A woman dragging a cow. Photographed in a rural area near Pyongyang in October 2008 by Jang Jeong-gil (ASIAPRESS)

While North Koreans are very compassionate, there is one occupation that all North Korean people look down upon. If you ask them to name the most difficult and looked down upon job, they will all answer immediately “cooperative farm worker”.

Cooperative farm workers produce crops for the state to distribute to the organizations and regions it most prefers to keep well-fed, such as the military, police, bureaucracy, and residents of Pyongyang. Though farmers are allowed to keep any excess crops, they are structurally unable to escape poverty because the targets imposed by the state for crop yields are set far too high.

The farmers continue to be subjected to exploitation by the state’s high targets and have no possibility of changing jobs or moving to the city. If born in a rural area, one’s entire family is destined to work on a cooperative farm for generations. The only exception is if a woman from the countryside marries a man from the city.

The cast system still exists in North Korea even today. (ISHIMARU Jiro)

A woman carries logs that are twice her size. They seem to have been brought from the mountains to sell as firewood. Photographed by Shim Ui-cheon in the suburbs of Haeju, South Hwanghae Province in August 2008 (ASIAPRESS)

Next page: A rural women in North Pyeongan Province washing clothes along the Yalu River...