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North Korea

North Korea, known officially as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK; Korean: Chosŏn Minjujuŭi Inmin Konghwaguk; Chosongul: 조선민주주의인민공화국; Hanja: 朝鮮民主主義人民共和國), is a country in eastern Asia, covering the northern half of the peninsula of Korea. To the south it borders South Korea with which it formed a single nation until 1948. Its northern border is predominantly with the People's Republic of China, and a small section with Russia. It is more commonly known locally as Pukchosŏn ("North Chosŏn"; 북조선; 北朝鮮). Bukhan ("North Han"; 북한; 北韓) is commonly used in South Korea.



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 in force. The war continued until July 27 1953, when the United Nations Command , the Chinese People's Volunteers and North Korea signed the Korean War Armistice Agreement. The demilitarized zone, or DMZ, was established to separate the two countries.

North Korea was ruled from 1948 by Kim Il-sung until his death on July 8, 1994. After the death of Kim Il Sung, 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 recently increased when North Korea resumed its nuclear weapons program.

During Kim Jong Il's rule during the mid to late 1990s, the country's economy declined significantly, and food shortages developed in many areas. According to aid groups, a significant but unknown number of people in rural areas starved to death due to famine, exacerbated by a collapse in the food distribution system. Large numbers of North Koreans illegally entered the People's Republic of China in search of food, and there were also stories of cannibalism.

North Korea has remained one of the most isolated places in the world, with severe restrictions on travelling in or out of the country. There is no free press, and the Juche ideology of self-reliance is paramount.

North Korea declared on February 10, 2005 that it has nuclear weapons. Although there is no evidence that North Korea has actually tested a weapon, this announcement brought forth widespread expressions of dismay and near-universal calls for the North to return to the six-party negotiations aimed at curbing its nuclear program.

See also: Division of Korea


Main article: Politics of North Korea

North Korea's government is dominated by the communist Korean Workers' Party (KWP), to which all government officials belong. Minor political parties exist, but not in opposition to KWP-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 Prime Minister is the head of government, but real power lies with Kim Jong Il (the son of the late Kim Il Sung), the head of the Workers' Party and the military. Kim holds a string of official titles, the most important being General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea Chairman of the National Defence Commission and Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army. Within the country he is commonly known by the affectionate title of "Dear Leader", in contrast to Kim Il Sung, who is the "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.

Officially, the parliament, the Supreme People's Assembly Choego Inmin Hoeui), is the highest organ of state power. Its 687 members are elected every four years by popular vote, although these elections are non-competitive and in practice ceremonial. 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.

However, it should be noted that North Korea is widely held to be a totalitarian country. One major aspect of totalitarian countries is the presence of a single party which mirrors the structure of the State, and the fact that the power lies not in the State or its institutions, but in the party and its institutions. Thus, in Socialist countries such as the DPRK, it is the Chairman of the Communist Party and not the Head of State who is the repository of power.

Administrative divisions

Main article: Administrative divisions 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 (Do, singular and plural; 도; 道). (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


Main article: Geography of North Korea

Korea forms a peninsula that extends 1,100 km from the Asian mainland. To the west it borders the West Sea (Yellow Sea) and the Korea Bay; to the east it borders the East Sea of Korea (Sea of Japan). The peninsula ends at the Korea Strait (Tsushima Strait) and the South Sea (East China Sea) to the south. It is of political importance, bordering South Korea, China, and Russia. The peninsula's northern part (including North Korea) has mostly hills and mountains separated by deep, narrow valleys in the north and east, and has coastal plains prominently in the west. The highest point in Korea is the Paektu-san at 2,744 m. Major rivers include the Tumen and the Yalu that form the northern border with Chinese Manchuria.

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.


Main article: Economy of North Korea

Following the official ideology of Juche (self-reliance) and the central planning mandated by its brand of Marxist socialism, North Korea's economy has stagnated. The government's refusal to participate in global free markets and its refusal to publicize economic data limit the amount of reliable information available. Publicly-owned industry produces nearly all manufactured goods. The regime continues to focus on heavy military industry at the expense of agriculture.

The North Korean military's effect on the economy cannot be overestimated. The government spends 22.9% (2003) of the nation's GDP on military (Compared to 3.3% (FY03 est.) for the U.S. and 2.7% (FY03) spent by neighboring South Korea), and has recruited 1.2 million of the healthiest young men into the army. This focus on military spending is unheard of anywhere else in the world, and has severely depressed the North's economy for decades.

In addition, erratic policymaking, a series of natural disasters, and the collapse of the Soviet bloc have all caused the economy to stagnate. The agricultural outlook is terrible and food products are deliberately diverted away from citizens and into the military. The combined effects of a reclusive regime, serious fertilizer shortages, successive natural disasters, and structural constraints - such as little arable land and a short growing season - have reduced staple grain output to more than 1 million tons less than what the country needs to meet even minimum international requirements.

North Korea previously received a flow of international food and fuel aid from the People's Republic of China and the United States in exchange for promises not to develop nuclear weapons. This aid has ceased since the North Korean regime revealed that it had been developing nuclear weapons in secret.

The steady flow of international food aid was critical in meeting the population's basic food needs; it has been widely believed that very little of this food aid was actually received by citizens, but was instead taken and given to the military in order to improve loyalty. Malnutrition rates are perhaps among the world's highest and estimates of mortality range in the hundreds of thousands or even millions as a direct result of malnutrition and famine-related diseases.

Recently, in July 2002, North Korea started running an experiment 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 going up 38% to $1.02 billion in 2003, and trade with South Korea going up 12% to $724 million in 2003 since the start of the experiment. 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. 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. Critics argue that these market reforms are merely a cover by the North Korea government, while others argue that the reforms indicate a tacit North Korea admission of the successes of a market system.

Human rights

Main article: Human rights in North Korea

Reports by human rights organizations regularly accuse the government of failing to protect the human rights of North Koreans; [1] North Korea receives particular criticism for its policy of preventing citizens from leaving the country freely.

North Korea is accused of employing concentration camps and to severely restrict most freedom such as freedom of speech.


Main article: Demographics of North Korea

North Korea's population is one of the most ethnically and linguistically homogenous in the world, with only very small Chinese and Japanese communities. 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 Sejong 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.

North Korea is officially atheist, although it has a Buddhist and Confucianist heritage, with Christian and traditional Chondogyo ("Heavenly Way") communities. Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, was the center of Christian activity before the Korean War.


Main article: Culture of North Korea

North Korea's government is perceived by western governments as "extremely reclusive", and as a result few foreigners want to enter the country. In principle any person is allowed to travel to North Korea, and in practice almost no-one is refused entry by North Korea; however visitors are not allowed to travel outside designated tour areas without their Korean guides. The daunting presence of government minders and the negative international reputation of the government discourages many outsiders from visiting. Accounts of travels throughout the region can be found in the external links section.

Citizens of South Korea require special government permission from both governments to enter North Korea. In recent years, 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 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

Miscellaneous topics

Further reading

  • Gordon Cucullu, Separated At Birth: How North Korea Became The Evil Twin, Globe Pequot Press (2004), hardcover, 307 pages, ISBN 1592285910
  • Bruce Cumings, Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History, W.W. Norton & Company, 1998, paperback, 527 pages, ISBN 0393316815
  • Bruce Cumings, Origins of the Korean War: Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes, Princeton University Press, 1981, paperback, ASIN 0691101132
  • Nick Eberstadt, aka Nicholas Eberstadt, The End of North Korea, American Enterprise Institute Press (1999), hardcover, 191 pages, ISBN 084474087X
  • John Feffer, North Korea South Korea: U.S. Policy at a Time of Crisis, Seven Stories Press, 2003, paperback, 197 pages, ISBN 1583226036
  • Mitchell B. Lerner, The Pueblo Incident: A Spy Ship and the Failure of American Foreign Policy, University Press of Kansas , 2002, hardcover, 408 pages, ISBN 0700611711
  • Bradley Martin, Under The Loving Care Of The Fatherly Leader: North Korea And The Kim Dynasty, St. Martins (October, 2004), hardcover, 868 pages, ISBN 0312322216
  • Nanchu with Xing Hang, In North Korea:An American Travels Through an Imprisoned Nation, McFarland & Company (July, 2003), trade paperback, ISBN 0786416912
  • Oberdorfer, Don. The two Koreas : a contemporary history. Addison-Wesley, 1997. 472 pages. ISBN 0201409275
  • Quinones, Dr. C. Kenneth, and Joseph Tragert, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding North Korea, Alpha Books , 2004, paperback, 448 pages, ISBN 1592571697
  • Sigal, Leon V., Disarming Strangers: Nuclear Diplomacy with North Korea, Princeton University Press, 199, 336 pages, ISBN 0691057974
  • Vladimir, Cyber North Korea, Byakuya Shobo , 2003, paperback, 223 pages, ISBN 4893678817
  • Norbert Vollertsen, Inside North Korea: Diary of a Mad Place, Encounter Books , 2003, hardcover, 280 pages, ISBN 1893554872

External links

Last updated: 10-13-2005 18:33:24
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