‘Jangmadang Generation’ eschews regime idolization, pursues outside info

The “jangmadang (markets, both official and otherwise) generation” spent their formative years in the mid 1990s when a
massive famine wiped out the state’s Public Distribution System and they were
forced to eke out a living through market trading. They did so while receiving
almost zero government assistance. As a result, the jangmadang generation has a
weak sense of loyalty towards the regime coupled with increased interest in the
outside world. Through the process of transitioning towards self reliance,
they’ve come to enjoy watching South Korean dramas and have lost trust in the
regime’s propaganda. 

According to inside sources, if the regime
cannot score the loyalty of the jangmadang generation going forward,
authorities will have a difficult time promoting the idolization of Kim Jong Un
and other forms of maintenance necessary to the authoritarian regime. Sources
on the ground have also indicated that due to the changes in mentality
resulting from curiosity about the outside world, it has already become more
difficult for the regime to crackdown and repress the people’s access to
outside information.
 

In a recent telephone call with the Daily
NK, a source from North Hamgyong Province said, “The younger generation is not
cast from the government mold. They use the market to gain access to outside
information which they use to fuel their penchant for free thinking. They have
very little interest in the state propaganda. They are also distinguished from
previous generations in that they have tremendous curiosity about the outside
world.”

The source continued,“I think it is
definitely accurate to label the current cohort of youngsters as the
‘jangmadang generation.’ They’ve come to live and learn through the
marketplace. Compared to the elder generation, they think critically, are in
touch with modern ideas from the outside world, and don’t feel a sense of
loyalty towards the regime.” 

A source from South Pyongan Province said,
“There’s an expression that goes, ‘Save your money to buy flowers (to place at
the foot of Kim Il Sung/Kim Jong Il statues) and buy bread instead.’ It
represents the new way of thinking in which devotion to the Kim dynasty is
prioritized less than self preservation.”  
 

The biggest influence on the jangmadang
generation is Hallyu (the Korean word describing the overseas popularity of
South Korean pop culture). After watching variety shows and dramas, North
Koreans have become enamored with South Korean culture. When watching dramas,
they grow attached to the stars and begin to sympathize with them. 
Whether it is
fashion, food, or catchphrases, the North Korean interest in South Korea is
continuing to grow. Inside sources have also confirmed that the number of
people in the jangmadang generation who want to go to South Korea is on the
rise.
 

In particular, the jangmadang generation’s
adept usage of IT has enabled them to connect to and engage with South Korean
culture in ways that were impossible in the past. They have no problem sharing
video files with friends despite pressure from authorities to refrain from such ‘anti-socialist activities.’

A Yanggang Province source said, “The kids
here in North Korea have resolved to avoid watching regime-produced propaganda
altogether. They’ve become sick of the highly repetitive media content produced
by the state. In turn, they’re flocking to South Korean media where they’re
encountering a new culture.”  
 

The greatest concern of North Korean
authorities is that the jangmadang generation’s loyalty is on the decline.
These youngsters have zero recollection or image of Kim Il Sung. All they
remember of Kim Jong Il is that under his watch, the whole country went hungry.
Instead of relying on the government for their livelihood, the entire
generation turned to the market.
 

The North Hamgyong Province source
continued, “The jangmadang generation does not pay attention to the
authorities’ attempts to stimulate the idolization of Kim Jong Un. Out of fear
of punishment, they express what appears to be loyalty. But their true thoughts
of the Marshal (Kim Jong Un) are simply: ‘He is the young leader of our generation.’
Nothing more, nothing less.”  
 

She added, “They perceive the
idolization education on a purely conceptual level; it does not figure into
their mentality in terms of loyalty. People are affected in small ways by the
regime’s attempts at ideological education, but they by and large look after
themselves and pine for an atmosphere of increased freedoms.”  
 

“With
regards to the regime’s loosening controls over the marketplace, there are a
few people here and there who have developed a fondness for Kim Jong Un. But
most are simply uninterested,” t
he Yanggang Province source pointed out. 

On the outside, they appear to be loyal to the
regime, but in their heart of hearts, that’s often not the case. From the
regime’s perspective, this generation will be difficult to manage because they
aren’t likely to simply follow Kim Jong Un’s every whim.”   
 

Some experts of the Korean Peninsula are
forecasting that the changes occurring as a result of the jangmadang generation
are putting pressure on the regime and might even lead to structural changes in
North Korea. The new generation has been exposed to capitalist ideas to such an
extent that they are showing the tendency to buck socialist pressures from up
top and prefer the introduction of further reforms. 
 

The Institute for National Security
Strategy’s Chief researcher Lee also weighed in on the shifting environment, saying, “The jangmadang generation’s belief in
the superiority of liberal democracies will be especially helpful when it comes
to unification. There is a need to spread awareness about that fact in South
Korea. There is also a need to undertake systematic preparations to ensure that
there are provisions in place to ensure that the jangmadang generation can
secure leadership positions post unification.”
 

Chief Researcher Lee added, “Rather than
using political sabotage or psychological warfare, it might be a better idea to
use the already expanding influence of Hallyu to inject South Korean soft power
into the equation. By continuing the North Korean trend of growing the markets
through purchasing foreign (especially South Korean) goods, we can increase
their reliance on us. We should focus our energy and attentions on the
possibility of such measures.”

To provide those on the outside striving to accelerate change from within, Cooperation in Northeast Asia Institute
Director Jeon Hyeon Jun offered some advice on how best to proceed, noting, “The jangmadang generation is helping the North
to make the market economy a reality. Their interest in South Korean culture is
creating the foundations for a ‘cultural infrastructure’ that will need
continual development. Instead of conducting exchanges with the authorities,
we’d do better to set up communication with the jangmadang generation directly.
This could play a positive role in precipitating the dawn of unification.”
 

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