Archive for the ‘Dating/Courting’ Category

IFES DPRK monthly recap: January 2008

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 08-2-5-1

Kim Jong Il’s first visit of the year was reported on January 6 to have been to the Ryesonggnang hydro-electric power plant. Generally, the leader’s visits in the first months of the year, along with the New Year’s Joint Editorial, which focused on economic recovery, set the tone for the coming year’s policies. His second inspection of the year was to a military unit.

Defectors claim that prostitution is on the rise in North Korea, and on January 9, the aid group ‘Good Friends’ reported that the DPRK has begun to close massage parlors as part of a crackdown on prostitution. The agency reported that in the DPRK there was a “steady campaign to weed out decadent foreign culture,” and that in September, DPRK soldiers were ordered to avoid alcohol, sex, and money.

On January 16, it was reported that Kim Jong Il had instructed all DPRK institutions to reduce their bureaucracies, including senior staff, by thirty percent.

Figures released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency indicate that the DPRK’s population had increased to 23.6 million in 2004, the latest available figures. According to DPRK figures, the population has grown from 22.1 million in 1996.

North Korea announced the closure of its Australian embassy on January 22. While the DPRK will continue to maintain diplomatic relations with Australia, it apparently can no longer afford to maintain an embassy in Canberra.

According to a report released by the International Red Cross, North Korea has the largest number of people in the world killed by natural disasters over the past decade. The report states that 458 thousand North Koreans have died from natural disaster, 38 percent of the disaster-caused deaths in 220 countries from 1997-2006.

A U.S. Senate investigation reported that the DPRK funneled as much as 2.7 million USD through a bank account set up from UN development projects. The report stated that North Korea used the UN account due to fears that the United States would block its ability to transfer money internationally.

DPRK Nuclear Negotiations

2008 opened with the United States and Japan releasing statements expressing their disappointment at North Korea’s failure to meet its December 31 deadline to fully disclose the extent of its nuclear programs, while North Korea’s New Year’s Joint Editorial called for “stability on the Korean Peninsula and peace in the world” as well as an end to hostile U.S. policies. A U.S. White House spokesman stressed that there was still opportunity to move forward with negotiations, stating, “the important thing is that we get a declaration that…needs to be full and complete,” not whether the declaration is made by the deadline.

On January 4, North Korea claimed it had met its obligations to come clean on its nuclear programs, and that it had provided Washington with a list of its nuclear programs in November. Pyongyang also threatened to bolster its “war deterrent” because Washington had failed to provide promised aid following the declaration. Washington denied that any complete declaration had been made.

A senior Russian diplomat was quoted on January 11 as saying that while Russia regrets the slowed state of progress in talks on DPRK nuclear issues, Russia will fulfill its promise to provide the North with fuel oil. 50,000 tons of fuel oil were delivered on January 20~21.

According to a book of figures recently published by the National Statistical Office, ”Comparison of North and South Korean Socio-economic Circumstances”, the DPRK”s crude imports over the past several years bottomed out at 2,325,000 barrels in 1999, then rose to 4,244,000 barrels by 2001. Since 2001, imports have steadily fallen until only 3,841,000 barrels were imported in 2006, recording the least imports in the last five years.

North Korea opened its first online shopping mall in January. The site offers items from fourteen categories ranging from machinery and building materials to stamps and artworks. The site,, is based in China.

Orascom Telecom, a Cairo-based phone operator, has been granted the first commercial license for provision of mobile phone services in North Korea. The license was granted to CHEO Technology, a subsidiary that is 25 percent-owned by the state-run Korea Post and Telecommunications Corporation.

DPRK Abduction Issue

The Cambodian Foreign Minister announced on January 16 that his country had been working behind the scenes to find a resolution to the DPRK-Japan abduction issue. The minister stated, “Cambodia is in a position where it can hold high-level meetings with North Korea, and it has the ability to persuade North Korea.”

Inter-Korean Affairs

The incoming Lee Myung-bak administration announced on January 4 a plan to develop an international cooperative fund to support North Korea’s economy. The plan is said to call for World Bank and the Asia Development Bank to help, and for South Korea to provide 40 billion USD.

On January 7, it was reported that Lee Myung-bak’s presidential transition team had asked the ROK Unification Ministry to slow the pace of inter-Korean economic projects and to link them to progress in the six-party talks. The incoming administration has promised not to link humanitarian projects such as rice and fertilizer aid to nuclear negotiations.

The Lee Myung-bak administration announced plans for downsizing the South Korean government, including disbanding of the Ministry of Unification. Opposition to the plan points out the role played by the ministry in improving inter-Korean relations, while proponents to the plan of relegating the ministry’s duties to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade applaud the move to align North Korea policy with standing foreign policy directives.

On January 14, it was reported that Lee Myung-bak had asked the United States to further engage in talks with DPRK military leaders, while presenting a balanced approach, stating that “our people don’t support the idea of giving lavish aid to the North nor do they want to irritate it too much, I believe.” He went on to add that the United States holds the key to easing DPRK fears of opening up.

The net worth of inter-Korean exchanges totaled 1,797,890,000 USD in 2007, up 33% from the 1.35 billion USD in the previous year. The almost 1.8 billion dollars in trade recorded in 2007 is the highest to date, and is equal to 65 percent of the DPRK”s non-Korean trade volume of 2.996 billion USD in 2006.

The Seoul-based International Vaccine Institute announced on January 14 that it will soon begin inoculating approximately six thousand North Korean children against bacterial meningitis and Japanese encephalitis.

The two Koreas began working-level military talks on January 25, marking the first talks of the year. During talks, the North proposed reducing the frequency of the inter-Korean rail services, citing a lack of cargo. The Southern delegation felt that the frequency was an important indication of inter-Korean cooperation. The two sides agreed to continue daily runs, but to reduce the number of empty carriages in the future.

North Korea is still not as attractive to businesses as other Asian neighbors. A survey released by the (South) Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry on January 28 indicated that China and Vietnam are more attractive to ROK businesses. According to the survey, 80 percent of businesses have difficulties starting or operating businesses in North Korea.

An ROK special envoy returned on January 23 from Moscow after proposing a joint ROK-DPRK-Russian cooperative project in eastern Siberia. President-elect Lee Myung-bak sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin pushing for cooperation of “North Korea’s workforce, Russia’s resources and capital, and [South] Korean technology.”

U.S.-DPRK Relations

On January 9, amidst reports concerning possible DPRK-Syria nuclear connections, it was reported that in 1991 Israel was posed to strike a ship suspected of delivering missiles from the DPRK to Syria, but was dissuaded by Washington.

A U.S. State Department official stated on January 22 that North Korea had met the legal criteria to be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. This came just after reports of conflicting opinions within the Bush administration, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sharply rebuking Special Envoy on North Korean Human Rights Lefkowitz, who stated that North Korea is not serious about nuclear disarmament. Rice went so far as to say that Lefkowitz “certainly has no say on what American policy will be in the six-party talks,” dismissing his negative position on the failure of North Korea to meet its obligations. The White House later stated that North Korea must make a full declaration of its nuclear activities before being removed from the list.

Five officials from the DPRK recently visited the United States in order to learn how to treat and prevent tuberculosis, a serious concern for the North that is “practically non-existent in most developed countries.” The officials were invited by The Korea Society, which is based in New York.

DPRK-PRC Relations

According to the PRC General Administration of Customs, China’s oil exports to North Korea were the same in 2007 as they were in 2006. China sent 523,160 tons of oil to North Korea in 2007.

A senior PRC Communist Party official traveled to Pyongyang for a meeting with Kim Jong Il on January 30. Wang Jiarui, director of the International Liaison Department of the Chinese communist party, was to convey a message to Kim, inviting him to the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. While Kim reportedly told Wang that there would be no change in the DPRK stance on nuclear negotiations, he also assured the Chinese envoy that North Korea had no intention of harming DPRK-PRC relations.


KINU “Business Conglomerates Appearing in North Korea”

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

Daily NK
Yang Jung A

Through its publication “North Korea is Changing” the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) highlighted numerous changes and reforms that have occurred in North Korea due to the 2002 “July 1st Economic Maintenance Reform Policy” (Hereon referred to as the “July 1 Policy”). This publication deals with the changes the North Korean economy is undergoing following the economic crisis of the 1990s, and expounds on the country’s prospects for future economic reform.

The following is a summary of the main points introduced in the publication.

The “Invisible Hand” at Work in North Korean Markets

Following the enactment of the July 1 Policy in 2002, agricultural markets transformed into general markets. Soon, industrial products were being sold alongside agricultural products as the free market spirit spread to the country’s distribution system.
Along with the rise of general markets, street markets, and individualized commercial activities, a new merchant class is emerging. People who are able to put to use business acumen and an understanding of market principles are able to accumulate personal wealth. This demonstrates that aspects of Western-style rationalist thinking, including the pursuit of profit-seeking are being instilled in the minds of the North Korean people.

It is difficult to say if this experiment in free market economics will be successful in the long run. More than anything, due to the rigidity of the North Korean regime, the realm in which the “Invisible Hand” can operate is greatly restricted. This is the fundamental paradox facing North Korea’s prospects for reform and opening.

“Hardworking Heroes” Become “People with Two Jobs”

As the economic difficulties became severe, work opportunities evaporated. Living off of the wages provided by the state became impossible. North Korean laborers responded to this by taking on side jobs or engaging in independent sales.

According to defectors living in South Korea, after the July 1 Policy, there has been an increase “People with Two Jobs.” These are people who are engaging in economic activities additional to their primary occupations. People are beginning to accept the notion that it is better to work for personal benefits than to receive the title of “Hardworking Hero.”

Such phenomena have also changed people’s perceptions about occupations in general. For example, the elite classes now prefer diplomatic positions and jobs where they can make international connections, rather than working in party or government positions. The common people prefer agricultural jobs with the benefits of access to the food distribution system and the ability to earn side profits by being a merchant. In addition, common people also prefer being personal drivers, photographers, workers at the Food Distribution Office, servicepersons, or fishermen.

Business Conglomerates Are Emerging in North Korea

With the implementation of the July 1 Policy, North Korea has witnesses the creation of its first business conglomerates. A case in point is the Korea Pugang Corporation, which has expanded to include 9 subsidiaries and 15 foreign offices engaging in various lines of work. The website of the “Korea Pugang Corporation” reveals that the company has around $20 million in capital and does an average of $150 million of business each year.

The executives in charge of the company’s growth are brothers Jon Sung Hun and Young Hun. President Jon Sung Hun is in his early 50s and studied abroad in Tanzania before returning home to teach English at Kim Il Sung University. He later became a businessperson. His English skills are among the top 10 in North Korea. Young Hun is in his 40s and is the president of a company affiliated with the Finance and Accounting Department of the Workers’ Party. His company dominates North Korean diesel imports.

If the Jon brothers are the representative examples of conglomerate-based new capital, Cha Chul Ma ranks high among those who earned capital due to their power in North Korean society. With his focus on doing business with China, Cha is known for his ability to earn foreign currency and dominates the foreign currency earning businesses belonging to the Standing Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly. His personal wealth is said to be over $10 million.

As the son-in-law of Lee Jeh Gang, the First Vice Director of the Guidance Department of the Workers’ Party, Cha gets some support from his father-in-law. Cha, who is known to live so freely that he was seen wearing Bermuda shorts on the streets of Pyongyang, is said to be a “Representative Case of a North Korean who succeeded in business on his merits, regardless of assistance from surrounding figures”.

The Number One Worry is Sustenance

North Koreans are said to live three different lives: their family lives, their working or school lives, and their political lives. Their lives are organized by politics from “cradle to grave,” and they must attend various political meetings, organizations, and study sessions. However, there are many people who are unable to participate in regular meetings of their political units due to economic difficulties. As they do not receive sufficient food distributions and their wages are too low, they must seek their food independently through individual economic activities.

Because the transportation infrastructure in the country is not advanced, it takes at least half a month to one month to go into the countryside to search for food and then they must return and sell the food or daily-use items they acquired, leaving little time for any other activities. Ninety percent of North Koreans engage in some form of business, and as a result, only an estimated 30% to 60% participate in required political activities.

Marriage Culture

These days, in North Korea, the ideal spouse is the one who makes the most money. Previously, when North Korean women chose their spouses, they considered the social status of their potential suitor. However, after the economic crisis, they started to prefer businesspersons and people who earn foreign currency, instead of discharged soldiers and cadres. For men as well, they now prefer money to looks as society increasingly revolves around the economy. As a result, an overwhelmingly higher proportion of men marry older woman than before.

Marriage customs are simplifying as well. Before the economic crisis, women usually provided the domestic items for the household and men provided the estate. However, after the economic crisis, dowries have downgraded into simple things like clothes. Because the allocation of estates has been delayed, more and more people are living at their parents’ homes.

Especially for women, there have been some phenomenal changes. Many women consider marrying late or not marrying at all. Reasons for this include the fact that woman cannot marry men just because the men can’t work and needs a woman to bring home money. Even in such a patriarchal culture, such complaints are becoming increasingly common.


Porno Became Widespread in `90s, Thanks to the Dear Leader

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

Daily NK
Moon Sung Hwee


Porno became prevalent in late 1990s, first among party officials and it leaked out to the public. Nude or bikini-worn women dance in North Korean porno with music.

Such indigenous videos disappear as foreign-made porno being imported. The first consumers, and the largest now, are high-ranking officials of the party and army.

It costs 2000 North Korea won (approx. USD 1 =3,200 North Korean Wown) to rent a porno CD for an hour in North Korea. Even middle school students collect money to rent one.


Divorce Rate Is Skyrocketing for Economical Reasons

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

Daily NK
Yoon Il Geun

Good Friends, a Seoul-based relief organization said in its weekly report released on December 3rd, “The North frequently readjusts its resident registration project in Sinuiju. Nowadays, divorced couples are banished to other areas.”

Sinuiju situated near the Yalu River is the North’s gateway to China and second largest city after Pyongyang. The resident registration project has been strictly enforced in both cities. Individuals such as Prisoners of the Korean War and South Korean defectors to the North are not allowed to reside in these major cities.

In 1989, right before the North’s celebration of Pyongyang World Festival of Youth and Students, the North Korean authorities drove out those with a bad family background (based on its unique caste system) and the disabled out of Pyongyang. At that time, the authorities also banished divorced people to the outskirts of Pyongyang for the reason of their being ‘indecent.’

Lately, the divorce rate in the North is skyrocketing. More than 90 percent of divorce cases have to do with economical reasons. Many times, men fail to bring money home even if he has a job, and women are left alone to solely take care of child rearing and homemaking.

Usually, the North Korean courts do not decree divorces. When the divorce rate increases and becomes a serious social problem in the North, Kim Jong Il orders the courts not to decree divorces and the courts do not divorce people. If Kim Jong Il makes an order to expel divorced people to the provincial areas, his order is carried out as intended. In addition, divorced party cadres and administrative officials are either demoted or dismissed. Military officials, if divorced, are discharged. Divorced teachers must leave their schools. In the North, divorced people are believed to have a corrupt ideology.

Nevertheless, divorce is increasing particularly among the poor. Mostly, it has to do with economical reasons. As women engage themselves in business in the market, women’s power has increased whereas men are often considered to be good for nothing.

It is reported that women’s consciousness has changed especially in cities as foreign films and South Korean TV dramas are introduced to the North. A new way of thinking among women conflicts with men’s traditional male-oriented thinking. It is also reported that separation among married couples is increasing, and there are many young couples who do not register their marriages.

Moreover, the number of people, who bribe the courts to divorce their spouses, has greatly surged. It costs between 50,000 and 100,000 North Korean won to have judges issue a divorce certificate. The average wage among judges is 2,000 won. The amount is less than the worth of the US $1 dollar, which is sold around at 3,300 North Korean won in the market. Apparently, had it not been for bribes taking from divorce suitors, North Korean judges would not make their living.


First-ever South Korean wedding held in North Korea

Sunday, December 2nd, 2007

Nam Kwang-sik

The first South Koreans to tie the knot in North Korea wed in a ceremony at Mount Geumgang, a scenic North Korean mountain frequented by South Korean tourists, tour company Hyundai Asan said on Sunday.

Choe Jeong-in, a 32-year-old employee of Hyundai Asan, and Cho Ah-ra, 24, who works for one of Hyundai Asan’s business partners, married in a ceremony at a Mount Geumgang hotel on Saturday, three years after they first met while working at the North Korean resort.


A Woman’s Life

Sunday, December 2nd, 2007

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

About a century ago, in the early 1900s, no major political movement could rival the Marxists in their commitment to gender equality. It was the time when women could not vote anywhere (well, anywhere apart from New Zealand and Australia), when their property rights were strictly limited, married unemployment was seen as the most natural state for “weaker vessels”, and most professions were not for women. In those days, the early Communists vocally demanded equal political and economic rights, equal pay, and also insisted that women should be given access to all professions, including the most manly ones.

When the Communists took power, for a brief while they tried to keep their promise. In the Communist Russia of the 1920s there were highly publicized cases of female air force pilots, military officers, and ambassadors. However, this drive did not last: Communism in power proved to be very patriarchal, and by the 1940s the earlier demands for gender equality were quietly scaled down in all Communist states.

Of all these states, North Korea probably proved to be most patriarchal, especially after its turn to nationalism in the late 1950s. Nationalism often goes hand in hand with anti-feminist sentiments, and North Korea was no exception. Soon North Korean women learned that they should know their proper place (of “wise mothers and kind wives”, of course) and be careful about their behavior, least it threaten public decency and morality.

This “proper” behavior was enforced through a number of restrictions: certain types of activity were denied women. North Korea has its own version of the “glass ceiling”, not allowing women to rise above a certain level. However, there are also bans on some mundane daily activities which for some reason are proclaimed to be “unbecoming of women”.

To start with, women are not allowed to smoke. In North Korea, female smoking is an absolute taboo, at least for young and middle-aged women. Female smokers in the South are disapproved of, but in the North the approach to the transgression is much tougher. As one defector put it: “A North Korean woman must be crazy to take up smoking”. There have been reports about women being sent into exile for their persistence with the smoking habit. I am slightly skeptical about these reports, but it is clear that in smoking a woman risks some serious “criticism” during an ideological study session, and this is not a good turn of events in North Korean society. This is in stark contrast with males’ behavior, since most North Korean males are chain smokers.

However, older women are exempted from this ban, and there are many North Korean women who begin smoking when they turn 50 or soon afterwards.

Pyongyang, the “capital of revolution” is somewhat notorious for many bans of seemingly normal things which are declared improper and unbecoming. Some of these bans are gender specific. For example, in Pyongyang and other major cities, for a long time women were not allowed to wear trousers. It was OK to work in trousers, but once the shift was over, decent North Korean women were supposed to dress in a “womanly manner” – that is, to change into a skirt. Those who appeared on the street dressed in trousers could be sent home by a police patrol. Once again, the ban did not apply to older women, and in the mid-90s trousers were partially pardoned.

In general, “proper female modesty” has always been extolled. In 1982 Kim Il-sung, while addressing the North Korean rubber-stamping parliament issued a warning: “It does not conform with the socialist lifestyle if women wear dresses without sleeves or a dress that shows their breasts!” North Koreans tried to ensure that the skirts were of an appropriate length to “conform to the socialist lifestyle”. Even nowadays, in the days of relative openness, skirts should safely cover the knees of the wearers.

Driving is not regarded as an activity suitable for a woman, and women are never issued a driving license. Of course, the number of private cars is very small, and their owners are naturally overwhelmingly male. It is remarkable that in the past, back in the 1970s and 1980s, even foreign women could encounter difficulties if they applied for a driving permit in Pyongyang. Obviously, North Korean officials could not comprehend how the female brain would be able to master such a technology.

However, the most bizarre of all these bans is one which deals with cycling. Bicycles were prohibited in Pyongyang for decades, and the ban was lifted only around 1992. However, this relaxation was not for everybody. In 1996, authorities decided that the bicycle was not suitable for women. The official press explained that “beautiful national customs” do not permit such debauchery. Allegedly, this judgment was the decree of Kim Jong-il himself.

At first, police worked hard to enforce the ban, and some female riders had their bikes confiscated, but then things cooled down and some women began to defy the prohibition.

However, it is increasingly clear that these and other bans are enforced by police with ever diminishing zeal. The North Korean dictatorship is running out of steam, not least because its own servants do not believe the official slogans anymore.


North Korea, Illegal Sex Trafficking Prevention

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

Daily NK
Kim Min Se

Recently, it has been made known that sealed or closed-off rooms in up-scale restaurants and popular “karaokes” in North Korean provincial cities have been removed.

Since 2000, sex trafficking has rapidly increased at inns, saunas, spas, and karaoke bars in large provincial cities such as Shinuiju, Chongjin, and Hamheung.

In particular, corrupt businesses such as massage parlors and steam baths with the purpose of sex trafficking have proliferated, increasing incidents of solicitations in front of large-city stations and metaphoric advertisements, such as “flower” and “bed sales.”

Good Friends has released on the September Newsletter that after creating rooms in the basement of a restaurant in Wonsan, Kangwon Province and organizing young girls for prostitution and the owner of the restaurant and affiliates received maximum punishment such as the death penalty for forcing sexual trafficking.

After inspections and punishment, an inside source relayed that an order came down preventing operations of illicit rooms by karaoke and entertainment venues. Karaokes removed entrance and exit doors and restaurants enforced the opening of doors of each room. Due to such management, the number of guests has greatly decreased.

North Korean businessman Mr. Park, who is residing in Dandong, China, said in a phone conversation with DailyNK, “Most sealed or closed-off rooms in restaurants or karaoke bars of large provincial cities such as Shinuiju and Hamheung have mostly disappeared.”

Mr. Park said, “I would often use sealed rooms because I could talk about business and entertain guests while not worrying about the eyes of others. However, recently, the government gave an order to get rid of these rooms due to prostitution.”

Further, he said, “Field security agents are checking up on internal facilities by making rounds at restaurants and karaokes. If sealed-off or blocked-off rooms are still reported, the business has to be shut down and the owner is taken to the Security Agency.”

He said, “People who have money nowadays seek out upper-scale restaurants for sharing important businesses. The presence of female entertainers elevates the atmosphere, but in some cases, the women are forced to ‘serve’ them.”

However, Mr. Park said, “Even if the government gets rid of sealed rooms and dividers, it is difficult to remove the root of the problem because women want to continue making money, and such “popular” spots have already become established as a means of doing so.

Mr. Park also said, “In Shinuiju alone, sex trafficking is known to have spread significantly. Women who are sold have separately rented rooms and receive 10,000 won ($3.30) per night.”

A Chinese businessman Lio Jilong confirmed these details. He, who frequents Shinuiju for trade with North Korea, said, “Even when I went to Shinuiju at the end of August, restaurants with special (sealed-off) rooms and dividers were common, but they have all disappeared by now.”

He also expressed discontent, “With the exception of restaurants and karaokes, there are no places where one can discuss business; other restaurants have been harmed by prostitution in Chosun (North Korea).”

The North Korean government sent “first-offender” women engaging in prostitution to a “labor detention facility” for six months at the discretion of the security agency and “repeat-offenders” were punished to the second-degree by being sentenced to over a year.


People Who Cross the River

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

The Chinese-Korean border is easy to cross, and it is clear that numbers of the defectors are kept small only by security measures undertaken by the North Korean side. However, the story of the region is essentially the story of the cross-border movement. Technically, the narrow Tumen and relatively broad Yalu divide the territories of two different countries. However, both banks of the Tumen are inhabited by the Koreans, and for large part of the last century neither state was either willing or able to control the border completely. It has been porous for decades, and in a sense it remains porous nowadays. The cross-border migration, legal or otherwise, has never stopped completely.

It might sound strange now, but until the late 1970s North Korea was seen by the Chinese as a land of relative prosperity, so the refugee flow moved from China to Korea. In the 1960s many ethnic Koreans fled the famine and the madness of the “cultural revolution,” looking for a refuge in Kim’s country. There, at least, people were certain to receive 700 grams of corn every day. Many of those early refugees eventually moved back, but only a handful were persecuted by the Chinese authorities. In most cases the returned migrants just resumed the work at the factories and people’s communes where they had worked before their escape. This movement was large, it involved few ten thousand people at least, and many of those people were saved by their sojourn in North Korea.

This episode, not widely known outside the area, is still well remembered by the Chinese. Many of my interlocutors explained their willingness to help the North Korean refugees in the following way: “When life was harsh here, they helped us. Now it is our turn.”

The Chinese border protection system has always been quite lax, but from the 1970s North Korean authorities have tried to the keep border tightly controlled. However, all their efforts could not prevent a massive exodus of the North Koreans, which began around 1995.

In those years North Korea was struck by a disastrous famine which led to massive deaths. The number of its victims has been estimated at between 250,000 and 3,000,000 with 600-900,000 being probably the most reliable figure so far. The northern parts of the country, adjacent to the border, were the hardest hit.

So it comes as no surprise that many North Koreans illegally moved across the border to find work and refuge in China. Around 1999 when the famine reached its height the number of such people reached an estimated 200-300,000.

This movement was not authorized, but from around 1996 Pyongyang authorities ceased to apply harsh penalties to the border-crossers. Until that time, an attempted escape to China would land you a prison for years. From the late 1990s, an escape to China was treated as a minor offence. It is even possible that the North Korean authorities deliberately turned a blind eye on the defectors: after all, people who moved to China were not to be fed, and also, being most active and adventurous those people would probably become trouble-makers had they been forced to stay in North Korea.

A vast majority of those refugees stayed in the borderland area where one can survive without any command of Chinese (the ethnic Koreans form some 35% of the population, and Korean villages are common). The refugees took up odd jobs, becoming construction workers, farm hands, waitresses and cooks in small restaurants. The authorities hunted them down and deported them back to North Korea, but generally without much enthusiasm, since both low-level officials and population by and large was sympathetic to the refugees’ plight. The older Chinese know only too well what it means to suffer from famine.

Most of the refugees were women, some of whom married the local farmers – usually those who would not find a wife otherwise. In most cases it means that they were paired with drunkards, drug addicts or gamblers, but in some cases their partners were merely dirt-poor farmers. These marriages were not usually recognized by Chinese law since these women, technically speaking, did not exist. In some cases, they saved enough money to bribe the officials and had a Chinese citizen ID issued. If this happened, a refugee woman changed her identity, becoming a Chinese national.

Nowadays, the refugees’ number has shrunk considerably, even though old figures are often uncritically cited by the world media. Nowadays, people in the know believed that between 30-50,000 North Koreans are hiding in China.

Why did their numbers go down recently? There are few reasons for that. To start with, a remarkable improvement of the domestic situation in North Korea played a role, but most people with whom I talked to in China in July agreed that the major reason for this change is the revival of the North Korean border security in recent few years. Until 2004 or so, North Korean authorities usually turned a blind eye to mass exodus of their people to China. Now their position has changed. They understand that the border serves as a major conduit for unauthorized information about the outside world, and now this information is becoming dangerous. They also believe that the famine is over, so people can be fed if they stay in North Korea. So, it seems that the era of large-scale illegal migration is over. Nonetheless, history of the region indicates that this movement is unlikely to ever be stopped completely.


S. Korean first lady meets N. Korean female leaders, not her counterpart

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007


South Korean First Lady Kwon Yang-suk might have found herself in a rather awkward position on the first day of the inter-Korean summit due to the absence of her official counterpart.

The North’s reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il, showed up at Pyongyang Square by himself to greet President Roh Moo-hyun and Kwon, disappointing South Korean and Western media, which expected to get a glimpse of Kim’s current spouse and successor of the world’s only communist dynasty.

There is no clear information available on Kim’s marital history, but he is said to have lived with a total of four women: Kim Young-suk, Song Hye-rim, Ko Young-hee, and Kim Ok.

Song is the mother of Kim’s oldest son, Jong-nam, while Ko is the mother of Jong-chul and Jong-un. One of Kim’s three children is widely expected to replace him as the ruler of the tightly-controlled regime.

Kim has never been accompanied by his wife at a diplomatic occasion, including the first-ever inter-Korean summit in 2000.

Instead of meeting with the North Korean first lady, the visiting South Korean first lady spent Tuesday afternoon meeting with several leaders in North Korean women’s circles.


Unintended Separation of Young Married Couples

Monday, September 24th, 2007

Daily NK
Yang Jung A

Choi (25) from Hamheung, South Hamkyung Province, married with his fiancé last Spring. Wedding ceremony was accompanied by his neighbors, friends and relatives. Happy life afterwards seemed awaiting the newly wed couple.

All of sudden, serious problem emerged. As in South Korea, North Korean married man provides housing while married woman brings furniture and other basic goods. Rarely a newly wed couple lives with their parents.

However in these days, due to rising house prices, couples have hard time finding new homes. Even if they are fortunate enough to find one, sometimes police or local government officials intervene and confiscate houses for private sales of property, which is, in principle, still illegal in communist North Korea.

Confiscated houses are distributed to Army officers or discharged veterans. Choi’s house was forfeited, too. He went to the police office and protested, but police guards bluntly replied; “Then you can live with your parents.”

The Chois are now in debt to buy another house. And for a while, since there is no house to live together, the newly weds are residing in their parents’ houses separately.

Faulty construction in Yongcheon

Kim (female, 55) live with fear. Her little apartment in Yongcheon, North Pyongan Province, is so weak that it might crumble to ground someday.

She and her family lost home in 2004 Ryongchun station exploision. They had lived in tents for several months until local government finally told them a plan to build new houses for refugees. Delight soon turned to disappointment, however. The apartment was well built outside but faultily done so inside.

Rumors spread that new houses built after Ryongchun incident was so hastily constructed that vulnerable to sudden collapse. Materials were poor and construction phase was too quick. Some houses were not even equipped with proper electricity. Cracks emerged soon.

A neighbor of Kim told her that some party officials embezzled money and materials provided upon Ryongchun residents after the explosion.

For Kim who is living in anxiety, state and the Dear Leader are no more venerable.

Photo market in NK

Hwang (male, 20) from Chongjin, North Hamkyong Province, has father who is involved in Sino-Korean trade. Thanks to his rich dad, Hwang seldom goes to work and instead hangs out with friends. He owns a lot of foreign stuff, which attracts many friends.

His most precious is a Japanese digital camera. While walking down the street with the camera on his hand, every girl looks upon him with envies.

Even in Chongjin, there are an increasing number of people who bring digital cameras. Using digital camera grew fast since three to four years ago. And some people take and sell pictures of customers, 2000 NK won (less than a US dollar) per pic.

According to a friend in Hwoiryeong, it is sold five hundred won per picture taken from digital camera, taking five days.