The Koreas

North Korea’s Grave Robbing Problem

North Korean defectors reveal that grave robbing has become a profitable enterprise in the Hermit Kingdom.

North Korea’s Grave Robbing Problem
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Relics and antiques buried in North Korea are being mined and sold to China by North Korean grave robbers according to a recently released book.

An unnamed North Korean defector who used to work as a grave robber revealed in the new book Kim Jong Un’s 11 Dilemmas that a massive amount of relics and antiques in North Korea have been robbed from graves for sale in China. The author also noted that the stolen goods are typically sold cheaply, and even ordinary North Korean citizens are robbing graves to make money.

The book, which was released in April of this year, interviewed North Korean defectors who escaped from the destitute country after 2011, offering first hand knowledge of the Hermit Kingdom.

The defector said there are a lot of ceramics and white porcelains from the Koryo and Chosun Dynasties still buried across North Korea, and people usually robbed graves located in Hwanghae Province, South Hamgyeong Province and Gaeseong city.

The biggest antique market is in Sinuiju, and this is where grave robbers sell the stolen goods to Chinese dealers, the defector added. Relics and antiques gathered from all parts of North Korea are being shipped to China two or three times a month, and Chinese dealers pay below $1,000 per antique. Although the antiques are usually worth much more than that, North Koreans part with them for so little because they urgently need money and have few other options for unloading the goods.

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The defector estimated that there are about 100 grave robbers in the Yangdok area and claims that even high level officials are engaged in grave robbery (though they usually hire somebody to rob the graves for them). In fact, members of North Korea’s State Security Department, who are involved in various regime activities including running concentration camps, are also robbing graves for profit, according to the defector’s account.