North Korea

From New World Encyclopedia

For the history of Korea, see Korea.
Chosŏn Minjujuŭi Inmin Konghwaguk[1]
Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Flag of North Korea Emblem of North Korea
(English: Powerful and Prosperous Nation),
Anthem: 애국가
(tr.: Aegukka)
(English: The Patriotic Song)

Location of North Korea
(and largest city)
39°2′N 125°45′E
Official languages Korean
Official scripts Chosŏn'gŭl
Ethnic groups  Korean
Demonym North Korean, Korean
Government Juche unitary single-party state
 -  Eternal President Kim Il-sung[a]
 -  Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un
 -  Chairman of the Presidium Kim Yong-nam[b]
 -  Premier Pak Pong-ju
Legislature Supreme People's Assembly
 -  Independence declared March 1, 1919 
 -  Liberation August 15, 1945 
 -  Formal declaration September 9, 1948 
 -  Total 120,540 km² (98th)
46,528 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 4.87
 -  2017 estimate 25,248,140[2] (51st)
 -  2008 census 24,052,231[3] 
 -  Density 198.3/km² (63rd)
513.8/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2015 estimate
 -  Total $40 billion[2] (118)
 -  Per capita $1,700[2] (214)
Gini  N/A 
Currency North Korean won (₩) (KPW)
Time zone Korea Standard Time (UTC+9)
Internet TLD .kp
Calling code [[+850]]
^  a. Died 1994, named "Eternal President" in 1998.
^  b. 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.

North Korea, officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (the DPRK), is an East Asian country in the northern half of the Korean Peninsula, with its capital in the city of Pyongyang. At its northern border are China on the Yalu River and Russia on the Tumen River, in the far northeastern corner of the country. To the south, it is bordered by South Korea, with which it formed one nation until the division following World War II.

The history of North Korea formally began with the establishment of the Soviet-back communist Democratic People's Republic in 1948. It is now a single-party socialist state led by the Korean Workers' Party (KWP) and following the Juche ideology of self-reliance, developed by the country's first and only President, Kim Il-sung. North Korea is the most secretive nation in the world, with state control over almost all activities within the country and severely restricted access to those outside. It is the world's most militarized nation, and has active nuclear and ballistic missile weapons programs.

Despite the Korean War and continuing hostile incidents since the armistice which left the two Koreas permanently separated by the DMZ and technically still at war, both North and South Korea remain committed to reunification of the Korean peninsula. They share the 5,000 year-old traditional culture of Korea, and, although the political separation of the two nations has created two distinct contemporary cultures, their historical common ground remains evident. A reunited Korea, with North Korea re-opened to the world, is widely regarded to be the linchpin in the creation of a stable and prosperous Northeast Asian community and a key development towards world peace.


See also: History of Korea  and Division of Korea

Emergence of North Korea

The Korean Peninsula was governed as a single nation by the Korean Empire when it was annexed by Japan after the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. In the aftermath of this Japanese occupation, which ended with Japan's defeat in World War II in 1945, Korea was divided in two along the 38th parallel; the Soviet Union controlled the area north of the parallel and the United States controlled the area south of the 38th parallel. Virtually all Koreans welcomed liberation from Japanese imperial rule, yet objected to re-imposition of foreign rule upon the peninsula.

The Soviets and Americans disagreed on the implementation of Joint Trusteeship over Korea, with each imposing its socio-economic and political system upon its jurisdiction, leading, in 1948, to the establishment of ideologically opposed governments.[4] Growing tensions and border skirmishes between north and south led to the civil war called the Korean War.

On June 25, 1950 the (North) Korean People's Army crossed the 38th Parallel in a war of peninsular reunification under their political system. The war continued until July 27, 1953, when the United Nations Command, the Korean People's Army, and the Chinese People's Volunteers signed the Korean War Armistice Agreement. Since that time the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) has separated the North and South.

Economic evolution

In the aftermath of the Korean War and throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the country's state-controlled economy grew at a significant rate and, until the late 1970s, was considered to be stronger than that of the South. The country struggled throughout the 1990s, primarily due to the loss of strategic trade arrangements with the USSR and strained relations with China following China's normalization with South Korea in 1992.[5] In addition, North Korea experienced record-breaking floods (1995 and 1996) followed by several years of equally severe drought beginning in 1997.[6] This, compounded with only 18 percent arable land[7] and an inability to import the goods necessary to sustain industry,[8] led to an immense famine and left North Korea in economic shambles. Large numbers of North Koreans illegally entered the People's Republic of China in search of food. Faced with a country in decay, Kim Jong-il adopted a "Military-First" policy to strengthen the country and reinforce the regime.

Moves toward reunification

Despite existing as independent, sovereign nations, both governments proclaim as a goal the eventual reunification of Korea as a single state. Koreans, unified since the Goryeo Dynasty in 936 C.E. until the division of Korea at the end of World War II, have a powerful natural desire to reunify. They share a common history, culture, and language. An independent, reunited Korea is widely regarded by powers around the world to be the linchpin in the creation of a dynamic and integrated Northeast Asian community. Today's Korean peninsula has the potential to be the "center of ways of thinking and acting on a pan-regional level."[9]

Despite an expanse of more than half a century since the division, declaratory unification positions of each Korea evolved mostly in form, but little in substance. North Korea has steadfastly sought to reunify the Korean peninsula under the flag of North Korean socialist juche ideology by military might while the South insists upon the democratization of Korea by peaceful means. The most important change in that entire time span was the collapse of the Soviet empire ending the Cold War, along with the rise of China, which both occurred in the early 1990s and had significant impact on the geopolitics of the region. The late 1990s saw the institution of the "Sunshine policy," articulated by then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung emphasizing peaceful cooperation, seeking short-term reconciliation as a prelude to eventual Korean reunification. In 2000, Kim Dae-jung received the Nobel Peace Prize for his Sunshine Policy initiative. However, following continued provocation by the North, with the election of Lee Myung-bak to the South Korean presidency in 2008 the Sunshine policy was ended.

A new "window of opportunity" for talks on reunification arose with the death of Kim Jong-il in December 2011 and his successor, youngest son Kim Jong-un, took over the leadership; an opportunity for not only South Korea but also China, the United States, and Japan to re-engage in dialogue about the future of the peninsula.[10]


Map of North Korea

North Korea is on the northern portion of the Korean Peninsula. North Korea shares land borders with China and Russia to the north, and with South Korea to the south. To its west are the Yellow Sea and Korea Bay, and to its east is the Sea of Japan. Japan lies east of the peninsula across the Sea of Japan.

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.

Major rivers include the Tumen and the Yalu.

Some 80 percent 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 meters (6,600 ft) or more located in North Korea. The coastal plains are wide in the west and discontinuous in the east. The highest point in Korea is the Paektu-san at 2,744 meters (9,003 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 the Kangnam Range, which runs along the North Korea–China border. Geumgangsan, often written Mt Kumgang, or Diamond Mountain, (approximately 1,638 meters (5,370 ft)) in the Taebaek Range which extends into South Korea, is famous for its scenic beauty.


North Korea has a continental climate with four distinct seasons. 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. 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 called changma.[11]

Administrative divisions

Main article: Provinces of Korea

North Korea is divided into nine provinces, three special regions, and two directly-governed cities (chikhalsi, 직할시, 直轄市)

Administrative map of North Korea.
Province Transliteration Hangul Hanja
Chagang Chagang-do 자강도 慈江道
North Hamgyŏng Hamgyŏng-pukto 함경북도 咸鏡北道
South Hamgyŏng Hamgyŏng-namdo 함경남도 咸鏡南道
North Hwanghae Hwanghae-pukto 황해북도 黃海北道
South Hwanghae Hwanghae-namdo 황해남도 黃海南道
Kangwŏn Kangwŏndo 강원도 江原道
North P'yŏngan P'yŏngan-pukto 평안북도 平安北道
South P'yŏngan P'yŏngan-namdo 평안남도 平安南道
Ryanggang Ryanggang-do 량강도 兩江道

* Sometimes rendered "Yanggang" (양강도).

Special regions
Region Transliteration Hangul Hanja
Kaesŏng Industrial Region Kaesŏng Kong-ŏp Chigu 개성공업지구 開城工業地區
Kŭmgangsan Tourist Region Kŭmgangsan Kwangwang Chigu 금강산관광지구 金剛山觀光地區
Sinŭiju Special Administrative Region Sinŭiju T'ŭkpyŏl Haengjŏnggu 신의주특별행정구 新義州特別行政區
Directly-governed cities
City Transliteration Hangul Hanja
P'yŏngyang P'yŏngyang Chikhalsi 평양직할시 平壤直轄市
Rasŏn (Rajin-Sŏnbong) Rasŏn (Rajin-Sŏnbong) Chikhalsi 라선(라진-선봉)직할시 羅先(羅津-先鋒)直轄市

Major cities

  • Sinuiju
  • Kaesong
  • Nampho
  • Chongjin
  • Wonsan
  • Sariwon
  • Hoeryong
  • Hamhung
  • Haeju
  • Kanggye
  • Hyesan
  • Kimchaek
  • Kangso

Government and politics

The Tower of Juche Idea in Pyongyang.

North Korea is a self-described Juche (self-reliant) socialist state,[12] described by some observers as a de facto absolute monarchy[13][14] or "hereditary dictatorship" with a pronounced cult of personality organized around Kim Il-sung (the founder of North Korea and the country's only president) and his son and heir, Kim Jong-il, and continuing with Kim Jong-Un, son of Kim Jong-Il.[15]

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 Memorial Palace in central Pyongyang; his song, Kim Jong-Il, is also to be enshrined there as the country's "eternal leader."[16]

Although the office of the President is ceremonially held by the deceased Kim Il-sung,[12] 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.

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 as based on Communism while maintaining it is a socialist state; at the same time the revised constitution firmly placed power in the hands of Kim Jong-il as its “supreme leader” and made his “military first” policy its guiding ideology.[17] 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.

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.[18] This was confirmed on December 19, 2011, following Kim Jong-il's death.[19]

Human rights

A uniformed civilian man riding a bicycle in Pyongyang. Uniforms such as this one are part of the nationally mandated dress code.

Multiple international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have accused North Korea of having one of the worst human rights records of any nation. North Korean defectors have testified to the existence of prisons and concentration camps[20] with an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 inmates,[21] and have reported torture, starvation, rape, murder, medical experimentation, forced labor, and forced abortions. Convicted political prisoners and their families are sent to these camps, where they are prohibited from marrying, required to grow their own food, and cut off from external communication.

The system changed slightly at the end of 1990s, when population growth became very low. In many cases, capital punishment was replaced by less severe punishments. Bribery became prevalent throughout the country.[22] Today, many North Koreans now illegally wear clothes of South Korean origin, listen to Southern music, watch South Korean videotapes and even receive Southern broadcasts.[23][24]

Foreign relations

Kim Jong-il and Vladimir Putin in 2002.

Since the cease fire of the Korean War in 1953, the North Korean government has been at odds with the United States, Japan, and South Korea (with whom it remains technically at war). The highest-level contact the government has had with that of the United States was with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who made a 2000 visit to Pyongyang; the countries do not have formal diplomatic relations. North Korea's relations with the United States have become particularly tense in the twenty-first century. In 2002, U.S. President George W Bush labeled North Korea part of an "axis of evil" and an "outpost of tyranny."

North Korea has maintained close relations with the People's Republic of China and the Russian Federation. 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. Two of the few ways to enter North Korea are over the Sino-Korea Friendship Bridge or via Panmunjeom, the former crossing the Amnok Riverand connecting the cities of Dandong in China and Sinuiju in North Korea, and the latter crossing the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea.

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.[25]

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.[26] Both the North and South Korean governments proclaim that they are seeking eventual reunification as a goal. 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. North and South Korea signed the June 15th North-South Joint Declaration in 2000, in which both sides made promises to seek out a peaceful reunification. However, progress towards reunification has been limited and beset with challenges.

On October 4, 2007, South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il signed an eight-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.[27]

In 2009, relationships between North and South Korea increased in intensity; North Korea had been reported to have deployed missiles,[28] ended its former agreements with South Korea,[29] and threatened South Korea and the United States not to interfere with a satellite launch it had planned.[30]

To further complicate and intensify strain between the two nations, the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in March 2010, killing 46 seamen, was claimed by a multi-national research team[31] to have been caused by a North Korean torpedo, although the North denied it. On November 23, 2010, North Korea attacked Yeonpyeong Island, further deteriorating the diplomatic relations with the South and other nations.

In the face of international condemnation, North Korea continued to develop its nuclear arsenal, possibly including a hydrogen bomb and a missile capable of reaching the United States.[32]

In 2018, a détente developed.[33] On 27 April, a 2018 inter-Korean summit took place between President Moon Jae-in of South Korea and Kim on the South Korean side of the Joint Security Area. It was the first time since the Korean War that a North Korean leader had entered South Korean territory.[34] On June 12 2018, the first meeting between North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-Un, and US President, Donald Trump, occurred in Singapore. In September, at a summit with Moon in Pyongyang, Kim agreed to dismantle North Korea's nuclear weapons facilities if the United States took reciprocal action.[35]


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

North Korea is a highly militarized state. 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. North Korea has the highest percentage of military personnel per capita of any nation in the world, with 49 military personnel for every 1,000 of its citizens.[36] Military conscription begins at age 17 and involves service for at least ten years, usually to age 30, followed by part-time compulsory service in the Workers and Peasants Red Guards until age 60.[37]

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, 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 military equipment, as well as the largest special forces in the world.[37] In line with its asymmetric warfare strategy, North Korea has also developed a wide range of unconventional techniques and equipment.[38]

Nuclear weapons program

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. Intelligence agencies and defense experts around the world agree that North Korea probably has the capability to deploy nuclear warheads on intermediate-range ballistic missiles with the capacity to wipe out entire cities in Japan and South Korea.[39]


A satellite photo of the Korean Peninsula at night illustrates the large differences between North Korea and South Korea as well as a similar contrast between North Korea and China.

North Korea has an industrialized, near-autarkic, highly centralized command economy. Of the remaining Communist states in the world, North Korea is one of only two (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.[40]

In the aftermath of the Korean War and throughout the 1960s and 1970s, North Korea's state-controlled economy grew at a significant rate and, until the late 1970s, was considered to be stronger than that of the South. State-owned industry produces nearly all manufactured goods. The government focuses on heavy military industry, following Kim Jong-il's adoption of a "Military-First" policy.

Estimates of the North Korea economy cover a broad range, as the country does not release official figures and the secretive nature of the country makes outside estimation difficult. According to accepted estimates, North Korea spends $5 billion USD out of a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $20.9 billion on the military, compared with South Korea's $15.49 billion out of a GDP of $852.74 billion.[41]

Hungju collective chicken farm, Chagang Province.

Food rations, housing, healthcare, and education are offered from the state for free.[37] In order to increase productivity from agriculture and industry, the North Korean government has introduced a number of management systems such as the Taean work system. Major industries include military products, machine building, electric power, chemicals, mining, metallurgy, textiles, food processing, and tourism.

North Korea 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.

Private Commerce

Generic paracetamol tablets made in the DPRK by a joint venture company
A FamilyMart store in Kaesong Industrial Region, North Korea's light industry center.

North Korea started experimenting with capitalism, setting up the Kaesŏng Industrial Region as an autonomous capitalist investment zone near its border with China.[42] A small number of other areas have been designated as Special Administrative Regions, including Sinŭiju along the China-North Korea border.

A small amount 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 in Kaesong, P'yŏngyang, as well as along the China-North Korea border, bypassing the food rationing system.

Foreign Aid

China and South Korea remain the largest donors of unconditional food aid to North Korea. The U.S. objects to this manner of donating food due to lack of oversight.

On September 19, 2005, North Korea was promised fuel aid and various other non-food incentives from South Korea, the U.S., Japan, Russia, and China in exchange for abandoning its nuclear weapons program and rejoining the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Providing food in exchange for abandoning weapons programs has historically been avoided by the U.S. so as not to be perceived as "using food as a weapon." Humanitarian aid from North Korea's neighbors has been cut off at times to provoke North Korea to resume boycotted talks, such as South Korea's "postponed consideration" of 500,000 tons of rice for the North in 2006 but the idea of providing food as a clear incentive (as opposed to resuming "general humanitarian aid") has been avoided.[43]

Foreign Trade

China and South Korea are the biggest trade partners of North Korea, with trade with China increasing 15 percent to US$1.6 billion in 2005, and trade with South Korea increasing 50 percent to over 1 billion in 2005. Increasingly, more foreign-invested joint ventures have been set up since 2002.

In 2000, the Centre for the Study of the Capitalist System was established.[44]


The Kŭmgangsan 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 visitors are constantly accompanied by one or two "guides," who usually speak the tourist's native language.

Most visitors come from China, Russia, and Japan, while numbers of tourists from Western countries have remained low. Russian citizens from the Asian part of Russia prefer North Korea as a tourist destination because of the relatively low prices, lack of pollution, and warmer climate. For citizens of South Korea, it is almost impossible to get a visa to North Korea; they can obtain "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.

In the area of the Kŭmgangsan mountains, the company Hyundai established a special tourist area. Travel to this area was possible for South Koreans and United States citizens, but only in organized groups from South Korea. However, 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. When tours had not resumed by May 2010, North Korea announced that it would seize South Korean real estate assets in the region.[45]

1990s Famine

In the 1990s North Korea faced significant economic disruptions, including a series of natural disasters, economic mismanagement, serious fertilizer shortages, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. These resulted in a shortfall of staple grain output of more than 1 million tons from what the country needs to meet internationally-accepted minimum dietary requirements. The famine resulted in the deaths of between 300,000 and 800,000 North Koreans per year during the three year period, peaking in 1997. The deaths were most likely caused by famine-related illnesses such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, and diarrhea.[46]

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

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 over year from 350,000 tons in 2001 to 40,000 in 2004. 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 it's collapse in the mid-1990's." Agricultural production had increased from about 2.7 million metric tons in 1997 to 4.2 million metric tons in 2004.

Media and Telecommunications


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. 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.[47] The media upheld the personality cult of Kim Jong-il, 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.[48] Newspapers include the Rodong Sinmun, Joson Inmingun, Minju Choson, and Rodongja Sinmum. No private press is known to exist.[47]

Telephones and Internet

North Korea has an adequate telephone system, with an estimated 1.18 million fixed lines available in 2016.[49] 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.[50]

Mobile phones were introduced into North Korea at the beginning of the twenty-first century, but then were banned for several years until 2008, when a new, 3G network, Koryolink, was built through a joint venture with Orascom Telecom Holding, of Egypt. By September 2010, the number of subscribers had reached 301,000.[51] By August 2011, the number of mobile-phone subscribers had increased to 660,000 users,[52] and by December 2011 the number of subscribers was reported as 900,000.[53]

North Korea's first Internet café opened in 2002 as a joint venture with a South Korean Internet company, Hoonnet. 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).[54]


Puhŭng station of the Pyongyang Metro.

Private cars in North Korea are a rare sight; in 2008, it was reported that some 70 percent of households used bicycles, which also play an increasingly important role in small-scale private trade.[55]

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. A local producer of vehicles is Sungri Motor Plant, which manufactures civilian vehicles and heavy trucks.

Rail transport

A train in North Korea

Choson Cul Minzuzui Inmingonghoagug (The Railways of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) 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. The network is divided into five regional divisions, all of which report into the Pyongyang headquarters The railway fleet consists of a mix of electric and steam locomotives. Initially transportation was by imported steam locomotives, the Juche philosophy of self-reliance led to electrification of the railways.

People traveling from the capital Pyongyang to other regions in North Korea typically travel by rail. But 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 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.[50]

Marine transport

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 kilometers (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 Chongjin, Haeju, Hungnam (Hamhung), Nampo, Senbong, Songnim, Sonbong (formerly Unggi), and Wonsan. Nampo has increased in importance as a port since the 1990s.

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 metric tons of deadweight (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.

Air transport

Sunan International Airport ramp

There are 79 airports in North Korea, 37 of which are paved. However, North Korea's international air connections are limited. There are regularly scheduled flights from the Sunan International Airport – 24 kilometers (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. Internal flights are available between Pyongyang, Hamhung, Haeju, Kaesong, Kanggye, Kilju, Nampo, Sinuiju, Samjiyon, Wonsan, and Chongjin.

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-18s afterwards adding four long range Ilyushin Il-62M and three Ilyushin Il-76MD large cargo aircraft. In 2008 a long range Tupolev Tu-204-300 was purchased, and a larger version, the Tupolev Tu-204-100B, in 2010.


Population pyramid of North Korea

North Korea's population of roughly 25 million is one of the most ethnically and linguistically homogeneous in the world, with very small numbers of Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and European expatriate minorities.

According to the CIA World Factbook, North Korea's life expectancy was 70.70 years in 2017, a figure roughly equivalent to that of Bhutan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan, slightly lower than Russia and Nepal, and significantly lower than South Korea.[56] Infant mortality stood at a level of 22.10, which is 3.3 times higher than that of Russia and 7.4 times that of South Korea.[57]

Regarding mortality rate, North Korea appears ranked at the 73rd place (with first place having the highest mortality rate), between Maldives (74th) and Trinidad and Tobago (72nd).[57] North Korea's total fertility rate is relatively low and stood at 1.95 in 2017, comparable to those of Jamaica and The Bahamas.[58]

Prefabricated apartments house a large portion of the population.

Housing in North Korea is free, but cramped and often lacking amenities such as electric or central heating. Many families live in two-room apartment units. Comparatively small apartments are common in Asian nations, however.


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 (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 Hangul writing system, called Chosongul in North Korea. The official Romanization differs in the two countries, with North Korea using a slightly modified McCune-Reischauer system, and the South using the Revised Romanization of Korean.


An ancient relief image of the Buddha, Mount Kumgang

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.[12] However, free religious activities no longer exist in North Korea, as the government sponsors religious groups only to create an illusion of religious freedom.

According to Western standards of religion, the majority of the North Korean population would be characterized as irreligious. However, the cultural influence of such traditional religions as Buddhism and Confucianism still have an effect on North Korean spiritual life.

Buddhists in North Korea reportedly fare better than other religious groups. They are given limited funding by the government to promote the religion, because Buddhism played an integral role in traditional Korean culture.[59]

Pyongyang was the center of Christian activity in Korea until 1945. From the late forties 166 priests and other religious figures were killed or kidnapped (disappeared without trace), including Francis Hong Yong-ho, bishop of Pyongyang. No Catholic priest survived the persecution and all the churches were destroyed; since then only priests bringing aid have been permitted to enter North Korea. Today, four state-sanctioned churches exist, which freedom of religion advocates say are showcases for foreigners.[60]


A young girl in a school in Mangyongdae

Education in North Korea is free of charge, 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.[61] 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.[37]

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 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 and is regarded as the "pinnacle of the North Korean educational and social system."[37]

Health care

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

North Korea has a national medical service and health insurance system. 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.[37] 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.[62]


Main article: Culture of Korea
A drawing in one of the chambers of the Goguryeo tombs.

North and South Korea traditionally share the culture of Korea, which has its beginnings 5000 years ago. Legends of the mythical founder of Korea, Dangun, influence Korean culture to this day as well as Shamanism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and Christianity, all of which had profound impacts on the varied and colorful culture of both North and South Korea. Although the political separation of the two nations in the mid-twentieth century has created two distinct contemporary cultures, the common ground of their cultural histories remains evident.

Korean culture came under attack during the Japanese rule from 1910 to 1945. 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.

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.


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. Large buildings committed to culture have been built, such as the People's Palace of Culture or the Grand People's Palace of Studies, both in Pyongyang. Outside the capital, there is a major theater in Hamhung and in every city there are state-run theaters and stadiums.

Scene from the Mass Games

A popular event in North Korea is the Grand Mass Gymnastics and Artistic Performance Arirang (Hangul: 아리랑 축제 Hanja: 아리랑 祝祭) or Arirang Festival. This two-month gymnastics and artistic festival celebrates the birthday of Kim Il-sung (April 15) and is held in Pyongyang. The Mass Games involve performances of dance, gymnastics, and choreographic routines which celebrate the history of North Korea and the Workers' Party Revolution.

North Korea employs over 1,000 artists to produce art for export at the Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang. Products include watercolors, ink drawings, posters, mosaics, and embroidery. Juche ideology asserts Korea's cultural distinctiveness and creativity as well as the productive powers of the working masses. 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.

Personality cult

One of hundreds of monuments dedicated to Kim Il-sung in North Korea, this one outside a Pyongyang film studio

The North Korean government exercises control over many aspects of the nation's culture, and this control has been used to perpetuate a cult of personality surrounding Kim Il-sung, his son, Kim Jong-il, and grandson, Kim Jong-un. Music, art, and sculpture glorifies "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung and his son, "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il.[63] and now his grandson, "Supreme Leader" Kim Jong-un.

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.[64]

Kim Jong-il's personality cult, although significant, was not as extensive as his father's. His birthday, like his father's, was one of the most important public holidays in the country. On Kim Jong-il's 60th birthday (based on his official date of birth), mass celebrations occurred throughout the country.[65] Following his death, numerous commemorative stamps and coins were made and slogans were carved on the sides of mountains in honor of his 70th birthday anniversary.[66]

Kim Jong-un marks the third generation of Kim family dynastic leadership. According to Daily NK, people who criticized the succession were sent to re-education camps or otherwise punished and, after the mourning period of Kim Jong-il, government authorities began to increase their efforts on building the idolization of Kim Jong-un.[67]


Arirang Festival Mass Games display in Pyongyang.

The most well known sporting event in North Korea is the Mass Games that are the opening event of the annual Arirang Festival. The Mass Games are famed for the huge mosaic pictures created by more than 30,000 well-trained and disciplined school children, each holding up colored cards, accompanied by complex and highly choreographed group routines performed by tens of thousands of gymnasts and dancers.[68]

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

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 Asian Football Confederation and are ranked 105 by FIFA as of May 2010. The team competed in the finals of the FIFA World Cup in 1966 and 2010.

North Korea has been competing in the Olympic Games since 1964 and debuted at the summer games in 1972 by taking home five medals, including one gold. To date, North Korea has won medals in every summer Olympics in which they have participated. North Korea boycotted the 1988 Summer Olympics in neighboring Seoul in South Korea. At several recent Olympic Games the North and South teams marched together in the opening and closing ceremonies under the Korean Unification flag, but competed separately.

The martial art taekwondo originated in Korea. In the 1950s and 1960s, modern rules were standardized 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.


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External links

All links retrieved December 11, 2018.


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