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Defense Forum Foundation Congressional Defense and Foreign Policy Forum: “We Can Do It! How We Became North Korean Entrepreneurs & What that Means for Unification: $$$!”

Three North Korean entrepreneurs who created jobs and wealth and thrived in the market economy until the increasing tyranny of the dictatorship led them to flee to South Korea: Kim Ji-Young, Bae Yoo-Jin, and Kim Hang-Woon

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Kim Ji-Young was born into an elite family and thus was allowed to live in Pyongyang and attend North Korea’s most prestigious university, Kim Il-Sung University. She could have become a government official just like her parents, but after Kim Il-Sung’s death and the Arduous March, she changed her perspective entirely. Kim was shocked that one of her friends who was not accepted to college because of her “bad Songbun (classification)” was better off than anyone in her family as an entrepreneur building her fortune in the market. Right after graduating from university, she decided to do the same and opened a restaurant which she ran successfully for seven years before she decided to escape.

Bae Yoo-Jin was a singer for the Ryanggang Art Group and a laborer before she joined the market system to feed her family after the North Korean government stopped providing food rations and salaries during the arduous march. As the Jangmadang started to expand, she began trading in Chinese goods and South Korean dramas spreading South Korean culture throughout North Korea while make a handsome profit. As the crack down on South Korean culture escalated, she started distributing other goods to cover her growing demand for South Korean dramas. But, with the increasing crackdown, she decided to escape defecting to South Korea in 2019 with her entire family.

Kim Hang-Woon worked for a state construction company for 3 years and at the Hyesan Textile Mill for 4 years as a laborer. However, as the arduous march began, she started to trade aluminum and other metals for rice and corn flour with the Chinese near the border area. She did business with every region of North Korea as her business started to become profitable, many others started to follow the business model. She eventually opened a Chinese wholesale goods and food store as well as continued her country wide distribution business.