KRW 50,000
KRW 50,000 bill / Image: Yonhap

An urban legend that claims owning a South Korean 50,000 bill will bring wealth has recently started circulating in North Korea. There are now many North Koreans who are trying to acquire the bills for themselves, Daily NK sources reported on Nov. 11.

Generally North Koreans avoid owning South Korean currency, as spending it is difficult and carrying South Korean bills will attract unwanted government attention. North Koreans are ignoring the dangers for several reasons, sources in the country told Daily NK. 

“Some smugglers will ask traders based in China for South Korean 50,000 bills and bring it in,” said a source based in North Hamgyong Province. “It is a large denomination that doesn’t exist in North Korea, the gold patterning looks elegant, and the rumors also say that the number five is lucky.” 

When Daily NK asked whether the fact that the South Korean 50,000 bill features a portrait of a woman, Sin Saimdang, might be part of why the bill is such a novelty to North Koreans, sources said that people they had talked to had never mentioned anything about the portrait.

The number five is frequently invoked in North Korea to increase something’s symbolic significance. For example, “The Five Great Revolutionary Operas,” “The Five Great Mountains,” and “Five Blessings” are all groupings of five. Special weight is given to commemorative events in North Korea which fall on years that end in zero or five. Since the 1990s, it has been customary for cash gifts at weddings to consist of an amount that includes the number five, according to Daily NK sources.

Merchants in the country’s local markets have long preferred North Korean 5,000 bills with serial numbers that include the Korean consonants equivalent to the English letters “b” and “j.” These letters have been interpreted to mean “buja,” or “wealthy person.” Sellers have been seen rifling through their bills on breaks looking for those lucky letters.

*Translated by Violet Kim

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@gmail.com.

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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 dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.