With Kim Jong Un at the helm of North Korea, the
age limit for commercial activities has been removed for women; for men, however, this limit has recently been raised, allowing only those in their 60s or over to enter market life.
This runs contrary to not long ago, when one could easily spot men
in their 40s inhabiting stalls in the marketplace, often selling shoes or
offering bike repair services– a common occurrence since residents took to market activities to cope with the widespread famine ravaging in the mid-1990s.
This has changed in almost an instant under the new mandate. “Actions have been taken so that men under
60 cannot run businesses in the jangmadang (market), as the Central Party
demands that men should remain loyal to their workplaces,” a source from
Yangkang Province informed Daily NK through a telephone conversation on June 26th.
Daily NK’s sources in two other provinces confirmed the news of this directive but for their safety their locations remain confidential.
in Hyesan there used to be men in their 40s running shoe repair business,
cigarette stands or barbershops. But they’re all gone now, and even the stores
such as bike shop or key repair shop are being run by men in their 60s,” the source added.
Men’s role in the marketplace has been rigidly controlled since the Kim Jong Un came to power, aimed at preventing workers from doing business rather than fulfilling their roles at state-run factories and enterprises. Women, however, have enjoyed relative freedom in their commercial activities.
Some men have long turned to offering up ‘8.3 money’ to
escape the workplace and go out to try their hand at doing business.
The term ‘8.3 Money’ is related to a
program of limited enterprise autonomy put in place by Kim Jong Il
in 1984. As part of the plan, workers are encouraged to earn money outside
their state-mandated workplaces and present de facto tax payments back to
their employers. Such contributions are not necessarily defined in monetary
terms: wild edible greens and valuable medical herbs (some of which fetch a
high price in China) can also be contributions, for instance.
“Most of these men run wholesale or
transportation of goods, carrying goods for retail dealers using ‘servi-cha.’
Some men under 60, who once sold goods in the jangmadang, have now turned to
the transportation business,” he explained.
In the past, trains were almost the only
viable means of long-distance transportation in North Korea. Then, as private
business began to grow and the railways further deteriorated, vehicles such
as trucks and cars belonging to military bases, state security and state
enterprises were pushed into service to earn money for moving people, known as the ‘servi-cha’ industry.
“Even at the beginning of the
last year there were many young men selling coal briquettes, salt and other
food products [at markets in Pyongsong] but now they’re nowhere to be found,” the source said, citing a merchant from Pyongsong, South Pyongan Province.
Women’s relative freedom in doing business has created avenues for men despite to stay in the game, allowing them to team up with a female counterpart in order
to evade the new directive, he said, explaining that in these cases, “men take
care of transportation and wholesale of goods, while women take care of actual
selling of goods. In this way, they can avoid the regulations.”
According to the source, the Kim Jong Un
era has seen little control over people’s market activities. As a result, the
number of stores has increased in most of the marketplaces in the whole
country, vitalizing residents’ commercial activities.
behind the freshest regulation is that to the extent that the regime has
allowed commercial activities–an autonomous means of living for the people who
have been suffering chronic shortages of food–men should devote themselves to their state-ordered workplace.