June 04, 2023

For N.Koreans in Dandong, it’s business as unusual

Chinese border town has gradually but noticeably grown into a hub North Korean business activity

In the early 1970s, the North Korean government wanted to impress their Chinese neighbors, with whom they have always had rather uneasy relations. To do so, they decided to build a number of nice-looking buildings on the North Korean side of the Yalu river. The idea was to produce envy amongst the much poorer residents of the sleepy town of Dandong on the Chinese side.

These buildings are still there, but they have taken on a near comical feel, since the Chinese side is now marked with many shiny high-rise buildings. The contrast between two river cities is especially startling at night: The Dandong side shines with light, while on the North Korean bank, it is almost completely dark (though admittedly, in recent years, some lights began to be seen in Sinuiju as well – a sign of the economic improvement).