grasshopper market exchange rate
A "grasshopper market," or unofficial market, in a village near Pyongyang. (Chinese blogger Lóng Wǔ*Láng Zhī Wěn)

South Pyongan Province authorities are tightening crack downs on street vendors once again, and vendors caught in the crackdowns are being pressed into weeding fields, Daily NK has learned. 

A source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Tuesday that police in Pyongsong have recently been intensifying crackdowns on street commerce.

“Seven street vendors who were selling food and vegetables streetside were busted by police early this month and dragged off to pick weeds at a local farm for five days before being freed,” he said.

According to the source, police in Pyongsong have been working hard to bust street vendors after streetside commerce was reinvigorated with the recent easing of lockdowns imposed to deal with the spread of COVID-19.  

The source said that street vendors in Pyongsong are suffering because police are confiscating their wares without compensation, and dragging them off to local farms to pick weeds in rice paddies and fields.

One merchant who was busted — a woman in her 30s with a three-year-old child — reportedly collapsed while doing five days of uncompensated labor.

When she was arrested, she pleaded with police to let her go so she could “earn enough to at least feed her child rice porridge,” telling them that the child “could not get up due to malnutrition.” However, the police pretended not to listen, forced her into a car and drove her to a farm, where they put her to work picking weeds from a corn field.

Overworked, she ultimately collapsed in the field and was hospitalized, said the source.

“Police officials have long been cracking down on street vendors to eliminate non-socialist phenomena, but then pivoted to wage a clean up operation against streetside commerce as part of COVID-19 quarantine efforts over the last two years,” the source said. “Recent crackdowns, however, are aimed at providing support to farms suffering labor shortages.”

The source said street vendors are at the “very bottom of the ladder,” people who live on what they earn day-to-day.

“Street vendors have no power to do anything as the authorities simply crack down on their activities without giving them even a gram of rice,” he said.

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler.

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

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Lee Chae Un is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. She can be reached at dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.