Glimpses: Moran Market, Pyongyang

Stephan Haggard (PIIE) and Jaesung Ryu (East Asia Institute)
August 14, 2011 8:00 AM

Bryan Myers, author of The Cleanest Race, alerted us to an interesting clip shown on South Korean television of the Moran market in the Moran-bong district of Pyongyang. Not only is the view of the market interesting, but so is the interaction between an official and the market women. Jaesung Ryu elaborates from Seoul.

The local official (dansok-won) is shooing way merchants who failed to get a permit to sell their goods within the market area and who have set up shop along an outside wall. After the crackdown, the woman say that the 'government' (guk-ga, or country) is useless in solving her problems; the words may be carefully chosen as they do not specifically mention the Kim leadership, which remains taboo as we show in Witness to Transformation. Nonetheless, the inference is pretty clear. The goods on offer include foodstuffs, but also products with bar-codes, clearly imported from China.

The following is a rough translation of the transcript of the clip, which is of interest for the South Korean commentary as well

<Anchor comment>

Because of the economic hardship, it seems that the North Korea is not even able to provide food to its citizens of Pyongyang. Yet, markets here and there in the city are booming. Let's look into the clip by reporter Shin, Kang Moon.

<Report>

This is one of the markets in central Pyongyang. [subtitle: Moran Market, Moran-bong district, Pyongyang, Early last month (early July)] They say there's an extreme food shortage, but groceries are plentiful at the stands. The merchants are selling eggs, bread, salted fish, and even high-end shampoos and rinses.

<Voices>

"Got any good rinse?"

"Yeah, take a look, this one is 22,000 won" (SH and JR: an astronomical sum given North Korean incomes)

<Report>

Those who cannot afford the fees for engaging in market activities open up their own stand outside [the designated area.] All of a sudden, an official shows up and starts to kick out the [illegal] merchants.

<Voice Record>

"Hey! Get out!" You are near the market (jangmadang) which is under control. Get out! Do you have a permit to be here?"

<Report>

There are some merchants who tend to ignore the official. As they show their reluctance, words [from the official] become more rough.

<Voice Record>

"Get out! Get out first, I said get out!!" [The women do not respond and the official gets angrier]

<Report>

As the officials disappear, [people] start to complain

<Voice Record>

"The government can't solve [the problem]....we just want to make a small living, and [yet] they are kicking us out"

<Report>

As North Korea reaches a limit in terms of its food shortage problems, its people are learning a new economy as they seek for a living in markets that substitutes the failed public distribution system. This is KBS Shin Kang-moon, reporting from Tokyo.

End.

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Stephan Haggard Senior Research Staff