10 Facts About North Korea

The location of North Korea.
The location of North Korea.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), popularly known as North Korea, is perhaps the world’s most secretive country. The country was occupied by the Japanese empire until 1945 when the United States dropped two atomic bombs, bringing an end to WWII and ending the reign of Japan. Korea was subsequently divided into two with the north occupied by the Soviets while the Americans occupied the South. The state isolated itself from the global community and placed restrictions on its population's interaction with the outside world. In the near past, there has been increased tension in the Korean Peninsula as the international community led by the United States accused North Korea of provoking a nuclear tension. Below are some little-known facts about the country.

10. Although he is dead, Kim II-Sung is considered to be the eternal president.

North Korea’s first communist leader Kim Il-Sung, born Kim Song-Ju, ruled the state from 1948 until his death in 1994. He served as the premier from 1948 to 1972 when the presidential post was created, and he took over as the president and head of government. In 1998 the state revised its Constitution and Kim II-Sung was made the country’s eternal president - even when he is dead. As of 2017, the country has no living president. The country’s supreme leader and Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly assume the position of the leader of government and commander in chief, a position currently held by Kim II-Sung’s grandson Kim Jong-un.

9. The payment of taxes was abolished in 1974.

North Korea is among the few countries in the world whose citizens do not pay income tax on their salaries and the 1st of April 1974 is recognized by the North Koreans as “Tax Abolition Day.” The state collects its revenue regarding sales tax such as turnover tax although the name tax is replaced by socialist words such as "Socialist Income Accounting" and "Socialist Economic Management Income." Although the direct tax was abolished, sales tax is responsible for 98% of the total tax collected.

8. North Koreans are sorted into groups from birth, according to their Songbun.

North Koreans are divided into three classes immediately after they are born. The system categorizes people into three categories: the loyal, the wavering class and those who are considered hostile to the regime. The Songbun determines a person’s interaction with other people and the government with those who are considered loyal benefiting the most. A person's classification depends on their behavior, politics and socicoeconomic background. The loyal or core class of people make up 25% of the population and consist of those who participated in the resistance against the Japanese empire and those who worked in factories in the 1950s.

7. Only 724 km of its 25,554 km road network is paved.

Despite referring to itself as a self-sufficient country, North Korea’s infrastructure is wanting. Of the total road network spanning approximately 15,878 miles, only 450 miles are paved. The absence of privately owned vehicles and the constraint of fuel caused by the international sanctions on the country have relegated the roads in the state. Unlike in other countries, the roads in North Korea are lonely and without congestion. Regulations have played a role in restricting the use of vehicles including criminalizing driving without a passenger. Most people use bicycles and public transport which include busses imported from China.

6. 80% of it is mountains, and 70% of it is forests.

North Korea is a highly mountainous country - eight percent of the country is exclusively covered by hills and mountains. Seventy percent of the country is also covered by forest although seventy-three percent of the forest is found in mountainous regions. Lack of alternative source of energy has led to massive deforestation. Between 1990 and 2005, the country lost 24.6% of its forest cover which translates to 2 million hectares. The mountainous terrain is considered a military advantage. During the Korean War, the United States failed to deploy the use of nukes in fear that the terrain would contribute to a lighter impact which would be translated by the Soviets as a weakness.

5. During the Korean War, almost every single building in North Korea was destroyed.

According to Air Force General Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, the United States decimated 20% of the Korean population during the War. He further states that the United States burned down nearly every town and village in the country, killing nearly three million people. Armed with 635,000 tons of bombs and 32,557 tons of napalm, the United States indiscriminately rained fire on every North Korean village that had a structure that resembled a building. After nearly bombing all villages, the US turned their bombs on school, farms, hospitals, dams, and factories. Supreme Court Justice William O., the then-State Department official in charge of Far Eastern Affairs Douglas, stated that he had never witnessed a devastation of that scale - not even in Europe during the world wars.

4. Food production is a struggle.

The country has been grappling with food shortage for a very long time. The sanctions placed on the country limits the importation of food from other countries leaving the population to depend on the short supply it can produce. It is estimated that forty percent of children under five are threatened by malnutrition in a population of 18 million North Koreans facing starvation. In the early 1990s, the state suffered a major famine that led to the death of nearly 600,000 people. North Korea has often denied that its people are starving and accuses the Western media of exaggerating the situation.

3. The country is run on an idealogy known as Juche.

The Juche philosophy was introduced by the country’s first supreme leader Kim ll-sung. It advocates for a self-reliant nation that can operate without the influence of other parties outside the country. Kim II Sung introduced the philosophy with the intention of creating a social society that puts the interest of the nation and its leaders before personal interest. After the Korean war in 1955 during a public speech, Kim II Sung is quoted saying that “all ideological work must be subordinated to the interests of the Korean revolution."

2. North Korea is about the same size as Pennsylvania.

North Korea covers an area of approximately 46,541 square miles; it is slightly larger than the US state of Pennsylvania that is 46,055 square miles. After being annexed from Japan in 1910, Korea was split along the 38th parallel by the Americans and Soviets. Two American officers, Dean Rusk and Charles Bonesteel, used the 38th parallel because it split the country into two almost equal parts with the south slightly smaller at an area of 38,690 square miles.

1. North Korea wants to see a drastic increase in tourists.

North Korea is not a popular tourist destination due to its strict regulations. Currently, the country receives nearly 100,000 tourists and aims at increasing the number to 2,000,000 by 2020. The interaction between the local and foreigners is controlled, and tourists are to follow strict guidelines including the use of cameras. Visitors must go on guided tours although Chinese tourists are free to use their vehicles to visit a small North Korean town of Luo on the northeast border with China where they can mingle freely with the people including taking photographs.


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