North Korea

North Korea, known officially as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK; Korean: Chosŏn Minjujuŭi Inmin Konghwaguk; Chosŏngŭl: 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. Locally and in mainland China, it is more commonly called Pukchosŏn ("North Chosŏn"; 북조선; 北朝鮮), a name that associates the country with the Joseon Dynasty. Bukhan ("North Han"; 북한; 北韓) is commonly used in South Korea. Template:North Korea infobox



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 William Harrison Jr., United Nations Command, and Nam Il, Delegation of Korean People's Army and the Chinese People's Volunteers, 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. North Korea lacks a free press. Juche, created by Kim Il-Sung, is the state endorsed ideology of North Korea. Juche is based on self-reliance.

North Korea announced on February 10, 2005 that it has nuclear weapons. The DPRK withdrew from the six-party talks because the North Koreans claimed that the United States had "hostile intentions" towards their country. It is due to this nuclear capability, the United States has placed North Korea into the Axis of Evil, as the nation is an Outpost of Tyranny. The DPRK wanted removal from this status before resuming talks which are aimed at curbing its WMD programme.

On May 7, 2005 the USA announced its spy satellites had discovered possible preparations for North Korea's first test of a nuclear weapon. According to the images, the North Koreans are preparing for an underground test.

See also: Division of Korea


North Korea's government is dominated by the Stalinist Korean Workers' Party (KWP), to which all government officials belong. North Korea cannot truly be called communist, however, because it does not follow the Marxist-Leninist approach of democratic centralism within the Party, but instead has set up a new elite bureaucratic ruling class, in the vein of Stalinist Russia. Because this is directly contradictory to the writings of both Karl Marx and V.I. Lenin, North Korea is seen as being a degenerated workers state, or even state capitalist. 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 five 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.

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 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

Missing image
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


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 Yellow Sea(West Sea) and the Korea Bay; to the east it borders the Sea of Japan (East Sea). The peninsula ends at the Korea Strait (Tsushima Strait) and the East China Sea (South 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 Stalinism, 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 overstated. 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. This is seen as a necessary evil due to the North Korean perception of the threat of military action from the US and South Korea.

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. Some food, which was to be free aid to the population, was captured and sold.

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. 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. 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

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 (video link)[2] ( and severely restricting most freedoms such as freedom of speech. These camps are believed to hold as many as 200,000 inmates, including children whose only crime is having "class enemies" for parents; in some of the camps, the annual mortality rate approaches 25%.[3] ([4] ( A recent BBC documentary [5] ( also reported that in one of these camps, North Korea tests chemical weapons on prisoners in a gas chamber:

I witnessed a whole family being tested on suffocating gas and dying in the gas chamber,' he said. 'The parents, son and and a daughter. The parents were vomiting and dying, but till the very last moment they tried to save kids by doing mouth-to-mouth breathing.'

Hyuk has drawn detailed diagrams of the gas chamber he saw. He said: 'The glass chamber is sealed airtight. It is 3.5 metres wide, 3m long and 2.2m high_ [There] is the injection tube going through the unit. Normally, a family sticks together and individual prisoners stand separately around the corners. Scientists observe the entire process from above, through the glass.'' [6] (,6903,1136440,00.html)

Less often discussed are the human rights implications of North Korea's famine,[7] ( which killed between 600,000[8] ( and 3.5 million people,[9] ( mostly during the 1990's. [10] ( By 1999, food and development aid reduced famine deaths. In the spring of 2005, the World Food Program reported that famine conditions were in imminent danger of returing to North Korea,[11] ( and the regime was reported to have ordered millions of city-dwellers to the countryside to perform farm labor.[12] (

North Korea's society is highly stratified by class, according to a citizen's family and political background.[13] ( Refugees International,[14] ( Medicins San Frontieres,[15] ( and Amnesty International[16] ( have all accused North Korea of discriminating against those in "hostile" classes in the distribution of basic necessities, including food. In some "closed" areas[17] ( that contained a higher concentration of "hostile" class members, the government appears to have prevented the delivery of any significant amounts of food aid at all.

Yet during this same period, North Korea maintained a massive military machine and supported an extravagant lifestyle for its leader, Kim Jong-Il. [18] (,9754,201976,00.html) The World Food Program currently seeks $200 million in emergency food aid for North Korea,[19] ( an increase from its FY 2004 request of $171 million.[20] ( By comparison, its FY 2002 defense budget was $5.2 billion.[21] (

In 2005, news sources reported that North Korea continued to raise food prices while reducing food rations to the below-subsistence amount of 250 grams per person per day, the equivalent of two medium-sized potatoes.[22] (

North Korea claims that natural disasters caused the famine. Taken together, however, these reports suggest different explanations for North Korea's great famine. At best, it appears to be a program of malign and discriminatory neglect. At worst, it is a program of political classification[23] ( and cleansing not unlike that used in Soviet Ukraine in the 1930s--political cleansing by engineered famine.[24] (


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.

Missing image
Panmunjeom, Border between South and North Korea, facing DPRK.

Tourists are not permitted on passports from the United States, and 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, ISBN 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

Links associated wtih the D.P.R.K. government

Web sites about the D.P.R.K.

Web sites criticizing the D.P.R.K.

  • One Free Korea ( - Blog focusing on human rights conditions in North Korea
  • Another Korea ( - Background stories on North Korea
  • Students for War ( - Student group calling for invasion of North Korea
  • Fancy a round, Dear leader? ( - The Independent (newspaper) journal describing a visit inside North Korea

Countries in East Asia
China (PRC) | Japan | North Korea | South Korea | Taiwan (ROC)*
Special Administrative Regions: Hong Kong | Macau
The political status of Taiwan is disputed.
bg:Северна Корея

ca:Corea del Nord cs:Severn Korea

da:Nordkorea de:Nordkorea et:Phja-Korea es:Corea del Norte eo:Nord-Koreio fr:Core du Nord gl:Corea do Norte - 북한 ko:조선민주주의인민공화국 hi:उत्तर कोरिया id:Korea Utara ia:Corea del Nord is:Norur-Krea it:Corea del Nord he:צפון קוריאה li:Noord-Korea lv:Ziemeļkoreja lt:Šiaurės Korėja ms:Korea Utara zh-min-nan:Tiu-sin nl:Noord-Korea nds:Noordkorea ja:朝鮮民主主義人民共和国 no:Nord-Korea pl:Koreańska Republika Ludowo-Demokratyczna pt:Coreia do Norte ru:Корейская Народно-Демократическая Республика se:Davvi-Korea sk:Severn Krea sl:Severna Koreja fi:Korean demokraattinen kansantasavalta sv:Nordkorea th:ประเทศเกาหลีเหนือ zh:朝鲜


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