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North Korea, officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) (Hangul: 조선민주주의인민공화국, Chosŏn Minjujuŭi Inmin Konghwaguk), is a state in East Asia, occupying the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Its capital and largest city is Pyongyangmarker. The Korean Demilitarized Zone serves as the buffer area between North Korea and South Koreamarker. The Amnok River and the Tumen Rivermarker form the border between North Korea and People's Republic of Chinamarker. A section of the Tumen River in the extreme north-east is the border with Russia.

The peninsula was governed by the Korean Empiremarker until it was annexed by Japan following the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. It was divided into Soviet and American occupied zones in 1945, following the end of World War II. North Korea refused to participate in a United Nations–supervised election held in the south in 1948, which led to the creation of separate Korean governments for the two occupation zones. Both North and South Korea claimed sovereignty over the peninsula as a whole, which led to the Korean War of 1950. A 1953 armistice ended the fighting; however, the two countries are officially still at war with each other, as a peace treaty was never signed. Both states were accepted into the United Nations in 1991. On May 26, 2009, North Korea unilaterally withdrew from the armistice.

North Korea is a single-party state under a united front led by the Korean Workers' Party.

The country's government styles itself as following the Juche ideology of self-reliance, developed by Kim Il-sung, the country's former leader.
Juche became the official state ideology when the country adopted a new constitution in 1972, though Kim Il-sung had been using it to form policy since at least as early as 1955.
Officially a socialist republic, North Korea is considered by many in the outside world to be a totalitarian Stalinist dictatorship.
The current leader is Kim Jong-il, son of the late Eternal President Kim Il-sung.


In the aftermath of the Japanese occupation of Korea which ended with Japan's defeat in World War II in 1945, Korea was divided at the 38th parallel in accordance with a United Nations arrangement, to be administered by the Soviet Unionmarker in the north and the United Statesmarker in the south. The history of North Korea formally begins with the establishment of the democratic People's Republic in 1948.

Division of Korea

In August 1945, the Soviet Army established a Soviet Civil Authority to rule the country until a domestic regime, friendly to the USSR, could be established. After the Soviet forces' departure in 1948, the main agenda in the following years was unification of Korea from both sides until the consolidation of Syngman Rhee regime in the South with American military support and the suppression of the October 1948 insurrection ended hopes that the country could be reunified by way of Communist revolution in the South.In 1949, a military intervention into South Koreamarker was considered by the Northern regime but failed to receive support from the Soviet Union, which had played a key role in the establishment of the country. The withdrawal of most United Statesmarker forces from the South in June dramatically weakened the Southern regime and encouraged Kim Il-sung to re-think an invasion plan against the South. The idea itself was first rejected by Joseph Stalin but with the development of Soviet nuclear weapons, Mao Zedong's victory in China and the Chinese indication that it would send troops and other support to North Korea, Stalin approved an invasion which led to the Korean War.

Korean War

North Korean war monument in Pyongyang.
The Korean War was a civil war between North Korea and South Korea with major hostilities beginning on June 25, 1950, pausing with an armistice signed on July 27, 1953. The conflict arose from the division on Korea by the US and the attempts of the two Korean powers to re-unify Koreamarker under their respective governments. The division led to full scale civil war with a cost of more than 2 million civilians and soldiers from both sides. The period immediately before the war was marked by escalating border conflicts at the 38th Parallel and attempts to negotiate elections for the entirety of Korea. These negotiations ended when the military of North Korea invaded the South on June 25, 1950. Under the aegis of the United Nations, nations allied with the United Statesmarker intervened on behalf of South Korea. After rapid advances in a South Korean counterattack, North-allied Chinesemarker forces intervened on behalf of North Korea, shifting the balance of the war and ultimately leading to an armistice that approximately restored the original boundaries between North and South Korea.

While some have referred to the conflict as a civil war, many other factors were at play. The Korean War was also the first armed confrontation of the Cold War and set the standard for many later conflicts. It created the idea of a proxy war, where the two superpowers would fight in another country, forcing the people in that nation to suffer the bulk of the destruction and death involved in a war between such large nations. The superpowers avoided descending into an all-out war with one another, as well as the mutual use of nuclear weapons. It also expanded the Cold War, which to that point had mostly been concerned with Europe. A heavily guarded demilitarized zone on the 38th parallel continues to divide the peninsula today with anti-Communist and anti-North Korea sentiment still remaining in South Korea.

Since the ceasefire of the Korean War in 1953 the relations between the North Korean government and South Korea, European Union, Canada, the United States, and Japan have remained tense. Fighting was halted in the ceasefire, but both Koreas are still technically at war. Both 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. Additionally, on October 4, 2007, the leaders of North and South Korea pledged to hold summit talks to officially declare the war over and reaffirmed the principle of mutual non-aggression.

20th century

North and South Korea have never signed a formal peace treaty and thus are still officially at war; only a ceasefire was declared. South Korea's government came to be dominated by its military and a relative peace was punctuated by border skirmishes and assassination attempts. The North failed in several assassination attempts on South Korean leaders, most notably in 1968, 1974 and the Rangoon bombing in 1983; tunnels were frequently found under the DMZ and war nearly broke out over the axe murder incident at Panmunjeommarker in 1976. In 1973, extremely secret, high-level contacts began to be conducted through the offices of the Red Crossmarker, but ended after the Panmunjeom incident with little progress having been made and the idea that the two Koreas would join international organisations separately.

In the late 1990s, with the South having transitioned to democracy, the success of the Nordpolitik policy, and power in the North having been taken up by Kim Il-sung's son Kim Jong-il, the two nations began to engage publicly for the first time, with the South declaring its Sunshine Policy.

21st century

In 2002, United States president George W. Bush labeled North Korea part of an "axis of evil" and an "outpost of tyranny". The highest-level contact the government has had with the United States was with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who made a visit to Pyongyang in 2000, but the two countries do not have formal diplomatic relations. By 2006, approximately 37,000 American soldiers remained in South Korea, although by June 2009 this number had fallen to around 30,000. Kim Jong-il has privately stated his acceptance of U.S. troops on the peninsula, even after a possible reunification. Publicly, North Korea strongly demands the removal of American troops from Korea.

On June 13, 2009, the Associated Press reported that in response to new U.N. sanctions, North Korea declared it would progress with its uranium enrichment program. This marked the first time the DPRK has publicly acknowledged that it is conducting a uranium enrichment program. In August 2009, former US president Bill Clinton met with Kim Jong-il to secure the release of 2 US journalists.


North Korea occupies the northern portion of the Korean Peninsula, covering an area of . North Korea shares land borders with People's Republic of China and Russia to the north, and borders South Korea along the Korean Demilitarized Zone. To its west are the Yellow Seamarker and Korea Baymarker, and to its east lies Japan across the Sea of Japanmarker (East Sea of Korea). The highest point in North Korea is Paektu-san Mountainmarker at . The longest river is the Amnok River which flows for .

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. On August 7, 2007, the most devastating floods in 40 years caused the North Korean Government to ask for international help. NGOs, such as the Red Crossmarker, asked people to raise funds because they feared a humanitarian catastrophe.

Kumgang mountains

The capital and largest city is Pyongyangmarker; other major cities include Kaesongmarker in the south, Sinuijumarker in the northwest, Wonsanmarker and Hamhungmarker in the east and Chongjinmarker in the northeast.


Already early European visitors to Korea remarked that the country resembled "a sea in a heavy gale" because of the many successive mountain ranges that crisscross the peninsula. Some 80% 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 2000 meters or more located in North Korea. The coastal plains are wide in the west and discontinuous in the east. The great majority of the population lives in the plains and lowlands.

The highest point in North Korea is Baekdu Mountainmarker which is a volcanic mountain near the Chinese border with basalt lava plateau with elevations between 1400 and 2000 meters above sea level. The Hamgyong Range, located in the extreme northeastern part of the peninsula, has many high peaks including Gwanmosan at approximately . 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) in the Taebaek Rangemarker, which extends into South Korea, is famous for its scenic beauty.

Topography of North Korea

For the most part, the plains are small. The most extensive are the Pyongyangmarker and Chaeryong plains, each covering about 500 square kilometers. Because the mountains on the east coast drop abruptly to the sea, the plains are even smaller there than on the west coast. Unlike neighboring Japan or northern China, North Korea experiences few severe earthquakes.


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 Siberiamarker. 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 Oceanmarker. 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.

Administrative divisions

Principal divisions of North Korea

Namea Hangul Hanja
Directly governed cities (Chikhalsi)a
1 Pyongyang marker 평양직할시 平壤直轄市
Special Administrative Regions (T'ŭkpyŏl Haengjŏnggu)a
2 Kaesong Industrial Regionmarker 개성공업지구 開城工業地區
3 Kumgangsan Tourist Regionmarker 금강산관광지구 金剛山觀光地區
4 Sinuiju Special Administrative Region 신의주특별행정구 新義州特別行政區
Provinces (do)a
5 South Pyongan 평안남도 平安南道
6 North Pyongan 평안북도 平安北道
7 Chagang 자강도 慈江道
8 South Hwanghae 황해남도 黃海南道
9 North Hwanghae 황해북도 黃海北道
10 Kangwon 강원도 江原道
11 South Hamgyongmarker 함경남도 咸鏡南道
12 North Hamgyongmarker 함경북도 咸鏡北道
13 Ryanggang * 량강도 兩江道
* – Sometimes rendered "Yanggang".

Major cities

Culture and arts

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.

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 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 Palacemarker and documents which portrayed the Japanese in a negative light were revised.

In July 2004, the Complex of Goguryeo Tombsmarker became the first site in the country to be included in the UNESCOmarker list of World Heritage Sites.

In February 2008, The New York Philharmonic Orchestra became the first US musical group ever to perform in North Korea, albeit for a handpicked "invited audience." The concert was broadcast on national television.

A popular event in North Korea is the Mass Games. The most recent and largest Mass Games was called "Arirang". It was performed six nights a week for two months, and involved over 100,000 performers. Attendees to this event in recent years report that the anti-West sentiments have been toned down compared to previous performances. The Mass Games involve performances of dance, gymnastics, and choreographic routines which celebrate the history of North Korea and the Workers' Party Revolution. The Mass Games are held in Pyongyang at various venues (varying according to the scale of the Games in a particular year) including the Rungrado May Day Stadiummarker, which is the largest stadium in the world with a capacity of 150,000 people.

Government and politics

North Korea is a self-described Juche (self-reliant) state with a pronounced cult of personality organized around Kim Il-sung (the founder of North Korea and the country's first and only president) and his son and heir, Kim Jong-il. 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 Palacemarker in central Pyongyang.

Although the active position of president has been abolished in deference to the memory of Kim Il-sung, the de facto head of state is Kim Jong-il, who is Chairman of the National Defence Commission of North Korea. The legislature of North Korea is the Supreme People's Assembly, currently led by President Kim Yong-nam. The other senior government figure is Premier Kim Yong-il.

North Korea is a single-party state. The governing party 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 indicates the country's next leader will be Kim Jong-un, the youngest of Kim Jong-il's three sons.

Foreign relations

North Korea has long maintained close relations with the People's Republic of China and Russia. 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. North Korea continues to have strong ties with its socialist southeast Asian allies in Vietnammarker, Laosmarker, and Cambodiamarker.North Korea has started installing a concrete and barbed wire fencemarker on its northern border, in response to China's wish to curb refugees fleeing from North Korea. Previously the border between China and North Korea had only been lightly patrolled.

As a result of the North Korean nuclear weapons program, the Six-party talks were established to find a peaceful solution to the growing unrest 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.

On October 4, 2007, South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il signed an 8-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.

The United States and South Korea previously designated the North as a state sponsor of terrorism. The 1983 bombing that killed members of the South Korean government and the destruction of a South Korean airliner have been attributed to North Korea. North Korea has also admitted responsibility for the kidnapping of 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s, five of whom were returned to Japan in 2002. On October 11, 2008, the United States removed North Korea from its list of states that sponsor terrorism.

Most of the foreign embassies connecting with diplomatic ties to North Korea are situated in Beijing rather than Pyongyang.


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

Kim Jong-il is the Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army and Chairman of the National Defence Commission of North Korea. The Korean People's Army (KPA) is the name for the collective armed personnel of the North Korean military. The army has four branches: Ground Force, Naval Force, Air Force, and the State Security Department.According to the U.S.marker Department of Statemarker, North Korea has the fifth-largest army in the world, at an estimated 1.21 million armed personnel, with about 20% of men aged 17–54 in the regular armed forces. North Korea has the highest percentage of military personnel per capita of any nation in the world, with approximately 1 enlisted soldier for every 25 citizens. 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 equipment, including 4,060 tanks, 2,500 APCs, 17,900 artillery pieces (incl. mortars), 11,000 air defence guns in the Ground force; at least 915 vessels in the Navy and 1,748 aircraft in the Air Force, as well as some 10,000 MANPADS and anti-tank guided missiles. The equipment is a mixture of World War II vintage vehicles and small arms, widely proliferated Cold War technology, and more modern Soviet weapons. According to official North Korean media, planned military expenditures for 2009 are 15.8% of GDP.

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. North Korea probably has fissile material for up to 9 nuclear weapons, and has the capability to deploy nuclear warheads on intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

North Korea also sells its missiles and military equipment overseas. In April 2009 the United Nations named the Korea Mining and Development Trading Corporation (aka KOMID) as North Korea's primary arms dealer and main exporter of equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons. It also named Korea Ryonbong as a supporter of North Korea's military related sales.

On October 6, North Korea announced it was ready to resume work on its nuclear center in Yongbyon, although the officials claimed that the country still holds open the possibility of nuclear disarmament, but only after the US agrees to conduct direct talks with North Korea. The absence of dialogue with the United States was claimed to be the only obstacle for Pyongyang to resume the six-party talks. The US government said it was ready to discuss the matter, but had certain conditions that must be met. Kim Jong-il said that as a result of the talks with the Chinese delegation, the hostile relations between North Korea and the United States should be turned into peaceful ties by means of bilateral talks.


North Korea has an industrialised, autarkic, and highly centralized command economy. Of the five remaining socialist states in the world, North Korea is one of only two (along with Cubamarker) with an entirely government-planned, state-owned economy.

North Korea's isolation policy means that international trade is highly restricted, hampering a significant potential for economic growth. Nonetheless, due to its strategic location in East Asia connecting four major economies and having a cheap, young, and skilled workforce, it is projected that the North Korean economy could grow to 6–7% annually "with the right incentives and reform measures". Small-scale private markets, known as janmadang, exist throughout the country and provide the population with imported food and certain commodities in exchange for money, thus helping to prevent serious starvation.

The North Korean economy is completely nationalized, which means that food rations, housing, healthcare, and education is offered from the state for free. The payment of taxes has been abolished since April 1, 1974. In order to increase productivity from agriculture and industry, since the 1960s the North Korean government has introduced a number of management systems such as the Taean work system. In the 21st century, North Korea's GDP growth has been slow but steady, although in recent years, growth has gradually accelerated to 3.7% in 2008, the fastest pace in almost a decade, largely due to a sharp growth of 8.2% in the agricultural sector. This comes as a surprise given that most economies have reported minus growth due to the global financial crisis of 2008–2009.

GDP Growth by year
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
1.3 % 3.7 % 1.2 % 1.8 % 2.2 % 1.0 % 1.6 % 1.8 % 3.7 %

Based on estimates in 2002, the dominant sector in the North Korean economy is industry (43.1%), followed by services (33.6%) and agriculture (23.3%). In 2004, it was estimated that agriculture employed 37% of the workforce while industry and services employed the remaining 63%. Major industries include military products, machine building, electric power, chemicals, mining, metallurgy, textiles, food processing and tourism.

In 2005, North Korea was ranked by the FAO as an estimated 10th in the production of fresh fruit and as an estimated 19th in the production of apples. It 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.

Foreign commerce

China and South Korea remain the largest donors of food aid to North Korea. The U.S. objects to this manner of donating food due to lack of supervision. In 2005, China and South Korea combined to provide 1 million tons of food aid, each contributing half. In addition to food aid, China reportedly provides an estimated 80 to 90 percent of North Korea's oil imports at "friendly prices" that are sharply lower than the world market price.

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. For example, South Korea's had the "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. There have also been aid disruptions due to widespread theft of railroad cars used by mainland China to deliver food relief.

In July 2002, North Korea started experimenting with private capitalism in the Kaesong Industrial Regionmarker. A small number of other areas have been designated as Special Administrative Regions, including Sinŭiju along the China-North Korea border. China and South Korea are the biggest trade partners of North Korea, with trade with China increasing 15% to US$1.6 billion in 2005, and trade with South Korea increasing 50% to over 1 billion for the first time in 2005. It is reported that the number of mobile phones in Pyongyangmarker 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 number 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 Kaesongmarker and Pyongyangmarker, as well as along the China-North Korea border, bypassing the food rationing system.

In 2000, North Korea established the Centre for the Study of the Capitalist System. Increasingly more foreign-invested joint ventures have been set up since 2002. The Pyongyang Business School was established by the Swiss government to help teach students business management.

In a 2003 event dubbed the "Pong Su incident", a North Korean cargo ship allegedly attempting to smuggle heroin into Australia was seized by Australian officials, strengthening Australian and United States' suspicions that Pyongyang engages in international drug smuggling. The North Korean government denied any involvement.


Tourism in North Korea is organized by the state owned Tourism Organisation ("Ryohaengsa"). Every group of travelers as well as individual tourists/visitors are permanently accompanied by one or two "guides" who normally speak the mother language of the tourist. While tourism has increased over the last few years, tourists from Western countries remain few. The majority of the tourists who visit come from China, Russia and Japan. Russian citizens from the Asian part of Russia prefer North Korea as a tourist destination due to the relatively low prices, lack of pollution and the warmer climate. For citizens of the US and South Korea it is practically impossible to obtain a visa for North Korea. Exceptions for US citizens are made for the yearly Arirang Festival.

In the area of the Kŭmgangsanmarker-mountains, the company Hyundai established and operates a special Tourist area. Traveling to this area is also possible for South Koreans and US citizens, but only in organized groups from South Korea. A special administrative region known as the Kŭmgangsan Tourist Regionmarker exists for this purpose. Trips to the region have been temporarily suspended since a South Korean woman who wandered into a controlled military zone was shot dead by border guards in late 2008.


In the 1990s North Korea faced significant economic disruptions, including a series of natural disasters, economic mismanagement and serious resource shortages after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. 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 North Korean famine known as "Arduous March" resulted in the deaths of between 300,000 and 800,000 North Koreans per year during the three year famine, peaking in 1997, with 2.0 million total being "the highest possible estimate." The deaths were most likely caused by famine-related illnesses such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, and diarrhea rather than starvation.

In 2006, Amnesty International reported that a national nutrition survey conducted by the North Korean government, the World Food Programme, and UNICEF found that 7% of children were severely malnourished; 37% were chronically malnourished; 23.4% were underweight; and one in three mothers was malnourished and anaemic as the result of the lingering effect of the famine. The inflation caused by some of the 2002 economic reforms, including the Songun or "Military-first" policy, was cited for creating the increased price of basic foods..

The history of Japanese assistance to North Korea has been marked with unrest; from a large pro-Pyongyangmarker community of Koreans in Japan to public outrage over the 1998 North Korean missile launch and revelations regarding the abduction of Japanese citizens. In June 1995 an agreement was reached that the two countries would act jointly. South Korea would provide 150,000 MT of grain in unmarked bags, and Japan would provide 150,000 MT gratis and another 150,000 MT on concessional terms. In October 1995 and January 1996, North Korea again approached Japan for assistance. On these two occasions, both of which came at crucial moments in the evolution of the famine, opposition from both South Korea and domestic political sources quashed the deals.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 after 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 its collapse in the mid-1990s." Agricultural production had increased from about 2.7 million metric tons in 1997 to 4.2 million metric tons in 2004.


The media of North Korea is one of the most strictly controlled in the world. As a result, information is tightly controlled both into and out of North Korea. The North Korean constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press; however, the government prohibits the exercise of these rights in practice. In its 2008 report, Reporters Without Borders classified the media environment in North Korea as 172 out of 173, only above that of Eritreamarker.

Only news that favors the regime is permitted, while news that covers the economic and political problems in the country, or criticisms of the regime from abroad, is not allowed. The media upholds 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 Pyongyangmarker. Newspapers include the Rodong Sinmun, Joson Inmingun, Minju Choson, and Rodongja Sinmum. No private press exists.


There is a mix of local built and imported trolleybuses and trams in urban centers in North Korea. Earlier fleets were obtained in Europe and China, but trade embargo has forced North Korea to build their own vehicles. Railways of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Choson Cul Minzuzui Inmingonghoagug, is the only rail operator in North Korea. It has a network of 5,200 km of track with 4,500 km in Standard gauge. There is a small narrow gauge railway in operation in Haeju peninsula. The railway fleet consists of a mix of electric and steam locomotives. Cars are mostly made in North Korea using Soviet designs. There are some locomotives from Imperial Japan, the United States, and Europe remaining in use. Second-hand Chinese locomotives (early DF4Bs, BJ Hydraulics, etc.) have also been spotted in active service.

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, 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 Namphomarker on the west coast and Rajinmarker, Chongjinmarker, Wonsanmarker, and Hamhungmarker on the east coast. The country's harbor loading capacity in the 1990s was estimated at almost 35 million tons a year. 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 ( ), 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.

North Korea's international air connections are limited. There are regularly scheduled flights from the Sunan International Airportmarker – 24 kilometers north of Pyongyang – to Moscowmarker, Khabarovskmarker, Beijing, Macaumarker, Vladivostokmarker, Bangkokmarker, Shenyangmarker, Shenzhenmarker and charter flights from Sunan to Tokyo as well as to East European countries, the Middle East, and Africa. An agreement to initiate a service between Pyongyang and Tokyo was signed in 1990. Internal flights are available between Pyongyangmarker, Hamhungmarker, Wonsanmarker, and Chongjinmarker. All civil aircraft operated by Air Koryo are 34 aircraft in 2008, these were purchased from the Soviet Union and Russia. From 1976 to 1978, four Tu-154 jets were added to the small fleet of propeller-driven An-24s afterwards adding four long range Ilyushin Il-62M, three Ilyushin Il-76MD large cargo aircraft and 2 long range Tupolev Tu-204-300's purchased in 2008.

One of the few ways to enter North Korea is over the Sino-Korea Friendship Bridgemarker or via Panmunjeommarker, the former crossing Amnok River and the latter crossing the Demilitarized Zone.

Private cars in North Korea are a rare sight, but some 70% of households used bicycles, which also play an increasingly important role in small-scale private trade.


North Korea's population of roughly 23 million is one of the most ethnically and linguistically homogeneous in the world, with very small numbers of Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, South Korean, and European expatriate minorities.

According to the CIA World Factbook, North Korea's life expectancy was 63.8 years in 2009, a figure roughly equivalent to that of Pakistanmarker and Burmamarker and slightly lower than Russia. Infant mortality stood at a high level of 51.34, which is 2.5 times higher than that of Chinamarker, 5 times that of Russiamarker, 12 times that of South Koreamarker. According to the UNICEF "The State of the world's Children 2003" North Korea appears ranked at the 73rd place (with first place having the highest mortality rate), between Guatemalamarker (72nd) and Tuvalumarker (74th). North Korea's Total fertility rate is relatively low and stood at 1.96 in 2009, comparable to those of the United Statesmarker and Francemarker.


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, although still occasionally used in South Korea. Both Koreas share the phonetic writing system called Chosongul in the north and Hangul south of the DMZ. 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.


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 irreligious. However the majority are defined as religious from a sociological viewpoint and the cultural influence of such traditional religions as Buddhism and Confucianism still have an effect on North Korean spiritual life.

Nevertheless, Buddhists in North Korea reportedly fare better than other religious groups; particularly Christians, who are said to face persecution 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.

According to Human Rights Watch, 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 Religious Intelligence the situation of religion in North Korea is the following:
  • Irreligion: 15,460,000 adherents (64.31% of population, the vast majority of which are adherents of the Juche philosophy)
  • Korean shamanism: 3,846,000 adherents (16% of population)
  • Cheondoism: 3,245,000 adherents (13.50% of population)
  • Buddhism: 1,082,000 adherents (4.50% of population)
  • Christianity: 406,000 adherents (1.69% of population)

Pyongyang was the center of Christian activity in Korea before the Korean War. Today, four state-sanctioned churches exist, which freedom of religion advocates say are showcases for foreigners. Official government statistics report that there are 10,000 Protestants and 4,000 Roman Catholics in North Korea.

According to a ranking published by Open Doors, an organization that supports persecuted Christians, North Korea is currently the country with the most severe persecution of Christians in the world. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International also have expressed concerns about religious persecution in North Korea.


Education in North Korea is controlled by the government and is compulsory until the secondary level. Education in North Korea is free, and the state provides to students not only instruction and educational facilities without charge, but also uniforms and textbooks. Heuristics is actively applied in order to develop the independence and creativity of students. Compulsory education lasts eleven years, and encompasses one year of preschool, four years of primary education and six years of secondary education. The North Korean School curricula consist of both academic and political subject matter.

Primary schools are known as people's schools and children attend this school from the age of six to nine. They are later enrolled in either a regular secondary school or a special secondary school, depending on their specialities. They enter secondary school at the age of ten and leave when they are sixteen.

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 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 Universitymarker and Pyongyang University of Science and Technologymarker, both in Pyongyangmarker. The former, founded in October 1946, is an elite institution whose enrollment of 16,000 full- and part-time students in the early 1990s occupies, in the words of one observer, the "pinnacle of the North Korean educational and social system."

North Korea is one of the most literate countries in the world, with an average literacy rate of 99%.

Health care

North Korea has a national medical service and health insurance system. North Korea spends 3% of its gross domestic product on health care. Since the 1950s, the DPRK has 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. There are hospitals attached to factories and mines. Since 1979 more emphasis was put on traditional Korean medicine, based on treatment with herbs and accupuncture.

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 and equipment, running water and electricity.

Almost 100% of the population has access to water and sanitation, but it is not completely potable. Infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, and hepatitis B are considered to be endemic to the country.

According to 2009 estimates, North Korea's life expectancy was 63.8 years, a figure roughly equivalent to that of Pakistan and Burma and slightly lower than Russia.

Among other health problems, many North Korean citizens suffer from the after effects of malnutrition, caused by famines related to the failure of its food distribution program and military first policy. A 1998 United Nations (UN) World Food Program report revealed that 60% of children suffered from malnutrition, and 16% were acutely malnourished. As a result, those who suffered during the disaster have ongoing health problems.


Human rights

Multiple international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, accuse North Korea of having one of the worst human rights records of any nation. North Koreans have been referred to as "some of the world's most brutalized people" by Human Rights Watch, due to the severe restrictions placed on their political and economic freedoms. North Korean defectors have testified to the existence of prison and detention camps with an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 inmates (about 0.85% of the population), and have reported torture, starvation, rape, murder, medical experimentation, forced labour, 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 (which was previously allowed).

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

The system changed slightly at the end of 1990s, when population growth became very low. In many cases, where capital punishment was de facto , it was replaced by less severe punishments. Bribery became prevalent throughout the country . For example, years ago just listening to South Korean radio could result in capital punishment . However, many North Koreans now illegally wear clothes of South Korean origin, listen to Southern music, watch South Korean videotapes and even receive Southern broadcasts.

Personality cult

The North Korean government exercises tight control over many aspects of the nation's culture, and this control is used to perpetuate a cult of personality surrounding Kim Il-sung, and, to a lesser extent, Kim Jong-il. While visiting North Korea in 1979, journalist Bradley Martin noted that nearly all music, art, and sculpture that he observed glorified "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung, whose personality cult was then being extended to his son, "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il. The song No Motherland Without You, sung by the North Korean Army Choir, was created especially for Kim Jong-Il and is one of the most popular tunes in the country. 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 Universitymarker, Kim Il-sung Stadiummarker, and Kim Il-sung Squaremarker. Defectors have been quoted as saying that North Korean schools deify both father and son. Kim Il-sung rejected the notion that he had created a cult around himself and accused those who suggested so of "factionalism".

Critics maintain Kim Jong-il is the centre of an elaborate personality cult inherited from his father and founder of the DPRK, Kim Il-sung. He is often the center of attention throughout ordinary life in the DPRK. His birthday is one of the most important public holidays in the country. On his 60th birthday (based on his official date of birth), mass celebrations occurred throughout the country. Kim Jong-il's personality cult, although significant, is not as extensive as his father's. In 2004, some of his official portraits were taken down from public buildings. One point of view is that Kim Jong Il's cult of personality is solely out of respect for Kim Il-sung or out of fear of punishment for failure to pay homage. Media and government sources from outside of North Korea generally support this view, while North Korean government sources say that it is genuine hero worship.

Korean reunification

The unification flag of Korea.
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. Both North and South Korea signed the June 15th North-South Joint Declaration in which both sides made promises to seek out a peaceful reunification. The Democratic Federal Republic of Korea is a proposed state first mentioned by North Korean president Kim Il Sung on October 10 in 1980 proposing a federation between North and South Koreamarker in which the respective political systems would initially remain.

See also


Further reading

  • Ben Anderson, Interview on visit to North Korea, Frontline World, January 2003
  • Jasper Becker Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea Oxford University Press (2005) , hardcover, 328 pages, ISBN 13: 9780195170443
  • Gordon Cucullu, Separated At Birth: How North Korea Became The Evil Twin Globe Pequot Press (2004), hardcover, 307 pages, ISBN 1-59228-591-0
  • Bruce Cumings, Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History, W.W. Norton & Company, 1998, paperback, 527 pages, ISBN 0-393-31681-5
  • Bruce Cumings, Origins of the Korean War (Vol. 1) : Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes 1945-1947, Princeton University Pressmarker, 1981, paperback, ISBN 0-691-10113-2
  • Bruce Cumings, Origins of the Korean War (Vol. 2): The Roaring of the Cataract 1947-1950, Cornell University Press, 2004, hardcover, ISBN 89-7696-613-9
  • Bruce Cumings, North Korea: Another Country, New Press, 2004, paperback, ISBN 1-56584-940-X
  • Bruce Cumings, Living Through The Forgotten War: Portrait Of Korea, Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies, 2004, paperback, ISBN 0-9729704-0-1
  • Bruce Cumings, Inventing the Axis of Evil: The Truth About North Korea, Iran, and Syria, New Press, 2006, paperback, ISBN 1-59558-038-7
  • Delisle, Guy, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, Drawn & Quarterly Books, 2005, hardcover, 176 pages, ISBN 1-896597-89-0
  • Nick Eberstadt, aka Nicholas Eberstadt, The End of North Korea, American Enterprise Institute Press (1999), hardcover, 191 pages, ISBN 0-8447-4087-X
  • John Feffer, North Korea South Korea: U.S. Policy at a Time of Crisis, Seven Stories Press, 2003, paperback, 197 pages, ISBN 1-58322-603-6
  • Ron Goodden, North Korea commentary (August, 2007)
  • Michael Harrold, Comrades and Strangers: Behind the Closed Doors of North Korea, Wiley Publishing, 2004, paperback, 432 pages, ISBN 0-470-86976-3
  • Helen-Louise Hunter, Kim Il-song's North Korea. Praeger, 1999. ISBN 0-275-96296-2.
  • Lee Soon Ok. Eyes of the Tailless Animals: Prison Memoirs of a North Korean Woman. Living Sacrifice Book Co, 1999, ISBN 978-0882643359
  • Hyejin Kim, Jia: A Novel of North Korea, Cleis Press, 2007, ISBN 1573442755
  • Christian Kracht, Eva Munz, Lukas Nikol, "The Ministry Of Truth: Kim Jong Il's North Korea", Feral House, Oct 2007, 132 pages, 88 color photographs, ISBN 978-1932595277
  • 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 0-7006-1171-1
  • Andrei Lankov, 'North of the DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea , McFarland & Company (April 24, 2007), paperback, 358 pages, ISBN 978-0786428397
  • John Feffer, North Korea South Korea: U.S. Policy at a Time of Crisis, Seven Stories Press, 2003, paperback, 197 pages, ISBN 1-58322-603-6
  • Don Oberdorfer. The Two Koreas : a contemporary history Addison-Wesley, 1997, 472 pages, ISBN 0-201-40927-5
  • Kong Dan Oh, and Ralph C. Hassig, North Korea Through the Looking Glass, The Brookings Institution, 2000, paperback, 216 pages, ISBN 0-8157-6435-9
  • Osmond, Andrew, High, Minnow Press, 2004, paperback, 216 pages, ISBN 978-0953944828 Includes a fictional account of the creation of a new state of New Korea.
  • Quinones, Dr C. Kenneth, and Joseph Tragert, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding North Korea, Alpha Books, 2004, paperback, 448 pages, ISBN 1-59257-169-7
  • Sigal, Leon V., Disarming Strangers: Nuclear Diplomacy with North Korea, Princeton University Pressmarker, 199, 336 pages, ISBN 0-691-05797-4
  • Chris Springer, Pyongyang: The Hidden History of the North Korean Capital Saranda Books, 2003. ISBN 963-00-8104-0.
  • Vladimir, Cyber North Korea, Byakuya Shobo, 2003, paperback, 223 pages, ISBN 4-89367-881-7
  • Norbert Vollertsen, Inside North Korea: Diary of a Mad Place, Encounter Books, 2003, hardcover, 280 pages, ISBN 1-893554-87-2
  • Wahn Kihl, Y. (1983) "North Korea in 1983: Transforming "The Hermit Kingdom"?" Asian Survey, Vol. 24, No. 1: pp100–111
  • Robert Willoughby, North Korea: The Bradt Travel Guide. Globe Pequot, 2003. ISBN 1-84162-074-2.
  • Hyun Hee Kim, "The Tears of My Soul", William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1993, hardcover, 183 pages, ISBN 0-688-12833-5
  • Ducruet, Cesar et Jo, Jin-Cheol (2008) Coastal Cities, Port Activities and Logistic Constraints in a Socialist Developing Country: The Case of North Korea, Transport Reviews, Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 1–25:

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