Although North Korea is often referred to as “the hermit kingdom,” over the past two decades, many cracks have appeared in the wall that the state has built around its people, notes Jieun Baek, the author of North Korea’s Hidden Revolution: How the Information Underground Is Transforming a Closed Society (Yale University Press, 2016). Rudimentary media-smuggling operations have helped North Koreans learn more about their country and the outside world, often at great risk to themselves, she writes for Foreign Affairs:
Despite the threat of punishment by North Korea’s brutal security forces, distributing foreign information has become a profitable business in North Korea. This is partly due to the ways in which the country’s traditionally closed economy has changed in the past 20 years. From 1994 until 1998, an extraordinary famine swept North Korea, killing hundreds of thousands—perhaps even millions—of people. In response to its failure to feed its people, the government allowed small markets known as jangmadango to open so that people could buy basic goods from one another or barter.