Founded in 1948, the official name of North Korea is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The local name for North Korea is Choson-minjujuui-inmin-koughwaguk or Choson (“Land of Morning Calm”).
When Japan surrendered to the Allies on August 15, 1945, U.S. president Truman and Soviet leader Stalin agreed that the U.S. would temporarily act as trustee for the southern half of Korea and the Soviet Union would act as trustee for the northern half. This temporary measure became permanent in 1948 when North Korea declared itself an independent sovereign state under a Communist system.
Though smaller in size, South Korea has a population more than double that of North Korea.
The word Korea, which many believe Marco Polo took with him to Europe, means “land of high mountains and sparkling streams.”
The DMZ (demilitarized zone) along the 38th parallel is the most heavily guarded border in the world.
Christmas is a nonevent in North Korea. Instead of Christmas celebrations, many North Koreans celebrate the birth of current president Kim Jong-il’s mother on December 24. North Koreans also do not celebrate Valentine’s Day, but instead celebrate “The General’s Birthday” on February 16. A popular
President and DPRK founder Kim Il-sung (1912-1994) was born Kim Song-ju, but took the name Kim Il-sung, which means “become the sun,” in 1935. He was raised Presbyterian, and his grandfather was a Protestant minister.
Though the people of North and South Korea share one language, one history, and one cultural base that reaches back at least 5,000 years, 10 million Koreans remain separated from family members since 1948 because of the 38th Parallel.
Japan and Russia first suggested dividing Korea at the 38th parallel in 1896 as a way to ease tensions between the two countries. However, Japan gained control over the entire country in 1904.
The North Korean government strictly controls all levels of education. The literacy rate of those aged 15 and older in North Korea is 99%.
North Korea has a “Propaganda and Agitation Department” which controls all communication. The government bans and jams all foreign broadcasts, and all radio and television stations are tuned into government broadcasts.
North Korea officially worships Kim Jong-il, the defacto leader of North Korea (the official leader is still his father, Kim Il-sung, who died in 1994). North Koreans are told he was born on Mount Paektu, like a mythical god. Russian records show, however, that he was actually born in Siberia.
Kim Jong-il is only 5’ 2’’ tall. He wears four-inch lifts in his shoes to compensate for his short stature.
Kim Jong-il has a collection of over 20,000 movies, including all the James Bond films.
Kim Il-sung (1912-1994) constructed his own brand of communism called juche sasang (self-reliance ideology), in which he combines the theories of Marx and Lenin to North Korean politics. While juche was initially a political ideology, it is now listed as the world’s tenth largest religion.
North Korea has experienced rapid deforestation, which has revealed many of its long-range artillery tubes previously hidden by trees. Deforestation is one of the major environmental crises facing North Korea.
The average life expectancy of North Koreans is 61 years for males and 66 years for females.
As of July 2010, the population of North Korea was 22,757,275, making it the fiftieth most populated country in the world. The United States is the third most populated in the country in the world with 310,232,863. China is the most populated country in the world, with over 1 billion people.
North Korea houses the world’s largest flagpole, at 525’ high. The flag it holds weighs approximately 600 pounds.
North Korea has three Internet hosts. The United States has the most in the world, with 439 million.
For years, North Korea has been linked to huge shipments of heroin and methamphetamines. In April 2003, the merchant ship Pong Su attempted to deliver 150 kg of heroin to Australia.
After his death, Kim Il-sung was declared the country’s “Eternal President.”
There is only one political party in North Korea, the Korean Workers Party (KWP). Members of the party must wear a badge of the “Great Leader” (Kim Il-sung) at all times.
North Korea has the world’s fourth largest military, boasting more than 10 million active personnel. With one in every 25 citizens enlisted as a soldier, North Korea has the highest percentage of military personnel per capita in the world. In 2001, North Korea spent over $5 billion on its military, more than 30% of its country’s GDP. The U.S. spends about 3.7%.
According to U.S. intelligence, North Korea could shoot a missile capable of striking Alaska, Hawaii, and the American West Coast. North Korea has an estimated 5,000 pounds of biological and chemical weapons.
In contrast to South Korea’s per capita GDP of $18,000, North Korea’s GDP is $1,000.
Kim Il-sung had a large inoperable calcium growth on his neck that can still be seen on his embalmed body, which is on display in the Kumsusan Memorial Palace. Because of its unsightly appearance, he was always photographed from the left.
North Korea is believed to have enough plutonium to build up to six nuclear weapons and is close to becoming a nuclear-armed state. A fully nuclear North Korea could trigger an East Asian arms race
Military service is required in North Korea and can be fulfilled by a 5-year term in the army or navy or a 3- to 4-year term in the air force.
Unlike in the U.S., where people sit on seesaws, both North and South Koreans stand while playing the game.
Kim Il-sung Square in the Pyongyang capital is larger than Red Square in Moscow.
The Tower of the Juche Idea is 558’ tall and was built to celebrate Kim Il-sung’s seventieth birthday. The tower is covered with 25,550 pieces of stone, one for each day of Kim Il-sung’s life.
After severe flooding in 1995, North Korea suffered a major famine, in which the U.S. estimates that between 275,000 and two million people died. More than 13 million people, including 60% of children in North Korea, still suffer malnutrition.
Sixty to 70% of North Korean defectors who enter China are women, and 70-80% of them become victims of human trafficking. If the Chinese government catches them, they are sent back to Korea, where they are forced into penal colonies or executed. Any Chinese-fathered babies are executed and any pregnancies are forcibly aborted.
North Korean women are a major source of human trafficking in China. Prices for North Korean women in China range from several hundred dollars to $2,000. They are often sold to farmers or to old or disabled men.
The manjoko (“satisfaction teams”) are made up of young girls who receive training in sexual practices to please high-ranking North Korean officials.
Women in North Korea make up 49% of the work force. Women receive five months’ paid maternity leave, and if a woman has three or more children, she receives eight hours of pay for six hours of work per day. In the 1990s, there were more Korean women holding government positions than there were American women holding comparable positions in the U.S.
Contrary to the egalitarian theories of a socialist society, North Korea divides its people into three social classes: the loyal class (top people in the KWP, families of war heroes), the ordinary group, and the disloyal class (those with relatives who sided with the Japanese before WWII or whose family members have escaped North Korea). People in the disloyal group are forced to work in mines or on farms.
Newlyweds in North Korea swear loyalty to both Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. They place a gift at the feet of a statue of Kim Il-sung.
North Korea’s main employers are the government and the military.
The official currency of North Korea is the won, from the Chinese yuan and the Japanese yen. In an attempt to control private markets in 2009, North Korea revalued the won by replacing 1,000 won notes with 10 won notes and strictly limiting the amount of old currency that could be used. This move effectively destroyed many people’s savings accounts.
North Korea’s leaders have had special flowers bred in their honor. Kim Il-sung had an orchid, kimilsungia, developed for him by an Indonesian plant expert in 1965. In 1988, a Japanese plant expert presented a red begonia called the kimjonilia to Kim Jong-il.
The North Korean flag was adopted in 1948 and features a red star within a large red band and two thinner bands of white and blue on the top and bottom of the flag. The red star represents socialism, the red band symbolizes revolution, and the small white bands stand for purity, strength, and dignity. The blue bands stand for sovereignty, peace, and friendship.
The only way for citizens to leave North Korea is by escaping north over the Chinese or Russian border, through the mine-laden DMZ into South Korea, or by boat to Japan. In 2006, an estimated 40,000-50,000 North Koreans were believed to be hiding in China. If they are found, the Chinese government returns them to North Korea.
The North Korean government pays for all health care, though recently it has suffered a severe shortage of medicine and medical equipment. In some hospitals, cutting-edge equipment remains unused because the doctors and nurses don’t know how to use it.
The Jikji printing plates are the oldest evidence of movable metal type printing in the world. The plates were used to print books in Cheongju, Korea, in 1377, preceding the Gutenberg Bible by 78 years.
North Korea measures the passage of years with the juche calendar. In this calendar, year 1 is 1912, the year Kim Il-sung was born. The year 2010 is juche year 99 and would be written as Juche 99 (2010) or Juche 99, 2010.
Since 1972, North Korean Olympic athletes have brought home nine gold, 12 silver, and 17 bronze medals. They have excelled in boxing, weightlifting, judo, and wrestling. One of North Korea’s greatest Olympic athletes is Kye Sun Hui. In 1996, at age 17, she became the youngest person to win an Olympic gold medal in judo.
North Korean families have an average of two children.
Even though the Armistice Agreement of 1953 ended the fighting in the Korean War, neither North nor South Korea signed the peace treaty; therefore, they are still officially at war.
North Korea has one of the worst human rights records of any country. Arbitrary arrests, lack of due process, and public executions are the norm.
North Korea is the last Stalinist state on Earth.
North Korea was accepted into the United Nations in 1991.
In large North Korean cities, women are not allowed to wear pants or ride bicycles. Women’s skirts must cover their knees.
North Korea has most of the Korean Peninsula’s mineral resources, such as high-grade iron ore deposits, anthracite coal, lignite coal, phosphate rock tungsten, lead, gold, silver, and copper.
In North Korea, there is one doctor for every 700 people and one hospital bed for every 350 people. The infant mortality rate is 51.34/1,000.
North Korea is ranked second to last on the World Press Freedom Index. (Eritrea is last.)
The highest point in North Korea is Mount Paektu (“Mount of Eternal Snow”) at 9,003 feet (2,744 meters). The mountain is sacred to all Koreans and, according to legend, it is the birthplace of Korean civilization.
North Korean defectors have described the existence of prison camps, where torture, rape, forced abortions and infanticide, forced labor, and medical experimentation have taken place.
North Korea calls the Korean War the Fatherland Liberation War, while the United States calls it the Forgotten War or Unknown War. South Korea calls it the 6-2-5 War (yuk-i-o jeonjaeng), which refers to its June 5 starting date.