North Korea Today No. 381, December 15, 2010

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]

More Young Women in Ryanggang Province Dream about Life in China

Poor Parents Encourage their Daughter to Cross River to China

As Female Border Crossers Increase, Emphasis on Ideological Education

Baekam County Security Guards Receive Bribes to Release Fugitives

Kwangduk Farm in Baekam County Receives a Full Food Distribution this Fall

Kaechuk Labor District in Daehongdan County Returns Military Rice


More Young Women in Ryanggang Province Dream about Life in China

Attempts of river crossing among young women are on the rise in Hyesan city, Baekam county, and Samjiyon county in Ryanggang Province. Women give up their job as they receive no food distribution despite working at the factory and workplace and as their salary diminishes. They can’t even start a business because of the lack of start up money. Those who barely manage to make a living through small patch farming try to look for a breakthrough under a vague illusion of going to China as they think they can make more money in China.

Choi Hak-cheol (Alias) says, "As the food situation became aggravated after the Currency Reform, those who have relatives in China were given border pass to cross over to China relatively easily so that they can bring in money and food. The labor shortage in rural China is very serious and Chinese women are not interested in marrying a man living in rural area. Therefore there are many old unmarried bachelors among rural Chinese men. As such, many requests came to the relatives in North Korea asking to find a smart and healthy woman and arrange a marriage between Chinese men and North Korean woman. As a result, people who have relatives in North Korea got involved in arranged marriages across the border, and the number of women who crossed the border illegally by bribing the border guards increased drastically.” Some of those who married Korean-Chinese men are the lucky ones, but those who married the Han and Manchu Chinese are having difficulties because of differences in customs as well as difficulties with hiding identities and their illegal status.

Nevertheless, some desperate women in search of a breakthrough seek out those who specialize in assisting river-crossing or those who make living out of it, and ask about river-crossing despite the potential hardships they may have to face in China. Kim Hak-bong (alias), who has mainly been engaged in human trafficking says, “It is mostly unmarried young women in difficult situations who come to me and beg to be sent to China. That’s why I do it.” He said he doesn’t have to do anything because they come to him on their own. According to Kim, when he get three clients together, he charges 8,000 Yuan per each person and helps them to cross the river; most of them get married to men in rural China. "Although forming a family with a person who has different language and custom is an enormously difficult thing, those women still want to do it.”, he said. When asked how many of those who married Chinese men get to send back help to their families in North Korea, he replied that there aren’t many. No matter how hard they try, it is very difficult to win the trust of the Chinese people they live with. That is because there have been many incidents of North Korean women running away not long after the marriage. According to him, the expectation of living a good life once you go to China is only an illusion.
Most of the Chinese men North Korean women marry are very poor people even among those in rural China. Also, it is not easy to meet a man without mental problems or physical disabilities as marriage partner. In many cases, there is a big age difference or many of the men don’t have a stable job. Even though these women try hard to accept the situation and stay with the man, many end up trying to run away whenever possible as they realize that there is no way they can send some money to their family in North Korea because the situation is extremely destitute. Kim said there are a small number of women who manage to send money to their family in North Korea, and sending about 2,000 Yuan is considered a big amount. Despite this reality, the fact that more North Korean women are trying to sell themselves to Chinese men is an indication that surviving in North Korea is extremely unbearable.

Poor Parents Encourage their Daughter to Cross River to China

North Korean authorities are raising the levels of punishment to prevent people from crossing the river to China. Cell phone users and drug users/buyers receive more than 3 years but less than 7 years of re-education sentence, which is a longer sentence than for those who committed other criminal offenses. Last September 21 to 27, 150,000 inmates nationwide were either pardoned or got their sentence reduced in commemoration of the 65th anniversary of the Central Party. However, the river-crossers were not even considered for the amnesty. Despite authorities’ strengthening of border enforcement, river-crossing by young women has not ceased. More young women are being sold just like the classic Korean story of Shim-chung where a young girl was sold at the price of three hundred sacks of rice to help heal her father’s blindness.

Some young women cross the river to China voluntarily, but others cross because they are from extremely poor families without even a patch farm and are pressured by their parents to leave as a means to ease the economic burden on the family. The parents suggest that a daughter leave for China on the hopes that the rest of the family can survive if their daughter marry a Chinese man and send home about 2000 Yuan at least once a year. Lim Gye-hwa (alias) said, “During the Arduous March years, I swore to myself that I would never send my daughter to China while other families were sending their daughters to China.” It was also because her child was too young then, but also she could not let her child go at the thought of hardships in a foreign land with different language and custom. So, she endured the difficulties by peddling and potato farming, but they almost starved this past year because they ran out of things to sell. “It is cold winter and there is nothing to use for heating. So, I told my daughter to think about going to China just for the sake of saving herself. I told her I was sorry. It would be good if she goes to China and she can afford to help to the family, but it will be blessing for us even if she just saves herself from starving." She made efforts to stay calm, but soon burst into tears and said, "It breaks my heart because I don’t know when I would be able to see my daughter again."

This is the reality of destitute families in Raynggang Province these days. Just like Mrs. Rim and other poor families, their daughters are the only resource they have, so they are trying everything they can to send their daughters to China.

As the Number of Female Border Crossers Increase, the Youth Education Places Emphasis on Ideological Education

The harsh conditions of this year’s unusual cold and food shortages are leading more women, who are already struggling to survive, to look to border crossing as a solution. Although the number of crossers is small compared to that from the era of the Arduous March, it is significantly increasing in comparison to the past 2 or 3 years. Therefore, youth unity education is emphasized in places like Hyesan City, Baekam County and Samjiyeon County. They are giving two hour long concentrated study programs every week as well as frequent question and answer discussions so that the youth will not be tainted by capitalism. However, the students complained that these study sessions were useless when actual survival is at stake. Lee Dong Hee (alias) said, “Who wants to listen to the same story again and again? No one really pays attention during the class. We all just attend for the formality of it.”

The North Korean government claimed that they will not just stop at increased youth education, but go on to fortify border security. However, the crackdown is only making the crossings more organized and led by professional coyotes. Choi Young Hak (alias), a person specializing in border crossing in Hyesan City, said, “A woman is sold for about 8,000 Yuan. Then, 3,000 of that money goes to those security officers at border patrol who help them out. We coordinate the time and place for border crossing over Chinese-made cell phones.” The officers willingly agree to help due to substantial amount of money they receive in return.

Baekam County Security Guards Receive Bribes to Release Fugitives

Due to the recent rise in the number of runaway females in Baekam county, Ryangkang province, security guards have been specifically allotted to arrest a specific quota of border crossers. However, most security guards receive money to let them escape or even protect them. In mid-November, Jung Kyung Taek (alias) was caught; he was attempting to cross the border to China from Heungam-ri in Musan County with a 21 year old and 22 year old women. Baekam County safety officials took over custody but soon lost them. Baekam County police station immediately dispatched police officers to Yupyong Laborer’s District to search the houses of the female runaways, which turned out to be in vain. The officers stormed into the fugitives’ friends and searched their houses also, only to raise complaints from the residents and neighbors. They complained, “You can’t force people to bring back the runways just because they were friends. In fact, the safety officials might have been paid to let them escape. You investigate among yourselves first.” This reflects the fact that most people know about the relationships between border crossing coyotes and security officials.

Kwangduk Farm in Baekam County Receives Food Distribution in its Entirely this Fall

The Kwangduk Labor District farms in Baekam County, Ryanggang Province, have finished their food distribution for this fall. Although the amount of food distribution differed because each farmer had different number of days he worked through the year, it was confirmed that they had generally received approximately 8 months’ worth of food: five months’ worth of potatoes and three months’ worth of mixed grains. Until the early October, the residents worried, believing they will not even receive half if they set aside rice and pork meat to support military. In addition, many households have ruined their individual small land patch farming due to the frost damages this year as well as last year. Because of these circumstances, nine out of ten farm members were nervous about how much food they can receive from the farm.

According to Han JooHyuk (alias) who is an official of the Provincial Party, military rice was not originally collected in Ryanggang Province, Jagang Province and North and South Hamgyong Province, because they contributed only a small portion of the national grain production. However, due to the lack of military rice, the military exerted pressure on the local parties, so the local parties have been collecting the military rice. But as the food situation had gotten worse and the complaints of the farm members were raised, they got the attention of the Central Party. Finally on October 30th, the Central Party announced that they will stop mandating the collection of military rice, at which every farm member was delighted. If they had had to give up half of their food allotment for the military, they would have had to last one full year with only four-months’ worth of food; but now, they have the full eight-months’ worth of food.

Kaechuk Labor District in Daehongdan County Returns Military Rice
After the announcement of discontinuing military rice remittance obligations, the Kaechuk Labor District farms in Daehongdan County, Ryanggang Province have returned the military rice and allotted pork meats that it had taken in advance. Most of the farm members were pleased, feeling they have retrieved the food that has been forcibly taken away. However, the farm members who raised pigs in advance at home and submitted pork meat to support military to the work unit became unhappy. They had submitted a whole pig they have raised according to the practice of volunteering a pig every year as they expected to receive money for the pork meat or corresponding amount of potatoes from other farm members.

However, they sustained a severe loss because they could not receive potatoes from other farm members in lieu of the meat even though they had already given over a pig. As the plan to stock up on their share of potatoes shattered, the affected farmers vented their rage to their supervisors saying, “We lost a pig. Compensate us for the price of a pig quickly.” Some farmers in Sahmbong Farm who had also suffered a similar loss assaulted their supervisors in anger.