North Korean refugees entering South Korea are surprised that people who live in Seoul and those who live in the countryside carry the same type of ID card. In North Korea, the citizens of Pyongyang carry a brown plastic ID card marked as “Pyongyang Citizen,” while people who live outside Pyongyang carry a light green ID card labeled, “Public Person.”
There is a vast difference in lifestyle and entitlement between Pyongyang citizens and non-Pyongyang people. North Korea is the only country that issues a special ID card for citizens of the capital city. The special ID card system was instituted in 1997. The population of Pyongyang was about 3,255,000 in 2008, but the number was decreased to about 2.6 million in 2010. Most likely, the population decrease was enacted to lessen the financial burden for the city.
The DPRK adopted “Pyongyang capitol city management regulations” as part of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly decree No. 286 on November 26, 1998. Article 29 of Chapter 4 spells out the qualifications for living in Pyongyang and that those who live outskirts of the city must receive permission from authorities to move into the central area of the town. Thus the suburban Pyongyang citizens were differentiated from the urban residents.
Article 30 states that the Pyongyang residents must be exemplary citizens for the nation and must uphold the honor of being a Pyongyang citizen. If they violate the laws, they will be stripped of citizenship. In short, they will be kicked out of the city and banished to the countryside.
On July 24, 2000, the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly issued Decree No. 1676, entitled, “DPRK Regulation for Citizen Registration.” Article 7 states that one must be seventeen and older to receive the Pyongyang citizen ID. The ID comes with special privileges, such as food rationing, even as the rationing system is terminated in the countryside. The North Korean constitution states that everyone is equal under the socialist system—in words only.
There is a vast difference between Pyongyang and the rest of the country. Pyongyang citizen ID and Pyongyang management regulation were created to distinguish the Pyongyang citizens and the countryside residents. The rules specify that “the state planning department, executive department, state-run companies, and organizations must guarantee food and fuel distribution for Pyongyang as a matter of priority.” It created a “Capital Fund” to carry out this article.
Most of the roads across North Korea are not paved. Streets in Pyongyang are paved with asphalt. Highrise buildings in Pyongyang are heated. Late Kim Il-sung once said, “Pyongyang is capital of revolution, and only those who defend the Party have the right to live there. Only the workers who are completely armed with the Party’s monolithic thoughts, support the Party policies, and live in one principle can live in Pyongyang.”
He also ordered a system to have factories send their products to Pyongyang first. His son Kim Jong-il focused on propaganda projects such as “the 13th Global Students Festival” even though the North Korean economy started to falter in the second half of the 1980s. Kim Jong-il poured his resources into external propaganda works, even as to instruct the propaganda crew to transform anti-communist tourists into sympathizers for socialism after one visit to Pyongyang. He also banished all the handicapped people from Pyongyang, thinking that it would improve the image of the city.
In the 90s, when power shortage was severe, Kim Jong-il terminated the electric power supply to cities in the countryside, diverting the electrical power to Pyongyang. He wanted to make sure that Pyongyang had lights for foreign visitors to see. As a reference, a luxury apartment in Pyongyang costs about 400,000 dollars, while an equivalent would cost around 250,000 dollars.
These days, those Pyongyang citizens without money are being displaced out of the city. Wealthy people from the countryside are buying Pyongyang citizenship, which was impossible to imagine during the Kim Il-sung/Kim Jong-il era. But now, anyone can buy citizenship. The poor class among the Pyongyang citizenry regard their citizenship as their backup fund in the event someone gets sick or some other emergency. They can sell citizenship for 100,000 dollars. There is a saying in Pyongyang that one can acquire the coveted hero status as long as he has a million dollars.