Chongjin (청진시, Cheongjin-si) is the capital of North Korea's North Hamgyong Province and the country's third largest city. It is sometimes called the City of Iron. Chongjin was a small fishing village prior to Japanese assertion of control over Korea; its date of establishment is unknown. The Chinese characters for its name mean 'clear river crossing'. In 1908, Japan made the city a trading port and built the steelworks, both for transport of Korean resources and as a stopping point for resources from China.
The Imperial Japanese Army 19th Infantry Division was headquartered in Nanan, where the Japanese built a planned city based on a rectangular street grid. During the North Korean famine of the 1990s, Chongjin was one of the worst affected locations in the country; death rates may have been as high as 20 percent. Conditions there remain poor in terms of food availability. This problem has caused several instances of civil unrest in Chongjin, a rarity in North Korea. On March 4, 2008, a crowd of women merchants protested in response to tightened market controls. Rising grain prices and government attempts to prohibit "peddling in the market" have been cited as causes for the protests.
As a result of the protest, the Chongjin local government "posted a proclamation allowing peddling in the market." On August 24, 2008, a clash occurred between foot patrol agents and female merchants, which escalated into a "massive protest rally". It was reported that the Chongjin local government issued verbal instructions relaxing the enforcement activity until the time of the next grain ration.