of the globe in the late 1940s, they exported the then Soviet system wholesale, so in the newly established Communist countries cadres enjoyed considerable privileges right from the beginning.

North Korea was no exception. By the late 1940s, the top officials were receiving special rations that allowed them to eat meat daily, they lived in huge houses, usually appropriated from the former Japanese officials, had servants, and sent their children to special schools that were off-limits for the average Kim family.

I always wonder how the former enemies of all privileges did not notice their own transformation. Perhaps, some of them actually did, but the majority took the new privileges as if they were their due. After all, did not they suffer for the new system? So, it was only just that this system rewarded them for their sacrifice _ or so they believed.

How bad was the inequality? I am afraid this is one of many questions that cannot be answered with any great precision. No Gini coefficient can be calculated, because in a state socialist economy access to goods matters more than money.

On paper, a bureaucrat could easily have the same income as a skilled worker. However, in real life, their living standards would be vastly different since the bureaucrat had access to many goods that a humble worker could not buy (or had to buy at a high black market price).

In the late 1980s, before the collapse of the North Korean state economy, a Party secretary (that is, a CEO) of a large plant received some 250 won a month, while a skilled worker at the same plant had a salary of 100 won. However, the CEO was given rationing coupons for meat, fish, and eggs _ products that were available to a humble worker only a few times a year.

The CEO received rations of beer and filtered cigarettes. He lived in a large comfortable apartment provided free of charge. He could be certain that his children would go to a good college in Pyongyang _ perhaps, even to the Kim Il-sung University. All these were beyond the reach of a worker.

Thus, the difference was far greater than the formal wage differential (100:250) would suggest, but it could not be measured with any precision. One can speculate that this difference was still smaller than it was in most capitalist countries.

This indeed seems to be the case, but even a statement such as this is difficult to prove, since no economic and social indicators can take into account the non-market distribution of goods, so overwhelmingly important in a state socialist economy.

Thus, socialism, built according to Marxist-Leninist blueprints, produced a society where inequality was re-born, albeit in a somewhat diminished form. The system had another bad feature: the ruling elite tended to develop into a hereditary caste, with children of officials becoming officials.

The chances for social promotion in the socialist system diminished as the time went by, and eventually those chances became smaller than would be the case under capitalism. But that is another story…


Koreas set up reunion video link

Monday, July 18th, 2005


North and South Korea have joined fibre-optic cables across their border to allow families separated for decades to take part in video reunions.

A handful of face-to-face meetings have already taken place between relatives split by the 1950s Korean War, but the cables should help others reunite.

The move is part of a range of measures agreed during cabinet-level talks between the two sides in June.

The first video link-ups will be held on 15 August between 20 families.

The cables run from Munsan in the south to Kaesong in the north.

KT Corp, a South Korean telecoms company taking part in the project, said the link would allow simultaneous connections of up to 9,600 telephone lines.

“We have laid the foundation for accelerating inter-Korean exchanges,” said Kim In-chol, a North Korean postal and communications official.

Reunions between North and South Koreans, which only last a few days, are always surrounded by intense emotion, not least because many of those desperate to be reunited with their relatives are becoming increasingly frail.

Thousands die every year before getting the chance to be reunited with loved ones.


Expanding North Korean Tourism

Monday, July 18th, 2005

Korea Times

Following Pyongyang’s scheduled return to the nuclear talks, the agreement to expand tourism is welcome news from the North. If the latest changes in the North Korean positions are genuine, they could turn tension into peace on the Korean Peninsula. Much of the credit should go to the Hyundai Group’s untiring efforts and the isolationist country’s bold turnaround toward an open-door policy. At stake is how to keep this momentum for peace and prosperity rolling despite challenges from within and without.

The agreement between North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and visiting Hyundai officials signals the start of full-blown tourism in the North. Next month, South Koreans will be able to climb Mt. Paektu, the nation’s spiritual headspring, from the North Korean side. They will also be able to explore in an hour’s drive from Seoul the rich cultural heritage of Kaesong, old capital of Koryo Dynasty (A.D. 918-1392) from which the country’s name originates. Mt. Kumgang will also open its inner sceneries to southerners.

This “triangular tourism project” will sharply improve the North’s tattered economy. North Korea’s real GDP increased 2.2 percent last year, but that in the accommodation-catering sector jumped 16.3 percent, thanks largely to the Mt. Kumgang tourism business. As South Koreans fly directly to Mt. Paektu or reach the mountain via Pyongyang, the tourists’ dollars will not go to China but to North Korea. The two Koreas also can build a world-class resort belt along the eastern coast starting from Mt. Sorak.

Hyundai will have to make massive investments to expand airports and develop other infrastructure. Although the group has won the exclusive development rights, it is not certain whether it alone can meet all the costs and ensure the project’s commercial viability. North Korea in this regard should refrain from asking excessive charges, as was the case in the Mt. Kumgang project. Nor should there be any recurrence of controversies stemming from under-the-table payments and other murky deals.

Both sides need to take a long-term approach. Just as Mt. Kumgang tourism helped to prevent an escalation of hostilities during naval battles in the West Sea, so can expanded tourism contribute to the establishment of a lasting peace on this peninsula. Therefore, its success depends on finding the equilibrium between peace and commercial dividends. A prerequisite for this balance is genuine trust between the two Koreas, a trust that cannot be shaken by internal splits or changes in external circumstances.

For North Korea, all these inter-Korean projects will help to ensure its security and economic development. As everyone knows, however, what Pyongyang really needs are more brisk economic transactions with the international community after being cleared of nuclear suspicion. And this is why it should show sincerity at the regional disarmament talks next week.


Trade Traffic Tells of N.Korea’s Dependency on China

Wednesday, July 13th, 2005

Choson Ilbo

It is the afternoon of July 1, and seven trucks carrying iron ore are lined up at the customs house in the border town of Tumen, in China’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, waiting to clear customs with their North Korean cargo. The trucks are laden with so much ore that it is a wonder they can support it all.

“These days, there’s a lot of iron ore coming in from North Korea,” a customs official muses. “Maybe they’re indiscriminately shipping out unprocessed ore because they’ve sold everything else worth selling.”

At the Musan Iron Mine further up the Tumen River at Musan, North Hamgyong Province, it looks like the ore is being sucked into a Chinese black hole. On July 5, some 10 13-ton Chinese trucks laden with ground iron ore from Musan were heading to towns in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture like Nanping, which faces Musan across the river, and Chungsan. Chinese trucks are also busy climbing the hills near the Musan mine. The project to develop the Musan mines is China’s largest investment in North Korea, with the country’s Jilin Province saying in December it would invest 4 billion yuan (about US$483 million) into the mines, which had been inactive. Ground iron ore imports started full-scale this year.

The skyrocketing trade between the North and China including in underground resources started with Pyongyang’s economic reforms in 2002.

According to statistics from China’s Customs General Authority, China accounted for 25 percent of North Korea’s total foreign trade in 2002, but the figure rose to 33 percent a year later and to 39 percent last year. Meanwhile, Japan — North Korea’s third largest trading partner — dropped from 13 percent in 2002 to 7 percent last year, while South Korea’s share of North Korea trade has been decreasing.

Lee Myong-suk is a member of the city council of Yanji, a town busy handling a great deal of trade between China, North Korea and South Korea. “There has been more and more trade traffic coming from North Korea via Dandong on the Yalu River and the Yanbian area on the Tumen River,” she says. “It’s a combination of North Korea’s economic difficulties and China’s demand for raw materials.”

As North Korea’s economic dependency on China grows, there are mounting concerns that the impoverished country could one day be reduced to a de-facto Chinese province. Prof. Nam Seong-wook of Korea University smells a rat. “China’s investment in North Korea, which doesn’t have even a properly constituted market, appears to be motivated by political objectives rather than economic incentives,” he says.


Controlling Internet Café in North Korea

Wednesday, July 13th, 2005

Daily NK
Yang Jung A

Pictures of the “Information Technology Store,” also known as “internet café” in other parts of the world and the “study guide” used by the Party members and workers to control circulation of South Korean soap opera DVDs were revealed to the public for the first time.

Rescue! The North Korean People Urgent Action Network (RENK), a Japanese North Korean human rights NGO and Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights (NKnet) together held a press conference and revealed three pictures of “Information Technology Store,” and a study guide with the title, “About Completely Destroying Enemies’ Maneuvers to Spread Conspicuous Life Style.”

The pictures and documents revealed at the conference were obtained by Kim Man Chul (pseudo name), the same staff of RENK who took pictures of Japanese food aid sold in the open markets in North Korea in May. It was known that pictures Kim provided RENK were taken by not himself but others inside North Korea.

Existence of Internet Café in North Korea Not Connected to the Outside World

The revealed pictures contain scenes of outside of the store that says, “Information Technology Store,” inside of the store and the boys playing computer games. This internet café is located in Chungjin, North Korea.

Han Kihong, director of NKnet stated, “The “Information Technology Store” is similar to an internet café, and computer classes are also provided at the price of 20,000won per month (average monthly wage of a worker is 2,500~3,000won). It is known that internet connection is good for computer games and email but only connects within North Korea, and the connection does not reach to outside information.”

Mr. Han said, “The “Information Technology Store” has state permission and operate as individual business or small enterprise. Since the price is so expensive, common people would not be able to enter.”

“The computers in the “Information Technology Store” are used computers brought in from China but due to the severe energy situation, in case electricity is cut off, it has its own electricity generator,” added Mr. Han.

The “study guide” presented to the reporters contained critical writings that characterizes circulation of South Korean soap opera DVDs, music CDs, or radio broadcastings as unsound and demoralizing and ways to fight against such conspicuous life style.

Appeasement Outside, Stricter Control of the People Inside

Mr. Han explained, “Recently there have been presuppositions that North Korea pursues appeasement outside and reformation inside thanks as the result of the frequent inter-Korean talks. However, this document (study guide) is the evidence that North Korean government is strengthening the level of control of the people from the outside world.”

This “study guide” also include criticism on Radio Free Asia (RFA) broadcastings, which states, “It (RFA) is a kind of cultural interference of the US to invade and dominate Asia” and showed how much it is alert about RFA’s influence.

About this kind of phenomenon, Mr. Han said, “Until 2000, social and educational broadcasting of KBS were popular among the North Korean people, now they trust FRA much more as reliable news source.”

The study guide also emphasizes importance of fighting against outside influence in every parts of living including hair style, manner of greetings, and eating habits. The government of North Korea is ultimately trying to strengthen internal control.

Lee Young Hwa, director of RENK, criticized the North Korea government at the conference saying, “Kim Jong Il’s conspicuity of controlling hair style and eating habits of the people who are starving to death is a maneuver that must be completely destroyed.”


Almost-Free Enterprise

Tuesday, July 12th, 2005

Korea times
Andrei Lankov

In 1997, when the North Korean economy began to crumble and the public distribution system ceased to function, the inhabitants of Yognchon County received a special gift from the Dear Leader: everyone was given a pair of nylon socks. Not luxurious goods, of course, but getting something in such a hard time was unusual. Few people knew that those socks were not actually provided by the government. The socks were donated by a Chinese Korean businesswoman, known to us as Mrs. Hwang.

But why did she do it? Why was it necessary for her to provide more or less the entire population of the county with socks?

It is increasingly difficult to see North Korea as a socialist state. The traditional Stalinist economy of the mammoth steel mills, railroads and coal mines, died a painful death in the mid-1990s. Nowadays, the North Korean economy depends on foreign aid, but most actual economic activity is made possible through the efforts of small-scale businessmen and businesswomen.

In order to be successful one has to have access to money. In other ex-Communist countries it is the former bureaucrats and party cadres who were best positioned to start a business simply by stealing the property they once managed as government-appointed officials. The property might be as large as an oilfield or as small as a corner shop, but an ex-bureaucrat always has many more chances to take over than an outsider.

But in North Korea the government is undecided on these issues. It has not (yet?) given the green light to large-scale privatization schemes along the Soviet or Chinese lines. Thus, it is other groups of people who are in position to make money. Paradoxically enough, they often come from groups once were seen as suspicious: repatriates from Japan or China, or local ethnic Chinese and Koreans who have close relatives overseas, preferably in China or Japan.

In this regard, Mrs. Hwang is a very typical case. Recently, Kwon Chong-hyon, an energetic Chinese-based correspondent of the Daily NK paper, interviewed her and got her to relate her life story and exploits. I believe that this is a story worth re-telling, since people like Mrs. Hwang are increasingly common these days.

Mrs. Hwang was born in China, in a mixed marriage, her father being Han Chinese, her mother an ethnic Korean. Like many other China-based families of Korean origin they fled from Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” in the 1960s and moved to North Korea. These days, when people are escaping from the North in their thousands, it is a little difficult to imagine that but a few decades back North Korea was often seen by the Chinese as a land of stability and affluence!

In recent years, Mrs. Hwang has lived in Yongchon County, not far from the border. Like many other Koreans with “Chinese connections” Mrs.Hwang began a cross-border trade business in the 1990s, when government control began to wane. Unlike many others, she had no need to resort to smuggling: having immediate relatives in China she can travel there legally, and in recent years this has become a lot easier. Of course, getting a travel permit might be troublesome, but her money allows her to smooth over the procedure with few kickbacks.

And, of course, her publicity stunt with “Kim Jong-il’s socks” did help a lot. She bought 100,000 pairs of socks wholesale and presented them to the local government for distribution. In doing so the local authorities could win some praise from above and improve their political standing, and in return Mrs. Hwang received powerful political support. And the common people got their socks!

Mrs. Hwang explained her survival strategy to Kwon Chong-hyon: “I know a lot of people in the foreign affairs department of the state security police in North Pyongan Province. Since I have a travel permit [to China], I can go there without trouble as long as I get it stamped by state security. If you have good relations with state security, it’s easy to get travel permits; if you have good relations with police, it’s easy to fight off the criminals; if you have good relations with the Party, it’s easy to do trade”.

The reference to criminals is not incidental. There is a growing lawlessness in the borderland areas, and businesspeople have to pay for their security. Mrs. Hwang said: “The criminal police and state security love tobacco, liquor and good dress very much. Now there are so many thieves and mobsters in North Korea, but once I give a phone call to the police officials whom I know, they always come [to protect me and my merchandise]. ”

Currently, Mrs. Hwang has two houses: one in North Korea and another in China. She prefers to deal with used and second-hand goods, items people in China do not buy any more. Such goods are cheap to buy in China, but when sold in North Korea they bring hefty profits measured in the hundreds of percent!

One of her most successful recent deals took place in late 2004. Mrs. Hwang bought 5,000 pairs of cheap working shoes in China, at 4 yuan a pair. She then re-sold the shoes to North Korean retailers for the equivalent of 13 yuan.

Mrs. Hwang is married, but it seems that her husband is less prominent in business than she. Indeed, the social changes of the last decade have greatly changed the balance of gender roles in the Korean families. But that is another story…


The Transformation of Class Structure and Class Conflict in North Korea

Friday, July 8th, 2005

International Journal of Korean Unification Studies
Vol. 14, No.2, 2005, pp 52-84.

PDF Here: transformation of class structure.pdf

This study examines how North Korea’s class structure transformations influenced the social transformations, and seeks to understand the structural characteristics of North Korea by examining in detail the existing shape of each social class. This study found that North Korea’s socialist transformation was the process of dismantling every social class, such as the landowners, farmers, commerce and industry, and intelligentsia classes, etc. The 1946 land reform dismantled the landowner class, the 1958 agricultural collectivization dismantled the farmers class, and the 1958 nationalization of commerce and industry did the same to the petty bourgeoisie. The only class remaining in North Korea is the managers of the governing class. There was no class differentiation, only dismantlement. Thus, with social classes dissolved, the governing class remains as the monolithic class monopolizing social, economic, and political power in North Korea, with no other social power to act as a balancer. This type of class structure may constitute the social conditions of political dictatorship in North Korea.

In North Korea, the fundamental ownership relations of the traditional class structure were dismantled in the name of socialist construction. The victims of this construction were the traditional classes of landowner, petty bourgeoisie, farmer, and intellectual.

When the 1946 Land Reform Law was passed, it was enacted in a month.  The law provided for government confiscation of land properties over 5 chongbo (1 chongbo=2.45 acres).  When completed, 1,000,325 chongbo of 1,982,431 under cultivation at the time.  At the time, land owned by the Japanese state, Japanese people, and religious organizations was barely 4%.  the remaining 96% was in the hands of Korean landowners and tenants.  It affected 405,603 of the 1,121,295 registered farming households.  4 in 10 households had land confiscated in part or whole.  Ten years after land reform, many were again prospering, and theor political influence became noticeable.  Kim il Sung sought to reassert control over them.  In 1958, land reform was reversed and farms were colectivised.

Nationalization of industry, traffic, transportation, communications and bank finances, including over 1034 important factories and businesses.  In 1947 80.2% of industry was held in state control.  Private commerce made up the rest.  After the Korean War, private enterprise production consisted of small-scale mills, metal workshops, rubber factories.  by May 1957, the number of private industrial enterprises was 633.  By August 1958, this activity was completely eliminated.

To purge the intellectuals (who were educated in the old ways) Kim il Sung proposed, “we have to speed up the construction of socialism, and fo rthat purpose, we have to fight against the conservatism of the intellectuals.” This started with technicians and economic managers.  Then dissident writers.

All social powers were ousted: Landowners, farmers, businessmen, and intellectual classes.  All menas of production were nationalized and socialiazed, so all became employees of the state, and the state became the sole employer.  North Korea’s new system consists of the rulers and everyone else (two groups).

To prevent remanats of the past from gaining influence, North Korea classified each individual according to their family background, and discriminated on this classification (starting in 1957).

Yunan and Soviet factions were purged in the August Faction Incident in 1956.  Cabinet Decision 149 mandates that ousted individuals be put in area 20km from the sea coast and demarcation line, 50km away from Pyongyang and Kaesong, 20km away fro mother cities and limited residential areas.  These individuals received a special stamp on their ID cards and were registered with the social security agency.

The North Korean managerial (ruling) class is an exclusive group which has institutionalized a system so that it may keep its privileges.  Only the sons and daughters of the core class can become promoted within the managerial class.  Children of Cadres only marry children of cadres.

Core class is 3,915,000 people in 870,000 households.  Wavering is 3,150,000 in 700,000 households.  Hostile is 7,930,000 in 173,000 households.

In the workplace, all indivduals are obliged to be part of one of three organizations: the party, the Youth League, or the Workers Union.

Supplies are divided into special numbers.  1,2,3,4, etc.  Those in higher positions are afforded higher rank in distribution.  “How could Party Secretaries, who don’t do anything,obtian objects of a 4 level?”

Private relationships are only possible through the party.

Self-criticism sessions are carried out every week.  Since these are routine, people know each other and act accordingly.  Becuase everyone has to criticize each other they tend to do so in a modest way.

Peasants most angry.  Laborers and office workers have time to do business on the side, but peasants do not.  Some bright peasants do tend private plots.

People complain openly now.

While the core class focused on inner-systemic solidarity when faced with a crisis, the wavering and hostile classes were the first to enter the black market.  After business expanded in the country side like wildfire the government brought the businesses into the open in July 2002.  The marginalized societies led the change in values.  Reportedly the collude with the regulatory authorities and security guards, borrow and rent vehicles for biusiness.

Only those sub-classified as Manyongdae line (Kim Il Sung’s lineage), Baektusan line (Kim Jong Il’s lineage), and Ryongnamsan line (People who graduated with Kim Jong Il from Kim Il Sung University) are able to receive official government posts.

Of the total population, 10% makes up the power-holding ruling class.  Another 40% make up a lower social rung doing business and making deals.