About the Author
View more articles by Chad O'Carroll
Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
Since the great famine of the mid 1990s, conceptions that North Korea closely resembles a Stalinist, rigidly communist country have been shown to be increasingly off-the-mark. Today the socialist utopia – if there ever was one – is certainly no more in North Korea. That's because the famine (or 'Arduous March') marked a major turning point for many North Koreans, who witnessed the near collapse of the once reliable Public Distribution System (PDS) and subsequent disappearance of the majority of their rations.
With the state unable to provide food, ordinary citizens had no choice but to start engaging in market activities to survive. If they didn't, they might starve. Some in the border areas begun to conduct risky but profitable trading trips to China, while others resorted to selling herbs, painstakingly collected from the increasingly bare hills. And with that, business and market activities had entered the North Korean psyche at large by the early 2000s.