Chaos Reigns after Currency “Trick”

Changchun, China — Following the withdrawal and replacement of the old North Korean currency with redenominated bills on the morning of November 30, North Korean society reportedly plunged into confusion. According to The Daily NK’s sources inside the country, the People’s Safety Agency (PSA) was ordered to control residents, and the National Security Agency, Defense Security Command of the People’s Army and army bases were all placed on standby.

The exchange rate for old and new bills is 100:1, and the ceiling for any given household was 100,000 of the old currency, 1,000 won in new denominations. If one has more than 100,000 won, the rest is not able to be exchanged.

This has rendered the savings of jangmadang traders and the middle classes worthless, especially for those without foreign currency in their possession.

North Hamkyung Province

On the 30th, meetings of Primary Party Committee secretaries and cadres in each city and county in North Hamkyung Province were convened at around 8:30 A.M., whereupon officials received a decree on exchanging currency.

From 11 A.M., the PSA and community watch guards started monitoring residents on the streets more strictly, and at 12 P.M. military bases were placed on standby to cope with possible emergency situations. In morning People’s Unit meetings and lectures in factories and other organizations, a notice was handed down enforcing a curfew which read as follows; “After 10 P.M., all movements are prohibited. Offenders must be strictly regulated.”

According to a source inside North Hamkyung Province, rumors had been circulating about possible currency reform but residents had not paid them much heed because they had heard similar things so many times before.

The source was also surprised at the news, “We’ve heard that before, but didn’t imagine that they would carry it out in such a rapid and aggressive way.”

He was not able to hide his agitation, pointing out that, at the time, “With 100,000 won, we can now buy just half a kilogram of rice. Property we have sweated blood for has turned to nothing.”

The source also told The Daily NK that one couple in their 60s had committed suicide following the news of the currency exchange, and that PSA officials are apparently extremely tense and concerned about the situation expanding into civil unrest.

Hyesan, Yangkang Province

In Hyesan, Yangkang Province, an emergency cadres meeting was summoned at 8 A.M., the time at which work begins in the North. Thereafter, instructions for currency exchange were delivered to cadres and secretaries of the Primary Committee of the Party at 9 A.M. under the security escort of the PSA.

The Chief-Secretary of the Party in Hyesan gave a one-hour long lecture on dealing with possible instability and confusion among residents during the process of exchanging currency.

The source reported, “The Chief-Secretary’s impression did not look very cheerful, and the atmosphere in the lecture was so depressed. Some women cadres in the lecture shed tears at the news.”

After that, cadres held meetings with factory or other workers to forward the instructions of the Chief-Secretary, during which they were required to note and then report the responses of workers back to the Party, so, as the source put it, “you had to be especially careful of your words and behavior.”

Around the same time, in a meeting of the Hyesan People’s Committee, neighborhood office chiefs and chairpersons of People’s Units gathered to receive the news from a People’s Committee cadre.

From approximately 11 A.M., PSA and NSA agents and community watch guards from several factories and organizations started patrolling the city. Around noon, trucks of soldiers were noticed downtown.

It was around 10:15 A.M. when the news about currency reform was first heard in the Hyesan jangmadang. A woman in her early 20s rushed among street-stands of necessities informing traders that at 11 A.M. the exchange of old bills into new bills would start and that the maximum amount for exchange was 100,000 won per household.

Upon hearing the last piece of news, traders became upset.

Then, at around 10:40 A.M., the manager of the jangmadang came out and delivered an official decree, “Go back to your factories and People’s Units and follow instructions from the upper; there will be a currency exchange.”

The source said, “Upon releasing the news, some woman in the jangmadang fell unconscious.”

He added, “While traders in other goods use Yuan, rice traders generally use our currency. Therefore, they must have suffered a more serious shock.”

The authorities also warned people not to damage the old bills, reminding them, “Spoiling money on which Great Leader’s portrait is printed is treated as treason.”

A source from Shinuiju reported, “Loud sounds of weeping in every house have not ceased since the news was released. Weeping and fighting between couples has not stopped anywhere. The atmosphere of the city is terrible now.”

He added, “This currency reform is a horrifying trick. It is the first time people have cried on the streets since the Great Leader’s death.”