GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 140

Research Institute for North Korean Society
http://www.goodfriends.or.kr/eng

North Korea Today 140th Edition June 2008


“Research Institute for North Korean Society of Good Friends, in order to bring news of the food crisis in North Korea more accurately and quickly, will increase its e-newsletter frequency to more than one issue per week. As such, the release dates might shift. Thank you for your understanding and attention to this looming crisis. We at Good Friends hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.”

Chief of the Farm Management Committee in Sookchun County Was Punished By the Party for Hinting at a Voluntary Resignation
Woman Commits Suicide after Borrowing Money to Go To China In Search Of Relatives

No Payment for Workers Who String Beads
Murder over Display Space in Market

Increased Suffering Due to Low Quality Products from China
Party Officials in Pyongyang Shop at Pyongyang the 1st Department Store
The Director of the Department of Education Issues a Punishment Warning for Unwholesome Video Tapes
Human Trafficking, Coming To Light and Leads to Arrest
Hamheung, Endless War with ‘Ice’

At the Pyongsung Medical School , Rich and Poor Students Got Into a Gang Fight


Chief of the Farm Management Committee in Sookchun County Was Punished By the Party for Hinting at a Voluntary Resignation

A chief of one of the farm management committees of the collective farms in Sookchun County (숙천군), South Pyongan Province was punished by the Party for his hinting at a voluntary resignation. Because so many farmers did not show up for work due to the food shortage crisis, the chief had requested his superiors for emergency food, which was rejected. In addition to the immediate lack of fertilizers and other farm equipment, it has become increasingly difficult to expect a normal harvest this autumn with just the available labor assigned to support the farm. So in desperation, the chief finally hinted at a resignation, but was instead severely criticized for his weak loyalty to the Party. The Party said that it had trusted him to be the chief of the management committee and that he was very irresponsible to even hint at a resignation. After a while, this chief again communicated his desire to resign saying that he’d rather be punished now than even more severely later as he had no confidence in a harvest this autumn as he was doubtful they would even obtain seeds for planning this season. This time he was dismissed and expelled from the Party for betraying the party and he was seemed unqualified to be a member of the Party.

Woman Commits Suicide after Borrowing Money to Go To China In Search Of Relatives

In desperation, many people are reaching out for help to long-distant relatives, even to those they have never met. Jang Chun-hee (59) of Boojeon Town (부전읍) in Boojeon County of South Hamgyong Province had been living in hardship ever since her husband fell ill with a stomach disease a few years ago. Although with a little help from her two sons in Helong-si (화룡시), Jilin-sheng (길림성) it was never enough to make ends meet, especially with the medicine her husband needed. After hearing that some families were able to receive some help from relatives living in China, Jang started looking for her relatives in China. Last fall, she found out that an older cousin whom she had met as a child was living in Helong-si, Jilin-sheng but she couldn’t obtain a pass authoring her to cross the border. Although she applied through the proper channels, she still could not obtain a pass. After learning she could bribe the Security Agents, she borrowed some money from her two sons and other family members living in Hamheung for the bribe. When she paid off the Security Agents, her pass was issued.

But once she made the difficult trek to China, she learned her elder cousin wasn’t there anymore and no one could help her since she found out her elder cousin was already indebted to many other relatives. There wasn’t even a used TV or some old clothing for her to have. Jang cried all the way back to North Korea thinking that she borrowed all this money for nothing, not even getting the necessary medicine for her husband. All her sons and family members could offer were words of comfort. Feeling guilty that she had made life difficult for her sons and family, Jang swallowed some rat poison and committed suicide on May 24th. Neighbors lamented her death, saying that if it weren’t for the corrupt public officials who forced her to borrow money in order to bribe them, Jang would have been alive today.

No Payment for Workers Who String Beads

An elderly woman living in Songhan-ri in the outskirts of Sinuiju supports her family by stringing beads for 1,000 won per day. She says, “I string beads all day until my eyes are about to pop out, but they still haven’t paid me. They sometimes give me flour instead of money but they are not giving us anything now and it’s becoming so hard to live on grass porridge every day.” She added that it has been so long since she has glimpsed white rice. She was also worried for her two granddaughters working at a factory who didn’t have enough food to take for lunch.

Murder over Display Space in Market

On May 22nd, there was fight over a display space(매대) for manufactured goods in a market in Sariwon in North Hwanghae Province. Two sides both argued that each one was the first one to the space. The fight was two against one. The woman who was beaten by the other two was transported to a nearby hospital but died less than 30 minutes after arrival. The other two are currently in custody. It’s a rare sight to see a fight in a market over display space, people say. They lament that people’s nature have been corroded by the recent economic difficulties.

Increased Suffering Due to Low Quality Products from China

While Chinese products are sweeping over the whole country, many are suffering from food with past expiration dates and from the very cheap and low quality nature of the products. It is common to see arguments between buyers and sellers due to dissatisfaction. There was a scuffle several days ago between a buyer, who had bought a flashlight battery from a seller in Nampo, South Pyongan Province. The buyer asked for a refund because the battery stopped working after just a few minutes. The confrontation resulted in a physical fight, resulting in both their arrests.

The majority of Chinese products is usually used, faulty and already passed their expiration date. These products, therefore, can’t be exported to other countries or sold in China. However, they are imported to North Korea for very cheap. Even if quality products are imported, sellers cannot make a profit because no one can afford to buy the quality products. Instead, the poor residents have no choice but to buy the low quality products that usually don’t even work and in fact, do more harm than good.

Party Officials in Pyongyang Shop at Pyongyang the 1st Department Store

Pyongyang residents who want to purchase quality products usually shop at Pyongyang the 1st Department Store(평양제1백화점). Since its inception with a Chinese joint venture in 2002, the relatively expensive, but quality products (and without past expiration dates) can be purchased there. Party officials and their families frequently use the 1st Department Store because the North Korean currency is used. They are reluctant to shop at the foreign currency earning store because they are afraid of being scrutinized. The use of foreign currency can work against them later (for example: used as proof of disloyalty). So, party officials especially patronize Pyongyang the 1st Department Store.

The Director of the Department of Education Issues a Punishment Warning for Unwholesome Video Tapes

There was an investigation of anti-socialist groups on the works of the Department of Education in Chungjin City of the North Hamgyong Province. Demoralizing video tapes have been widely distributed among students and preventive disciplinary measures were deemed not enough leading the Department of Education to issue punishment warnings. This warning was necessary because the officials worried that the students’ exposure to social crimes, including sex crimes and robberies on the videos were unhealthy.

Human Trafficking, Coming To Light and Leads to Arrest

Kim Oak-soon (46) frequently visited Wonsan in Kangwon Province where her aunt lived. She occasionally trafficked women into China and also sold secondhand goods in Wonsan. While staying in Wonsan on May 18, she roped two young women into coming over to China stating that they would get to live well. But when they arrived in China, they were arrested.

Hamheung, Endless War with ‘Ice’

There is no sign that the war against Ice (amphetamine) will come to an end in Hamheung which is recognized as the biggest Ice manufacturer. Even with the completion of the inspection of anti-socialist groups and the relevant people punished, the number of manufacturers of Ice has not decreased. It is because residents learned to believe that making and selling Ice was not a big deal, nothing out of ordinary. Since last May, the city has put into operation its own inspection patrol.

Additionally, the city published educational materials for the residents and organized special lectures to educate the public. The Province Police even published a handbook titled, “Lectures for Residents to Prohibit se of Ice”. The Province Police held a lecture on May 13th, targeted at factory businesses, office workers, and women and another special lecture for middle school students. These lectures emphasized the Province’ firm intention to punish those who are caught making or trading Ice. They were sending a message to residents this was the last warning.

At the Pyongsung Medical School, Rich and Poor Students Got Into a Gang Fight

Last May, at the Pyongsung Medical School, four students were injured from a gang fight beginning with a small altercation between two students. Park (19) and Lee (19) did not get along very well. Lee, from wealthy family, is broad-minded person who spent money to help others. As exams were approaching, the students collected money among themselves on the initiative of the platoon leader (the president of student council in department), and offered it to professors in exchange for exam questions. Lee usually gives more money than other students, which makes him popular both as a straight student (Jiktongsaeng직통생)[1]) and as a discharged soldiers(제대군인) . In addition, Lee took care of the platoon leaders’ personal needs. Therefore, the platoon leader cherished Lee more than any other student. However, Lee also was hated by others. He sometimes talks and acts as if he looked down on his poor friends. Park always believed that Lee’s behavior isolated poor students and starting getting into little fights, which brought about this big fight.

Another student, Kwon Ho-woong (32), responded to this accident saying this was bound to happen. He said, “Students at our school are not actually poor students, they are from relatively well-to-do families. Poor families can’t send their children to universities. In addition, young direct student are smart and have good birth origin, so they have pride in themselves. They are easily offended by someone who looks down on them.” He added that this fight is not about jealousy between poor and rich students. This fight was because to the resuscitation of ‘the Poor Get Poorer and the Rich Get Richer’ (빈익빈 부익부) within universities.

Relatively wealthy direct student sometimes flatter the platoon leader (who evaluates student’s loyalty to the Party) and this makes other students feel out of place. Some rich direct student present lunch boxes to the platoon leader. If a student is favored by the platoon leader, then, he can get a good score from the platoon leader’s evaluation, and will be placed in the better jobs. Poor students who have nothing to present to the platoon leader, naturally feel out of place. Those who are not favored by the platoon leader take on all the hard works including labor in rural areas. They are even placed in local jobs in the pretense that they lack loyalty to the Party. Hence, it is natural that students in the same situation get together and are often jealous of or resent the other group. Kwon noted an irony saying that these days, the loyalty of students is judged by how much money they have. I am confused by this reality, whether this is the socialism that our Party has been teaching, or another form of capitalism.


[1]) Students who came straight to the university without going to the military. In North Korea, the college students are mainly composed of discharged soldiers and straight students. Ordinarily, the discharged soldiers become a platoon leader (소대장; a president of student council in department), a company commander (중대장;a president of student council in the school), and a battalion commander (대대장;a president of student council in the university).

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