“10 years ago you could buy a North Korean woman for 2000 Chinese Yuan”

Illustration by Ruth Silbermayr-Song

Illustration by Ruth Silbermayr-Song

At the beginning of July 2013, Y and I spend a day in Yanji. Yanji is a city not too far from the North Korean border and is the capital of the Korean autonomous prefecture in Jilin province. Street signs, advertisements and the like are all written in Chinese as well as Korean. Both Chinese and Korean are widely spoken here.

We take a cab. After the driver is done asking Y questions such as where I’m from, if I study here, speak Chinese and so on, I ask him:

“Do more people from North Korea or from South Korea live here?”
He: “People who live here are Chinese*.”
I: “I see. But of the Koreans who come here?”
He: “I think it’s about half-half. People from South Korea come here to do business, it’s easy for them to come here and they do have money. North Koreans in North Korea, well, you know, they are really poor and don’t have enough to eat. 10 years ago you could buy a North Korean woman for 2000 Chinese Yuan (around 250 EUR or 325 USD today). You could sleep with her and if you got bored of her, you could sell her again. Nowadays, it’s not as easy for North Koreans to come here. If they get caught, they’ll be sent back to North Korea where they’ll get shot in the head.”
I: “So you’re saying that it was easier for them to get here 10 years ago?”
He: “Exactly. It seems to be much harder for them to get here now.”

Before I can ask anything else, we arrive at our destination and say goodbye to the driver.

Has anyone ever told you something similar? I’d love to read your comments.

*People of the Korean minority living in Yanji usually hold a Chinese passport and are thus considered Chinese citizens. A large part of the ethnic Koreans living in Yanji have been living in that area of China for a few generations.

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12 thoughts on ““10 years ago you could buy a North Korean woman for 2000 Chinese Yuan”

  1. Hi! Time ago I read that North Korean women were sold as slaves to Chinese men. Well the agreement was…to buy a “bride” who was under the poverty line (starving), but afterwards they were tricked, from potential bride to slave. Some people say it was because Chinese men who lived in poverty had no skills to attract a woman, or they were ill and needed someone to work in his farm. The thing is that those women stayed in China illegally so they are always risking their own lives, can’t /couldn’t complain much cause if an officer came they would discover her illegal situation. Human trafficking is still happening nowadays, but they use other terms that sound less harmful.

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    • I have read of similar accounts which didn’t go that much into detail though and wrote in a more general way about these issues. I’d be interested in which terms they use to make it sound less harmful – do you happen to know?

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  2. It’s a hard story! Once I saw a documentary about North Korea and people who tried to leave the country. They had to cross China and Laos to get to Thailand which is the only country in the region which allows them to leave to South Korea where they get asylum – the others send them back to North Korea…

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  3. You will find here (need some digging, it’s a mine) informations about the relationship between the North-Koreans and Chinese populations at the border
    http://www.nkeconwatch.com
    “Funny” fact : back in the 60’s, 70’s, it was Chinese who moved to North-Korea, as it was less crazy (Cult. Rev.) and had more food…

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  4. One of my friend is from Dan dong(丹东), he told me his family kept a north korean woman as house maid. he said there are a lot north korean in Dan dong working illegally. he also told me that every year China will give North Korea a lot of grains, and all the grains are been cooked, in case they use it as seed to grow it on their own.

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      • The grain isn’t cooked in the regular sense, they heat the grain for short while, just long enough to kill it. You still need to cook the grain normally to eat it, and it’s almost impossible to tell it’s been roasted.
        So China feeds the North Koreans, making themselves look good, and keeping the refugee problem more manageable, but since the grain can’t be grown, it keeps the North Koreans heavily dependent on China.

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