North Korean authorities have recently stepped up efforts to alleviate public distrust in money vouchers, or donpyo. Even the country’s government officials are uncertain why the vouchers were issued, which has led the authorities to convene lectures aimed at educating them about the new currency. 

South Korean media first revealed the creation of donpyo in September. Initially, observers speculated that the vouchers were a strategy to absorb foreign currency, comparing them to “donpyo exchanged for foreign exchange” issued in the late 1970s. Recently, however, the leading opinion is that they are temporary banknotes to ensure the smooth circulation of currency.

However, ordinary people and even cadres have failed to comprehend what the money vouchers are for, and many are avoiding them altogether. Amid growing distrust in the “untrustworthy banknotes,” merchants, for example, are treating KWP 5,000 vouchers like they are worth just KPW 2,500 or KPW 3,000.

According to a high-ranking Daily NK source on Monday, North Korean authorities held a lecture on Nov. 16 for Central Committee cadres. They also held a workshop for Central Bank officials, cadres from state-run shops, and other workers who handle and administer the circulation of donpyo.

North Korean authorities reportedly declared during these meetings that “donpyo are supyo,” and spent a lot of time explaining what this means.

Supyo are checks.

North Korea has never issued a bank-consigned, personal-use marketable security under the name “supyo.” The country has issued haengpyo, which are similar to supyo, but haengpyo are generally used by companies to purchase raw materials.

As a result, ordinary people and even high-ranking cadres have been unable to grasp the concept that “donpyo are supyo.” The lectures were aimed at providing a detailed explanation of the concept. 

A picture of the foreign currency vouchers currently in circulation in North Korea. / Image: Daily NK

In North Korea, people understand the word supyo to mean “signature.” That is how unfamiliar they are with the term as it is presently being used.

Specifically, the lecturers said a supyo was, as the Korean word suggests, a paper ticket (pyo) on which a number (su) has been written. He also said that in the global financial market, supyo as well as banknotes are recognized as money.

With signs emerging throughout North Korea that people are shunning the donpyo, the authorities are taking it upon themselves to explain that the vouchers have the same function and value as banknotes.

Indeed, during the workshop for Central Bank officials and workers tasked with duties related to the distribution of the donpyo, North Korean authorities reportedly explained that “issuing donpyo is in line with global financial trends.”

This suggests the authorities are trying to emphasize why donpyo is needed in the first place; in short, they are claiming the country has adopted the currency system of economically developed nations.

However, the lecturers did not disclose that other countries use high denomination checks. This is noteworthy because it reveals the limits of North Korea’s unique monolithic leadership system – late leader and national founder Kim Il Sung’s face is on the KPW 5,000 bill, making it awkward to issue higher denomination banknotes.

Meanwhile, the lecturers called for strengthened ideological education so that “the masses developed a civilized financial understanding.” This seems aimed at reducing public distrust regarding use of the donpyo.

Daily NK reported last Tuesday that the authorities organized a “unified command to normalize the distribution of donpyo,” with subordinate “groups” organized in each province.

Given that the lecture and workshop emphasized ideological education to improve public regard for the donpyo, the groups will likely distribute ideological education materials similar to the lecture or hold workshops of their own.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.