Some businesspeople in North Hamgyong Province who had barely made a living through trading have suffered such severe economic setbacks that they have already or are planning to sell their market stalls.

A source based in Northern Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Jan. 12 that “the pandemic has made life increasingly harder for locals, and the ten-day intensive lockdown for participants of the Eighth Party Congress has impacted the vendors in particular.” 

The source added, “They have reached the point where they are even selling their market stalls – the key to their livelihoods.”

According to the source, when Chongjin’s ten-day lockdown shut down all access to the market’s food products, food stands, and street stands, voices of complaint rose among the vendors: “Because of the [lockdown for] Party Congress participants, we’re unable to run our businesses, so we’re struggling terribly,” and that “We used to live hand-to-mouth, but now we can’t even do that.”

Up until the lockdown, the vendors were taking turns going to the marketplaces in accordance with the country’s social distancing measures. The vendors had barely been surviving when the ten-day lockdown dealt a blow that eventually forced some of them to sell their market stands.

“In the marketplaces in downtown Chongjin, many local residents are selling their stalls,” the source said. “They are frustrated because the market stands they bought for RMB 30,000 are not selling for even RMB 15,000.”

North Korean residents head to sell goods at an unofficial “grasshopper” market in village on the route to Pyongyang. Image: Chinese blogger with the following ID: 龙五*狼之吻

Meanwhile, as the number of vendors giving up their stands increase, businesspeople still doing business in the markets are reportedly worried about the overall drop in the prices of their own stalls, which they bought at expensive prices. 

In the midst of all this, some traders running industrial goods stands, and who have sold at least some of their items, have felt sorry for those selling their stalls. The source reported that traders who have been relatively less impacted are buying food products from the less fortunate.

“Local residents are saying that these times are similar to the days of the Arduous March. People back then sold their houses because of the sudden crisis, but now locals who have made their living through trade are now selling their market stalls,” the source said, adding, “There is even talk of selling their houses and sleeping on paper in the streets if this situation continues.”

Daily NK has also learned that some vendors have recently begun changing what they sell. A source based in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK that “with the fall in the supply of imported goods due to border closure, distributors and retailers are changing the wares they sell. This is creating chaos.” 

In fact, the number of vendors selling food products such as flour, sugar, and cooking oil has nearly halved in Pyongsong’s Okjon Market. Vendors who used to handle Chinese clothes or electronics have recently begun selling their market stalls or switching to different products.

“The marketplace has grown so quiet that people are wondering if [the government] has been using the pandemic as an excuse to shut down the marketplaces,” the source said.

*Translated by Esther Ra

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