Jangmadang, Market Competition Unlike the Past

Daily NK
Kim Young Jin

Many North Koreans are saying that making money is different to the past. With the sudden wave of North Korea’s Jangmadang (integrated markets) spreading throughout the nation and with the whole population diving in trade, competition is soaring high. Individualism has intensified so much that the average person openly remarks that family and friends mean nothing when it comes to money.

In mid-March, Kim Jae Chun (pseudonym, 42) of Musan, North Hamkyung province, went to visit his relatives in Yanji, China. He said, “Nowadays, you cannot make a profit by operating small-trade… Selling goods has become tough as there are so many vendors now, even around the areas of Jangmadang, though their stores may not be legitimate.”

Kim’s wife sells rice nearby the Jangmadang in Musan. Up to a year ago, she would easily sell 10kg of rice. These days, she is lucky to sell even half. Normally, 100won (10% of the rice) remains as profit after selling 1kg of rice (1,000won). Simply put, Kim’s wife income has reduced from 1,000won to 500won.

Kim said, “People who own large-scale businesses sell expensive products targeting the rich or elite officials. Though these goods are different, nowadays, it has become hard to make money with rice, noodles or by selling a couple of clothing items.”

Nonetheless, Kim did agree that some business was better than no business. At the least, trade meant that you would not die of starvation.

He explained, “If you want to earn big cash at Jangmadang, you need to possess goods with greater value. If you want to earn even more money, people say, go to the integrated markets.”

“Lately, as people become experienced in trade, the more they are becoming obnoxious. Maybe it’s because they only think about money, it seems like a battlefield. There are even cases where friends and family become distant or ignored altogether. Why should we help each other out they argue since everyone has it touch,” he said.

When inquired whether or not relatives neglecting each other was an incident which had started during the food crisis, Kim responded, “Back then, it was because people really didn’t have anything. The problem is that today, people are not willing to help, even if they have something to share. People neglecting one another during the times where distributions were terminated is different to people who now only think about money.”

Lim Gil Man (pseudonym, 44) who had traveled with Kim from Chongjin agreed with Kim. He said, “In the past, people acted the way they did because they were starving to death. Today, people either stick by others with power or engage in corruption, with more and more people focused on making money.”

“Despite this, selling itself is not so bad. Compared to the times where we were all poor, at least now since there are some rich people, we can sell goods, and we have come to live more independently.”

As competition increases between North Koreans, it is expected that profits will continue to decline. The general populace of merchants trading in the North Korea-China region suspect that unless North Korean authorities propose reform measures to control the spread of markets, this wave of marketing will produce negative effects, with the possibility of rising antagonism amongst the people.


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