The Younger Generation in Pyongyang Listen to Foreign Music through MP3s

Shenyang, China — Residents of Pyongyang unanimously report that what young people want the most is an “MP3 Player.”

Ms. Kim, a woman in her 40s who trades in the jangmadang in Pyongyang said, “What young people in Pyongyang want to purchase the most is an MP3 player, with which they can study language or listen to songs. They are so popular that ordinary citizens cannot buy them, only those who have connections with MP3 player traders can.”

MP3 players began to be used by young residents in Pyongyang four or five years ago. At the time, only merchants in charge of foreign trade or children of high officials used them. However, recently, the children of ordinary households have apparently begun using MP3 players in larger numbers.

According to Kim, the price of an MP3 player sold in a North Korean jangmadang ranges from 30,000 (equivalent to approximately 9.4 U.S. dollars) to 100,000 North Korean won. Most are made in China and used Japanese ones can sporadically be seen. Recently, the demand for MP3 players that can play video clips among the upper class has increased, pushing up the maximum price to 150,000 won per unit.

Mr. Park, a Pyongyang citizen who came to China to visit relatives, also commented, “Among middle school or college students about one in 10 has an MP3 player. My child, who is now a middle school student, tends to listen to a lot of foreign music with his friends by circulating MP3 files. College students tend to use them for learning Chinese or English.”

Park added, “College students nowadays believe that society will change in the future, so they have great ambition to learn Chinese. Their parents also think that knowing Chinese will be an asset regardless of whether or not North Korea opens. So they buy their children MP3 players.”

Mr. Park emphasized, “Children nowadays tend to watch a lot of American, Chinese, or South Korean movies via DVDs, so they are familiar with most electronic products.

Kim, a young North Korean attending a language academy in Shenyang, China, casually remarked, “In Chosun (North Korea) these days, most of my friends own at least one MP3 player.”

Kim said, “Among my friends who have MP3 players, we go to a house which has a computer and download song files. In Chosun, the Internet is not allowed, so people share song files among themselves.”

“Also, people can be punished for listening to music on earphones in town, if you are caught by community watch guards. Therefore, they load North Korean songs in the first half and South Korean or American songs in the second half. Anyhow, they listen to the music at nighttime gatherings with their friends, because even their parents can be punished once they are caught listening to foreign songs,” he noted.

Kim added, “My friends who are ahead of the times have moved onto MP3s that can play video clips. Those who live in the central area of Pyongyang do not live very differently from people here [in China].”