User:FFLaguna/Draft Page Redesign: North Korea

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Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Chosŏn Minjujuŭi Inmin Konghwaguk[1]
Motto: 강성대국
(English: Powerful and Prosperous Nation)
Anthem: "애국가"
(tr.: "Aegukka")
(English: "The Patriotic Song")
North Korea (orthographic projection).svg
and largest city
39°2′N 125°45′E / 39.033°N 125.750°E / 39.033; 125.750
Official languages Korean
Official scripts Chosŏn'gŭl
Ethnic groups Korean
Demonym North Korean, Korean
Government Juche unitary single-party state
Kim Jong-un
Kim Yong-nam[a]
• Premier
Choe Yong-rim
Legislature Supreme People's Assembly
August 15, 1945
• Formal declaration
September 9, 1948
• Total
120,540 km2 (46,540 sq mi) (98th)
• Water (%)
• 2011 estimate
24,554,000[2] (48th)
• 2011 census
• Density
198.3/km2 (513.6/sq mi)
GDP (PPP) 2011[4] estimate
• Total
$45 billion
• Per capita
GDP (nominal) 2011[6] estimate
• Total
$32.7 billion
• Per capita
HDI (2011) 0.618
medium · not rated
Currency North Korean won (₩) (KPW)
Time zone Korea Standard Time (UTC+9)
Date format yy, yyyy년 mm월 dd일
yy, yyyy/mm/dd (CE–1911, CE)
Drives on the right
Calling code 850
ISO 3166 code KP
Internet TLD .kp
^ Kim Yong-nam is the "head of state for foreign affairs". The position of president (formerly head of state) was written out of the constitution in 1998, and Kim Il-sung (who died in 1994) was given the appellation Eternal President in its preamble.

Coordinates: 40°00′N 127°00′E / 40.000°N 127.000°E / 40.000; 127.000

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (Chosŏn'gŭl: 조선민주주의인민공화국; Chosŏn Minjujuŭi Inmin Konghwaguk), abbreviated as DPRK or PRK, and commonly referred to as North Korea (About this sound listen), is a country in East Asia, located in the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Its capital is Pyongyang, the country's largest city. The Amnok River and the Tumen River together form the international border between North Korea and the People's Republic of China. A small section of the Tumen River is also on the border between North Korea and the Russian Federation, technically following the river's thalweg.[7] The Korean Demilitarized Zone serves as the boundary between North Korea and South Korea.

The Korean peninsula was governed by the Korean Empire from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, until it was annexed by the Empire of Japan in 1910. After the surrender of Japan at the end of World War II, Japanese rule was brought to an end. The Korean peninsula was divided into two occupied zones in 1945, with the northern half of the peninsula occupied by the Soviet Union and the southern halfby the United States. A United Nations–supervised election held in 1948 led to the creation of separate Korean governments for the two occupation zones, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the north, and the Republic of Korea in the south. North Korea and South Korea claim sovereignty over the entire Korean peninsula, which led to the start of the Korean War in 1950. An armistice in 1953 committed both to a cease-fire, but the two countries remain officially at war, since a formal peace treaty was never signed.[8] Both states were accepted into the United Nations in 1991.[9]

North Korea is a single-party state, led by the Korean Workers' Party (KWP).[10][11][12][13] The country's government follows the Juche ideology of self-reliance, initiated by the country's first President, Kim Il-sung. After his death, Kim Il-sung was declared the country's Eternal President. Juche became the official state ideology, replacing Marxism–Leninism, when the country adopted a new constitution in 1972.[14][15] With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, North Korea lost a major trading partner and strategic ally. Combined with a series of natural disasters, this led to the North Korean famine, which lasted from 1994 to 1998 and killed an estimated 800,000 to 3,500,000 people.[16][17] North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il adopted Songun, or "military-first" policy in order to strengthen the country and its government.[18] In 2009, references to Communism (Chosŏn'gŭl: 공산주의) were systematically removed from the country's constitution and legal documents altogether.[19]

North Korea has been described as a totalitarian, Stalinist dictatorship[11][12][20][21][22] with an elaborate cult of personality around the Kim family and one of the lowest-ranking human rights records of any country,[23] though the North Korean government denies this.[24] As a result of its isolation and authoritarian rule, it has sometimes been labelled the "Hermit kingdom",[25] a name once given to its predecessor, the Korean Empire. In 2011 North Korea had the lowest Democracy Index of any nation on Earth. North Korea is one of the world's most militarized countries, with a total of 9,495,000 active, reserve, and paramilitary personnel. Its active duty army of 1.21 million is the 4th largest in the world, after China, the U.S., and India.[26] It is a nuclear-weapons state and has an active space program.[27][28][29]


Before the division[edit]

Korean history began with the founding of Jo-seon (often known as Gojoseon to prevent confusion with another dynasty founded in the 14th century; the prefix Go- means "old" or "earlier") in 2333 BC by Dangun, according to Korean foundation mythology.[30] Gojoseon expanded until it controlled northern Korean Peninsula and some parts of Manchuria. After many conflicts with the Chinese Han Dynasty, Gojoseon disintegrated, leading to the Proto–Three Kingdoms of Korea period.

In the early centuries of the Common Era, Buyeo, Okjeo, Dongye, and the Samhan confederacy occupied the peninsula and southern Manchuria. Of the various states, Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla grew to control the peninsula as Three Kingdoms of Korea. The unification of the Three Kingdoms by Silla in 676 led to the North South States Period, in which much of the Korean Peninsula was controlled by Silla, while Balhae succeeded the northern parts of Goguryeo.

Jikji, the first known book printed with movable metal type in 1377. Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris.

In Unified Silla, poetry and art was encouraged, and Buddhist culture thrived. Relationships between Korea and China remained relatively peaceful during this time. However, Silla weakened under internal strife, and surrendered to Goryeo in 935.Balhae, Silla's neighbor to the north, was formed as a successor state to Goguryeo. During its height, Balhae controlled most of Manchuria and parts of Russian Far East. It fell to the Khitan in 926.

The peninsula was united by Emperor Taejo of Goryeo in 936. Like Silla, Goryeo was a highly cultural state and created the Jikji in 1377, using the world's oldest movable metal type printing press.[31] The Mongol invasions in the 13th century greatly weakened Goryeo. After nearly 30 years of war, Goryeo continued to rule Korea, though as a tributary ally to the Mongols. After the Mongol Empire collapsed, severe political strife followed and the Goryeo Dynasty was replaced by the Joseon Dynasty in 1388 following a rebellion by General Yi Seong-gye.

Gyeongbok Palace is the largest of the Five Grand Palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty.

King Taejo declared the new name of Korea as "Joseon" in reference to Gojoseon, and moved the capital to Seoul. The first 200 years of the Joseon Dynasty were marked by relative peace and saw the creation of Hangul by King Sejong the Great in the 14th century and the rise in influence of Confucianism in the country.

Between 1592 and 1598, the Japanese invaded Korea. Toyotomi Hideyoshi led the forces and tried to invade the Asian continent through Korea, but was eventually repelled by the Righteous army and assistance fromMing Dynasty China. This war also saw the rise of Admiral Yi Sun-sin and his renowned "turtle ship". In the 1620s and 1630s, Joseon suffered from invasions by the Manchu who eventually conquered all of China.

After another series of wars against Manchuria, Joseon experienced a nearly 200-year period of peace. King Yeongjo and King Jeongjo in particular led a new renaissance of the Joseon Dynasty.

However, the latter years of the Joseon Dynasty were marked by a dependence on China for external affairs and isolation from the outside world. During the 19th century, Korea's isolationist policy earned it the name of the "Hermit Kingdom". The Joseon Dynasty tried to protect itself against Western imperialism, but was eventually forced to open trade. After the First Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War, Korea was occupied by Japan (1910–1945).

Division of Korea[edit]

North Korean war monument in Pyongyang.

In the aftermath of the Japanese occupation of Korea, which ended with Japan's defeat in World War II in 1945, Korea was divided at the 38th parallel in accordance with a United Nations arrangement, to be administered by the Soviet Union in the north and the United States in the south. The history of North Korea formally begins with the establishment of the Democratic People's Republic in 1948.

In August 1945, the Soviet Army established a Soviet Civil Authority to rule the northern portion of the Korean Peninsula until a domestic regime, friendly to the USSR, could be established. This became governed by the Provisional People's Committee for North Korea through 1948. After the Soviet forces' departure in 1948, the main agenda in the following years was unification of Korea until the consolidation of the Syngman Rhee regime in the South with American military support and the suppression of the October 1948 insurrection ended hopes that the country could be reunified by way of Communist revolution in the South. In 1949, a military intervention into South Korea was considered by Kim Il-sung, but failed to receive support from the Soviet Union, which had played a key role in the establishment of the country.[32]

The withdrawal of most of the American forces from the South in June dramatically weakened the Southern regime and encouraged Kim Il-sung to rethink an invasion plan against the South.[32] The idea itself was first rejected byJoseph Stalin but with the development of Soviet nuclear weapons, Mao Zedong's victory in China and the Chinese indication that it would send troops and other support to North Korea, Stalin approved an invasion which led to the Korean War.[33]

Korean War[edit]

Korean War Armistice Agreement

After Korea was divided by the UN, the two Korean powers both tried to control the whole peninsula under their respective governments. This led to escalating border conflicts on the 38th parallel and attempts to negotiate elections for the whole of Korea.[34] These attempts ended when the military of North Korea invaded the South on June 25, 1950, leading to a full-scale civil war. With endorsement from the United Nations, countries allied with the United States intervened on behalf of South Korea. After rapid advances in a South Korean counterattack, North-allied Chinese forces intervened on behalf of North Korea, shifting the balance of the war. Fighting ended on July 27, 1953, with an armistice that approximately restored the original boundaries between North and South Korea. More than 2 million civilians and soldiers were killed in the war.

Although some have referred to the conflict as a civil war, other important factors were involved.[35] The Korean War was also the first armed confrontation of the Cold War and set the standard for many later conflicts. It created the idea of a proxy war, where the two superpowers would fight in another country, forcing the people in that country to suffer most of the destruction and death involved in a war between such large nations. The superpowers avoided descending into an all-out war against one another, as well as the mutual use of nuclear weapons. It also expanded the Cold War, which to that point had mostly been concerned with Europe. A heavily guarded demilitarized zone on the 38th parallel still divides the peninsula, and an anti-Communist and anti-North Korea sentiment remains in South Korea.

Since the Armistice in 1953, relations between the North Korean government and South Korea, the European Union, Canada, the United States, and Japan have remained tense, and hostile incidents occur often.[36][page needed] North and South Korea signed the June 15th North-South Joint Declaration in 2000, in which they promised to seek peaceful reunification.[37] On October 4, 2007, the leaders of North and South Korea pledged to hold summit talks to officially declare the war over and reaffirmed the principle of mutual non-aggression.[38]

Late 20th century[edit]

The relative peace between the south and the north following the armistice was interrupted by border skirmishes and assassination attempts. The North failed in several assassination attempts on South Korean leaders, most notably in 1968, 1974 and theRangoon bombing in 1983; tunnels were frequently found under the DMZ and war nearly broke out over the Axe Murder Incident at Panmunjeom in 1976.[39] In 1973, extremely secret, high-level contacts began to be conducted through the offices of the Red Cross, but ended after the Panmunjeom incident with little progress having been made and the idea that the two Koreas would join international organisations separately.[40]

North Korea remained closely aligned to China and the Soviet Union until the mid-1960s. Recovery from the war was quick – by 1957 industrial production reached 1949 levels. Until the 1960s, economic growth was higher than in South Korea, and North Korean GDP per capita was equal to that of its southern neighbor as late as 1976.[41][42] The last Chinese troops withdrew from the country in October 1958.[43]

In the late 1990s, with the South having transitioned to liberal democracy, the success of the Nordpolitik policy, and power in the North having been taken up by Kim Il-sung's son Kim Jong-il, the two nations began to engage publicly for the first time, with the South declaring its Sunshine Policy.[44][45]

Early 21st century[edit]

In 2002, United States president George W. Bush labeled North Korea part of an "axis of evil" and an "outpost of tyranny". The highest-level contact the government has had with the United States was with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who made a visit to Pyongyang in 2000,[46] but the two countries do not have formal diplomatic relations.[6] By 2006, approximately 37,000 American soldiers remained in South Korea, although by June 2009 this number had fallen to around 30,000.[47][48] Kim Jong-il privately stated his acceptance of U.S. troops on the peninsula, even after a possible reunification.[49]Publicly, North Korea strongly demands the removal of American troops from Korea.[49]

On June 13, 2009, the Associated Press reported that in response to new UN sanctions, North Korea declared it would progress with its uranium enrichment program. This marked the first time the DPRK has publicly acknowledged that it is conducting a uranium enrichment program.[50] In August 2009, former US president Bill Clinton met with Kim Jong-il to secure the release of two US journalists, who had been sentenced for entering the country illegally.[51] Current U.S. President Barack Obama's position towards North Korea has been to resist making deals with North Korea for the sake of defusing tension, a policy known as "strategic patience."[52]

On November 23, 2010, North Korea fired about 170 rounds of artillery on Yeonpyeong Island and the surrounding waters near the Yellow Sea border, with some 90 shells landing on the island. The attack resulted in the deaths of two marines and two civilians on the South Korean side, and fifteen marines and at least three civilians wounded.[53] The South fired back 80 shells, with unknown effects. North Korean news sources alleged that the North Korean actions, described as "a prompt and powerful physical strike", were in response to provocation from South Korea that had held an artillery exercise in the disputed waters south of the island.[54]

On the 17th of December 2011 the Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-il died from a heart attack.[55] His death was reported by the Korean Central News Agency around 08:30 local time with the newscaster announcing his youngest son Kim Jong-un as his successor.

The announcement placed South Korean and United States troops on high alert, with many politicians from the global community stating that Kim's death leaves a great deal of uncertainty in the country's future.[56] North Korea was put into a state of semi-alert, with foreigners put under suspicion and asked to leave.[57]


Lake Ch'ŏnji at Mount Paektu, North Korea's highest point

North Korea occupies the northern portion of the Korean Peninsula, lying between latitudes 37° and 43°N, and longitudes 124° and 131°E. It covers an area of 120,540 square kilometres (46,541 sq mi). North Korea shares land borders with China and Russia to the north, and borders South Korea along the Korean Demilitarized Zone. To its west are the Yellow Sea and Korea Bay, and to its east lies Japan across the Sea of Japan (East Sea of Korea). The highest point in North Korea is Baekdu Mountain at 2,744 metres (9,003 ft). The longest river is the Amnok River which flows for 790 kilometres (491 mi).[58] The capital and largest city is Pyongyang; other major cities include Kaesong in the south, Sinuiju in the northwest, Wonsan and Hamhung in the east and Chongjin in the northeast.


Topography of North Korea

Early European visitors to Korea remarked that the country resembled "a sea in a heavy gale" because of the many successive mountain ranges that crisscross the peninsula.[59] Some 80% of North Korea is composed of mountains and uplands, separated by deep and narrow valleys, with all of the peninsula's mountains with elevations of 2,000 metres (6,600 ft)* or more located in North Korea. The coastal plains are wide in the west and discontinuous in the east. A great majority of the population lives in the plains and lowlands.

The highest point in North Korea is Baekdu Mountain which is a volcanic mountain near the Chinese border with basalt lava plateau with elevations between 1,400 and 2,744 metres (4,593 and 9,003 ft)* above sea level.[59] The Hamgyong Range, located in the extreme northeastern part of the peninsula, has many high peaks including Gwanmosan at approximately 1,756 m (5,761 ft).

Other major ranges include the Rangrim Mountains, which are located in the north-central part of North Korea and run in a north-south direction, making communication between the eastern and western parts of the country rather difficult; and theKangnam Range, which runs along the North Korea–China border. Mount Kumgang, or Diamond Mountain, (approximately 1,638 metres or 5,374 feet) in the Taebaek Range, which extends into South Korea, is famous for its scenic beauty.[59]

For the most part, the plains are small. The most extensive are the Pyongyang and Chaeryong plains, each covering about 500 square kilometres (190 sq mi)*. Because the mountains on the east coast drop abruptly to the sea, the plains are even smaller there than on the west coast. Unlike neighboring Japan or northern China, North Korea experiences few severe earthquakes.


North Korea has a continental climate with four distinct seasons.[60] Long winters bring bitter cold and clear weather interspersed with snow storms as a result of northern and northwestern winds that blow from Siberia. Average snowfall is 37 days during the winter. The weather is likely to be particularly harsh in the northern, mountainous regions.

Summer tends to be short, hot, humid, and rainy because of the southern and southeastern monsoon winds that bring moist air from the Pacific Ocean. Typhoons affect the peninsula on an average of at least once every summer.[60]Spring and autumn are transitional seasons marked by mild temperatures and variable winds and bring the most pleasant weather. Natural hazards include late spring droughts which often are followed by severe flooding. There are occasional typhoons during the early fall.

North Korea's climate is relatively temperate. Most of the country is classified as type Dwa in the Köppen climate classification scheme, with warm summers and cold, dry winters. In summer there is a short rainy season calledchangma.[61] On August 7, 2007, the most devastating floods in 40 years caused the North Korean government to ask for international help. NGOs, such as the Red Cross, asked people to raise funds because they feared a humanitarian catastrophe.[62]

Administrative divisions[edit]

Map Namea Chosŏn'gŭl Hancha Administrative Seat
Capital city (chikhalsi)a
1 Pyongyang 평양직할시 平壤直轄市 (Chung-guyok)
Special city (teukbyeolsi)a
2 Rason 라선특별시 羅先特別市 (Rajin-guyok)
Provinces (do)a
3 South Pyongan 평안남도 平安南道 Pyongsong
4 North Pyongan 평안북도 平安北道 Sinuiju
5 Chagang 자강도 慈江道 Kanggye
6 South Hwanghae 황해남도 黃海南道 Haeju
7 North Hwanghae 황해북도 黃海北道 Sariwon
8 Kangwon 강원도 江原道 Wonsan
9 South Hamgyong 함경남도 咸鏡南道 Hamhung
10 North Hamgyong 함경북도 咸鏡北道 Chongjin
11 Ryanggang * 량강도 兩江道 Hyesan
* – Rendered in Southern dialects as "Yanggang" (양강도).

Government and politics[edit]

The Juche Tower ('Tower of Juche Idea').

North Korea is a self-described Juche (self-reliant) state,[63] described by some observers as a de facto absolute monarchy[64][65][66] or "hereditary dictatorship"[67] with a pronounced cult of personality organized around Kim Il-sung (the founder of North Korea and the country's onlypresident) and his late son, Kim Jong-il. North Korea uses a government system that also utilizes a Departmentalization system of Ministries. There are also those who reject the view that North Korea is acommunist state, instead claiming that the North Korean leadership uses communism as a justification for their rule.[68][69] More recent research based on North Korea’s domestic documents and not propaganda for the international audience, popularized in 2009 by Brian R. Myers and his book The Cleanest Race and later supported by further academics[70][71] even characterizes North Korea as a far-right national-socialist country heavily influenced by Japan of the 1930s.[72][73]

Following Kim Il-sung's death in 1994, he was not replaced but instead received the designation of "Eternal President", and was entombed in the vast Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in central Pyongyang.[74]

Although the office of the President is ceremonially held by the deceased Kim Il-sung,[75][76][77] the Supreme Leader until his death in December 2011 was Kim Jong-il, who was General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea and Chairman of the National Defence Commission of North Korea. The legislature of North Korea is the Supreme People's Assembly, currently led by Chairman Kim Yong-nam. The other senior government figure is Premier Choe Yong-rim.

The structure of the government is described in the Constitution of North Korea, the latest version of which is from 2009 and officially rejects North Korea's founding ideology of communism.[78] The governing party by law is the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland, a coalition of the Workers' Party of Korea and two other smaller parties, the Korean Social Democratic Party and the Chondoist Chongu Party. These parties nominate all candidates for office and hold all seats in the Supreme People's Assembly. They have negligible power, as the leader holds autocratic control over the nation's affairs.

In June 2009, it was reported in South Korean media that intelligence indicated that the country's next leader would be Kim Jong-un, the youngest of Kim Jong-il's three sons.[79] This was confirmed on 19 December 2011, following Kim Jong-il's death.[55][80] According to Cheong Seong-chang of Sejong Institute, speaking on June 25, 2012, there is some possibility that the new leader Kim Jong-un, who has greater visible interest in the welfare of his people and engages in greater interaction with them than his father did, will consider economic reforms and regularization of international relations.[81]

Political expression is tightly controlled in North Korea. Supporters of the government who deviate from the government line are subject to reeducation in sections of labor camps set aside for that purpose. Those who are successfully rehabilitated may reassume responsible government positions on their release.[82] Troublesome political dissidents, factionalists and class enemies, who are considered irredeemable are incarcerated together with any close family members or children born in the camp in "Total Control Zones" for life at hard labor. Labor camps in North Korea are actually areas of the country set aside for that purpose, Camp 22 (also known as Kwan-li-so No.22 Haengyong) is 31 miles by 25 miles with a population of about 50,000. Those who attempt to escape or violate camp rules are executed or sent to a separate prison within the camp. The labor camps are reserved for political prisoners; common criminals are incarcerated in a separate system.[83] There are 6 such areas in the northern and northeastern portion of North Korea.[84]

Factionalists or enemies of class, whoever they are, their seed must be eliminated through three generations. Kim Il Sung (1972)[83]

Foreign relations[edit]

Russian President, Vladimir Putin, meets with the Chairman of the National Defence Commission, Kim Jong-il, in Pyongyang, 2000.

North Korea has long maintained close relations with the People's Republic of China (PRC) and Russia. The fall of communism in eastern Europe in 1989, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, resulted in a devastating drop in aid to North Korea from Russia, although China continues to provide substantial assistance. North Korea continues to have strong ties with its socialist southeast Asian allies in Vietnam andLaos, as well as with Cambodia.[85] North Korea has started installing a concrete and barbed wire fence on its northern border, in response to China's wish to curb an overflow of illegal refugees from North Korea. Previously, the border between China and North Korea had only been lightly patrolled.[86]

As a result of the North Korean nuclear weapons program, the Six-party talks were established to find a peaceful solution to the growing tension between the two Korean governments, the Russian Federation, the People's Republic of China, Japan, and the United States.

On July 17, 2007, United Nations inspectors verified the shutdown of five North Korean nuclear facilities, according to the February 2007 agreement.[87] On October 4, 2007, South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il signed an 8-point peace agreement, on issues of permanent peace, high-level talks, economic cooperation, renewal of train, highway and air travel, and a joint Olympic cheering squad.[38]

The United States and South Korea previously designated the North as a state sponsor of terrorism.[88] The 1983 bombing that killed members of the South Korean government and the destruction of a South Korean airliner have been attributed to North Korea.[89] North Korea has also admitted responsibility for the kidnapping of 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s, five of whom were returned to Japan in 2002.[90] On October 11, 2008, the United States removed North Korea from its list of states that sponsor terrorism.[91]

In 2009, relationships between North and South Korea increased in intensity; North Korea had been reported to have deployed missiles,[92] ended its former agreements with South Korea,[93] and threatened South Korea and the United States not to interfere with a satellite launch it had planned.[94] North and South Korea are still technically at war (having never signed a peace treaty after the Korean War) and share the world’s most heavily fortified border.[95] On May 27, 2009, North Korean media declared that the Korean Armistice was no longer valid due to the South Korean government's pledge to "definitely join" the Proliferation Security Initiative.[citation needed] To further complicate and intensify strain between the two nations, the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in March 2010, killing 46 seamen, is as of May 20, 2010 claimed by a multi-national research team[96] to have been caused by a North Korean torpedo, which the North denies. South Korea agreed with the findings from the research group and President Lee Myung-bak declared in May 2010 that Seoul would cut all trade with North Korea as part of measures primarily aimed at striking back at North Korea diplomatically and financially.[97] As a result of this, North Korea severed all ties, completely abrogated the previous pact of non aggression and expelled all South Koreans from a joint industrial zone in Kaesong.[98] On November 23, 2010, North Korea attacked Yeonpyeong Island, further deteriorating the diplomatic relations with the South and other nations.[99]

Most of the foreign embassies connecting with diplomatic ties to North Korea are situated in Beijing (Capital of China) rather than in Pyongyang (Capital of DPRK).[100]


Ascribed status[edit]

Sneaker-wearing North Korean youths walking in Pyongyang.

All North Koreans are sorted into groups according to their Songbun, an ascribed status system. Based on their own behavior and the political, social, and economic background of their family for three generations as well as behavior by relatives within that range, Songbun is used to determine whether an individual is trusted with responsibility, given opportunities,[101] or even receives adequate food.[102][103]

Songbun affects access to educational and employment opportunities and particularly whether a person is eligible to join North Korea's ruling party.[101] There are 3 main classifications and about 50 sub-classifications. According to Kim Il-sung, speaking in 1958, the loyal "core class" constituted 25% of the North Korean population, the "wavering class" 55%, and the "hostile class" 20%.[102] The highest status is accorded to individuals descended from those who participated with Kim Il-sung in the resistance against Japanese occupation during and before World War II and to those who were factory workers, laborers or peasants as of 1950.[104]

A uniformed civilian man riding a bicycle in Pyongyang.

Human rights[edit]

Multiple international human rights organizations accuse North Korea of having one of the worst human rights records of any nation.[105] Amnesty International reports of severe restrictions on the freedom of association, expression and movement, arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment resulting in death, and executions.[106] The organization demands the closure of prison camps, where 200,000 political prisoners and their families exist in “the most inhuman conditions imaginable”.[107] North Koreans have been referred to as "some of the world's most brutalized people" by Human Rights Watch, due to the severe restrictions placed on their political and economic freedoms.[108]

Bribery became prevalent throughout the country.[109] In the 1990s just listening to South Korean radio could result in capital punishment.[citation needed] However, many North Koreans now illegally wear clothes of South Korean origin, listen to Southern music, watch South Korean videotapes and even receive Southern broadcasts.[110][111]

Political prison camps[edit]

Political prison camps in North Korea

The State Security Department of North Korea is responsible for several activities involving law enforcement and allegedly maintain various prison camps. North Korean defectors have testified to the existence of prisons and concentration camps[112] including "total control zones", (Kwan-li-so : 관리소), where political undesirables are imprisoned for life at hard labor and are subjected to reported torture, starvation, rape, murder, medical experimentation, forced labour, and forced abortions.[113] According to Amnesty International around 200,000 prisoners (about 0.85% of the population) are held in six large political prison camps,[114] being in operation since the 1950s. They are forced to work in conditions approaching slavery and are frequently subjected to torture and other cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.[115] Camp 14 in Kaechon,[116] Camp 15 in Yodok[117] and Camp 18 in Bukchang[118] are described in detailed testimonies.[113] People suspected not to be loyal to the regime, e. g. because they are Christians, or because they criticized the leadership,[114] are deported to these camps without trial,[119] often with their whole family and mostly without any chance to be released.[120] The International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK)estimates that over 10,000 people die in North Korean prison camps every year.[121]

Personality cult[edit]

The North Korean government exercises control over many aspects of the nation's culture, and this control is used to perpetuate a cult of personality surrounding Kim Il-sung,[122] and, to a lesser extent, Kim Jong-il.[123] While visiting North Korea in 1979, journalist Bradley Martin noted that nearly all music, art, and sculpture that he observed glorified "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung, whose personality cult was then being extended to his son, "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il.[124] Bradley Martin also reported that there is even widespread belief that Kim Il-sung "created the world", and Kim Jong-il could "control the weather".[124] Such reports, however, are contested by North Korea researcher Brian R. Myers: "divine powers have never been attributed to either of the two Kims. In fact, the propaganda apparatus in Pyongyang has generally been careful not to make claims that run directly counter to citizens’ experience or common sense."[125] He further explains that the state propaganda painted Kim Jong-il as someone whose expertise lay in military matters and that the famine of the 1990s was partially caused by natural disasters out of Kim Jong-il's control.[126]

A propaganda poster with Kim Il-sung's official portrait.

The song "No Motherland Without You" (당신이없으면 조국도없다), sung by the North Korean Army Choir, was created especially for Kim Jong-il and is one of the most popular tunes in the country. Kim Il-sung is still officially revered as the nation's "Eternal President". Several landmarks in North Korea are named for Kim Il-sung, including Kim Il-sung University, Kim Il-sung Stadium, and Kim Il-sung Square. Defectors have been quoted as saying that North Korean schools deify both father and son.[127] Kim Il-sung rejected the notion that he had created a cult around himself, and accused those who suggested this of "factionalism".[124] Following the death of Kim Il-Sung, North Koreans were prostrating and weeping to a bronze statue of him in an organized event;[128] similar scenes were broadcast by state television following the death of Kim Jong-il.

Critics maintain this Kim Jong-il personality cult was inherited from his father, Kim Il-sung. Kim Jong-il was often the center of attention throughout ordinary life in the DPRK. His birthday is one of the most important public holidays in the country. On his 60th birthday (based on his official date of birth), mass celebrations occurred throughout the country.[129] Kim Jong-il's personality cult, although significant, was not as extensive as his father's. In 2004, some of his official portraits were taken down from public buildings.[130] One point of view is that Kim Jong-il's cult of personality was solely out of respect for Kim Il-sung or out of fear of punishment for failure to pay homage.[25] Media and government sources from outside of North Korea generally support this view,[131][132][133][134][135] while North Korean government sources say that it is genuine hero worship.[136]

B.R. Myers also argues that the worship is real and not unlike worship of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany.[137] In a more recent event – on June 11, 2012 (2012-06-11) – a 14-year-old North Korean schoolgirl drowned while attempting to rescue portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il from a flood.[138]

Korean reunification[edit]

North Korea's policy is to seek reunification without what it sees as outside interference, through a federal structure retaining each side's leadership and systems. Both North and South Korea signed the June 15th North–South Joint Declaration in which both sides made promises to seek out a peaceful reunification.[139] The Democratic Federal Republic of Korea is a proposed state first mentioned by then North Korean president Kim Il-sung on October 10, 1980, proposing a federation between North and South Korea in which the respective political systems would initially remain.[140]


Korean People's Army soldiers observing the South Korean side of the DMZ

The Ministry of the People's Armed Forces maintains the Korean People's Army (KPA), which serves as the military force of the country. The Korean People's Army (KPA) is the name for the collective armed personnel of the North Korean military. It has five branches: Ground Force, Naval Force, Air Force, Special Operations Force, and Rocket Force. According to the U.S. Department of State, North Korea has the fourth-largest army in the world, at an estimated 1.21 million armed personnel, with about 20% of men aged 17–54 in the regular armed forces.[26] North Korea has the highest percentage of military personnel per capita of any nation in the world, with approximately one enlisted soldier for every 25 citizens.[27][141] North Korea also has a Defense Industry that is responsible for engineering military equipment. In 1994, North Korea received 10 Golf II Class Submarines from Russia.[142] However, news reports stated in later reports that the number of Golf class submarines actually totaled 40.[143]

Koksan, one of North Korea's principal heavy artillery pieces. This example was captured in Iraq.

Military strategy is designed for insertion of agents and sabotage behind enemy lines in wartime,[26] with much of the KPA's forces deployed along the heavily fortified Korean Demilitarized Zone. The Korean People's Army operates a very large amount of equipment, including 4,060 tanks, 2,500 APCs, 17,900 artillery pieces, 11,000 air defence guns and some 10,000 MANPADS and anti-tank guided missiles[144] in the Ground force; at least 915 vessels in the Navy and 1,748 aircraft in the Air Force,[145] of which 478 are fighters and 180 are bombers.[146] North Korea also has the largest special forces in the world, as well as the largest submarine fleet.[147] The equipment is a mixture of World War II vintage vehicles and small arms, widely proliferated Cold War technology, and more modern Soviet or locally produced weapons. In line with its asymmetric warfare strategy, North Korea has also developed a wide range of unconventional techniques and equipment, such as GPS jammers,[148] stealth paint,[149] midget submarines and human torpedoes,[150] a vast array of chemical and biological weapons,[151] and anti-personnel lasers.[152] According to official North Korean media, military expenditures for 2010 amount to 15.8% of the state budget.[153]

North Korea has active nuclear and ballistic missile weapons programs and has been subject to United Nations Security Council resolutions 1695 of July 2006, 1718 of October 2006, and 1874 of June 2009, for carrying out both missile and nuclear tests. North Korea probably has fissile material for up to nine nuclear weapons,[154] and has the capability to deploy nuclear warheads onintermediate-range ballistic missiles.[155]

Nuclear Capabilities[edit]

In the 1990s, North Korea sold medium-sized nuclear capable missiles to Pakistan in a deal facilitated by China.[156] In 2005, North Korea admitted to having nuclear weapons but vowed to close their nuclear programs.[157][158] The promise of a reduction in nuclear programs has also been reinforced at various Inter-Korean Summit meetings between North and South Korea since the year 2000. However, nuclear plants in North Korea have caused international concern since the 1950s as they are capable of assisting in the development of nuclear arms. International issues involving North Korea's refusal to discontinue nuclear projects have prevented Russia based Gazprom from developing a $2.5 billion pipeline to South Korea through Pyongyang. The revenue generated from Gazprom is intended to provide North Korea with $100 million per year in transit fees.[159][160]


The economy of North Korea operates under the Central Bank of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and issues the North Korean won. North Korea has an industrialised, near-autarkic, highly centralized command economy. North Korea is one of only two states (along with Cuba) with an almost entirely government-planned, state-owned economy. The Central Planning Committee prepares, supervises and implements economic plans, while a General Bureau of Provincial Industry in each region is responsible for the management of local manufacturing facilities, production, resource allocation and sales.[161]

An image of the Korean Peninsula at night rendered from NASA observations. The disparity in illumination levels is an indication of the differences between the North and South in population and, mostly, energy usage which is a certain indicator of economic activity.[162][163]

North Korea's isolation policy means that international trade is highly restricted. North Korea passed a law in 1984 allowing for foreign investment through joint ventures,[164] but failed to attract any significant investment. In 1991, it established the Rason Economic Special Zone,[165] in an attempt to attract foreign investment from China and Russia. Chinese and Russian companies have purchased rights to use the ports at Rason. Chinese investors are renovating a road from Rason to China,[166] and Russian railway workers are renovating the railway from Rason to Russia, from where it continues onto the Trans-Siberian Railway.[167]

Until 1998, the United Nations published HDI and GDP per capita figures for North Korea, which stood at a medium level of human development at 0.766 (ranked 75th) and a GDP per capita of $4,058.[168] The average salary was about $47 per month in 2004.[169] The average official salary in 2011 was equivalent to $2 per month while the actual monthly income seems to be around $15 because most North Koreans earn money in illegal small businesses: trade, subsistence farming, and handicrafts. The illegal economy is dominated by women because men have to attend their places of official work even though most of the factories are non-functioning.[170] It is estimated that in the early 2000s, the average North Korean family drew some 80% of its income from small businesses that are legal in market economies but illegal in North Korea.[171]

Despite substantial economic problems, quality of life was improving and wages were rising steadily in 2007.[172] Small-scale private markets, known as janmadang, exist throughout the country and provide the population with imported food and commodities ranging from cosmetics to motorcycles in exchange for money.[173][174] In 2009, the government carried out a currency redenomination with the aim to curb free market activity across the country, but the attempt failed, causing inflation rates to skyrocket, and eventually led to the lifting of the ban on free market trade.[175]

Food rations, housing, healthcare, and education are offered from the state for free,[176] and the payment of taxes has been abolished since April 1, 1974.[177] In order to increase productivity from agriculture and industry, since the 1960s the North Korean government has introduced a number of management systems such as the Taean work system.[178] In the 21st century, following a recovery in 1999, North Korea's GDP growth was slow but steady until 2005. Between 2006 and 2011 the majority of years have had negative growth.[179] In 2012 the Bank of Korea published the following estimates of North Korea's GDP growth:[180][181]

GDP Growth by year
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
0.3% 3.8% 1.2% 1.8% 2.1% 3.8% -1.0% -1.2% 3.1% -0.9% -0.5% 0.8%
Hungju collective chicken farm, Chagang Province.

According to estimates from 2002, the dominant sector in the North Korean economy is industry (43.1%), followed by services (33.6%) and agriculture (23.3%). In 2004, it was estimated that agriculture employed 37% of the workforce while industry and services employed the remaining 63%.[6] Major industries include military products, machine building, electric power, chemicals, mining, metallurgy, textiles, food processing and tourism. Iron ore and coalproduction are among the few sectors where North Korea performs significantly better than its southern neighbour – the DPRK produces about 10 times larger amounts of each resource.[182]

Rice yields are about 2.8 tonnes per hectare, about half that in most countries, with soil degradation, lack of fertilisers, and limited mechanisation blamed.[183] In 2005, North Korea was ranked by the FAO as an estimated 10th in the production of fresh fruit[184] and as an estimated 19th in the production of apples.[185] It has substantial natural resources and is the world's 18th largest producer of iron and zinc, having the 22nd largest coal reserves in the world. It is also the 15th largest fluorite producer and 12th largest producer of copper and salt in Asia. Other major natural resources in production include lead, tungsten, graphite, magnesite, gold, pyrites, fluorspar, and hydropower.[6]

Private commerce[edit]

A FamilyMart store in Kaesong Industrial Region, North Korea's light industry center.

In 1991, North Korea started experimenting with private capitalism in the Rajin-Sonbong Economic Special Zone, and in 2002 also set up the Kaesong Industrial Region.[186] A small number of other areas have been designated as Special Administrative Regions. China and South Korea are the biggest trade partners of North Korea, with trade with China increasing 15% to US$1.6 billion in 2005, and trade with South Korea increasing 50% to over 1 billion for the first time in 2005.[187] China is North Korea's closest economic partner, with 73% of North Korea's foreign trade being conducted with this country.[188]

In 2000, the Centre for the Study of the Capitalist System was established.[189] Increasingly more foreign-invested joint ventures have been set up since 2002.[190] The Pyongyang Business School was established by the Swiss government to help teach students business management.[191]

Generic paracetamol tablets made in the DPRK by a joint venture company

A small number of capitalistic elements are gradually spreading from the trial area, including a number of advertising billboards along certain highways. Recent visitors have reported that the number of open-air farmers' markets has increased inKaesong and Pyongyang, as well as along the China-North Korea border, bypassing the food rationing system. In addition to food aid, China reportedly provides an estimated 80 to 90 percent of North Korea's oil imports at "friendly prices" that are sharply lower than the world market price.[192]

North Korea also has a cartoon animation industry, sub-contracting work from South Korean animation studios.[193]


The Mount Kumgang Tourist Region was popular among South Korean tourists until its suspension in 2008

Tourism in North Korea is organized by the state-owned Korea International Travel Company. All tourists/visitors are constantly accompanied by one or two guides, who usually speak the tourist's native language. While tourism has increased over the last few years, tourists from Western countries remain few.

Most visitors come from China, Russia, and Japan. For citizens of South Korea, it is almost impossible to get a visa to North Korea; they can get entry permits to special tourist areas designated for South Koreans, such as Kaesong. United States citizens were also subject to visa restrictions, allowed to visit only during the yearly Arirang Festival; these restrictions were lifted in January 2010. Fewer than 2,500 United States citizens have visited North Korea since 1953.[194]

In the area of Mount Kumgang, the company Hyundai established and operates a special tourist area. Travel to this area is possible for South Koreans and United States citizens, but only in organized groups from South Korea. A special administrative region, the Mount Kumgang Tourist Region, exists for this purpose. Trips to the region were suspended after a South Korean woman who wandered into a controlled military zone was shot dead by border guards in late 2008.[195] When tours had not resumed by May 2010, North Korea announced that it would seize South Korean real estate assets in the region.[196]


In North Korea, there are hotels such as the Ryugyong Hotel, although foreign visitors are often prohibited. There are also hotels throughout the country and are often provided with a title of the province within the province.[197]


In the 1990s North Korea faced significant economic disruptions, including a series of natural disasters, economic mismanagement and serious resource shortages after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. These resulted in a shortfall of staplegrain output of more than 1 million tons from what the country needs to meet internationally accepted minimum dietary requirements.[198] The North Korean famine known as "Arduous March" resulted in the deaths of between 300,000 and 800,000 North Koreans per year during the three year famine, peaking in 1997.[16] The deaths were most likely caused by famine-related illnesses such aspneumonia, tuberculosis, and diarrhea rather than starvation.[16]

In 2006, Amnesty International reported that a national nutrition survey conducted by the North Korean government, the World Food Programme, and UNICEF found that 7% of children were severelymalnourished; 37% were chronically malnourished; 23.4% were underweight; and one in three mothers was malnourished and anaemic as the result of the lingering effect of the famine. The inflation caused by some of the 2002 economic reforms, including the Songun or "Military-first" policy, was cited for creating the increased price of basic foods.[199]

The history of Japanese assistance to North Korea has been marked with challenges; from a large pro-Pyongyang community of Koreans in Japan to public outrage over the 1998 North Korean missile launch and revelations regarding the abduction of Japanese citizens.[200] In June 1995 an agreement was reached that the two countries would act jointly.[200] South Korea would provide 150,000 MT of grain in unmarked bags, and Japan would provide 150,000 MT gratis and another 150,000 MT on concessional terms.[200] In October 1995 and January 1996, North Korea again approached Japan for assistance. On these two occasions, both of which came at crucial moments in the evolution of the famine, opposition from both South Korea and domestic political sources quashed the deals.[200]

Beginning in 1997, the U.S. began shipping food aid to North Korea through the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to combat the famine. Shipments peaked in 1999 at nearly 700,000 tons making the U.S. the largest foreign aid donor to the country at the time. Under the Bush Administration, aid was drastically reduced year after year from 350,000 tons in 2001 to 40,000 in 2004.[201] The Bush Administration took criticism for using "food as a weapon" during talks over the North's nuclear weapons program, but insisted the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) criteria were the same for all countries and the situation in North Korea had "improved significantly since its collapse in the mid-1990s." Agricultural production had increased from about 2.7 million metric tons in 1997 to 4.2 million metric tons in 2004.[202]

Crime and law enforcement[edit]

The Ministry of People's Security maintains all law enforcement activities at the local level, which includes police and other initiatives. There is also a State Security Department that operates in a similar way to an "Office of the Interior" located in other countries.

Media and telecommunications[edit]


North Korean media are under some of the strictest government control in the world. The North Korean constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press; but the government prohibits the exercise of these rights in practice. In its 2010 report, Reporters without Borders ranked freedom of the press in North Korea as 177th out of 178, above only that of Eritrea.[203] Only news that favors the regime is permitted, while news that covers the economic and political problems in the country, and foreign criticism of the government, are not allowed.[204] The media upheld the personality cult of Kim Jong-un, regularly reporting on his daily activities. The main news provider to media in the DPRK is the Korean Central News Agency.

North Korea has 12 principal newspapers and 20 major periodicals, all of varying periodicity and all published in Pyongyang.[205] Newspapers include the Rodong Sinmun, Joson Inmingun, Minju Choson, and Rodongja Sinmum. No private press is known to exist.[206]

In January 2012, the Associated Press opened a bureau in Pyongyang for full news coverage within North Korea.[207][208]

"A Quiet Opening: North Koreans in a Changing Media Environment" a study commissioned by the U.S. State Department and conducted by Intermedia and released May 10, 2012 shows that despite extremely strict regulations and draconian penalties North Koreans, particularly elite elements, have increasing access to news and other media outside the state-controlled media authorized by the government. While access to the internet is tightly controlled, listening to the radio and viewing DVDs is widespread while in border areas receiving television broadcasts from neighbouring states is also possible.[209][210]


It has been reported that North Korea uses "radio jamming" techniques in order to prevent access to non-nationalist broadcasts. However, a group by the name of Free North Korea Radio conducts numerous activities that focus on providing a free radio station to North Koreans. The broadcasts often include instructions on methods to leave the country and their faction has contact with underground reporters within North Korea. The group primarily consists of numerousNorth Korean refugees and defectors.[211][212]


In North Korea, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications maintains the phone systems within the country and oversees the Postal Service. North Korea has an adequate telephone system, with 1.18 million fixed lines available in 2008.[213] However, most phones are only installed for senior government officials. Someone wanting a phone installed must fill out a form indicating their rank, why he wants a phone, and how he will pay for it.[214] The number of mobile phones in Pyongyang rose from 3,000 in 2002 to approximately 20,000 in 2004.[215]


North Korea has a 3G network for cell phones that provides service to over 1 million subscribers as of February 2012. The service is provided by Koryolink, a venture between the North Korean government and Egypt based Orascom Telecom Holdingwhich is owned by Naguib Sawiris. In May 2010, more than 120,000 North Koreans owned mobile phones;[216] this number had increased to 301,000 by September 2010,[217] 660,000 by August 2011,[218]and 900,000 by December 2011.[219] Restrictions have included a ban on cell phones from 2004-2008 and the removal of internet access from individual phones.[220][221]


North Korea's first Internet café opened in 2002 as a joint venture with a South Korean Internet company, Hoonnet. The former CEO of Hoonnet was Kim Beom-hoon.[222] Ordinary North Koreans do not have access to the global Internet network, but are provided with a nationwide, public-use Intranet service called Kwangmyong, which features domestic news, an e-mail service, and censored information from foreign websites (mostly scientific).[223] The computers primarily use Red Star OS as an operating system.[221]


Puhŭng station of the Pyongyang Metro.

Two of the few ways to enter North Korea are over the Sino-Korea Friendship Bridge or via Panmunjeom, the former crossing the Amnok River and the latter crossing the Demilitarized Zone.

On October 13, 2011 a train from the Russian border settlement of Khasan made an inaugural run to Rajin in North Korea. The 54 kilometer newly repaired link of the Trans-Korean Main Line was the first step in an effort to rebuild the Trans-Korean rail and integrate it into the Trans-Siberian railroad.[224]

Private cars in North Korea are a rare sight, but as of 2008 some 70% of households used bicycles, which also play an increasingly important role in small-scale private trade.[225] Very few cars and light trucks are made in a joint-venture between Pyeonghwa Motors of South Korea, and the North Korean Ryonbong General Corpat a facility in Nampo North Korea.[226] Another local producer of vehicles is Sungri Motor Plant, which manufactures civilian vehicles and heavy trucks.

There is a mix of locally built and imported trolleybuses and trams in urban centers in North Korea. Earlier fleets were obtained in Europe and China, but the trade embargo has forced North Korea to build their own vehicles.

Rail transport[edit]

A train in North Korea

Choson Cul Minzuzui Inmingonghoagug is the only rail operator in North Korea. It has a network of 5,200 km (3,200 mi) of track with 4,500 km (2,800 mi) in standard gauge.[227] There is a small narrow gauge railway in operation in Haeju peninsula.[227]The railway fleet consists of a mix of electric and steam locomotives. Cars are mostly made in North Korea using Soviet and Chinese designs. There are some locomotives from Imperial Japan, the United States, and Europe remaining in use. Second-hand Chinese locomotives (early DF4Bs, BJ Hydraulics, etc.) have also been spotted in active service.

People traveling from the capital Pyongyang to other regions in North Korea typically travel by rail. However, in order to travel out of Pyongyang, people need an official travel certificate, ID, and a purchased ticket in advance. Due to lack of maintenance on the road infrastructure and vehicles, the travel time by rail is increasing. It has been reported that the 120 mile (193 km) trip from Pyongyang to Kaesong can take up to 6 hours.[228]

Marine transport[edit]

A North Korean cargo ship off the coast of Somalia

Water transport on the major rivers and along the coasts plays a growing role in freight and passenger traffic. Except for the Yalu and Taedong rivers, most of the inland waterways, totaling 2,253 kilometres (1,400 mi)*, are navigable only by small boats. Coastal traffic is heaviest on the eastern seaboard, whose deeper waters can accommodate larger vessels. The major ports are Nampho on the west coast and Rajin, Chongjin, Wonsan, and Hamhung on the east coast. The country's harbor loading capacity in the 1990s was estimated at almost 35 million tons a year.[229]

In the early 1990s, North Korea possessed an oceangoing merchant fleet, largely domestically produced, of sixty-eight ships (of at least 1,000 gross-registered tons), totaling 465,801 gross-registered tons (709,442 t DWT), which includes fifty-eight cargo ships and two tankers. There is a continuing investment in upgrading and expanding port facilities, developing transportation—particularly on the Taedong River—and increasing the share of international cargo by domestic vessels.[230]

Air transport[edit]

The departure lounge at Sunan International Airport

There are several North Korean Airports, although international air connections are limited. There are regularly scheduled flights from the Sunan International Airport – 24 kilometres (15 mi)* north of Pyongyang – to Moscow, Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, Bangkok, Beijing, Dalian, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, Shenyang along with seasonal services to Singapore and charter flights from Sunan to numerous Asian and European destinations including Tokyo and Nagoya. Regular charters to existing scheduled services are operated as per demand. An agreement to initiate a service between Pyongyang and Tokyo was signed in 1990. Internal flights are available betweenPyongyang, Hamhung, Haeju, Kaesong, Kanggye, Kilju, Nampho, Sinuiju, Samjiyon, Wonsan, and Chongjin.[231]

All civil aircraft are operated by Air Koryo: 38 aircraft in 2010, which were purchased from the Soviet Union and Russia. From 1976 to 1978, four Tu-154 jets were added to the 7 of propeller-driven An-24s and 2 Ilyushin Il-18's afterwards adding four long-range Ilyushin Il-62M, three Ilyushin Il-76MD large cargo aircraft. In 2008 a long range Tupolev Tu-204-300's purchased along with a larger version the Tupolev Tu-204-100B in 2010.[229]


Population pyramid of North Korea

North Korea's population of roughly 24 million is one of the most ethnically and linguistically homogeneous in the world, with very small numbers of Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, South Korean, and European expatriate minorities.

According to the CIA World Factbook, North Korea's life expectancy was 63.8 years in 2009, a figure roughly equivalent to that of Pakistan and Burma and slightly lower than Russia.[232] Infant mortality stood at a high level of 51.3, which is 2.5 times higher than that of China, 5 times that of Russia, and 12 times that of South Korea.[233]

According to the UNICEF "The State of the world's Children 2003" North Korea appears ranked at the 73rd place (with first place having the highest mortality rate), between Guatemala (72nd) and Tuvalu (74th).[233][234] North Korea's total fertility rate is relatively low and stood at 2.0 in 2009, comparable to those of the United States and France.[235]


Prefabricated apartments house a large portion of the population. Housing in North Korea is free, but cramped as with many other Asian nations.[236]

North Korea shares the Korean language with South Korea. There are dialect differences within both Koreas, but the border between North and South does not represent a major linguistic boundary. While prevalent in the South, the adoption of modern terms from foreign languages has been limited in North Korea. Hanja (Chinese characters) are no longer used in North Korea (ever since 1949), although still occasionally used in South Korea. In South Korea, knowledge of Chinese writing is viewed as a measure of intellectual achievement and level of education. Both Koreas share the phonetic writing system called Chosongul in the north and Hangul south of the DMZ. The official Romanizationdiffers in the two countries, with North Korea using a slightly modified McCune-Reischauer system, and the South using the Revised Romanization of Korean. The move toward prohibiting both Roman and Chinese based characters in North Korea has led to the creation of a number of words and phrases not common in the southern half of the peninsula or in Korean communities abroad.


Both Koreas share a Buddhist and Confucian heritage and a recent history of Christian and Cheondoism ("religion of the Heavenly Way") movements. The North Korean constitution states that freedom of religion is permitted.[237] According to the Western standards of religion, the majority of the North Korean population could be characterized as irreligious.[citation needed] However, the cultural influence of such traditional religions as Buddhism and Confucianism still have an effect on North Korean spiritual life.[238][239][240]

Nevertheless, Buddhists in North Korea reportedly fare better than other religious groups, particularly Christians, who are said to face persecution by the authorities. Buddhists are given limited funding by the government to promote the religion, because Buddhism played an integral role in traditional Korean culture.[241]

An ancient relief image of the Buddha, Mount Kumgang

According to Human Rights Watch, free religious activities no longer exist in North Korea, as the government sponsors religious groups only to create an illusion of religious freedom.[242] According to Religious Intelligence the situation of religion in North Korea is the following:[243]

  • Irreligion: 15,460,000 (64.3% of population, the vast majority of which are adherents of the Juche philosophy)
  • Korean shamanism: 3,846,000 adherents (16% of population)
  • Cheondoism: 3,245,000 adherents (13.5% of population)
  • Buddhism: 1,082,000 adherents (4.5% of population)
  • Christianity: 406,000 adherents (1.7% of population)

Pyongyang was the center of Christian activity in Korea until 1945. From the late forties 166 priests and other religious figures were killed or disappeared in concentration camps, including Francis Hong Yong-ho, bishop of Pyongyang[244] and all monks of Tokwon abbey.[245] No Catholic priest survived the persecution, all churches were destroyed and the government never allowed any foreign priest to set up in North Korea.[246]

Today, four state-sanctioned churches exist, which freedom of religion advocates say are showcases for foreigners.[247][248] Official government statistics report that there are 10,000 Protestantsand 4,000 Roman Catholics in North Korea.[249]

According to a ranking published by Open Doors, an organization that supports persecuted Christians, North Korea is currently the country with the most severe persecution of Christians in the world.[250] Open Doors estimates that 50,000–70,000 Christians are detained in North Korean prison camps.[251] Human rights groups such as Amnesty International also have expressed concerns about religious persecution in North Korea.[252]


A young girl in a school in Mangyongdae

Education in North Korea is free of charge,[253] compulsory until the secondary level, and is controlled by the government. The state also used to provide school uniforms free of charge until the early 1990s.[254] Heuristics is actively applied in order to develop the independence and creativity of students.[255] Compulsory education lasts eleven years, and encompasses one year of preschool, four years of primary education and six years of secondary education. The school curriculum has both academic and political content.[256] North Korea is one of the most literate countries in the world, with an average literacy rate of 99%.[6]

Primary schools are known as people's schools, and children attend them from the age of 6 to 9. Then from age 10 to 16, they attend either a regular secondary school or a special secondary school, depending on their specialties.

Higher Education[edit]

Higher education is not compulsory in North Korea. It is composed of two systems: academic higher education and higher education for continuing education. The academic higher education system includes three kinds of institutions:universities, professional schools, and technical schools. Graduate schools for master's and doctoral level studies are attached to universities, and are for students who want to continue their education. Two notable universities in the DPRK are the Kim Il-sung University and Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, both in Pyongyang. The former, founded in October 1946, is an elite institution whose enrollment of 16,000 full- and part-time students in the early 1990s occupies, in the words of one observer, the "pinnacle of the North Korean educational and social system."[257] There is also a University called the Kim Chaek University of Technology that specializes in information technology and nuclear research.[258]

Health care[edit]

A dental cabinet at one of North Korea's major hospitals

North Korea has a national medical service and health insurance system.[259] North Korea spends 3% of its gross domestic product on health care. Beginning in the 1950s, the DPRK put great emphasis on healthcare, and between 1955 and 1986, the number of hospitals grew from 285 to 2,401, and the number of clinics – from 1,020 to 5,644.[260] There are hospitals attached to factories and mines. Since 1979 more emphasis has been put on traditional Korean medicine, based on treatment with herbs and acupuncture.

North Korea's healthcare system has been in a steep decline since the 1990s due to natural disasters, economic problems, and food and energy shortages. Many hospitals and clinics in North Korea now lack essential medicines, equipment, running water and electricity.[261]

Almost 100% of the population has access to water and sanitation, but it is not completely potable. Infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, malaria, and hepatitis B, are considered to be endemic to the country.[262] Life expectancy in North Korea is 63.81 years, occupying the 169th place in the world, according to 2011 estimates.[232]

Among other health problems, many North Korean citizens suffer from the after effects of malnutrition, caused by famines related to the failure of its food distribution program and "military first" policy. A 1998 United Nations (UN) World Food Program report revealed that 60% of children suffered from malnutrition, and 16% were acutely malnourished. As a result, those who suffered during the disaster have ongoing health problems.

Culture and arts[edit]

Kim Chaek University e-Library in Pyongyang

North Korea shares its traditional culture with South Korea, but the two Koreas have developed distinct contemporary forms of culture since the peninsula was divided in 1945. Historically, while the culture of Korea has been influenced by that of neighbouring China, it has nevertheless managed to develop a unique and distinct cultural identity from its larger neighbour.[263]

Literature and arts in North Korea are state-controlled, mostly through the Propaganda and Agitation Department or the Culture and Arts Department of the Central Committee of the KWP.[264]

Korean culture came under attack during the Japanese rule from 1910 to 1945. Japan enforced a cultural assimilation policy. During the Japanese rule, Koreans were encouraged to learn and speak Japanese, adopt the Japanese family name system and Shinto religion, and were forbidden to write or speak the Korean language in schools, businesses, or public places.[265] In addition, the Japanese altered or destroyed various Korean monuments includingGyeongbok Palace and documents which portrayed the Japanese in a negative light were revised.

In July 2004, the Complex of Goguryeo Tombs became the first site in the country to be included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

Scene from the Mass Games
A drawing in one of the chambers of the Goguryeo tombs.

In February 2008, The New York Philharmonic Orchestra became the first US orchestra to perform in North Korea,[266] albeit for a handpicked "invited audience."[267] The concert was broadcast on national television.[268] The Christian rock band Casting Crowns played at the annual Spring Friendship Arts Festival in April 2007, held in Pyongyang.[269]

A popular event in North Korea is the Mass Games. The most recent and largest Mass Games was called "Arirang". It was performed six nights a week for two months, and involved over 100,000 performers. Attendees to this event in recent years report that the anti-West sentiments have been toned down compared to previous performances. The Mass Games involve performances of dance, gymnastics, and choreographic routines which celebrate the history of North Korea and the Workers' Party Revolution. The Mass Games are held in Pyongyang at various venues (varying according to the scale of the Games in a particular year) including the Rungrado May Day Stadium, which is the largest stadium in the world with a capacity of 150,000 people. In addition, a Kim Chaek People's Stadium was built for events at 40°41'0"N 129°11'47"E.

North Korea employs artists to produce art for export at the Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang. Over 1,000 artists are employed. Products include water colors, ink drawings, posters, mosaics and embroidery. Socialist realism is the approved style with North Korea being portrayed as prosperous and progressive and its citizens as happy and enthusiastic. Traditional Korean designs and themes are present most often in the embroidery. The artistic and technical quality of the works produced is very high but other than a few wealthy South Korean collectors there is a limited market due to public taste and reluctance of states and collectors to financially support the regime.[270]


North Korea (in red) playing against Brazil in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

Perhaps the most well known sporting event in North Korea is the annual Arirang Festival. The main attraction of Arirang is the mass gymnastics display. In football, fifteen clubs compete in the DPR Korea League level-one and vie for both the Technical Innovation Contests and the Republic Championship. The national football team, Chollima, compete in the AFC and are ranked 105 by FIFA as of 26 May 2010. The team competed in the FIFA World Cup in 1966 and 2010. In hockey, North Korea has a men’s team that is ranked 43rd out of 49[271] and competes in Division II. The women’s team is ranked 21 out of 34[272] and competes in Division II.

North Korea has been competing in the Olympics since 1964 and debuted at the summer games in 1972 by taking home five medals, including one gold. The IOC Code isPRK.

North Korea boycotted the 1988 Summer Olympics in neighboring Seoul.

At the Athens Games in 2004, the North and South marched together in the opening and closing ceremonies under the Unification Flag, but competed separately. To date, North Korea has medaled in every summer Olympics in which they have participated.

The martial art taekwondo originated in Korea. In the 1950s and 1960s, modern rules were standardised and taekwondo became an official Olympic sport in 2000. Other Korean martial arts include taekkyeon,hapkido, tang soo do, kuk sool won, kumdo and subak.

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]


Category:1948 in North Korea Category:Article Feedback 5 Additional Articles Category:Divided regions Category:East Asian countries Category:Member states of the United Nations Category:Republics Category:Single-party states Category:States and territories established in 1948