North Korea

North Korea punishes ‘anti-socialist’ behavior with forced farm labor


Minor offenses result in a 5-day stint pulling weeds or planting rice.

North Korea punishes ‘anti-socialist’ behavior with forced farm labor

North Korean authorities in Chongjin [shown] have cracked down on people dying their hair, wearing unapproved styles of clothing, and brewing moonshine.

North Korea is punishing people who engage in minor “anti-socialist behaviors” like dying their hair, wearing unapproved styles of clothing and brewing moonshine, by sending them to work on rural farms to atone, residents in the country told Radio Free Asia.

“Anti-socialist behavior” is the vague term North Korea’s government uses to describe activities deemed to be South Korean, foreign or capitalist cultural practices. 

In 2020 the country passed the Rejection of Reactionary Thought and Culture Act, which laid out punishments for specific anti-socialist acts, including multi-year prison sentences for watching South Korean media.

But some offenses are not as serious as others, and violators caught in recent crackdowns in the northeastern city of Chongjin can expect to receive a relatively mild sentence of only five days working on the farm, a resident there told RFA’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“[They’re] cracking down on making or selling clothes in the market that are not our style,” the resident said, using the Korean term “uri,” which literally means “our” but refers to concepts that have originated in or are ubiquitously accepted as part of Korean culture. 

Clothing and hairstyles

He said that tight clothes, clothing that reveals the shoulder and clothing with foreign letters on them were all anti-socialist.

“Socialist Patriotic Youth League patrols are also cracking down on young men and women who dye their hair yellow or brown, grow their hair long and wear jeans or tight-fitting clothes in public,” the resident said. 

“Recently, the authorities have instructed barbers and hairdressers not to dye customers’ hair brown or do strange hairstyles, such as clipping only the side of the hair and leaving the front and back,” he said. “This kind of hair is a priority for crackdown on the street.”

The source said that using foreign currency is also grounds for punishment.

“If they catch you, they will take you to the countryside in a car,” he said. “You will be planting rice or weeding for the next five days.” 

The resident said that when people are caught and sent to work, it is not only they who suffer.

“At our factory, two young men and one woman are not coming to work because they have been mobilized for planting rice after they were caught on the street wearing clothes and hairstyles that are not our style,” he said. 


Every morning when the factory holds a meeting, the officials advise them not to get caught in the crackdown because the factory requires them to be at their posts, the resident said.

“This crackdown is proceeding ruthlessly. It’s different than usual,” he said. “It’s strange that this kind of punishment coincides with the rice planting and weeding season,” he said.

Authorities in Chongjin are raiding the city’s Kangdok neighborhood on a weekly basis, hoping to catch people making moonshine in their homes, another resident of the city told RFA on condition of anonymity to speak freely.

Kangdok became a haven for a home-brewed alcoholic drink called nongtaegi during the 1994-1998 North Korean famine, which followed after the country’s economy collapsed. 

The people of Kangdok needed to make a living somehow and began producing nongtaegi in large quantities and selling it all over Chongjin’s surrounding North Hamgyong province.

“Some people are lucky enough to avoid the crackdowns, but there are also some who get caught red-handed while making alcohol,” the second resident said. “Their brewing machines and corn kernels they prepared to make the alcohol were confiscated.”

Moonshine is a slightly more serious offense, so the illicit brewers were sent to the farms for 10 days, he said. 

Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.

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