North Korean authorities are using Ministry of Social Security officers to seize goods from “grasshopper traders” in Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province, a source in the area recently told Daily NK. 

Despite frequently attempts to crackdown on their activities, the authorities have failed to completely eradicate street trade and appear to be attempting to eliminate these traders by seizing their goods.

“The municipal Ministry of Social Security conducted a massive crackdown on street vendors in Chongjin on Mar. 30,” the source told Daily NK on Apr. 1. “Many vendors had their goods taken away, but they resisted, saying ‘just kill me instead.’”

The source reported that the number of grasshopper traders has recently been on the rise. He told Daily NK that rumors suggest that the number of grasshopper traders near official markets is roughly equal to 30% of the number of vendors selling their wares inside the markets.

grasshopper market exchange rate
A “grasshopper market,” or unofficial market, in a village near Pyongyang. / Image: Posted online by a Chinese blogger named Lóng Wǔ*Láng Zhī Wěn (龙五*狼之吻 )

North Korean authorities used to turn a blind eye to these illegal business activities in exchange for market fees. Now, however, officials have begun cracking down on grasshopper traders by confiscating all of their goods.

The Mar. 30 incident happened in an alley near Sunam Market in Chongjin. The grasshopper vendors fled the scene as soon as the police arrived, leaving only the tofu and ice cream vendors to be caught.

Police dragged the vendors to the police station and confiscated all of their goods. The vendors begged the police to give them back, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.

The desperate vendors reportedly laid down on the police station floor and begged the officers to “make it possible for us to make a living,” further saying that “If you take all our goods away and prohibit us from selling them without giving us an alternative, how are we supposed to survive?”

Police officials responded, however, by saying that: “You have to at least pretend to [hide] when there’s a crackdown taking place – what are we supposed to do when you are [illegally] selling things in plain sight?” They also mentioned that “there’s an order from the Party to ‘eliminate street markets.’”

“Because the government is strengthening control over street markets, it’s difficult for regular people to enjoy street food,” the source told Daily NK. “The government keeps trying to assert unconditional control [over the markets] without providing any alternatives or taking any actions that help people make a living, so all people can do is sigh in frustration.” 

As news of the recent incident spread among Chongjin residents, more and more vendors have begun carrying out “product lists” for potential customers to choose what they want to buy. In short, the merchants are circumventing restrictions on their businesses by selling their wares from their homes or storage facilities.

It is likely that efforts by the authorities to crackdown on grasshopper traders will dissipate with time. 

“The authorities have tried to clamp down on grasshopper traders before, but they have failed every time,” the source said. “If they can’t completely control [the vendors], they might just charge more market fees in the future.”

*Translated by S & J

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