North Korea (officially called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), is a country in the northern part of the Korean peninsula. North Korea is next to China, Russia, and South Korea. The capital city of North Korea is Pyongyang, which is also the largest city.
The country was founded in 1948 after it had been freed from Japanese occupation, and a socialist state backed by the Soviet Union was established. The Republic of Korea is the southern half of the Korean Peninsula, and was occupied by the United States, and the U.S. set up a democracy in the south. At first there was a war between the armies of the North and South in what is called the Korean War, but while the fighting stopped in 1953, the war never officially ended. Afterwards, North Korea was friendly with China and Russia but never was formally allied with either and became more isolated over time. While the South had an unstable government after independence, the North went through steady development and was more well off than South until the 1980s when the South became more democratic. Soon afterwards, the North’s main trading partners collapsed leaving it stranded and isolated. Throughout the 1990s, North Korea suffered from famines and natural disasters. Afterwards, things stabilized but continued to lag behind the South.
The country is organized along socialist lines, as all workplaces are public property and function along a universal plan. This is because the founders of North Korea were inspired by the ideas of communism. But as time went on, North Korea became more conservative and nationalist, and had less in common with other countries aiming for communism.
To justify these differences, the country’s leader Kim Il-sung said that the government was following his own ideology of “Juche”, which means “self-reliance”. Later on, the country’s leaders began to remove “communism” from North Korean laws and philosophy. After Kim Il-sung died during the disasters of the 1990s, his son Kim Jong-il took his place and was promoted by the government as the leader who led North Korea out of the disasters. Kim Jong-il enacted a new policy of “Songun”, or “military-first”, which turned the country into a military state.
When he died in 2011, his youngest son Kim Jong-un took his place and continues to lead the country today.
Historians think that the Korean people have lived in the area for thousands of years. Before 1910, Korea was one country. It had a king and people were mostly farmers. The country was peaceful and was not communist. In 1910, that changed. Japan and Russia went to war. Since Japan and Russia were both very close to Korea, Japan took Korea for themselves as part of Japan. Japan then had control.
Between 1910 and the end of World War II in 1945, Korea was part of Japan. In 1945, the USSR declared war on Japan and the United States bombed it (Nagasaki and Hiroshima); severely weakening its empire and forcing it to surrender. Japan’s weak status allowed the Soviets to enter Korea fairly freely and occupy the northern half whilst the United States took the southern half. Each then created governments supporting their own ideologies, Marxist-Leninist Single Party State (North) and Democratic Capitalist State (South).
In 1950, North Korea sent soldiers to South Korea. North Korea wanted to bring together North and South Korea to form a single Korean country, and Korean families that had been split by the division of North and South to be together again. The North Korean leaders wanted South Korea to be communist, like North Korea and the Soviet Union were.
The United Nations sent soldiers to Korea. These soldiers came from many countries. These countries did not like Communism. If South Korea became Communist, then maybe other countries would too. General Douglas MacArthur led the soldiers.
North Korea had taken over much of South Korea by force. With the help of the other countries, South Korea took back their land, and even much of North Korea, up to the Yalu River, which forms the border between North Korea and China. China, which was also communist, helped the North Koreans to get the land back that the South Korean soldiers had taken.
After three years, in 1953, North Korea and South Korea both decided that no one would win the war and both countries signed an armistice, which is an agreement that made both countries stop fighting. North Korea and South Korea were divided by a demilitarized zone, which is a special place that surrounds the border between North and South Korea where both countries cannot place lots of soldiers, so that fighting does not start again.
Even though the Demilitarized Zone is meant to stop problems between the two countries, sometimes soldiers on both sides of the border fire their guns at each other. A special town in the zone, Panmunjom, is called the Joint Security Area, or JSA, and sometimes the leaders of both countries meet there to talk about possibly coming back together.
North Korea is one of the few countries in the world that has made nuclear missiles, which can kill many people if they are exploded. North Korea will not say how many nukes it has, but other countries think that the North Korean government probably has built ten missiles so far out of a deadly element called plutonium.
In October 2006, North Korea said that it tested one of its nuclear bombs. Although the North Korean government said that the test was not dangerous, many other countries and the United Nations were nonetheless enraged.
Three years later in 2009, North Korea did another test, which broke a United Nations law called Resolution 1718, which said North Korea could not keep building and testing nuclear bombs.
In 2010, a South Korean warship sank, killing over 40 soldiers. An international investigation concluded that North Korea had sunk a South Korean warship with a torpedo. North Korea strongly said that it did not have anything to do with the sinking. When the United States and South Korea planned to set up defenses in case North Korea tried to attack again, North Korea’s National Defense Commission threatened on to start a war with its nuclear weapons.
In April 2012, North Korea launched a rocket called Bright Star 3. The reasons for the launch were science and the 100th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founder, Kim Il-Sung.
The government said the rocket carried a weather satellite so the government could find out what the weather would be. However, other countries said that the weather satellite was a story made up by the government so the real purpose of the rocket would not the known—which most countries thought was to test a nuclear missile that could be launched at the United States or South Korea. South Korean leaders said it would shoot the rocket down when it came over South Korea.
Because of this rocket, other countries stopped helping North Korea, even though the government invited other countries to see the rocket launch to make it seem like the North Koreans had nothing to hide from other countries.
The rocket was eventually launched, but it did not work and crashed just a minute and thirty seconds after it was launched. In December 2012, the government tried to launch the rocket again. It worked this time and went into orbit circling the Earth, though the United States said that it was very unstable and might fall back to Earth. Experts in Europe noticed the satellite’s reflection was fluctuating (getting brighter then dimmer); indicating that the satellite is tumbling in its orbit.
In February 2013, North Korea tested a nuclear bomb for the 3rd time, causing much outrage from other countries. The government also released many videos that depicted possible missile targets in the United States. North Korea however does not possess missiles that could reach US mainland but some say Hawaii is a possibility. It is highly unlikely that North Korea would ever fire against the US, Japan or South Korea. Many missiles depicted in parades are fakes used to exaggerate North Korea’s military strength. Most of its inventory dates from the Soviet years.
People often think that North Korea is a communist country. It is actually a socialist-military dictatorship. In its most recent constitutional change, the word ‘communism’ was removed. Large pictures of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin were removed from Kim Il-Sung square in 2012. The government has a similar structure to the former Soviet Union (USSR), once a close ally, but it is very different from the USSR.
Leaders of the USSR were elected by a group of government officials. In North Korea, the new leader is the current leader’s male heir. For this reason, North Korea is often referred to as a hereditary dictatorship.
North Korea’s official state ideology is Juche. That is a form of socialism developed by the country’s founder, Kim Il-Sung. Juche means self-reliance. It teaches that to achieve true socialism and become self-sufficient, the state must become fully isolated from the rest of society.
The first head of state and Chairman of the Workers Party of North Korea was Kim Tu-bong.
In the late 1950s, the second head of state and party chairman was Kim Il-Sung.
In July 1994, Kim died. His son, Kim Jong-Il, took over. He became the third head of state and party chairman.
In December 2011, Kim died. His son, Kim Jong-Un became the head of the government.
Songun is a North Korean idea. It means “army first.” The job of every North Korean person is to feed the Army. Kim Jong-Un is the “Chairman of the National Defense Commission of North Korea”. That is one of many jobs he has. He is like a king, and can do what he wants. The average North Korean citizen makes around $900 a year. Kim Jong-Un makes around $800,000 a year. He lives in a palace. He has lots of soldiers who go wherever he goes to protect him.
North Korea is technically a multi-party state since other parties do exist besides the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP). However, the KWP also controls the other parties so it can stay in power. The constitution claims that North Korea’s citizens have freedom of speech, religion and press. In real life, these citizens do not have these rights. People can be jailed if they criticize the party, government, or leaders. North Koreans are encouraged to report family members to the police if they think they are doing something illegal. In return they get more privileges. If someone is caught doing a crime, their whole family will be sent along with them to a labor camp. Most die there, but a few escape.
North Korean people have very little freedom of speech. They get their news from the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). The KCNA makes sure all the country’s television, radio, and newspaper news make the government look good. This is called propaganda. The government blocks access to the Internet. Only a few trusted military officials and party members can access the world Internet. It has been reported that almost all North Koreans do not know that men have landed on the moon. The government runs an intranet service that is available on all North Korean computers. It is nothing like the real Internet but is filled with propaganda that makes the government, party, and leaders look good. The government also tries to keep ideas from other countries out of North Korea.
Capital punishment is a common type of punishment in North Korea. Stealing, murder, rape, drug smuggling, attempted murder, spying, trying to challenge the laws of North Korea, looking at media unapproved by North Korea, and religions that are against believing in Kim Jong-un and his family can result in the death penalty.
In parts of the country, there is not enough food. Currently, other countries give food to some people in North Korea. This is called foreign aid. The aid sometimes stops coming if North Korea is thought to be testing nuclear bombs. Very recently, North Korea’s food aid stopped after the government launched a satellite in April 2012. Other countries said North Korea had broken their side of an agreement. The North Korean government said that it was the United States that had broken the agreement.
It is hard for people from other countries to visit North Korea. Visitors must be guided by two army members called “minders”. The minders try and make sure the people do not find out about anything that might make the government look bad.
Historically, both South Korea and North Korea have the same set of values. In 1945, the peninsula was divided. Since then, the government of both North and South Korea have been different. This has led to different developments in both North and South Korea. Human Rights Watch says that free religious activities do not exist in North Korea. The culture in Korea has been influenced by that of China. Despite this, Korea has developed a cultural identity that is different from that of Mainland China.
Literature and arts in North Korea are state-controlled. Specialized committees of the KWP are responsible for this. Film is also a significant artistic medium in North Korea and Kim Jong Il’s manifesto The Cinema and Directing (1987) is the basis for the nation’s filmmakers.
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. In addition, the Japanese altered or destroyed various Korean monuments including Gyeongbok Palace and documents which portrayed the Japanese in a negative light were revised.
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. According to the Western standards of religion, the majority of the North Korean population could be characterized as non-religious. However, the cultural influence of such traditional religions as Buddhism and Confucianism still have an effect on North Korean spiritual life.
It seems that Buddhists are accepted more than other religious groups. Christians are said to be severely persecuted 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. In May 2014, an American tourist was arrested at Pyongyang Sunan Airport after it was discovered he left a Bible in a nightclub on the DPRK’s east coast. He was convicted of attempting to overthrow the government but was eventually released several months later. At the time of his imprisonment, there were two other American citizens held by North Korea awaiting transfer to political prison camps. Both have since been released.
The land of North Korea is divided into nine areas called provinces and two cities.
The nine provinces are Pyongannam, Pyonganbuk, Chagang, Hwanghaenam, Hwanghaebuk, Kangwon, Hamgyongnam, Hamgyongbuk, Ryanggang, The two cities are Pyongyang, the capital city and also the largest city, and Rason, a special city where other countries can make money, called a Special Economic Zone.