TUMEN, China – Hawkers of North Korean souvenirs in this Chinese border town have been raising prices of official lapel pins depicting the Kim family, as fewer North Koreans trade them illicitly for cash, local businesspeople told NK News.
North Koreans are forced to wear the lapel pins, which feature images of the country’s founder Kim Il Sung and his successor Kim Jong Il, as an expression of devotion to the regime. But in Tumen, the local traders who buy the pins from visiting North Korean officials have long sold them as kitsch tourist items – along with North Korean money, cigarettes and alcohol.
Two local traders, who spoke to NK News earlier this month, said the pins were becoming harder to obtain.
“The North Korean government doesn’t allow the people to sell the pins so the North Koreans selling them are charging more,” said one shop owner, who had just one pin featuring Kim Il Sung on sale for 100 yuan (about $16).
“North Koreans aren’t selling them any more,” she added, noting the decline to have begun within the last three years.
A periodic visitor to the shop, who accompanied NK News but wished to remain anonymous, said he had been sold four pins last year for 80 yuan apiece, with a fifth included for free.
At another shop nearby, also known for selling the pins, none were left. The owner there said he had sold his last one in August.
His shop and others like it also sell fake pins, which are of poorer quality and feature designs that don’t exist in North Korea, such as the image of current leader Kim Jong Un, for as little as 10 yuan.
While it wasn’t clear why the supply of the genuine pins had dried up, both traders suggested the regime was cracking down on their sale. North Korea is highly sensitive about the use of the Kims’ image, and likely looks on the sale of the pins as a grave insult.
“The government is managing it more and more strictly,” the second shop owner said.
“If the North Korean people want to sell something to China, Chinese people don’t care whether they sell it,” he added. “But according to the North Korean perspective, the government doesn’t permit the selling of anything related to the leader.”
The sale of the badges is also illegal in China, but local authorities often turn a blind eye to the trade, despite periodic crackdowns.
Tumen is one of the major crossing points between China and North Korea, which share a border for more than 1,400 kilometers. Two bridges, one each for road and rail, facilitate the movement of goods and people across the Tumen River, which separates the city from the North Korean town of Namyang.
Image: Lawrence Steele/NK News
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 468 words of this article.