North Korea has ordered its ethnic Chinese population to take part in a memorial service for the country’s late founder Kim Il Sung on the 24th anniversary of his death, and are even forcing those working in China to return home for the event, according to local sources.
Kim Il Sung, known as the “Great Leader,” ruled North Korea from 1945 until his death at the age of 82 on July 8, 1994. His son, Kim Jong Il, ran the country until he died in late 2011, when he was succeeded by his son, the North’s current leader, Kim Jong Un.
Kim Il Sung’s passing is typically marked with a long period of mourning, during which state agencies organize memorial events that include mandatory lectures and study sessions to celebrate his leadership.
A source from North Hamgyong province, along the border with China, recently told RFA’s Korean Service that the provincial ethnic Chinese committee had been roped into making preparations for the memorial service over the weekend.
“The memorial ceremony is to be held in the capital [Pyongyang] and in provincial regions at the same time,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Flowers and offerings are being collected from all North Korean residents for the ceremony.”
According to the source, all of July is “the memorial month for Kim Il Sung,” and amid competitions between provinces to hold the best memorial ceremony, “there has been a directive ordered for ethnic Chinese in North Korea to participate.”
“The ethnic Chinese committee in North Hamgyong informed the ethnic Chinese in the region about the memorial ceremony in June and strongly appealed to them to attend the ceremony,” the source said.
“The committee members are visiting the Kim Il Sung statue in Pyongyang, and regular ethnic Chinese are visiting the Kim Il Sung statues in their region to lay flowers, just as they did last year.”
According to the source, those who attend memorial-related activities are required to pay for their own transportation and offerings.
“The ethnic Chinese committee is burdening the ethnic Chinese in North Korea with requests for money for flowers to lay at the statues of [Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il], and for the ceremony preparations,” he said.
“The state security department is tightly controlling and monitoring the ethnic Chinese so they know that they must respect and follow the authorities. If they don’t actively participate in North Korea’s political events, the state security department will give them a hard time getting a visa to visit China, and they will face financial difficulties.”
Forced to return
A source from South Hamgyong province told RFA that even ethnic Chinese North Koreans who are traveling in China for business “were ordered to return to North Korea for Kim Il Sung’s memorial service,” and that those who aren’t in attendance on July 8 “would have to pay a large fine.”
While ethnic Chinese citizens of North Korea who are working in China are pressured to return home each year for the anniversary, the source said that this was the first time they had been threatened with fines if they did not comply.
“Ethnic Chinese who are in China for business, with visas valid for three months, are returning to North Korea for the memorial ceremony,” said the source, who also asked to go unnamed.
“If they don’t attend the memorial ceremony, they have to pay a 2,000-yuan (U.S. $300) penalty, so they are forced to just leave their jobs at places such as restaurants or construction sites in China and return home.”
Sources told RFA that the ethnic Chinese population in North Korea has been particularly hard hit by United Nations resolutions leveled in response to illicit missile and nuclear weapons tests by the Kim Jong Un regime, as the sanctions have brought much border trade between China and the North to a halt, limiting their economic opportunities.
They said many ethnic Chinese North Koreans who are living in China have sought to avoid returning home for the memorial ceremony by obtaining doctors’ notes that say they are too ill to make the journey.
Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.