The lights are out and the doors are shut at the Samcheolli Restaurant in Dandong,
one of North Korea’s state-owned restaurants in China.
The closure is reportedly due to Chinese enforcement of international sanctions
. Image: Daily NK
Scores of female North Korean workers have been returning home from their work assignments in China early as a result of international sanctions, and local residents are reportedly greeting their return with varied reactions.
According to local sources, older citizens typically perceive returning workers as miserly and distant, while younger residents see them as smart and full of knowledge of the outside world.
Family and friends of the workers typically expect gifts from them, with the understanding that much more money can be earned abroad. They are also often considered “promising donju (newly-affluent middle class) bachelorettes.”
However, contrary to widespread expectations, many of these overseas workers return empty-handed, causing some, especially from the older generation, to claim that the workers are “tainted by capitalism” and unwilling to share.
Younger people, on the other hand, often have a different opinion. They do not see it as immoral, but rather as a smart move to save money earned abroad for reinvestment into new market ventures upon returning to North Korea.
This highlights a difference in values between the older and younger generations, where older people still harbor socialist tendencies from the Kim Il Sung era, while younger people see the value in more self-reliant actions focused on success in the markets.
The returning workers themselves often believe that it is better to invest their earnings in market opportunities to build their personal wealth and create a better future.
One source in South Pyongan Province recently spoke with Daily NK about an example involving a young woman in her 20s from Unsan (South Pyongan Province), who was able to save $3,000 from her time working in China. Her family said she “lacked morals and a sense of filial duty” for failing to bring gifts, but she was unfazed by the insults.
“The young woman spent almost $2,000 on a 50 pyeong (165 square meters) apartment and also began selling industrial equipment in the market. She received different reactions from her peers for doing this with her money, but most people consider it a smart move,” the source said.
Hundreds of young women from North and South Pyongan provinces were dispatched for work in China from the beginning of 2014, working in various sectors including textile manufacturing and the packaging of marine goods. In order to qualify, applicants were not permitted to have any incarcerated family members or any relatives who had defected. All candidates also had to compete to provide the largest bribes in order to stand a chance at being selected. A typical contract lasts for three years in one of China’s northeastern provinces closest to North Korea, such as Liaoning, Jilin, or Heilongjiang.
Although each worker officially receives a salary of $500 per month from the Chinese side, they only end up personally receiving around $200, with the North Korean government taking the rest. However, North Korea has now been hit hard by China’s implementation of international sanctions, resulting in hundreds of the workers returning and a loss of the associated revenue.