North Koreans living outside of Samjiyon are increasingly expressing discontent about the preferential treatment the city’s locals are receiving from the government, including free housing and household appliances, Daily NK has learned from a source in the country. 

The source, who lives in Yanggang Province and who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Daily NK on Sept. 10 that the increasing number of complaints focus on the fact that “successive generations” of people in the city are receiving special favors from the state. 

“There are many households who [are the relatives] of anti-Japanese fighters in Samjiyon, but increasingly people are saying it doesn’t make sense that good songbun should be the only reason someone receives good treatment,” the source said, using a term to refer to social status in the country. 

Some North Koreans are reportedly pointing out how those living in Samjiyon have received preferential treatment in the form of free gifts. According to the source, people are saying that “most apartments in Hyesan cost more than RMB 50,000 [approximately KRW 8.68 million], but since Samjiyon residents receive new homes for free, they are the only ones who are living well.”

Discontent toward Samjiyon’s preferential treatment by the state is reportedly growing even more as rumors have spread about Samjiyon residents receiving household appliances. According to the source, when people gather together to talk, they quietly express their discontent by saying: “Samjiyon denizens have received TVs and tableware as gifts” and that “if you were to buy that [at local markets], they would cost around one million KPW [about USD 125], so where on earth is this money coming from?”  

Propaganda posters in Samjiyon extolling the completion of the city’s modernization project by Oct. 10. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

According to the source, some people are also claiming that Samjiyon residents are provided with two comforters and a blanket when they move into new homes and that “if you look at the current prices of these items at local markets, they would cost around KPW 1.12 million [around USD 140].”

Some people are also highlighting the fact that Samjiyon residents receive a 24-hour supply of electricity because of the Samsu Power Plant. This, of course, is a sensitive topic because many areas of the country suffer from power shortages. 

Given that Samjiyon is promoted as the “hometown” of Kim Jong Il, the city has long received free supplies and gifts from agencies at both the central and local level. 

“Most people living in Samjiyon have occupations related to historical sites [concerning the struggle against the Japanese], and since the 1980s people there have been treated similarly to those living in Pyongyang,” the source said. 

“The economic and social gap between the city and other regions will continue to widen given the large-scale construction projects there,” he added. 

*Translated by Gabriela Bernal

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Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to