“Jangmadang” is a North Korean term literally translated as “market grounds.” The name originates from the original form of North Korean markets in which merchants would gather to sell their goods in an open field. However, from 2002 buildings were constructed to enclose the markets, and all merchants are since required to pay large deposits to reserve a space within the structure. In addition, merchants must pay Party cadres approximately $50 per day to maintain rights to the space. In the event a merchant is unable to pay the daily fee, all goods are confiscated and he/she is escorted off the premises and prohibited from engaging in business until the following day. Those caught conducting business outside the Jangmadang also risk having their merchandize seized, or otherwise must pay hefty bribes to the cadres in return for leniency.
The Jangmadang originally began as an agricultural market. It became a critical means of survival with the collapse of the nation’s distribution system following the Great Famine in the late 1990’s. As the markets expanded they began to see and influx of manufactured goods ranging from shoes and clothing to medical supplies and machinery. Critics of the regime had high hopes that the trend would signal the start of an embryonic market economy in North Korea.
However, following the 2007 Inter-Korea Summit, the government launched a crack down on anti-socialist activities and took drastic measures to suppress the spread of capitalist ideals. The government imposed multiple restrictions on the type and number of articles that could be sold in the market, significantly lowered the price of goods, and banned necessities such as medical supplies, remanding the selling rights of such items to state-run facilities. As an additional measure, a minimum age limit for female merchants was imposed that started from 30 years, raised to 40 and finally set at 48 years old. The age regulations had a significant impact on the welfare of North Korean families, as most merchants were young wives and mothers who relied on the market as a primary source of income.
One by one, manufactured goods have been banned from the market place, leading many to believe the government has intentions of retrograding jangmadangs to agricultural markets. The crackdown continues to this day.