North Korea is an East Asian nation located in the northern portion of the Korean Peninsula. Pyongyang is both the capital and the biggest city in North Korea. The nation is bordered to the north and northwest by China and Russia, respectively, along the Amnok (known as the Yalu in China) and Tumen rivers. South Korea (officially the Republic of Korea) borders the nation to the south, with the highly guarded Korean Demilitarized Zone dividing the two.
The Korean state’s roots may be traced back to 8000 BC, with three kingdoms thriving in the first century BC. Korea derives its name from the Kingdom of Goguryeo, sometimes spelt Kory, which was one of East Asia’s most powerful dynasties. With the creation of the Hangul alphabet by Sejong the Great in 1446, Korea during the Later Silla and Balhae dynasties experienced almost a millennium of relative tranquillity under long-lasting dynasties throughout the 7th century. Korea was annexed by the Empire of Japan in 1910 and remained so until the Japanese surrendered at the end of World War II in 1945, when it was divided into two zones along the 38th parallel by the United States and the Soviet Union, with the Soviets occupying the north and the Americans occupying the south. Negotiations for reunification fell down, and in 1948, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north and the Republic of Korea in the south established two distinct administrations. The Korean War (1950–53) was precipitated by an invasion launched by North Korea. The Korean Armistice Agreement induced a cease-fire, but no formal peace treaty was ever signed. In 1991, both nations were admitted to the United Nations. The DPRK legally defines itself as a self-sufficient socialist state and conducts elections. It is seen as a totalitarian government by critics. Several media sources have labeled it Stalinist, citing the extensive personality cult around Kim Il-sung and his family. Human rights abuses in North Korea have been classified as a distinct category with no counterpart in the modern world, according to international agencies. The Workers’ Party of Korea, headed by a member of the ruling family, governs the country and leads the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland, of which all political officials must be members.
North Korea has progressively drifted away from the global communist movement. Juche, an ideology of national self-sufficiency, was included into the constitution in 1972 as a “creative application of Marxism–Leninism.” The state owns the means of production via state-run businesses and collectivized farms. The majority of services, including as healthcare, education, housing, and food production, are subsidized or financed by the government. North Korea had a famine from 1994 to 1998, killing between 0.24 and 3.5 million people, and the nation continues to struggle with food production. North Korea adheres to the Songun, or “military-first” strategy. With a total of 9,495,000 active, reserve, and paramilitary troops, it is the nation with the most military and paramilitary personnel. Its active duty army of 1.21 million is the world’s fourth biggest, behind only China, the United States, and India. It is armed with nuclear weapons. North Korea is an atheist state with no official religion and a prohibition on public religion.
North Korea is located between 37° and 43° north latitude and 124° and 131° east longitude on the Korean Peninsula. It is 120,540 square kilometers in size (46,541 sq mi). To the north, North Korea has land borders with China and Russia, and along the Korean Demilitarized Zone, it shares land boundaries with South Korea. The Yellow Sea and Korea Bay are to its west, while Japan is to its east across the Sea of Japan (East Sea of Korea).
Because of the numerous consecutive mountain ranges that crisscross the peninsula, early European travelers to Korea noted that the land resembled “a sea in a strong gale.” Mountains and uplands cover a significant portion of North Korea, which are divided by steep and narrow valleys. North Korea is home to all of the Korean Peninsula’s mountains with altitudes of 2,000 meters (6,600 feet) or higher. Paektu Peak, a volcanic mountain with a height of 2,744 meters (9,003 feet) above sea level, is North Korea’s highest point. The Hamgyong Range in the far northeast and the Rangrim Mountains in North Korea’s north-central region are two more notable ranges. The picturesque splendor of Mount Kumgang in the Taebaek Range, which extends into South Korea, is legendary.
In the west, the coastal plains are broad, whereas in the east, they are sparse. The plains and lowlands are home to the vast bulk of the people. Forest comprises approximately 70% of the nation, mainly on steep slopes, according to a United Nations Environmental Programme study from 2003. The Amnok (Yalu) River is the world’s longest river, with a length of 790 kilometers (491 mi).
North Korea has a mix of continental and oceanic climates, although the majority of the country has a humid continental climate according to the Köppen climate classification system. The northern and northwestern winds that blow from Siberia provide clear weather mixed with snow storms throughout the winter. Because to the southern and southeastern monsoon winds that bring moist air from the Pacific Ocean, summer is by far the warmest, most humid, and rainiest season of the year. From June through September, about 60% of total precipitation falls. Between summer and winter, spring and fall are transitional seasons. Pyongyang’s daily average high and low temperatures are 3 and 13 degrees Celsius (27 and 9 degrees Fahrenheit) in January and 29 and 20 degrees Celsius (84 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit) in August.
The climate is classified as continental, with summer being the wettest season. Summers are hot, but winters may be very cold, with temperatures as low as -30°C. Droughts in the late spring are often followed by heavy floods. During the early fall, there are a few typhoons.
North Korea’s 24,852,000 inhabitants are racially homogenous, with the exception of a tiny Chinese minority and a few ethnic Japanese. The population was expected to rise to 25.5 million by 2000 and 28 million by 2010, according to demographic analysts in the twentieth century, but owing to the North Korean famine, this never happened. It started in 1995, lasted three years, and resulted in the deaths of 300,000 to 800,000 North Koreans each year. Malnutrition-related diseases such as pneumonia and TB, rather than hunger, were more likely to blame for the fatalities.
To fight the hunger, international donors headed by the United States began sending food via the World Food Program in 1997. Despite a significant decrease in assistance under the George W. Bush administration, the situation progressively improved: the number of hungry children fell from 60% in 1998 to 37% in 2006 and 28% in 2013. In 2013, domestic food production almost returned to the required annual level of 5.37 million tons of grain equivalent, but the World Food Program stated that nutritional variety and availability to fats and proteins remained limited.
The famine had a major effect on population growth, which fell from 0.9 percent per year in 2002 to 0.53 percent per year in 2014. Late marriages following military duty, limited living space, long hours of labor or political studies all add to the population’s exhaustion and slow its development. The national birth rate is 14.5 births per 1,000 people per year. Two-thirds of households are made up of extended families that live in two-room apartments. Marriage is very ubiquitous, and divorce is uncommon.
North Korea is an atheist regime that forbids public worship. In North Korea, no official data on faiths are available. According to Religious Intelligence, 64.3 percent of the population is non-religious, 16 percent practices Korean shamanism, 13.5 percent practices Chondoism, 4.5 percent practices Buddhism, and 1.7 percent practices Christianity. The right to religious rituals and freedom of religion are guaranteed under the Constitution, although faiths are officially regulated by the government.
Buddhism and Confucianism continue to have an impact on cultural life. Buddhists, according to reports, are doing better than other religious groups. Because Buddhism plays such an important part in traditional Korean culture, the government provides them with limited money to promote the faith.
The Chongu Party, which is controlled by the WPK, is the official representative of Chondoism (“Heavenly Way”), an indigenous syncretic belief incorporating aspects of Korean shamanism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Catholicism. The Open Doors mission, on the other hand, says that North Korea is home to the world’s most severe persecution of Christians. There are four state-sanctioned churches, but proponents of religious liberty argue that they serve as displays for outsiders. Religious persecution in North Korea is a source of concern for Amnesty International.
Since the 1940s, North Korea has had one of the world’s most restricted and controlled economies. It followed the Soviet model of five-year plans with the ultimate aim of attaining self-sufficiency for many decades. North Korea was able to quickly recover from the Korean War and achieve very high growth rates thanks to extensive Soviet and Chinese assistance. When the economy transitioned from broad to intense development about 1960, systematic inefficiencies started to emerge. Long-term development has been hampered by a lack of trained labor, energy, arable land, and transportation, which has resulted in a continuous failure to achieve planned goals. The economy’s significant downturn contrasted with South Korea, which by the 1980s had overtaken the North in terms of absolute Gross Domestic Product and per capita income. In December 1993, North Korea proclaimed the previous seven-year plan a failure and ceased presenting new goals.
Throughout the 1990s, the loss of Eastern Bloc trade partners, as well as a succession of natural catastrophes, resulted in extreme difficulties, including widespread hunger. The situation improved by 2000 as a result of a major international food aid effort, but the economy continues to be plagued by food shortages, crumbling infrastructure, and dangerously low energy supplies. In an effort to recover from the financial crisis, the government started structural changes in 1998, which officially recognized private asset ownership and decentralized production control. In 2002, a second wave of reforms was implemented, resulting in the growth of market activities, partial monetization, flexible pricing and wages, and the implementation of incentives and accountability methods. Despite these reforms, which were allegedly reversed shortly after they were implemented, North Korea maintains a command economy in which the government controls almost all means of production and sets economic goals.
North Korea has the structural character of a moderately industrialized nation, with industry accounting for almost half of GDP and human development at a medium level. The GDP is projected to be $40 billion in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms, with a per capita value of $1,800. In 2012, the country’s gross national income per capita was $1,523, compared to South Korea’s $28,430. The North Korean won is the country’s official currency, issued by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s Central Bank.
The economy has a high level of nationalization. Food and housing are heavily subsidized by the government; education and healthcare are also free; and taxation was eliminated in 1974. Pyongyang has a range of products accessible in big stores and supermarkets, but the majority of the populace still shops in small-scale jangmadang marketplaces. The government attempted to rein in the expanding free market in 2009 by prohibiting 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 forced the government to reverse these policies. Women dominate private commerce since most males are obliged to be present at work, despite the fact that many state-owned companies are non-operational.
Industry and services employ 65 percent of North Korea’s total work force of 12.6 million people. Machine construction, military equipment, chemicals, mining, metallurgy, textiles, food processing, and tourism are all major industries. North Korea outperforms its southern counterpart in a few key areas, such as iron ore and coal output, where it generates about ten times more of each resource. Natural catastrophes of the 1990s devastated the agriculture industry. Around 1980, its 3,500 cooperatives and state farms were among the world’s most prolific and profitable, but today face chronic fertilizer and equipment shortages. Rice, maize, soybeans, and potatoes are just a few of the main crops grown here. Commercial fishing and aquaculture provide a major contribution to the food supply. For the last decade, tourism has been a booming industry. Through initiatives like the Masikryong Ski Resort, North Korea hopes to raise the number of international tourists from 200,000 to one million by 2016.
Foreign trade exceeded pre-crisis levels in 2005 and is still growing. North Korea has a variety of special economic zones (SEZs) and Special Administrative Regions (SARs) where international businesses may operate with tax and tariff benefits while North Korean businesses benefit from better technology. Initially, there were four such zones, but they had little overall effectiveness. In 2013, 14 additional zones were added to the SEZ system, and the Rason Special Economic Zone was reorganized as a joint Chinese-North Korean enterprise. The Kaesong Industrial Region is a special industrial zone where 52,000 North Koreans are employed by more than 100 South Korean businesses. Outside of inter-Korean commerce, China accounts for more than 89 percent of all foreign trade. With $100 million in imports and exports in the same year, Russia is the second-largest international partner. North Korea’s debt was written off by Russia in 2014, and the two nations agreed to conduct all transactions in rubles. External trade was $7.3 billion in 2013, the highest level since 1990, but inter-Korean trade fell to an eight-year low of $1.1 billion.