North Korean authorities have launched a sweeping crackdown on streetside commerce in Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province, ahead of the 10th anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Il. 

A source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Monday that Chongjin’s party committee issued an order calling on the Ministry of Social Security to conduct an aggressive crackdown on locals engaged in private commerce near markets or in alleyways from Dec. 1 to mark the 10th anniversary of Kim’s death. The authorities have responded with a sweeping clampdown on private commerce near markets and in alleyways throughout Chongjin.

Ahead of this, Chongjin’s party branch called on locals to mark the anniversary of Kim’s passing in a solemn, quiet atmosphere, reportedly informing inminban (people’s units), government bodies and organizations that they would strongly curb “capitalistic disorder.”

In response, the Ministry of Social Security and enforcement teams sent by the ministry descended on the neighborhoods surrounding Chongjin’s downtown markets, including the Sunam Market, Pohang Market, and Ranam Market. They overturned and confiscated items belonging to locals who were selling fruit, greenhouse vegetables, tofu, and other food. 

Locals caught in the sudden crackdown bewail how enforcers overturned and took their things and they themselves were dragged off to the Ministry of Social Security’s waiting rooms.

The source said streetside commerce is commonplace not only in alleyways near markets, but in all neighborhoods where people live. He said in the face of extremely difficult living conditions, people are doing business to survive, not make money. Despite this, the government order is preventing them from doing so, he claimed. 

Market official on patrol in Sunchon, South Pyongan Province
In this undated file photo, a market official can be seen on patrol in Sunchon, South Pyongan Province. / Image: Daily NK

Daily NK understands that the Ministry of Social Security is engaged in a merciless crackdown, calling violators “criminals” for failing to obey government policy telling merchants to restrict their activity to markets and accusing them of “anti-party, reactionary activity” for doing what the party forbids them to do.

Even the enforcement squads sent by the ministry are clamping down on locals engaged in streetside commerce, telling residents they should be careful “at least for the month of December, no matter how tough it is,” as it is the 10th anniversary of Kim’s death. They are also encouraging locals to “live properly” for the 10th anniversary, remembering the day Kim passed while “crying real tears.”

In particular, squads are reportedly browbeating locals, telling them that people who think only of themselves during the month of Kim’s death “can go starve to death”; that it is ideological problematic to express discontent with the crackdown on “grasshopper merchants,” who are a “product of capitalism”; and that ideologically seditious people have no right to live in North Korea, “even if their families starve to death.”

In response, locals are complaining that they would not be toiling in the cold to sell things if things were not so terrible, or hustling on the streets if they had the money to pay market fees (to use stalls).

The source said political campaigns like the anniversary of Kim’s death cannot fill the stomachs of hungry people, and that people are saying the authorities must now stabilize the lives of the people by taking such measures as releasing food harvested this autumn.

The source said locals suffering from difficult living conditions are engaging in “hectic” commerce, hopping from one place to the next to avoid the authorities “to save their families and preserve their lives.”

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Jong So Yong is one of Daily NK's freelance reporters. Questions about her articles can be directed to