North Korea facts for kids
Quick facts for kids
Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Land controlled by North Korea shown in dark green; claimed but not controlled land shown in light green
and largest city
• Party and State Affairs Commission Chairman
• President of Assembly Presidium
• First Vice Chairman of State Affairs Commission
|Legislature||Supreme People's Assembly|
|c. 7th century BC|
• North-South Kingdoms
|12 October 1897|
• Japan-Korea Treaty
|29 August 1910|
• Declaration of Independence
|1 March 1919|
• Provisional Government
|11 April 1919|
|15 August 1945|
• Soviet administration of Korea north of the 38th parallel
|8 February 1946|
• Foundation of the DPRK
|9 September 1948|
• Chinese withdrawal
|27 December 1972|
• Admitted to the United Nations
|17 September 1991|
|120,540 km2 (46,540 sq mi) (97th)|
• Water (%)
• 2018 estimate
• 2008 census
|212/km2 (549.1/sq mi) (65th)|
|GDP (PPP)||2014 estimate|
• Per capita
|GDP (nominal)||2017 estimate|
• Per capita
|Currency||Korean People's won (₩) (KPW)|
|Time zone||UTC+9 (Pyongyang Time)|
|ISO 3166 code||KP|
North Korea (officially called the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)), 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 Pyŏngyang, 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 country, 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 went from one military dictatorship to another, the North went through steady development and was ahead of the 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 installed governments supporting their respective ideologies, Marxist-Leninist Single Party State (North) and Democratic Capitalist State (South).
The Korean War
See Korean War for more details.
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 (to learn more, see the article about the Cold War). If South Korea became Communist, then maybe other countries would also. 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 can not 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 bombs, which can kill many people if it is exploded. North Korea will not say how many bombs it has, but other countries think that the North Korean government probably has built ten bombs 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 posses 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 DPRK parades are fakes used to exaggerate North Korea's military strength.
Politics and Government
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.
In the late 1950s, the second head of state and party chairman was Kim Il-Sung.
In July 1994, Kim died. His son, Kim Jŏng-Il, took over. He became the third head of state and party chairman.
In December 2011, Kim died. His son, Kim Jŏng-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 Jŏng-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 Jŏng-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 gives North Korea's citizens freedom of speech, religion and press. In real life, these citizens do not have these rights. People can be jailed if they criticise 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 labour 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 makes 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.
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.
Culture and Religion
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 were 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:
The two cities are:
- Pyongyang, the capital city and also the largest city
- Rason, a special city where other countries can make money, called a Special Economic Zone.
North Korea occupies the northern portion of the Korean Peninsula, lying between latitudes 37° and 43°N, and longitudes 124° and 131°E. It covers an area of 120,540 square kilometres (46,541 sq mi). North Korea shares land borders with China and Russia to the north, and borders South Korea along the Korean Demilitarized Zone. To its west are the Yellow Sea and Korea Bay, and to its east lies Japan across the Sea of Japan (East Sea of Korea).
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 percent of North Korea is composed of mountains and uplands, separated by deep and narrow valleys. All of the Korean Peninsula's mountains with elevations of 2,000 meters (6,600 ft) or more are located in North Korea. The highest point in North Korea is Paektu Mountain, a volcanic mountain with an elevation of 2,744 meters (9,003 ft) above sea level. Paektu is very significant in Korean culture, in which it is considered a sacred place by the Korean people and is thus incorporated in the elaborate folklore around the Kim dynasty. Other prominent ranges are the Hamgyong Range in the extreme northeast and the Rangrim Mountains, which are located in the north-central part of North Korea. Mount Kumgang in the Taebaek Range, which extends into South Korea, is famous for its scenic beauty.
The coastal plains are wide in the west and discontinuous in the east. A great majority of the population lives in the plains and lowlands. According to a United Nations Environmental Programme report in 2003, forest covers over 70 percent of the country, mostly on steep slopes. The longest river is the Amnok (Yalu) River which flows for 790 kilometres (491 mi).
North Korea experiences a combination of continental climate and an oceanic climate, but most of the country experiences a humid continental climate within the Köppen climate classification scheme. Winters bring clear weather interspersed with snow storms as a result of northern and northwestern winds that blow from Siberia. Summer tends to be by far the hottest, most humid, and rainiest time of year because of the southern and southeastern monsoon winds that carry moist air from the Pacific Ocean. Approximately 60 percent of all precipitation occurs from June to September. Spring and autumn are transitional seasons between summer and winter. The daily average high and low temperatures for Pyongyang are −3 and −13 °C (27 and 9 °F) in January and 29 and 20 °C (84 and 68 °F) in August.
With the exception of a small Chinese community and a few ethnic Japanese, North Korea's people are ethnically homogeneous. Demographic experts in the 20th century estimated that the population would grow to 25.5 million by 2000 and 28 million by 2010, but this increase never occurred due to the North Korean famine. It began in 1995, lasted for three years and resulted in the deaths of between 240,000 and 420,000 North Koreans.
International donors led by the United States initiated shipments of food through the World Food Program in 1997 to combat the famine. Despite a drastic reduction of aid under the George W. Bush Administration, the situation gradually improved: the number of malnourished children declined from 60% in 1998 to 37% in 2006 and 28% in 2013. Domestic food production almost recovered to the recommended annual level of 5.37 million tons of cereal equivalent in 2013, but the World Food Program reported a continuing lack of dietary diversity and access to fats and proteins.
The famine had a significant impact on the population growth rate, which declined to 0.9% annually in 2002. It was 0.53% in 2014. Late marriages after military service, limited housing space and long hours of work or political studies further exhaust the population and reduce growth. The national birth rate is 14.5 births per year per 1,000 population. Two-thirds of households consist of extended families mostly living in two-room units. Marriage is virtually universal and divorce is extremely rare.
The 2008 census listed the entire population as literate. An 11-year free, compulsory cycle of primary and secondary education is provided in more than 27,000 nursery schools, 14,000 kindergartens, 4,800 four-year primary and 4,700 six-year secondary schools. 77% of males and 79% of females aged 30–34 have finished secondary school. An additional 300 universities and colleges offer higher education.
Most graduates from the compulsory program do not attend university but begin their obligatory military service or proceed to work in farms or factories instead. The main deficiencies of higher education are the heavy presence of ideological subjects, which comprise 50% of courses in social studies and 20% in sciences, and the imbalances in curriculum. The study of natural sciences is greatly emphasized while social sciences are neglected. Heuristics is actively applied to develop the independence and creativity of students throughout the system. The study of Russian and English was made compulsory in upper middle schools in 1978.
North Korea shares the Korean language with South Korea, although some dialectal differences exist within both Koreas. North Koreans refer to their Pyongyang dialect as munhwaŏ ("cultured language") as opposed to the dialects of South Korea, especially the Seoul dialect or p'yojun'ŏ ("standard language"), which are viewed as decadent because of its use of loanwords from Chinese and European languages (particularly English). Words of Chinese, Manchu or Western origin have been eliminated from munhwa along with the usage of Chinese hancha characters. Written language uses only the chosŏn'gŭl phonetic alphabet, developed under Sejong the Great (1418–1450).
There are no known official statistics of religions in North Korea. According to Religious Intelligence, 64.3% of the population are irreligious, 16% practice Korean shamanism, 13.5% practice Chondoism, 4.5% are Buddhist, and 1.7% are Christian. Freedom of religion and the right to religious ceremonies are constitutionally guaranteed, but religions are restricted by the government. Amnesty International has expressed concerns about religious persecution in North Korea.
The influence of Buddhism and Confucianism still has an effect on cultural life. Chondoism ("Heavenly Way") is an indigenous syncretic belief combining elements of Korean shamanism, Buddhism, Taoism and Catholicism that is officially represented by the WPK-controlled Chongu Party.
The Open Doors mission, a Protestant-group based in the United States and founded during the Cold War-era, claims the most severe persecution of Christians in the world occurs in North Korea. Four state-sanctioned churches exist, but critics claim these are showcases for foreigners.
North Korea has maintained one of the most closed and centralized economies in the world since the 1940s. For several decades it followed the Soviet pattern of five-year plans with the ultimate goal of achieving self-sufficiency. Extensive Soviet and Chinese support allowed North Korea to rapidly recover from the Korean War and register very high growth rates. Systematic inefficiency began to arise around 1960, when the economy shifted from the extensive to the intensive development stage. The shortage of skilled labor, energy, arable land and transportation significantly impeded long-term growth and resulted in consistent failure to meet planning objectives. The major slowdown of the economy contrasted with South Korea, which surpassed the North in terms of absolute GDP and per capita income by the 1980s. North Korea declared the last seven-year plan unsuccessful in December 1993 and thereafter stopped announcing plans.
The loss of Eastern Bloc trading partners and a series of natural disasters throughout the 1990s caused severe hardships, including widespread famine. By 2000, the situation improved owing to a massive international food assistance effort, but the economy continues to suffer from food shortages, dilapidated infrastructure and a critically low energy supply. In an attempt to recover from the collapse, the government began structural reforms in 1998 that formally legalized private ownership of assets and decentralized control over production. A second round of reforms in 2002 led to an expansion of market activities, partial monetization, flexible prices and salaries, and the introduction of incentives and accountability techniques. Despite these changes, North Korea remains a command economy where the state owns almost all means of production and development priorities are defined by the government.
North Korea has the structural profile of a relatively industrialized country where nearly half of the Gross Domestic Product is generated by industry and human development is at medium levels. Purchasing power parity (PPP) GDP is estimated at $40 billion, with a very low per capita value of $1,800. In 2012, Gross national income per capita was $1,523, compared to $28,430 in South Korea. The North Korean won is the national currency, issued by the Central Bank of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
The economy is heavily nationalized. Food and housing are extensively subsidized by the state; education and healthcare are free; and the payment of taxes was officially abolished in 1974. A variety of goods are available in department stores and supermarkets in Pyongyang, though most of the population relies on small-scale jangmadang markets. In 2009, the government attempted to stem the expanding free market by banning jangmadang and the use of foreign currency, heavily devaluing the won and restricting the convertibility of savings in the old currency, but the resulting inflation spike and rare public protests caused a reversal of these policies. Private trade is dominated by women because most men are required to be present at their workplace, even though many state-owned enterprises are non-operational.
Despite a historically strong Chinese influence, Korean culture has shaped its own unique identity. It came under attack during the Japanese rule from 1910 to 1945, when Japan enforced a cultural assimilation policy. Koreans were forced 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.
After the peninsula was divided in 1945, two distinct cultures formed out of the common Korean heritage. North Koreans have little exposure to foreign influence. The revolutionary struggle and the brilliance of the leadership are some of the main themes in art. "Reactionary" elements from traditional culture have been discarded and cultural forms with a "folk" spirit have been reintroduced.
Korean heritage is protected and maintained by the state. Over 190 historical sites and objects of national significance are cataloged as National Treasures of North Korea, while some 1,800 less valuable artifacts are included in a list of Cultural Assets. The Historic Sites and Monuments in Kaesong and the Complex of Goguryeo Tombs are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Visual arts are generally produced in the esthetics of Socialist realism. North Korean painting combines the influence of Soviet and Japanese visual expression to instill a sentimental loyalty to the system. All artists in North Korea are required to join the Artists' Union, and the best among them can receive an official license to portray the leaders. Portraits and sculptures depicting Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un are classed as "Number One works".
In the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the Goguryeo tumulus is registered on the World Heritage list of UNESCO. These remains were registered as the first World Heritage property of North Korea in the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC) in July 2004. There are 63 burial mounds in the tomb group, with clear murals preserved. It is believed that these murals also influenced the Japanese Kita Tora burial mound.
The government emphasized optimistic folk-based tunes and revolutionary music throughout most of the 20th century. Ideological messages are conveyed through massive orchestral pieces like the "Five Great Revolutionary Operas" based on traditional Korean ch'angguk. Revolutionary operas differ from their Western counterparts by adding traditional instruments to the orchestra and avoiding recitative segments. Sea of Blood is the most widely performed of the Five Great Operas: since its premiere in 1971, it has been played over 1,500 times, and its 2010 tour in China was a major success. Western classical music by Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and other composers is performed both by the State Symphony Orchestra and student orchestras.
Pop music appeared in the 1980s with the Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble and Wangjaesan Light Music Band. Improved relations with South Korea following the Inter-Korean summit caused a decline in direct ideological messages in pop songs, but themes like comradeship, nostalgia and the construction of a powerful country remained. In 2014, the all-girl Moranbong Band was described as the most popular group in the country. North Koreans also listen to K-pop which spreads through illegal markets.
Korean cuisine has evolved through centuries of social and political change. Originating from ancient agricultural and nomadic traditions in southern Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula, it has gone through a complex interaction of the natural environment and different cultural trends. Rice dishes and kimchi are staple Korean food. In a traditional meal, they accompany both side dishes (panch'an) and main courses like juk, pulgogi or noodles. Soju liquor is the best-known traditional Korean spirit.
North Korea's most famous restaurant, Okryu-gwan, located in Pyongyang, is known for its raengmyeon cold noodles. Other dishes served there include gray mullet soup with boiled rice, beef rib soup, green bean pancake, sinsollo and dishes made from terrapin. Okryu-gwan sends research teams into the countryside to collect data on Korean cuisine and introduce new recipes. Some Asian cities host branches of the Pyongyang restaurant chain where waitresses perform music and dance.
Images for kids
Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea
Pyongyang Metro with bomb shelter functions
Ilyushin Il-76 strategic military airlifter used by Air Koryo
English lecture at the Grand People's Study House in Pyongyang
Apartments along Pyongyang
Satellite image of the Korean Peninsula at night, contrasting use of night-time lighting in North and South Korea.
In Spanish: Corea del Norte para niños
North Korea Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.