Hamheung City, 90% of the Families Dependent on Private Business for Living

[imText1]Recent testimonies came out stating that 90% of the families in Hamheung City of South Hamkyung province maintain their living by running private businesses and due to the given reality, distribution of phones has been rapidly on the rise.

Lee Sun Bok (female, age 53), who defected at the end of last year, said, “State shouts out socialism and people talk capitalism.”

“If people do not run their own businesses, they will all die. Those who do business and who don’t are very distinguishable. Nine out of ten families run their own businesses,” added Lee.

It is a well known fact that the North Korean factories in work are still below 20% and it is the women who are the main breadwinners of the North Korean homes. This is the first time the testimony came out saying that 90% of women in Hamheung City run businesses.

Lee said that although she does not sell at a stall in a jangmadang, she does have a business of providing necessary items to a number of regulars. She started this medication business in 1995, when her relatives(Korean-Chinese) living in China helped her by providing 500,000 Won ($250).

“I ran my business by purchasing medications from China and brought them into Hyesan, North Hamkyung province and delivered them in person to those who contacted me. Since I took the medications myself, I had many regulars,” she said.

Lee explained, “Because it is needed for the business, more and more houses connect house phones. Many times a few families set up a phone in one house and share the cost.”

No Need to Go to Work If You Pay 10,000 Won

In North Korea, male breadwinners have to work until they reach the age of 61 and for females, 56. For this reason, they put their names on the 8.3 Measure, but run their businesses.

The ‘8.3 Measure’ was enforced in March 1984 by Kim Il Sung in order to solve the problem of the lack of daily supplies. The measure orders each factory and state-owned enterprises to produce needed daily supplies such as soap, toothpaste and shoe string, on its own. However, since the economy collapsed, the workers have found an easy way to the solution; collect money instead of providing labor.

Lee said that instead of going to the workplace, she pays 10,000 won ($5). Because she is not working, they do not give her food tickets, but they stamp her attendance card. If she neither works nor pays, she has to go to a labor detention facility (Nodong Danryeondae).

“Although state enterprises say they will give 10,000 won ($5) to the workers, after taking out fees for the People’s Army, savings, and other fees to the state, the money you end up with is only about 2,000 Won ($1). With this, you cannot live. This is why I started my own business,” said Lee.

Kim Jin Chul (male, age 26) from Shinuiju testified, “Most of the families I know of in my town, Dongsang-dong, Shiuiju, have their own businesses. They mostly sell manufactured goods such as shoes, hats, glasses, gloves and food such as candies, ramyun, and liquor.”

“More than 90% of the Dongsang-dong residents live by running their own businesses. They buy goods by making profits by exchanging foreign currency to the trade companies in China, and they sell them in jangmadang,” said Kim.

“The jangmadang currency rate in Shinuiju as of now is 2,700 Won per dollar, which is about a worker’s monthly wage, so with only one’s wages, there is no way to making a living,” added Kim.