Farmer harvest Sariwon
North Korean farmers conducting the fall harvest in Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province. (Rodong Sinmun)

North Korean authorities have recently lifted restrictions on some of the country’s general markets, Daily NK has learned. 

According to multiple Daily NK sources in the country on Tuesday, official markets in major cities like Pyongyang and Pyongsong now regularly open about two or three times a week.

North Korea closed down general markets in many areas, including Pyongyang, as it tightened regional lockdowns following the country’s first official announcement of a COVID-19 outbreak on May 12.

Major official markets in Pyongyang are reportedly opening once every two days, including the Tongil Market in Rangrang District — the capital’s largest general market — and the Inhung Market in Maranbong District.

Pyongsong’s Okjon General Market is also opening about three times a week, suggesting that North Korean authorities are permitting the operation of general markets in many of the country’s major cities.

That being said, the authorities are strictly limiting the operating hours of these general markets to two or three hours a day. They briefly open from 5:00 to 8:00 PM or 6:00 to 8:00 PM.

In normal times, general markets opened for eight hours a day, from 10 AM to 6 PM. Market hours may have been shortened in connection with the mass mobilization of people to rural areas for rice planting. 

In past years, market operating hours were shortened to three to four hours a day when people were mass-mobilized to rural areas at the start of the farming season.

However, market operating hours appear to have been shortened even more this farming season due to lockdowns and other disease control measures, along with the shortage of labor for rural mobilizations. 

Meanwhile, some regions of the country continue to keep general markets closed. In some parts of Yanggang Province, which borders China and has seen a recent spike in fever cases, markets are not operating as normal. 

However, even in regions where markets have yet to reopen, unofficial alleyway markets and “grasshopper markets” are active, with crackdowns on these kinds of commercial activities easing somewhat compared to early and mid-May of this year.

Many North Koreans reportedly believe that the authorities began permitting the opening of official markets late last month because of public discontent and due to labor shortages for rural mobilizations. 

“The prompt reopening of the markets was because markets are directly tied with people’s livelihoods and are also related to efforts to ensure sufficient manpower for rural mobilizations. If people can’t go to the markets to obtain food to eat, they won’t be able to do much labor,” a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK. 

In short, people must have access to markets to buy food for meals, and they can only participate in mobilizations to rural areas if they have enough to eat.

“Even the government knows full well that people can’t survive if the markets are closed,” said a source in Pyongyang. “The recent easing of disease control measures is aimed at ensuring people can get enough to eat and are able to participate in the rural mobilizations.”

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

Read in Korean

Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.