Reunification Arch Pyongyang

North Korea, Kim Country - in a Nutshell

Author: Sue
Date: 7th May 2017

A Brief History of Korea, (Up to 1910)

  • Evidence for human presence in Korea dates back to 40,000 and 30,000 BC. The first actual state to emerge was Gojoseon, but that fell to the Chinese Han Dynasty in 108 BC. Then, during the first half of the first millennium, the Three Kingdoms of Korea emerged: Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla. In the late seventh century, Silla formed an alliance with the Chinese Tang dynasty and conquered Baekje and Goguryeo. They then turned on the Chinese and drove them out.
  • Over time. Silla eventually collapsed back into three separate states, known as the Later Three Kingdoms. As time went on. Goguryeo (resurrected as Goryeo), defeated the two other states and unified Korea again. The name Goryeo developed into Korea.
  • In the thirteenth century, Goryeo was subdued by the Mongol Empire. The Mongols were eventually overthrown, but the country was taken over, by General Yi Seong-gye, who established the Joseon kingdom in 1392. Whilst much of the next 500 years was relatively peaceful, there were constant threats from Japan. Japan finally annexed Korea altogether in 1910.

The Recent History of North Korea

  • Japan had annexed Korea in 1910 and occupied the whole of the country during the Second World War. After the Japanese surrender, the Korean Peninsula was divided into two zones along the 38th parallel. The northern half of the peninsula was occupied by the Soviet Union and the southern half by the United States. Negotiations on reunification failed.
  • Eventually, the Russians imposed the Soviet Civil Authority in October 1945, and supported Kim Il-sung as Chairman of the Provisional People's Committee for North Korea. This lead to the establishment of The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, on 9 September 1948, with Kim Il Sung as premier.
  • Soviet forces withdrew from the North in 1948, and most American forces withdrew from the South in 1949. The Soviets suspected South Korea of planning to invade the North and were sympathetic to Kim's goal of Korean unification under socialism. They supported an invasion of the South on 25 June 1950, beginning the Korean War. A United Nations force, led by the United States, intervened to defend the South, and pushed the North Koreans back, at which point China became anxious and joined in the fighting.
  • Roughly three million people died in the Korean War. 15% of the North Korean population (c. 10 million at that time) died and almost every substantial building in North Korea was destroyed, before the war ceased on 27 July 1953. The armistice approximately restored the original boundaries between North and South Korea. No peace treaty was ever signed. so the two countries are still technically at war.

The Current Dynasty

  • There is an ongoing very uneasy peace. A heavily guarded demilitarized zone (DMZ) still divides the peninsula, (several tunnels have been dug underneath by the North Koreans). An anti-communist and anti-North Korea sentiment remains in South Korea. Since the war, the United States has maintained a strong military presence in the South. This is depicted by the North Korean government as an imperialist occupation force. North Korea claims that the Korean War was initiated by the United States and South Korea. Further reunification talks have failed, as South Korea wanted to maintain international recognition for two separate countries.
  • Kim Il Sung resisted both Soviet and Chinese attempts to depose him and played both these powers off against each other. He introduced his own Juche ideology to distinguish his own brand of communism.
  • Kim Il-Sung died of a heart attack in 1994, and his son, Kim Jong-Il took over. He in his turn died from a heart attack. His youngest son Kim Jong-Un was announced as his successor despite international condemnation
  • Throughout there have been tensions, especially with the USA, as North Korea continues to develop its nuclear arsenal. This possibly includes a hydrogen bomb and a missile capable of reaching the United States.

Facts and Factoids

  • This is probably the most secretive country in the world
  • North Korea bases its Juche calendar on Kim Il-Sung's date of birth: 15 April 1912. It also has its own time zone, called Pyongyang Time, named after the North Korean capital, which is 30 minutes behind South Korea and Japan.
  • According to North Korean documents and refugee testimonies, all North Koreans are sorted into groups according to their Songbu. This is an ascribed status system based on a citizen's assessed loyalty to the government. Based on their own behaviour and that of their family, Songbun is allegedly used to determine whether an individual is trusted with responsibility, given opportunities or even receives adequate food. If one person violates a law or is sent to prison camp, it affects their whole family. Grandparents, parents, and children of the violator are sent to work with them.
  • It costs about £5,000 to get to China to defect, which is way more than most North Koreans can afford. Kim Jong Il's annual cognac expense (£700,000 on Hennessy each year) was about 500 times the average North Korean's annual income.
  • Calculated per capita North Korea has the largest. army in the world
  • The Rungnado May Day stadium is the largest in the world. It has more than 150,000 seats and houses the Mass Games.
  • Men are required to keep their hair no longer than two centimetres and women to keep their hair at a bob length. The men were instructed to model their hairstyle on Kim Jong Un, women were advised to copy his wife.

Is North Korea a Safe Country to Visit?

  • There’s a very interesting question. Most tourists have a perfectly safe visit. But a few. most notably American Otto Frederick Warmbier do not. North Korea is widely accused of having perhaps the worst human rights record in the world. Reports suggest that North Korean women are routinely subjected to sexual violence, unwanted sexual contact, and rape.

Is North Korea a Poor Country?

  • Statistical information is extremely unreliable as access is so limited and data restricted, but poverty in North Korea is believed to be extensive. It is estimated that 60% of the total population of North Korea live below the poverty line .
  • Most of North Korea is mountainous. Less than 20% of the land area can be cultivated and there have been several famines over recent years, leading to deprivation and starvation.

What Can I See and Do in North Korea?

  • You are only allowed to visit on an approved guided tour- just a few companies operate these. Tours are accompanied throughout by North Korean guides who monitor your every move. You may not leave hotel grounds unaccompanied and the guide's itinerary will be changeable, dictated by their superiors on a daily basis
  • Most tours enter from Beijing by air or train. Most of the visit is spent in Pyongyang, the capital, but trips to the DMZ, and the Western Barrage or other recreational spots may also be included.
  • Tour groups have very similar itineraries and are often gathered together for meals and entertainment. Walking is extremely restricted. There are many rules about what may and may not be photographed.
  • Leadership is venerated above all else. You are expected to formally bow to paintings and statues of the supreme leaders- past and present.

Five and nine day tours were on offer. Here’s the account of my visit to North Korea.

This story about my visit to North Korea made it into The Sun:

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