The famous painting 'The Gleaners' received negative criticism in the mid-19th century. It is now regarded as a masterpiece of French painter Millet.
A rural woman gleaning grain from a cornfield, photographed by ASIAPRESS in South Hwanghae Province in October 2008.

◆ North Korea is like the scene in Millet's famous painting

One of the characteristic works of French painter Millet is a painting depicting peasants bowing down and picking up leftover grain in a barley field after harvest. At first glance, it’s an idyllic pastoral scene, but it also incorporates aspects that allow modern society to imagine how poor the 19th century French peasants must have been.

Walking along the Chinese border with North Korea on autumn mornings, I have witnessed Millet's "gleaning" scenes many times. Across the Yalu River, among the North Korean rice fields, peasants wrapped in aprons bend over with open sacks looking for rice and ears of corn.

"This year is different," said a reporting partner living in the northern area of North Korea by phone at the end of November. Apparently, even urban residents are now going on 'gleaning expeditions' to rural areas. “Every morning, everyone, from the children to the elderly, heads to the rural areas.” This can only be seen as a desperate move by starving urban residents.

Rural women picking up grain from cornfields outside Pyongyang. Photographed by ASIAPRESS in September 2008.

Another reporting partner gave a specific example of urban residents going on ''Gleaning Expeditions' as follows.

“There is a mine worker that I know with a family of three. He has a child in elementary school and his wife sold soju from their home because the mine was closed- however, she had to stop selling due to the strict crackdown. The husband goes to work every day to a job where he doesn't get paid or even given rations and he has nothing to do. So, the wife goes to the nearby farming village every day to gather grain. The family is on the verge of becoming street beggars.”
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