Songbun rears its head again…

UPDATE: Read here about increasing numbers of North Korean workers legally taking up work in China.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-6-29): Robert Collins recently published a report with HRNK on the DPRK’s songbun system. Previous posts on Songbun here.

Though some argue that the “Arduous March”, grassroots marketization, and the rise of official corruption has diminished the importance of songbun within the North Korean system, this article in the Daily NK  (which never uses the word ‘songbun”) makes the case that it is still important in one highly visible sector: overseas workers.

According to the Daily NK:

A North Hamkyung Province source told Daily NK on the 27th, “The process of choosing expatriate workers is very sensitive, even though the only target is Pyongyang-based factory and enterprise workers.”

According to the source, backgrounds are checked thoroughly, and single people may not take part. Married workers also need to obtain permission from the National Security Agency affiliated to the enterprise with which they are registered.

Prior to sending the workers abroad, the People’s Safety Ministry also checks each individual’s origins, the whereabouts of his or her direct family and if anyone in that family has spent time in a detention facility and why. They also check the marital status and criminal records of more distant relatives.

Despite the hard nature of the work that waits in China and the difficulty of obtaining a position, the number of applicants is huge, the source went on. And with single people ineligible as a measure to decrease the risk of defection, the source even commented that “single workers are rushing to get married,” adding also, “Pyongyang has caught marriage fever.”

“Competition is fierce because they would prefer to go away to a place where factories are running and they can get paid,” he pointed out. “Cadres and NSA agents in charge of the process are doing well out of the bribes. Some people are even borrowing money to bribe the authorities, saying that they will pay them back when they return from China”.

Commenting on the situation, Kim Seung Cheol, a defector who heads North Korea Reform Radio, said it is no surprise. He explained, “This is the only way working people can make any real money. It is similar to the American dream.”

Read the full story here:
Workers Face Fierce Fight for China Role
Daily NK
Choi Song-min


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