Party Congress reveals new indicator of wealth

Choi Song Min  |  2016-06-23 14:59
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Following last month's Party Congress during which large numbers of flat screen televisions were given to attendees, demand for electronic products has surged among other elites looking to keep up with a new benchmark for social status, Daily NK has learned. 

The 45-inch LED TVs distributed to all congress participants drew a lot of attention and is fueling the demand for electronic goods, a source from South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Monday. Having the latest television set is now seen as a symbol of wealth, so thats why youre seeing cadres going out of their way to buy these goods ahead of others. 

Average households in Pyongyang are showing interest in Achim (the Korean word for morning) screens assembled by a local enterprise called Achim Computer, [which uses North Korean labor to assemble Chinese goods]. But high-ranking cadres prefer real imported televisions made by Sony, LG, or Samsung, the source added. 

Televisions are only one element of the electronics frenzy. Rather than foodstuffs, the cross-border train connecting Pyongyang and Beijing is primarily loaded with air conditioners, air purifiers, dehumidifiers, and other electronic goods. 

This trend reflects the growing importance that North Koreans are placing on material possessions to cement their social status and power. In today's North Korea, lavish spending confers influence and is the driving force behind the stratification of the country's socioeconomic ladder. 

Many on the lower rungs of the system seek to display their wealth with mobile phones. University students, for example, are going to increasing lengths to buy mobile handsets irrespective of actual need or financial constraints, simply to achieve the perception of affluence. 

After the Party Congress, people are saying that you need a flat screen in order to be considered well-off, a source in Pyongyang said, adding that cadres see the majority of products they receive as bribes to be inconsequential but invariably covet electronics, and especially flat screen TVs.

Moreover, the source added that an unexpected improvement in North Korea's power supply following last months landmark convention, albeit in "dribs and drabs," but still totaling approximately seven hours a day, is facilitating the use of these products.

*Translated by Jiyeon Lee
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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