North Korea

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Pyongyang subway

North Korea, officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (Korean: Chosŏn Minjujuŭi Inmin Konghwaguk; Hangul: 조선민주주의인민공화국), is a country in East Asia, covering the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Locally, it is more commonly called Pukchosŏn (북조선, "North Chosŏn"). (See Names of Korea.)

North Korea is bordered by three countries. To the south along the DMZ, it borders South Korea, with which it had formed a single nation until 1948. Its northern border is predominantly with the People's Republic of China. Russia shares a 19 km border along the Tumen River in the far northeast corner of the country.



Main article: History of North Korea

Japanese rule of Korea ended after World War II in 1945. Korea was occupied by the Soviet Union north of the 38th Parallel and by the United States south of the 38th parallel, but the United States and the Soviet Union were unable to agree on implementation of Joint Trusteeship over Korea. This led in 1948 to the establishment of separate governments in the north and south, each claiming to be the legitimate government over all of Korea.

Growing tensions between the governments in the north and south eventually led to the Korean War, when on June 25 1950 the (North) Korean People's Army crossed the 38th Parallel and attacked. The war continued until July 27 1953, when the United Nations Command and Korean People's Army and the Chinese People's Volunteers signed the Korean War Armistice Agreement. The demilitarized zone, or DMZ separated the two countries.

North Korea was governed from 1948 by Kim Il Sung until his death on July 8, 1994. After his death, his son Kim Jong Il was named General Secretary of the Korean Workers' Party on October 8, 1997. In 1998, the legislature reconfirmed him as Chairman of the National Defence Commission and declared that position as the "highest office of state." International relations generally improved, and there was a historic North-South summit in June 2000. However, tensions with the United States recently increased when North Korea resumed its nuclear weapons program.

During Kim Jong Il's rule in the mid to late 1990s, the country's economy declined significantly, and food shortages developed in many areas. According to aid groups, millions of people in rural areas starved to death due to famine, exacerbated by a collapse in the food distribution system [1]. Large numbers of North Koreans illegally entered the People's Republic of China in search of food. Hwang Jang Yop, International Secretary of the Korean Workers' Party, defected to South Korea in 1997.

See also: History of Korea, Division of Korea


Main article: Politics of North Korea

North Korea's government is dominated by the Korean Workers' Party (KWP), to which 80 percent of government officials belong. The KWP follows and upholds the ideology of Juche (self-reliance), which originally grew out of Stalinism. The KWP replaced mentions of Marxism-Leninism in the North Korean constitution with Juche in 1977. Communist critics of the KWP deny that it is a communist state. Minor political parties exist, but they are subordinated to the KWP and do not oppose its rule. In practice the exact power structure of the country is somewhat unclear, although it is commonly accepted that the nation's regime is a totalitarian dictatorship.

Nominally, the Premier is the head of government, but real power lies with Kim Jong Il (the son of the deceased Kim Il Sung), head of the KWP and the military. Kim holds several official titles, the most important being General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea, Chairman of the National Defense Commission and Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army. Within the country he is commonly known by the affectionate title of "Dear Leader". Similarly, his father, Kim Il Sung, held the title of "Great Leader."

North Korea's 1972 constitution was amended in late 1992 and again in 1998. The 1998 constitution states that the late Kim Il Sung is "Eternal President of the Republic," and the post of president was abolished after his death. The Constitution gives much of the functions normally accorded to a head of state to the Supreme People's Assembly Presidium, whose president "represents the State" and receives credentials from foreign ambassadors. The government of the republic is led by the Prime Minister and, in theory, a super cabinet called the Central People's Committee (CPC), the government's top policymaking body. The CPC is headed by the President, who also nominates the other committee members. The CPC makes policy decisions and supervises the Cabinet, or State Administration Council (SAC). SAC is headed by a Premier and is the dominant administrative and executive agency.

The parliament, the Supreme People's Assembly (Choego Inmin Hoeui), is the highest organ of state power. Its 687 members are elected every five years by popular vote. Usually it holds only two annual meetings, each lasting a few days, but it mostly ratifies decisions made by the ruling KWP (see rubberstamp (politics)). A standing committee elected by the Assembly performs legislative functions when the Assembly is not in session.

See also: Foreign relations of North Korea, Military of North Korea, North Korea and weapons of mass destruction

Administrative divisions

Main article: Administrative divisions of North Korea
File:Korea north map.png
Map of North Korea

As of 2005, North Korea consists of two Directly-Governed Cities (Chikhalsi; 직할시; 直轄市), three special regions with various designations, and nine Provinces (See provinces of Korea). (Names are romanized according to the McCune-Reischauer system as officially used in North Korea; the editor was also guided by the spellings used on the 2003 National Geographic map of Korea).

For historical information, see provinces of Korea and special cities of Korea.

Directly-governed cities

  • P'yŏngyang Directly-governed City (P'yŏngyang Chikhalsi; 평양 직할시; 平壤直轄市)
  • Rasŏn (Rajin-Sŏnbong) Chikhalsi (라선 (라진-선봉) 직할시; 羅先 (羅津-先鋒) 直轄市)

Special regions


  • Chagang Province (Chagang-do; 자강도; 慈江道)
  • North Hamgyŏng Province (Hamgyŏng-pukto; 함경 북도; 咸鏡北道)
  • South Hamgyŏng Province (Hamgyŏng-namdo; 함경 남도; 咸鏡南道)
  • North Hwanghae Province (Hwanghae-pukto; 황해 북도; 黃海北道)
  • South Hwanghae Province (Hwanghae-namdo; 황해 남도; 黃海南道)
  • Kangwŏn Province (Kangwŏndo; 강원도; 江原道)
  • North P'yŏngan Province (P'yŏngan-pukto; 평안 북도; 平安北道)
  • South P'yŏngan Province (P'yŏngan-namdo; 평안 남도; 平安南道)
  • Ryanggang Province (Ryanggang-do; 량강도; 兩江道--sometimes also spelled as 'Yanggang' in English)

Major cities

See also Cities of North Korea


Main article: Geography of North Korea

North Korea is on the northern portion of the Korean Peninsula that extends 1,100 km from the Asian mainland. North Korea shares its borders with three nations and two seas. To the west it borders the Yellow Sea and the Korea Bay and to the east it borders the Sea of Japan (East Sea of Korea). North Korea borders South Korea, China, and Russia. The highest point in Korea is the Paektu-san at 2,744 m and major rivers include the Tumen and the Yalu.

The local climate is relatively temperate, with precipitation heavier in summer during a short rainy season called jangma, and winters that can be bitterly cold on occasion. North Korea's capital and largest city is P'yŏngyang; other major cities include Kaesŏng in the south, Sinŭiju in the northwest, Wŏnsan and Hamhŭng in the east and Ch'ŏngjin in the northeast.

See also: Korean Peninsula


Main article: Economy of North Korea

North Korea's economy has stagnated since the 1970s. The government refuses to release economic data, hence limiting the amount of reliable information available. Publicly owned industry produces nearly all manufactured goods. The government continues to focus on heavy military industry. The government is estimated to spend around 25% (2005) of the nation's GDP on the military.

The 1990s saw a series of natural disasters, political mismanagement crises and corruption scandals. This, along with the collapse of the Soviet bloc; has caused significant economic disruption. The agricultural outlook is poor, and some food products are deliberately diverted away from citizens and into the military. The combined effects of a reclusive regime, serious fertilizer shortages, and structural constraints — such as little arable land and a short growing season — have resulted in a shortfall of staple grain output of more than 1 million tons from what the country needs to meet internationally-accepted minimum requirements. Recent evidence suggests serious food shortages.

North Korea has previously (and may in the future) received international food and fuel aid from China, South Korea, and the United States in exchange for promises not to develop nuclear weapons. In June 2005, the U.S. announced that it would give 50,000 metric tons of food aid to North Korea. The United States gave North Korea 50,000 tons in 2004 and 100,000 tons in 2003. On 19 September 2005, North Korea was promised food and fuel aid (among other things) 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. It remains to be seen if this exchange will actually occur. The agreement was less than one day old before issues arose with its implementation.

In July 2002, North Korea started experimenting with capitalism in the Kaesŏng Industrial Region. A small number of other areas have been designated as Special Administrative Regions, including Sinŭiju along the China-North Korea border. Mainland China and South Korea are the biggest trade partners of North Korea, with trade with China increasing 38% to $1.02 billion in 2003, and trade with South Korea increasing 12% to $724 million in 2003. It is reported that the number of mobile phones in P'yŏngyang rose from only 3,000 in 2002 to approximately 20,000 during 2004. As of June 2004, however, mobile phones became forbidden again. 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 amount of open-air farmer markets have increased in Kaesong, P'yŏngyang, as well as the China-North Korea border, bypassing the food rationing system.

See also: List of North Korean companies, Communications in North Korea, Transportation in North Korea

Human rights

Main article: Human rights in North Korea

Amnesty International and other human rights organizations accuse North Korea of having one of the worst human rights records of any nation, severely restricting most freedoms, including freedom of speech and freedom of movement, both inside the country and abroad.

Japanese television aired what it said was footage of a prison camp. The U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea believes these camps hold between 150,000 and 200,000 inmates, and published a defector statement that pregnant women inside these camps reputedly either have forced abortions or the newborn child is killed ([2] [PDF], [3]). In some of the camps, former inmates say the annual mortality rate approaches 25% ([4], [5]). A former prison guard and army intelligence officer told the BBC that in one camp, chemical weapons were tested on prisoners in a gas chamber. None of these claims can be verified, as North Korea denies them and does not grant entry to independent human rights observers.

Less often discussed are the human rights implications of North Korea's famine, which killed between 600,000 ([6]) and 3.5 million people ([7] ), mostly during the 1990s ([8]). By 1999, food and development aid reduced famine deaths, but North Korea's continuing nuclear program led to a decline in foreign aid. In the spring of 2005, the World Food Program reported that famine conditions were in imminent danger of returning to North Korea ([9]), and the government was reported to have mobilized millions of city-dwellers to help rice farmers ([10]).


Main article: Demographics of North Korea

North Korea's population is one of the most ethnically and linguistically homogenous in the world, with very small Chinese and Japanese communities as the only non-Korean indigenous minorities. Most others are temporary residents, mostly being Russians and other East Europeans, Chinese, and Vietnamese. The Korean language is not a member of a wider linguistic family, though links to Japanese and Altaic languages are being considered. The Korean writing system, Hangul, was invented in the 15th century by King Se Jong the Great to replace the system of Chinese characters, known in Korea as Hanja, which are no longer officially in use in the North. North Korea continues to use the McCune-Reischauer romanization of Korean, in contrast to the South's revised version.


Religious activity is suppressed by the officially atheist state, especially Protestantism, which is seen as closely connected to the U.S.

North Korea shares with South Korea a Buddhist and Confucianist heritage and recent history of Christian and Chondogyo ("Heavenly Way") movements. Pyongyang was the center of Christian activity before the Korean War. Today two state-sanctioned churches exist, which Christian advocates allege are mere show-cases for foreigners. [11]


Main article: Culture of North Korea

There is a vast personality cult around Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, and much of North Korea's literature, popular music, theater, and film glorify the two men.

In July 2004, the Complex of Koguryo Tombs was the first site in North Korea to be included into the UNESCO list of World Heritage.

See also: Culture of Korea, Korean cuisine, Music of Korea, Public holidays in North Korea, Education in North Korea


In principle, any person is allowed to travel to North Korea, and among those who actually go through the complex application process, almost no one is refused entry by North Korea. Visitors are not allowed to travel outside designated tour areas without their Korean guides. Accounts of travels throughout the region can be found in the external links section.

Tourists are not permitted on passports from the United States, although exceptions have been made in 1995, 2002 and 2005. Citizens of South Korea require special government permission from both governments to enter North Korea. In 2002, the area around Mount Kŭmgang, a scenic mountain close to the South Korea border, has been designated as a special tourist destination (Kŭmgangsan Tourist Region), where South Korean citizens do not need special permissions. Tours run by private companies bring thousands of South Koreans to Mount Kŭmgang every year.

In July 2005 the South Korean company Hyundai Group came to an agreement with the North Korean government to open up more areas to tourism, including Mount Paektu and Kaesong.

See also

Miscellaneous topics


  1. ^  Kang Chol-Hwan, The Aquariums of Pyongyang (New York: Basic Books, 2001) 146.

Further reading

External links

North Korean organizations

Links associated with North Korean government

Web sites about North Korea

Web sites criticizing North Korea

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