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Posted April. 01, 2006 03:00,   


In Crisis and Change in North Korean Cities, the authors ask the question, “What happened in North Korea during the economic crisis of the 1990s?”

The book was written based on joint research carried out by the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University. For the study, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with North Korean defectors from Cheongjin, Shinuiju and Hyesan, three China-North Korea border cities, and gathered information on what has changed in those cities.

The authors describe the change as the expansion of market policies and the shift toward “economy-oriented politics.”

Traditionally, a “political, manufacturing and local system” served as the foundation of politics in North Korean cities. The book points out, however, that as some market-economy elements, such as smaller and black markets, enter the political picture in North Korean cities, the existing tripartite system is weakening.

Up until the 1980s, North Korea allowed only small markets to assist its people to feed themselves. Since the large-scale famine, the public distribution system run by local governments has nearly collapsed. As a result, small markets have emerged where North Koreans earn a living, and thus become the center of city life. Even plants and companies have come to purchase materials that they used to receive from the government in small or black markets.

The ruling party’s control over government-led economic projects has diminished. For some rich business people, the weakened party leadership presents more opportunities to buy off the party.

Shutdowns of local manufacturing facilities left workers unemployed and in search of new jobs. As cross-regional trade of needed goods rose, non-public sector networks also increased.

As changes are taking place in various fields, the book says, North Korea is going through a transition from collectivism and formalism to individualism and pragmatism. The authors suggest the possibility that North Korea may be undergoing a bottom-up transformation.

Chae-Hyun Kwon confetti@donga.com