Doing Business with North Korea

The following are excerpts from an unverified account by a Chinese national who manages (or more probably managed, in the past) food business with North Korean agencies. It doesn’t seem to be a very recent one and was probably written years ago, but the way it got into the forum where I read it more recently seems to suggest that it was originally only accessible on another website, and only by password. I therefore left most names and other circumstantial descriptions out.

I guess that this was written during the North Korean famine, i. e. during the 1990s.

I’ll provide the link to those readers of this blog who I seem to know well, be it from the blogosphere or from the real world, under the condition that the link remains between us (unless you convince me that there is no need for this kind of caution).

Sino-North Korean relations appear to be uneasy on the official level. The following excerpts from the – unverified, see above – account of personal experience seems to suggest that things aren’t any easier on the level of everyday routine and cross-border contacts.

So, every time I’m doing transports [into North Korea], I will bring some boxes of bread and biscuits, and before unloading, first give these to the women who do the work, so that they can eat their fill first. But they don’t eat; they put the bread into their clothes to take it home for their children. The bad thing is that the officials in charge there frequently search them, and then use the bread by themselves, or to allocate it in their own ways. When I became aware of that, I was really angry. These trade organization bosses are rich. We do business with them, give them many presents, and they get sales commission for every transaction, paid in U.S. dollars. But still, they won’t let the women off with the bread. Next time, I will have to bring more boxes of food, to give some to the bosses first, and to the women next, and then I’ll make sure that they eat first. After work, I will give them more boxes to take them home to their children. In the past, I suffered from hunger myself. I know how it feels. Although I will have to spend a few hundred yuan more each time [to buy food for the North Korean women], it will make me feel better.

The women in North Korea do heavy manual labor at work, and the chores at home. A man sees it as a joke that he should do chores. They do nothing once they are at home. Women carry their child on their back when they are cooking, or doing the laundry. Once the dishes are ready, she has to serve the men and children first, and may have some food next to the stove. Thousands of years of tradition have led to a situation where these women work without complaining. They never quarreled with their fate which is so unfair to them. Every day, they do their hard work.


On leaving a restaurant, the author sees a middle-aged man clutching food residues out of a gutter.

I went back inside [the restaurant] and got him two mantou. He took them with both hands [an expression of politeness, not of hastiness] and cried as he expressed his thanks. He walked backwards several meters, bowing towards me, then turned away and left. As I watched him walking away, my eyes were also full of tears.


Despite the hardhips, North Koreans don’t blame the government. They say that American imperialism is responsible. It’s the American blockade, they create these difficulties. The common people in North Korea know nothing about the outside world. They can only listen to their own broadcasting stations, and watch North Korean television. Once, in a conversation with an old man, I said that you live like this, and he said, our lives are just as in paradise, it’s all given to us by our kind fatherly leader… […]



» Nightmare Investment, Sino-NK, Aug 15, 2012


2 Comments to “Doing Business with North Korea”

  1. Very interesting….thanks for the translation. There must be scads of material available out there from Chinese tourists as well that never sees the light of day in English!


  2. That’s true. Hucheng, a Chinese photo blogger, seems to have developed a keen interest in North Korea recently.


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