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North Korea


North Korea - Acknowledgments

North Korea

This edition supersedes North Korea: A Country Study, published in 1981. The authors wish to acknowledge their use of portions of that edition in the preparation of the current book.

Various members of the staff of the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress assisted in the preparation of the book. Sandra W. Meditz made helpful suggestions during her review of all parts of the book. Robert L. Worden also reviewed parts of the book and made numerous suggestions and points of clarification. Timothy L. Merrill checked the contents of all the maps and reviewed the sections on geography and telecommunications. Rodney P. Katz assisted with the compilation of several of the maps and also helped to collect research materials. Thanks also go to David P. Cabitto, who provided graphics support; Marilyn L. Majeska, who managed editing and production and edited portions of the manuscript; Andrea T. Merrill, who provided invaluable assistance with regard to tables and figures; and Barbara Edgerton, Alberta Jones King, and Izella Watson, who performed word processing. Alberta Jones King also assisted with the bibliography.

The authors also are grateful to individuals in various United States government agencies who gave their time and special knowledge to provide information and perspective. These individuals include Ralph K. Benesch, who oversees the Country Studies/Area Handbook Program for the Department of the Army; Cho Sung Yoon, Far Eastern Law Division, Library of Congress, who reviewed parts of the text and answered queries pertaining to the judicial and the legal systems; and C. Kenneth Quinones of the Department of State who reviewed the text and also offered many valuable suggestions and points of clarification. Inkyong Ahn, Yeonmi Ahn, Paul Dukyong Park, and Key P. Yang of the Library of Congress Korean Section all provided invaluable assistance in researching queries. The editor also wishes to thank the staff of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Mission to the United Nations for their assistance.

Others who contributed were Ly Burnham, who reviewed the portions of the text on demography; Tinothy Merrill who assisted in the preparation of maps and charts; Debra Soled, who edited portions of the manuscripts; Cissie Coy, who performed the final prepublication editorial review; and Joan Cook, who prepared the Index. Linda Peterson of the Library of Congress Composing Unit prepared camera-ready copy, under the direction of Peggy Pixley. Most of the photographs were provided by Tracy Woodward, to whom the editor is extremely grateful, as there are so few travelers to North Korea.

North Korea

North Korea - Preface

North Korea

This edition of North Korea: A Country Study replaces the previous edition, published in 1981. Like its predecessor, this study attempts to review the history and treat in a concise manner the dominant social, political, economic, and military aspect of contemporary North Korea. Sources of information included books, scholarly journals, foreign and domestic newspapers, official reports of governments and international organizations, and numerous periodicals on Korean and East Asian affairs. A word of caution is necessary, however. The government of a closed communist society such as that of North Korea controls information for internal and external consumption, limiting both the scope of coverage and its dissemination. For instance, data from North Korea are, on the whole, dated, limited, and couched in vagaries--and are often provided as percentages of increases over previous years rather than as hard numbers. In addition, information coming from the outside is subject to the political bent of its originator. Data from South Korea, for example, seek, by and large, to show the superiority of that country's economic and political system. North Korea's 1991 admission to the United Nations, however, may result in the release of more statistics.

Spellings of place-names used in the book are in most cases those approved by the United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN); the spelling of some of the names, however, cannot be verified, as the BGN itself notes. The generic parts appended to some geographic names have been dropped and their English equivalents substituted: for example, Mayang Island, not Mayangdo , and South P'yngan Province, not P'yngan-namdo. The name North Korea has been used where appropriate in place of the official name, Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The McCuneReischauer system of transliteration has been employed except for the names of some prominent national figures and internationally recognized corporations where the more familiar journalistic equivalent is used. The names of Korean authors writing in English are spelled as given.

The body of the text reflects information available as of June 30, 1993. Certain other portions of the text, however, have been updated. The Bibliography lists published sources thought to be particularly helpful to the reader.

North Korea

North Korea - Introduction

North Korea

IN THE EARLY 1990s, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DRPK, or North Korea) remained a vestige of the Cold War era. An isolated, closed, and tightly controlled communist society, North Korea was governed by a leadership that was only gradually opening the country to the outside world--and was doing so, in large part, only because its dire economic circumstances were forcing the issue. Although China, the former Soviet Union, and East European communist countries had undergone some degree of political and economic change, North Korea remained virtually the same as it had been for the more than four decades of its existence.

Korea's division in 1945 along the thirty-eighth parallel was originally intended as a temporary partition to facilitate the surrender of Japanese forces on the Korean Peninsula at the end of World War II. Superpower rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, and continued occupation of the peninsula, gave rise to the establishment of two hostile, competitive nations. North Korea was formed under Soviet sponsorship in the northern half of the peninsula. With the assistance of the United States, the Republic of Korea (ROK, or South Korea) emerged in the southern half. North Korea comprises approximately 55 percent of the total land mass of the Korean Peninsula. Some 22 million people live in the north, compared with about twice that number in the south.

North Korea's attempt at reunification by military action in 1950 led to the Korean War (1950-53), known in North Korea as the Fatherland Liberation War. Although North Korean troops initially were successful on the battlefield, only the massive introduction of the Chinese People's Volunteers into the conflict halted the almost total destruction of North Korean forces by the United States led-United Nations (UN) Command forces. The commanders of the Chinese, North Korean, and UN Command troops signed an armistice agreement in July 1953. Neither the United States nor South Korea signed the agreement, but both countries have adhered to it, and the armistice remained in force as of late 1993.

North Korean society revolves around the "religion of Kim Il Sungism" and his chuch'e ideology, North Korea's own brand of Marxism-Leninism, national identity, and self-reliance. Kim's "religion" and chuch'e have supplanted Confucianism and other religious and philosophical beliefs such as Daoism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Ch'ndogyo. Interestingly, some observers have suggested a possible connection between Confucian strictures and the transformation of North Korea into a society demanding loyalty to Kim Il Sung, the country's paramount leader.

North Korea's social services are similar to those of other socialist countries. Education is universal, free, and compulsory for eleven years. Health care is provided by a national medical service, and the country has a national health insurance system. Both the education system and the centrally controlled media stress social harmony. Contemporary cultural expression is also driven--and controlled--by the Korean Workers' Party (KWP) and the state.

In the beginning of its regime, North Korea was distinguished by its successes in agricultural growth rates and yields. This record, however, has not been duplicated in terms of growth and yield since then. There were reports of food shortages (leading to rioting and the imposition of food rationing) in the early 1990s, but the shortfalls were as much attributable to poor weather conditions and distribution problems as inherent problems in the agricultural sector.

North Korea's efforts at industrialization have not been very successful. Although the country initially achieved some success in industrialization, the overall record is grim. A portrait emerges of a centrally controlled economy in decline: resources are inequitably allocated, production is hindered by lack of energy and modern technology, shortages of energy and oil have resulted in production declines, and labor productivity is low. Low productivity stems, in part, from obsolescent plants fitted with broken-down equipment, few spare parts, and lack of the technical expertise needed to fix equipment. Further complicating matters, heavy demands for electricity necessitate its production on a staggered schedule in order to maximize its effective use. In addition, the development of key industries is linked to increased electrical production and the construction of power plants. Calls for greater electric power production are common (plants are idled because of cutbacks in power).

In the early years of the regime, the government stressed heavy industry and accorded consumer goods and light industries second priority. Since the late 1970s, however, economic planners have paid more attention to light industry. And, in the early 1990s, some planners even advised operating light industry plants on a full schedule, thereby increasing the production of people's daily necessities. Nonetheless, heavy industry--particularly defense needs--has remained a focus of central planning and a drain on the economy. The military's hold on scarce resources-- and the priority of the military over other sectors--adds to the large demands for resources and has further undermined economic efficiency. North Korea has repeatedly failed to achieve economic goals and production schedules. In the past, Soviet and Chinese aid permitted some production targets to be met within specified time allotments, but others had to be sacrificed.

North Korea's poor record of debt repayment and its bad credit rating severely limit its ability to engage in international trade. Further, it has little to sell abroad. The demands made by China and Russia that North Korea pay hard currency for purchases exacerbate the situation. The country's trade problems are also compounded by the layers of economic sanctions the United States has placed on North Korea.

North Korea is not known for releasing statistical (or other) information, and its revelations about its economy are offered in vague terms. For example, at the fifth session of the Ninth Supreme People's Assembly held in April 1993, the Third Seven- Year Plan (1987-93) was not even mentioned in discussions on the state budget. North Korea does not usually discuss increases and decreases in terms of real figures, but provides them as percentages.

In early 1993, a spate of articles from Russian sources, published in the South Korean and Japanese press, detailed North Korea's economic woes. In March 1993, East European and Russian diplomats stationed in P'yongyang, North Korea's capital, revealed that North Korea's gross national product (GNP) may have declined as much as 7 to 10 percent. Russians and East European observers attributed the economic decline to failures in the mining industry, which accounts for approximately 40 percent of GNP. Estimates for declines in the production of iron, steel, and cement and in oil refining also are significant. Agriculture presents a mixed picture: rice production continued a decline that began in 1990, but corn and cabbage production apparently has increased. Meanwhile, critical shortages of raw materials and fuel mean that factories operate at far less than capacity. The garment industry is the only area of increased economic activity.

Some analysts have theorized that North Korea's economic problems will ultimately force it to open somewhat to the outside world. Some observers viewed the leadership changes announced at a December 1992 session of the Supreme People's Assembly as aimed at promoting advocates of economic reform and an opening to the outside world. Others argue, however, that the leaders of North Korea fear that economic reform and an opening to the outside world could erode the foundation of the totalitarian state. Political unrest and disarray similar to that experienced in the former communist nations could lead to the collapse of the regime in P'yongyang.

Survival of the current regime remains North Korea's foremost priority. Since its founding, the country has been ruled by a single person, Kim Il Sung, in an extremely rigid system. A guerrilla leader active in the resistance against Japan before World War II, Kim became head of state in September 1948. Over the years, a cult of personality has grown up around him. In 1993, at age eighty-one, he continued to dominate the political scene and was the long-standing general secretary of the KWP Secretariat and president of the government. He turned over the chairmanship of the National Defense Commission to his son and designated successor, Kim Jong Il, in April 1993 as part of the process of grooming and positioning his political heir. In his position as president, Kim Il Sung had also previously controlled the military; he appointed his son supreme commander, or wnsu, of the army in 1992. Like Kim Il Sung, key leaders hold multiple offices: party, state, and military. The death of the elder Kim may destabilize the political situation as contending forces vie for power and Kim Jong Il attempts to assert control.

Chuch'e ideology is also a dominant force in North Korea. On November 23, 1993, the South Korean government released the text of the revised 1972 North Korean constitution, which had been approved, but had not been made public, by the Ninth Supreme People's Assembly on April 9, 1992. The revised constitution substitutes chuch'e for Marxism-Leninism as a guiding principle of politics; changes the term of office for members of the Supreme People's Assembly and its Standing Committee from four years to five; and extends by a year the terms of office for the president, Central People's Committee, National Defense Commission, Central Court, and Central Procurator's Office.

The end of the Cold War and the resulting changes in the communist world--the breakup of the former Soviet Union and the East European communist countries--have presented challenges both to P'yongyang and to its allies. Not the least of these challenges has been their dealings with and diplomatic recognition of South Korea. The Soviet Union and South Korea established diplomatic relations in September 1990; China and South Korea opened trade offices (with consular functions) in 1991 and established diplomatic relations in August 1992. The success of South Korea's Nordpolitik further contributed to the isolation of North Korea. In particular, Seoul's establishment of diplomatic relations with Moscow and its considerable trade with Beijing--more important than its trade with P'yongyang--have meant that North Korea has lost the ability to play the two communist giants off against one another. For China and Russia, the economic advantages of a relationship with South Korea mitigate the effects of a lesser relationship with North Korea.

Normalization of relations with Japan remains a contentious issue. North Korea expects compensation for the period of colonial rule and wants hard currency, investment capital, and technology. North Korea also wants Japan to respect the three- party joint declaration issued by Japan's Liberal Democratic Party and Social Democratic Party and by North Korea's KWP. In addition, it wants Japan to respect North Korea's independent position and apologize for its past deeds. Japan's pressure on the nuclear issue will likely deter an early resumption of negotiations.

Although North Korea has sought reunification of the peninsula on its own terms through the judicious use of force, subversion, or even peaceful political means, efforts at inter- Korean reconciliation through dialogue began in the early 1970s and continued in the early 1990s. The admission of the two Koreas into the UN in September 1991 marked a turning point in P'yongyang's inter-Korean policy, despite the fact that the two countries remain committed to unification according to their own programs. Although seated alongside South Korea, North Korea has said it would continue to pursue a "one-Korea policy." Both sides continue their political maneuvering. The signing of the historic December 13, 1991, Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression, Exchanges, and Cooperation, and the Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, both of which became effective in February 1992, marked another turning point in inter-Korean relations. The former agreement is sometimes referred to as the North-South Basic Agreement, the latter as the Joint Denuclearization Declaration.

On February 28, 1993, North Korea issued another three-part memorandum on reunification. Three conditions were cited in order for "peace . . . to be guaranteed and the reunification process be continuously promoted on the Korean peninsula." First, the United States and South Korea must end their annual Team Spirit exercises. Second, South Korea must "take the road of national reunification on the principle of national independence." Third, the United States must renounce its Korean policy, which originated during the Cold War.

North Korea's Ten-Point Program of Great Unity of the Whole Nation for Reunification of the Country was presented at the April 1993 session of the Supreme People's Assembly. This program, adopted with the approval of all Supreme People's Assembly deputies, urged an "end to the national division."

North Korea also affirmed its continued interest in holding dialogue with South Korea and somewhat softened its standard demands. For example, the usual demand for the withdrawal of United States troops from the Korean Peninsula was recast and now echoed South Korea's expression of a "will to have US forces withdrawn from South Korea."

In May 1993, Kang Song-san, premier of the State Administration Council, sent a proposal to South Korea that the two sides exchange special envoys--"deputy prime minister-level officials fully in charge of reunification affairs, and the sooner the exchange of their visits, the better." Kang viewed this exchange as opening a new phase in implementing the North- South Basic Agreement and the Joint Denuclearization Declaration and as a way to move forward on the issue of reunification. Kang appealed to South Korea to recognize the importance of "national interest" and to grasp "the opportunity for the North and South to jointly open a bright future for the nation."

The legacy of mutual suspicion continues, however. North Korea maintains that inter-Korean barriers could be dismantled and mutual cooperation ensured once both sides end their arms race and bring about mutual and balanced force reduction. South Korea insists that dialogue should address nonpolitical questions until the two countries have developed mutual trust. Political issues influence all aspects of contact, however.

North Korea's apparent program to develop the ability to produce nuclear weapons has greatly complicated its relations with all nations. In December 1991, after years of secretly working to develop the means to produce plutonium, North Korea and South Korea signed the Joint Denuclearization Declaration. In this document, North Korea publicly pledged it would not develop, purchase, or otherwise seek to obtain nuclear weapons, nor the means to reprocess plutonium. In early 1992, North Korea finally signed a nuclear safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This agreement enabled the IAEA to inspect the major facilities at North Korea's main nuclear installation, Yngbyn.

IAEA inspections revealed discrepancies between North Korea's claims about the amount of plutonium it had produced and the amount suggested by technical data developed during the inspections. To resolve these discrepancies, the IAEA sought to collect samples at two nuclear waste sites, which North Korea had tried to mask as rice paddies. When repeated diplomatic efforts failed to gain the desired access, the IAEA director general made a call for "special" inspections as provided for in the safeguards agreement between the IAEA and North Korea.

Parallel to these developments, North Korea's eighteen-month- long dialogue with Seoul ground to a halt in the winter of 1992. The first signs of renewed friction had appeared in October 1992, when Seoul's internal security agency, the National Security Planning Agency, announced that it had uncovered an extensive North Korean spy ring. Also in October 1992, at the annual United States-South Korea Security Consultative Meeting, it was decided to resume preparations for Team Spirit, the two countries' annual joint defensive exercise that had been suspended in early 1992 in recognition of North Korea's signing of the Joint Denuclearization Declaration. It was noted, however, that the 1993 exercise would not be held if there were significant progress in the South-North dialogue, particularly concerning formulation of a South-North nuclear inspection regime. North Korea pointed to these developments as it disengaged from all meetings with Seoul except for those focused on implemention of the denuclearization accord in the Joint Nuclear Control Committee (JNCC). But JNCC talks were discontinued in late January 1993 when the United States and South Korea announced they would conduct Team Spirit 1993.

By February 1993, all South-North dialogue had stalled, Team Spirit 1993 was about to begin, and the IAEA had yet to gain access to the two suspected North Korean nuclear waste sites at Yngbyn. The IAEA Board of Governors served notice to North Korea on February 25 that if it did not cooperate with the IAEA's director general and allow access to the suspected sites, the board would find North Korea in noncompliance with its obligations under its safeguards agreement with the IAEA and would report the situation to the UN Security Council.

North Korea reacted on March 12 by announcing its intention to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT); it would be the first nation ever to do so. A ninety-day grace period would have to run its course before the withdrawal became effective.

There was an immediate, worldwide outcry. The more than 100 members of the NPT urged North Korea to reconsider its decision to withdraw. The IAEA Board of Governors passed a resolution at the end of March that found North Korea in noncompliance with its safeguards obligations and referred the matter to the UN Security Council. The global condemnation of North Korea climaxed on May 11 when the Security Council passed, with China and Pakistan abstaining, Resolution S/25768, which urged North Korea to comply with the IAEA director general's requests for "special" inspections at the two suspected nuclear waste sites. The resolution expressed full support for the IAEA, asked that North Korea remain a member of the NPT, and called on UN members to assist in seeking a solution to the impasse.

The United States subsequently agreed to engage North Korea in the first ever bilateral talks. At the first round of talks held in New York in June, the two countries issued a joint statement in which they noted that "the two sides discussed policy-related issues raised for fundamentally resolving the nuclear issue of the Korean Peninsula, and expressed support of the Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in accordance with the purpose for preventing nuclear proliferation." North Korea stated that it had "decided to unilaterally and temporarily suspend the effectuation of the withdrawal from the NPT as long as it considers necessary." A second round of talks in Geneva produced some additional progress toward a resolution of the nuclear issue. The United States promised that as part of a final resolution of the nuclear issue, it would be willing to consider assisting North Korea in its desire to acquire light-water reactor technology.

P'yongyang promised that it would maintain continuity of safeguards, which requires IAEA inspection of its nuclear facilities, and indicated that it would consult with the IAEA about outstanding safeguards issues and resume serious dialogue with Seoul prior to a third round of talks with Washington.

As of late 1993, however, North Korea remained reluctant to allow the scope of inspection that the IAEA deems necessary to maintain the continuity of safeguards. Further, North Korea had yet to agree to resume its dialogue with South Korea. Consequently, the United States was refusing to agree to a third round of talks with North Korea. In short, the talks appeared close to being broken off, despite the willingness of the United States to suspend Team Spirit 1994 and to ultimately consider improving diplomatic and economic ties with P'yongyang in exchange for its remaining a member of the NPT, complying fully with the IAEA, and agreeing to the implementation of the Joint Denuclearization Declaration.

The future of the Korean Peninsula is far from resolved. Although there has been progress in inter-Korean relations, much remains to be worked out. The costs of reunification are high, both economically and politically. Analysts have noted that some South Korean government officials believe that North Korea has designated 1995 as the year for reunification and is accelerating its war preparations. Much of the current increased posturing by North Korea--particularly its nuclear stance--may be related to this issue. The only certainty is that the situation is far from closure.

December 16, 1993

*      *     *

The chronology of events since the Introduction was written shows little progress in inter-Korean relations, United States- North Korea relations, or full compliance by North Korea with IAEA nuclear inspection. The situation remains uncertain. Desirous of diplomatic recognition and economic aid from the United States--the latter also from its neighbors--P'yongyang, in the view of some observers, has used the "nuclear card" as a strategy to exact concessions from Washington but is also determined to continue its military program and develop a powerful nuclear arsenal. The United States Central Intelligence Agency suspects that North Korea already possesses two nuclear bombs and may have the potential to develop four to five more weapons.

In March 1994, almost one year after nuclear inspections were halted in North Korea, visas were issued to two teams of IAEA inspectors for access to seven of the nine nuclear facilities they sought to examine as part of the inspection process. Subsequently, the United States announced that a third round of high-level talks with North Korea on diplomatic and economic matters would be resumed in Geneva on March 21. The United States and South Korea agreed to conditionally suspend--pending North Korea's holding of nuclear inspections--their annual Team Spirit exercise scheduled for late March. For its part, North Korea also agreed to resume talks with South Korea. In early March, a broken seal was discovered at the Yngbyn nuclear reprocessing facility, a site where the surveillance cameras have been without operating batteries since October 1993. On March 16, the third round of talks between the United States and North Korea was canceled because of P'yongyang's refusal to allow a complete IAEA inspection. On March 21, President Clinton ordered a battalion of Patriot missile interceptors shipped to South Korea. That same day, the nine-member IAEA board (with China abstaining) passed a resolution asking North Korea "immediately to allow the IAEA to complete all requested inspection activities" and to "comply fully with its safeguards agreement."

On March 31, 1994, the UN Security Council issued a formal statement calling on North Korea to allow the IAEA full and complete inspection of all North Korean nuclear sites. (The United States, with the support of Britain, France, and Russia, had wanted to issue a UN resolution--which carries the weight of international law--on the matter, but China opposed such a stance.) The statement proposed a six-week deadline for the IAEA to report on whether or not inspections had been completed and whether or not North Korea was in compliance with international nuclear safeguards. A few days later, North Korea rejected the demand to comply with full inspections as "unjustifiable."

The stalemate continued in April. By mid-April Kim Il Sung had announced that the United States must abide by its pledge to proceed with high-level talks without preconditions. Moreover, Kim denied that North Korea has been--or is--developing nuclear weapons. On April 18, United States Navy ships began offloading Patriot missiles in South Korea.

There was no resolution to the situation in May. On May 19, the IAEA condemned North Korea for "serious violation" of the nuclear inspection program. At issue was the marking, or segregation, of certain critical withdrawn uranium fuel rods for eventual sampling to determine how much plutonium had been accumulated. If the IAEA cannot properly monitor, that is, sample, the withdrawn fuel rods, the agency cannot verify whether or not fuel has been diverted for use in nuclear weapons. (By measuring the radioactive fuel content of rods, scientists can determine the amount of plutonium that has been accumulated for nuclear weapons. Uranium fuel rods are replaced every few years. North Korea has said that the present rods are the original rods that were placed in 1986 and that they are almost spent, necessitating their replacement. The United States suspects that many of these fuel rods were secretly replaced in 1989 when the reactor was shut down for 100 days and that the removed fuel rods were ultimately reprocessed for use in nuclear weapons.)

After failing to conduct complete inspections in March, the two IAEA teams were again sent to North Korea in May to conduct nuclear inspections. Their efforts were again stymied. Complications were introduced when North Korea told the inspectors that they could observe the removal of fuel rods but that they could not test the rods. They were also informed that rods would not be set aside for future measurements and that IAEA inspectors could neither visit two nuclear waste sites nor complete the inspections at the plutonium reprocessing plant at Yngbyn. In response, the IAEA demanded an immediate stop to the withdrawal of fuel rods. In May, one IAEA team confirmed that North Korea had withdrawn approximately 4,000 spent fuel rods out of an estimated 8,000 rods in late May. The IAEA wanted 300 critical rods that constitute the core fuel element set aside for sampling.

By late May, the United States had warned that it would cancel new high-level talks if North Korea did not comply with IAEA demands and that it would press for international economic sanctions. North Korea has continued to reject the complete inspection program, claiming that it has a "unique status"-- attained in March 1993--when it threatened to withdraw from the NPT but then suspended its threats under United States pressure. North Korea has said that it will never allow the IAEA to mark and sample the rods even if threatened with economic sanctions under a UN resolution. On May 30, Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States issued a statement urging North Korea to set aside fuel rods for future sampling. The following day, the IAEA telexed North Korea either to halt the withdrawal of fuel rods or to follow acceptable procedures for storing the rods under international supervision.

Also in late May, Japanese press reports, confirmed by United States officials, noted that North Korea appeared to be preparing for testing a new short-range ballistic missile within the next few weeks. Such a missile would be capable of reaching much of Japan. Department of Defense officials said that on May 31 North Korea tested a cruise missile in the Sea of Japan designed to hit ships at a range of more than 160 kilometers.

In early June, the uncertainty of the situation on the peninsula continued. On June 2, Hans Blix, director general of the IAEA, sent a letter to the secretary general of the UN stating that the IAEA was unable to "select, segregate and secure fuel rods for later measurements in accordance with agency standards" and that it could not determine the amount of plutonium that "has been diverted in the past." He subsequently announced that all but 1,800 of the 8,000 rods--including the 300 critical rods--had been removed and stored in such a way that the IAEA would be unable to determine their location in the reactor. The letter automatically placed the issue of sanctions on the UN Security Council agenda.

As of early June, United States had not yet decided on the level of sanctions it will seek. It also faces the difficulty of getting the full council membership--particularly China but also Russia--to agree to impose sanctions against North Korea. The action of the United States in extending most-favored-nation status to China in late May has been viewed as a means of appealing to China to either agree to economic sanctions or to use its leverage with North Korea to oblige it to comply with IAEA requests. And, the level of sanctions Japan is willing to impose also remained questionable. What remains certain is that the United States, China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea publicly want North Korea to comply with the nuclear inspection program, but they differ in their views on the level, the efficacy, and the timing of such sanctions.

Further complicating matters, North Korea has again threatened to withdraw from the NPT, stating that sanctions would violate the 1953 armistice agreement and be considered an act of war. Secretary of Defense William Perry has said that the United States will bolster its troops in South Korea and will defend that country if invaded by North Korea.

In mid-June the nuclear inspections issue continued to dominate events on the Korean Peninsula. The United States effort to garner support for the imposition of economic sanctions on North Korea was halted, however, as a result of events following the visit of former United States president Jimmy Carter to North Korea on June 15-18 and his meetings with Kim Il Sung. The United States agreed to resume its high-level talks (suspended for over a year) with North Korea in Geneva on July 8. In exchange, North Korea agreed to "freeze" its nuclear program: to allow IAEA inspectors to remain at Yngbyn, to halt reprocessing, and to stop reloading the reactor. However, this position is a short- term one. P'yongyang's long-term position on the nuclear issue will likely be contingent on the progress of the talks in Geneva.

During President Carter's visit, Kim Il Sung proposed a summit meeting between the leaders of North Korea and South Korea. On June 28, North Korea and South Korea agreed to hold such a meeting--the first since the division of the peninsula--on July 25-27 in P'yongyang. The agenda, however, was not discussed; a second, reciprocal meeting--likely to be held in Seoul--will be part of the agenda at the first meeting.

As of late June, the United States was considering a range of economic and diplomatic incentives in exchange for a freeze on North Korea's nuclear weapons program but planning for other contingencies. The United States Navy is sending two minesweepers and an amphibious vessel to Japan as a "purely defensive" measure in order to reinforce the United States military presence on the Korean Peninsula. The ships are scheduled to arrive by the end of July.

The talks in Geneva will likely be a forum for discussing the nuclear issue in a larger context. The dynamics of the situation will change, determined by the direction and progress, or lack thereof, of the talks.

*       *       *

The uncertainty of the situation on the Korean Peninsula continued with the sudden, unexpected death of Kim Il Sung of an alleged heart attack "owing to heavy mental strains." As a result of Kim's death on July 8, which was also the first day of talks in Geneva between the United States and North Korea, it was announced that subsequent talks between the two countries had been suspended, and that the summit talks between North Korea and South Korea scheduled for late July in P'yongyang had been postponed indefinitely. P'yongyang announced, however, that it would resume discussions on the nuclear weapons issue after Kim's funeral, and on July 20, the United States announced that these talks were expected to resume within a few weeks. On July 16, Kim's funeral was postponed for two days, causing some speculation among Korea watchers as to whether Kim Jong Il's so far seemingly orderly succession was meeting resistance. For the short term, it is expected that Kim Jong Il will be able to assume the positions for which he has been groomed without overt resistance; his long-term success remains open to question. The constitution makes no provisions for succession; as of this writing, Kim has not been formally proclaimed either president of state or general secretary of the party.

June 29, 1994
Andrea Matles Savada

North Korea

North Korea - HISTORY

North Korea

PRIOR TO THE NATIONAL DIVISION of the Korean Peninsula in 1945, Korea was home to a people with a unitary existence, ethnic and linguistic homogeneity, and a historic bond of exclusionism towards outsiders--a result of its history of invasion, influence, and fighting over its territory by larger and more powerful neighbors. This legacy continues to influence the contemporary Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea).

There are other parallels between Korea's past and presentday North Korea. The traditions of Confucianism and a bureaucracy administered from the top-down and from the center continue to hold sway. Further, just as there was relative stability for more than two millennia on the Korean Peninsula, there has been relative stability in North Korea since Kim Il Sung came to power in 1946. As Confucian doctrine perpetuated the authority of the family system and the importance of education, so too were these elements paramount in Kim Il Sung's North Korea. Politics remain personalistic, and Kim has surrounded himself with a core of revolutionary leaders (now aging), whose loyalty dates back to their days of guerrilla resistance against the Japanese in Manchuria. Kim's chuch'e ideology also has its roots in the self-reliant philosophy of the Hermit Kingdom (as Korea was called by Westerners), and Korea's history of exclusionism also held particular appeal to a people emerging from the period of Japanese colonial domination (1910-45).

North Korea came into being in 1945, in the midst of a prolonged confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. North Korea was, and in some ways remains, a classic Cold War state, driven by the demands of the long-standing conflict with the Republic of Korea (ROK, or South Korea), and the United States and its allies. It emerged in the heyday of Stalinism, which influenced North Korea's decision to give priority to heavy industry in its economic program. North Korea was a state forged in warfare: by a civil struggle fought at the beginning of the regime and by a vicious fratricidal war fought while the system was still in infancy. All these influences combined to produce a hardened leadership that knew how to hold onto power. But North Korea also evolved as a rare synthesis between foreign models and native influences; the political system was deeply rooted in native soil, drawing on Korea's long history of unitary existence on a small peninsula surrounded by greater powers.

North Korea


North Korea

Koreans inhabit a mountainous peninsula protruding southward from the northeastern corner of the Asian continent and surrounded on three sides by water. Although Japan exercised decisive influence by the late sixteenth century, in ancient times the peoples and civilizations on the contiguous Asian continent were far more important. The peninsula is surrounded on three sides by other peoples: Chinese to the west; Japanese to the east; and an assortment of peoples to the north, including "barbarian" tribes, aggressive invaders, and, in the twentieth century, an expanding and deepening Russian presence. Koreans have emerged as a people influenced by the peninsula's internal and surrounding geography.

The northern border between Korea and China formed by the Yalu and Tumen rivers has been recognized for centuries. But these rivers did not always constitute Korea's northern limits; Koreans ranged far beyond this border well into northeastern China and Siberia, and neither Koreans nor the ancient tribes that occupied the plains of Manchuria (northeastern China) considered these riverine borders to be sacrosanct. The harsh winter climate also turned the rivers into frozen pathways for many months, facilitating the back-and-forth migration out of which the Korean people were formed.

Paleolithic excavations show that humans inhabited the Korean Peninsula half a million years ago, but most scholars assume that present-day Koreans are not descended from these early inhabitants. Neolithic age (from 4,000-3,000 B.C.) humans also inhabited the area, identified archaeologically by the ground and polished stone tools and pottery they left to posterity. Around 2,000 B.C., a new pottery culture spread into Korea from China. These people practiced agriculture in a settled communal life, and are widely supposed to have had consanguineous clans as their basic social grouping. Korean historians in modern times sometimes assume that the clan leadership systems characterized by councils of nobles (hwabaek) that emerged in the subsequent Silla period can be traced back to these neolithic peoples, and that a mythical "child of the sn," an original Korean, also was born then. There is no hard evidence, however, to support such beginnings for the Korean people.

By the fourth century B.C., a number of walled-town states on the peninsula had survived long enough to come to the attention of China. The most illustrious of these states was Old Chosn, which had established itself along the banks of the Liao and the Taedong rivers in southern Manchuria and northwestern Korea. Old Chosn prospered as a civilization based on bronze culture and a political federation of many walled towns; the federation, judging from Chinese accounts, was formidable to the point of arrogance. Riding horses and deploying bronze weapons, the Chosn people extended their influence to the north, taking most of the Liaodong Basin. But the rising power of the north China state of Yen (1122-255 B.C.) checked Chosn's growth and eventually pushed it back to territory south of the Ch'ngch'n River, located midway between the Yalu and Taedong rivers. As the Yen gave way in China to the Qin (221-207 B.C.) and the Han dynasties (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), Chosn declined, and refugee populations migrated eastward. Out of this milieu, emerged Wiman, a man who assumed the kingship of Chosn sometime between 194 and 180 B.C. The Kingdom of Wiman Chosn melded Chinese influence, and under the Old Chosn federated structure--apparently reinvigorated under Wiman--the state again expanded over hundreds of kilometers of territory. Its ambitions ran up against a Han invasion, however, and Wiman Chosn fell in 108 B.C.

These developments coincided with the beginnings of iron culture, enabling the rise of a sophisticated agriculture based on implements such as hoes, plowshares, and sickles. Cultivation of rice and other grains increased markedly. Although the peoples of the peninsula could not yet be called "Korean," there was an unquestioned continuity in agrarian society from this time until the emergence of a unified Korean state many centuries later.

Han Chinese built four commanderies, or local military units, to rule the peninsula as far south as the Han River, with a core area at Lolang (Nangnang in Korean), near present-day P'yongyang. It is illustrative of the relentlessly different historiography practiced in North Korea and South Korea, as well as the projection backward of Korean nationalism practiced by both sides, that North Korean historians deny that the Lolang Commandery was centered in Korea. They place it northwest of the peninsula, possibly near Beijing, in order to de-emphasize China's influence on ancient Korean history. They perhaps do so because Lolang was clearly a Chinese city, as attested by the many burial objects showing the affluent lives of Chinese overlords and merchants.

North Korea

North Korea - The Period of the Three Kingdoms

North Korea

From approximately 108 B.C. until 313, Lolang was a great center of Chinese statecraft, art, industry (including the mining of iron ore), and commerce. Lolang's influence was widespread; it attracted immigrants from China and exacted tribute from several states south of the Han River that patterned their civilization and government after Lolang. In the first three centuries A.D., a large number of walled-town states in southern Korea grouped into three federations known as Chinhan, Mahan, and Pynhan; during this period, rice agriculture had developed in the rich alluvial valleys and plains to such an extent that reservoirs had been built for irrigation.

Chinhan was situated in the middle part of the southern peninsula, Mahan in the southwest, and Pynhan in the southeast. The state of Paekche, which soon came to exercise great influence on Korean history, emerged first in the Mahan area; it is not certain when this happened, but Paekche certainly existed by 246 since Lolang mounted a large attack on it in that year. Paekche, a centralized, aristocratic state that melded Chinese and indigenous influence, was a growing power: within a hundred years Paekche had demolished Mahan and continued to expand northward into the area of present-day South Korea around Seoul. Contemporary historians believe that the common Korean custom of patrilineal royal succession began with King K n Ch'ogo (r. 346-75) of Paekche. His grandson, Ch'imnyu, inaugurated another long tradition by adopting Buddhism as the state religion in 384.

Meanwhile, in the first century A.D. two powerful states emerged north of the peninsula: Puy in the Sungari River Basin in Manchuria and Kogury, Puy's frequent enemy to its south, near the Yalu River. Kogury, which like Paekche also exercised a lasting influence on Korean history, developed in confrontation with the Chinese. Puy was weaker and sought alliances with China to counter Kogury, but eventually succumbed to it around 312. Kogury expanded in all directions, in particular toward the Liao River in the west and toward the Taedong River in the south. In 313 Kogury occupied the territory of the Lolang Commandery and came into conflict with Paekche.

Peninsular geography shaped the political space of Paekche, Kogury, and a third kingdom, Silla. In the central part of Korea, the main mountain range, the T'aebaek, runs north to south along the edge of the Sea of Japan. Approximately three-fourths of the way down the peninsula, however, roughly at the thirty-seventh parallel, the mountain range veers to the southwest, dividing the peninsula almost in the middle. This southwest extension, the Sobaek Range, shielded peoples to the east of it from the Chinese-occupied portion of the peninsula, but placed no serious barrier in the way of expansion into or out of the southwestern portion of the peninsula--Paekche's historical territory.

Kogury ranged over a wild region of northeastern Korea and eastern Manchuria that was subjected to extremes of temperature and structured by towering mountain ranges, broad plains, and life-giving rivers; the highest peak, known as Paektu-san (White Head Mountain), is on the contemporary Sino-Korean border and has a beautiful, crystal-pure lake at its summit. Kim Il Sung and his guerrilla band utilized associations with this mountain as part of the founding myth of North Korea, and Kim Jong Il was said to have been born on the slopes of the mountain in 1942. Not surprisingly, North Korea claimed the Kogury legacy as the main element in Korean history.

According to South Korean historiography, however, it was the glories of a third kingdom that were the most important elements. Silla eventually became the repository of a rich and cultured ruling elite, with its capital at Kyngju in the southeast, north of the port of Pusan. In fact, the men who ruled South Korea beginning in 1961 all came from this region. It has been the southwestern Paekche legacy that suffered in divided Korea, as Koreans of other regions and historians in both North Korea and South Korea have discriminated against the people of the present- day Chlla provinces. But taken together, all three kingdoms continue to influence Korean history and political culture. Koreans often assume that regional traits that they like or dislike go back to the Three Kingdoms period.

Silla evolved from a walled town called Saro. Silla historians are said to have traced its origins to 57 B.C., but contemporary historians regard King Naemul (r. 356-402) as the ruler who first consolidated a large confederated kingdom and established a hereditary kingship. His domain was east of the Naktong River in present-day North Kyngsang Province, South Korea. A small number of states located along the south central tip of the peninsula facing the Korea Strait did not join either Silla or Paekche, but instead formed a Kaya League that maintained close ties with states in Japan. Kaya's possible linkage to Japan remains an issue of debate among historians in Korea, Japan, and elsewhere. There is no convincing evidence to definitively resolve the debate, and circumstantial historical archaeological evidence is inconclusive. The debate is significant since its outcome could influence views on the origin of the Japanese imperial family. The Kaya states eventually were absorbed by their neighbors in spite of an attack against Silla in 399 by Wa forces from Japan, who had come to the aid of Kaya. Silla repelled the Wa with help from Kogury.

Centralized government probably emerged in Silla in the last half of the fifth century, when the capital became both an administrative and a marketing center. In the early sixth century, Silla's leaders introduced plowing by oxen and built extensive irrigation facilities. Increased agricultural output presumably ensued, allowing further political and cultural development that included an administrative code in 520, a class system of hereditary "bone-ranks" for choosing elites, and the adoption of Buddhism as the state religion around 535.

Militarily weaker than Kogury, Silla sought to fend the former off through an alliance with Paekche. By the beginning of the fifth century, however, Kogury had achieved undisputed control of all of Manchuria east of the Liao River as well as the northern and central regions of the Korean Peninsula. At this time, Kogury had a famous leader appropriately named King Kwanggaet'o (r. 391-412), a name that translates as "broad expander of territory." Reigning from the age of eighteen, he conquered sixty-five walled towns and 1,400 villages, in addition to assisting Silla when the Wa forces attacked. As Kogury's domain increased, it confronted China's Sui Dynasty (581-617) in the west and Silla and Paekche to the south.

Silla attacked Kogury in 551 in concert with King Sng (r. 523-54) of Paekche. After conquering the upper reaches of the Han River, Silla turned on the Paekche forces and drove them out of the lower Han area. While a tattered Paekche kingdom nursed its wounds in the southwest, Silla allied with Chinese forces of the Sui and the successor Tang Dynasty (618-907) in combined attacks against Kogury. The Sui emperor Yang Di launched an invasion of Kogury in 612, marshaling more than 1 million soldiers only to be lured by the revered Kogury commander lchi Mundk into a trap, where Sui forces virtually were destroyed. Perhaps as few as 3,000 Sui soldiers survived; the massacre contributed to the fall of the dynasty in 617. Newly risen Tang emperor Tai Zong launched another huge invasion in 645, but Kogury forces won another striking victory in the siege of the An Si Fortress in western Kogury, forcing Tai Zong's forces to withdraw.

Koreans have always viewed these victories as sterling examples of resistance to foreign aggression. Had Kogury not beaten back the invaders, all the states of the peninsula might have fallen under extended Chinese domination. Thus commanders like lchi Mundk later became models for emulation, especially during the Korean War (1950-53).

Paekche could not hold out under combined Silla and Tang attack, however. The latter landed an invasion fleet in 660, and Paekche quickly fell under their assaults. Tang pressure also had weakened Kogury, and after eight years of battle it gave way because of pressure from both external attack and internal strife exacerbated by several famines. Kogury forces retreated to the north, enabling Silla forces to advance and consolidate their control up to the Taedong River, which flows through P'yongyang.

Silla emerged victorious in 668. It is from this date that South Korean historians speak of a unified Korea. The period of the Three Kingdoms thus ended, but not before the kingdoms had come under the long-term sway of Chinese civilization and had been introduced to Chinese statecraft, Buddhist and Confucian philosophy, Confucian practices of educating the young, and the Chinese written language. (Koreans adapted Chinese characters to their own language through a system known as idu.) The Three Kingdoms also introduced Buddhism, the various rulers seeing a valuable political device for unity in the doctrine of a unified body of believers devoted to Buddha but serving one king. Artists from Kogury and Paekche also perfected a mural art found in the walls of tombs, and took it to Japan, where it deeply influenced Japan's temple and burial art. Indeed, many Korean historians believe that wall murals in Japanese royal tombs suggest that the imperial house lineage may have Korean origins.

North Korea

North Korea - Silla

North Korea

Silla and Paekche had sought to use Chinese power against Kogury, inaugurating another tradition of involving foreign powers in internal Korean disputes. But Silla's reliance on Tang forces to consolidate its control had its price. Because Silla had to resist encroaching Tang forces, its sway was limited to the area south of the Taedong River. Nevertheless, Silla's military power, bolstered by an ideal of the youthful warrior (hwarang), was formidable. It seized Tang-occupied Paekche territories by 671, pushed Kogury still further northward, and drove the Tang commanderies off the peninsula by 676, thereby guaranteeing that the Korean people would develop independently, without outside influences.

The broad territories of Kogury, however, were not conquered, and in 698 a Kogury general named Tae Cho-yng established a successor state called Parhae above and below the Yalu and Tumen boundaries. Parhae forced Silla to build a northern wall in 721, and kept Silla forces below a line running from present-day P'yongyang to Wnsan. By the eighth century, Parhae controlled the northern part of Korea, all of northeastern Manchuria, and the Liaodong Peninsula. Both Silla and Parhae continued to be heavily influenced by Tang Chinese civilization.

Silla and Tang China had a great deal of contact inasmuch as large numbers of students, officials, and monks traveled to China for study and observation. In 682 Silla set up a national Confucian academy to train high officials and later instituted a civil-service examination system modeled on that of the Tang. Parhae modeled its central government even more directly on Tang systems than did Silla and sent many students to Tang schools. Parhae's culture melded indigenous and Tang influences, and its level of civilization was high enough to merit the Chinese designation "flourishing land in the East."

Silla in particular, however, developed a flourishing indigenous civilization that was among the most advanced in the world. Its capital at Kyngju in present-day South Korea was renowned as the "city of gold," where the aristocracy pursued a high culture and extravagant pleasures. Tang dynasty historians wrote that elite officials possessed thousands of slaves, with like numbers of horses, cattle, and pigs. Officials' wives wore gold tiaras and earrings of delicate and intricate filigree. Scholars studied the Confucian and Buddhist classics, built up state administration, and developed advanced methods for astronomy and calendrical science. The Dharani sutra, recovered in Kyngju, dates as far back as 751 and is the oldest example of woodblock printing yet found in the world. Pure Land Buddhism (Buddhism for the Masses) united the common people, who could become adherents through the repetition of simple chants. The crowning glories of this "city of gold" continue to be the Pulguksa temple in the city and the nearby Skkuram Grotto, both built around 750. Both are home to some of the finest Buddhist sculpture in the world. The grotto, atop a coastal bluff near Kyngju, houses the historic great stone Sakyamuni Buddha in its inner sanctum; the figure is situated so that the rising sun over the Sea of Japan strikes it in the middle of the forehead.

Ethnic differences between Kogury and the Malgal people native to Manchuria weakened Parhae by the early tenth century, just as Silla's power had begun to dissipate a century earlier when regional castle lords splintered central power and rebellions shook Silla's foundations. Parhae, coming under severe pressure from the Kitan warriors who ruled parts of northern China, Manchuria, and Mongolia, eventually fell in 926. Silla's decline encouraged a restorationist named Kynhwn to found Later Paekche at Chnju in 892 and another restorationist, named Kungye, to found Later Kogury at Kaesng in central Korea. Wang Kn, the son of Kungye who succeeded to the throne in 918, shortened the dynastic name to Kory and became the founder of a new dynasty by that name, from which came the modern term Korea.

North Korea

North Korea - Kory

North Korea

Wang Kn's army fought ceaselessly with Later Paekche for the next decade, with Silla in retreat. After a crushing victory in 930 over Paekche forces at present-day Andong, South Korea, Kory obtained a formal surrender from Silla and proceeded to conquer Later Paekche by 935--amazingly, with troops led by former Paekche king Kynhwn, whose son had treacherously cast him aside. After this accomplishment, Wang Kn became a magnanimous unifier. Regarding himself as the proper successor to Kogury, he embraced survivors of the Kogury lineage who were fleeing the dying Parhae state, which had been conquered by Kitan warriors in 926. He then took a Silla princess as his wife and treated the Silla aristocracy with great generosity. Wang Kn established a regime embodying the remnants of the Later Three Kingdoms--what was left after the almost fifty years of struggle between the forces of Kynhwn and Kungye--and accomplished a true unification of the peninsula.

Placing the regime's capital at Kaesng, the composite elite of the Kory Dynasty (918-1392) forged a tradition of aristocratic continuity that lasted to the modern era. The elite fused aristocratic privilege and political power through marriage alliances and control of land and central political office, and made class position hereditary. This practice established a pattern for Korea in which landed gentry mingled with a Confucian- or Buddhist-educated stratum of scholar-officials; often scholars and landlords were one and the same person. In any case, landed wealth and bureaucratic position were powerfully fused. This fusion occurred at the center, where a strong bureaucracy influenced by Confucian statecraft emerged. Thereafter, this bureaucracy sought to dominate local power and thus militated against Japanese or European feudal pattern of parcelized sovereignty, castle domains, and military tradition. By the thirteenth century, two dominant government groupings had emerged: the civil officials and the military officials, known thereafter as yangban.

The Kory elite admired the Chinese civilization that emerged during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Official delegations and ordinary merchants brought Kory gold, silver, and ginseng to China in exchange for Song silk, porcelain, and woodblock books. The treasured Song porcelain stimulated Kory artisans to produce an even finer type of inlaid celadon porcelain. Praised for the pristine clarity of its blue-green glaze--celadon glazes also were yellow green--and the delicate art of its inlaid portraits (usually of flowers or animals), Kory celadon displayed the refined taste of aristocrats and later had great influence on Japanese potters.

Buddhism coexisted with Confucianism throughout the Kory period; it deeply affected daily life and perhaps bequeathed to modern Korea its eclecticism of religious beliefs. Kory Buddhist priests systematized religious practice by rendering the Chinese version of the Buddhist canon into mammoth woodblock print editions, known as the Tripitaka. The first edition was completed in 1087, but was lost; another, completed in 1251 and still extant, is located at the Haeinsa temple near Taegu, South Korea. Its accuracy, combined with its exquisite calligraphic carvings, makes it the finest of some twenty Tripitaka in East Asia. By 1234, if not earlier, Kory had also invented moveable iron type, two centuries before its use in Europe.

This high point of Kory culture coincided with internal disorder and the rise of the Mongols, whose power swept most of Eurasia during the thirteenth century. Kory was not spared; Khubilai Khan's forces invaded and demolished Kory's army in 1231, forcing the Kory government to retreat to Kanghwa Island (off modern-day Inch'n). But after a more devastating invasion in 1254, in which countless people died and some 200,000 people were captured, Kory succumbed to Mongol domination and its kings intermarried with Mongol princesses. The Mongols then enlisted thousands of Koreans in ill-fated invasions of Japan in 1274 and 1281, using Korean-made ships. Both invasions were repelled with aid, as legend has it, from opportune typhoons known as "divine wind," or kamikaze. The last period of Mongol influence was marked by the appearance of a strong bureaucratic stratum of scholar-officials, or literati (sadaebu in Korean). Many of them lived in exile outside the capital, and they used their superior knowledge of the Confucian classics to condemn the excesses of the ruling families, who were backed by Mongol power.

The overthrow of the Mongols by the founders of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in China gave a rising group of military men, steeled in battle against coastal pirates from Japan, the opportunity to contest for power. When the Ming claimed suzerainty over former Mongol domains in Korea, the Kory court was divided between pro-Mongol and pro-Ming forces. Two generals marshaled their forces for an assault on Ming armies on the Liaodong Peninsula. One of the generals, Yi Sng-gye, was pro-Ming. When he reached the Yalu River, he abruptly turned back and marched on the Kory capital, which he subdued quickly. He thus became the founder of Korea's longest dynasty, the Yi (1392-1910). The new state was named Chosn, harking back to the old Chosn kingdom fifteen centuries earlier; its capital was built at Seoul.

North Korea

North Korea - The Chosn Dynasty

North Korea

One of General Yi's first acts was to carry out a sweeping land reform long advocated by Confucian literati reformers. After a national cadastral survey, all extant land registers were destroyed. Except for land doled out to loyalists called merit subjects, Yi Sng-gye declared everything to be owned by the state, thus undercutting Buddhist temples, which held vast farm lands, and locally powerful clans. Both groups had exacted high rents from peasants, leading to social distress in the late Kory period. These reforms also greatly enhanced the taxation power of the central government.

Buddhist influence in and complicity with the old system made it easier for the Confucian literati to urge an extirpation of Buddhist economic and political influence, and exile in the mountains for monks and their disciples. Indeed, the literati accomplished a deep Confucianization of Chosn society, which particularly affected the position of women. Often prominent in Kory society, women were now relegated to domestic chores of child-rearing and housekeeping, as so-called inside people.

As neo-Confucian doctrines swept the old order away, Korea effectively developed a secular society. Common people, however, retained attachments to folk religions, shamanism, geomancy, and fortune-telling, influences condemned by both Confucianism and the world at that time. This Korean mass culture created remarkably lively and diverse art forms: uniquely colorful and unpretentiously naturalistic folk paintings of animals, popular novels in Korean vernacular, and characters like the mudang, shamans who summoned spirits and performed exorcisms in kt, or shamanistic, rituals.

For more than a century after its founding, Chosn flourished as an exemplary agrarian bureaucracy deeply influenced by a cadre of learned scholar-officials who were steeped in the doctrines of neo-Confucianism. Like Kory, the Chosn Dynasty lacked the typical features of a feudal society. It was instead a classic agrarian bureaucracy.

Chosn possessed an elaborate procedure for entry to the civil service, a highly articulated civil service, and a practice of administering the country from the top down and from the center. The system rested on an agrarian base, making it different from modern bureaucratic systems; the particular character of agrarian-bureaucratic interaction also provided one of Korea's departures from the typical Chinese experience.

James B. Palais, a widely respected historian of the Chosn Dynasty, has shown that conflict between bureaucrats seeking revenues for government coffers and landowners hoping to control tenants and harvests was a constant during the Chosn Dynasty, and that in this conflict over resources the landowners often won out. Controlling land theoretically owned by the state, private landed interests soon came to be stronger and more persistent in Korea than in China. Although Korea had a centralized administration, the ostensibly strong center was more often a fa�ade concealing the reality of aristocratic power.

One interpretation suggests that Korea's agrarian bureaucracy was superficially strong but actually rather weak at the center. A more conventional interpretation is that the Chosn Dynasty was ruled by a highly centralized monarchy served by a hereditary aristocracy that competed via civil and military service examinations for access to bureaucratic office. The state ostensibly dominated the society, but in fact landed aristocratic families kept the state at bay and perpetuated local power for centuries. This pattern persisted until the late 1940s, when landed dominance was obliterated in a northern revolution and attenuated in southern land reform; since then the balance has shifted toward strong central power and top-down administration of the whole country in both Koreas. The disruptions caused by the Korean War magnified the sociopolitical consequences of these developments.

The scientific Korean written alphabet han'gl was systematized in the fifteenth century under the greatest of Korean kings, Sejong (r. 1418-50), who also greatly increased the use of metal moveable type for book publications of all sorts. Korean is thought to be part of the Altaic group of languages, which includes Turkic, Mongol, Hungarian, Finnish, Tungusic (Manchu), and possibly Japanese. In spite of the long influence of written Chinese, Korean remains very different in lexicon, phonology, and grammar. The new han'g l alphabet did not come into general use until the twentieth century, however. Since 1948 North Koreans have used the Korean alphabet exclusively while South Koreans have retained usage of a mixed Sino-Korean script.

Confucianism is based on the family and an ideal model of relations between family members. It generalizes this family model to the state and to an international system--the Chinese world order. The principle is hierarchy within a reciprocal web of duties and obligations: the son obeys the father by following the dictates of filial piety; the father provides for and educates the son. Daughters obey mothers and mothers-in-law; younger siblings follow older siblings; wives are subordinate to husbands. The superior prestige and privileges of older adults make longevity a prime virtue. In the past, transgressors of these rules were regarded as uncultured beings unfit to be members of society. When generalized to politics, the principle mean that a village followed the leadership of venerated elders and citizens revered a king or emperor, who was thought of as the father of the state. Generalized to international affairs, the Chinese emperor was the big brother of the Korean king.

The glue holding the traditional nobility together was education, meaning socialization into Confucian norms and virtues that began in early childhood with the reading of the Confucian classics. The model figure was the so-called true gentleman, the virtuous and learned scholar-official who was equally adept at poetry and statecraft. In Korea education started very early because Korean students had to master the extraordinarily difficult classical Chinese language--tens of thousands of written ideographs and their many meanings typically learned through rote memorization. Throughout the Chosn Dynasty, all official records and formal education and most written discourse were in classical Chinese. With Chinese language and philosophy came a profound cultural penetration of Korea, such that most Chosn arts and literature came to use Chinese models.

Confucianism is often thought to be a conservative philosophy, stressing tradition, veneration of a past golden age, careful attention to the performance of ritual, disdain for material goods, commerce, and the remaking of nature, combined with obedience to superiors and a preference for relatively frozen social hierarchies. Much commentary on contemporary Korea focuses on this legacy and, in particular, on its allegedly authoritarian, antidemocratic character. Emphasis on the legacy of Confucianism, however, does not explain the extraordinary commercial bustle of South Korea, the materialism and conspicuous consumption of new elites, or the determined struggles for democratization by Korean workers and students. At the same time, one cannot assume that communist North Korea broke completely with the past. The legacy of Confucianism includes the country's family-based politics, the succession to rule of the leader's son, and the extraordinary veneration of Kim Il Sung.

The Chosn Dynasty had a traditional class structure that departed from the Chinese Confucian example, providing an important legacy for the modern period. The governing elite continued to be known as yangban but the term no longer simply connoted two official orders. In the Chosn Dynasty, the yangban had a virtual monopoly on education, official position, and possession of land. Entry to yangban status required a hereditary lineage. Unlike in China, commoners could not sit for state-run examinations leading to official position. One had to prove membership in a yangban family, which in practice meant having a forebear who had sat for exams within the past four generations. In Korea as in China, the majority of peasant families could not spare a son to study for the exams, so upward social mobility was sharply limited. But because in Korea the limit also was specifically hereditary, people had even less mobility than in China and held attitudes toward class distinction that often seemed indistinguishable from the attitudes underlying the caste system.

Silla society's "bone-rank" system also underlined that one's status in society was determined by birth and lineage. For this reason, each family and clan maintained an extensive genealogical record, or chokpo, with meticulous care. Because only male offspring prolonged the family and clan lines and were the only names registered in the genealogical tables, the birth of a son was greeted with great felicitation.

The elite were most conscious of family pedigree. A major study of all those who passed examinations in the Chosn Dynasty (some 14,000) showed that the elite families were heavily represented; other studies have documented the persistence of this pattern into the early twentieth century. Even in 1945, this aristocracy was substantially intact, although it died out soon thereafter.

Korea's traditional class system also included a peasant majority and minorities of petty clerks, merchants, and so-called base classes (ch'ommin), that is, castelike hereditary groups (paekchng) such as butchers, leather tanners, and beggars. Although merchants ranked higher than members of low-born classes, Confucian elites frowned on commercial activity and up until the twentieth century squelched it as much as possible. Peasants or farmers ranked higher than merchants because they worked the land, but the life of the peasantry was almost always difficult during the dynasty, and became more so later on. Most peasants were tenants, were required to give up at least half their crop to landlords as tax, and were subject to various additional exactions. Those in the low-born classes were probably worse off, however, given very high rates of slavery for much of the Chosn period. One source reported more than 200,000 government slaves in Seoul alone in 1462, and recent scholarship has suggested that at one time as much as 60 percent of Seoul's population may have been slaves. In spite of slavery being hereditary, however, rates of escape from slavery and manumission also were unusually high. Class and status hierarchies also were built into the Korean language and have persisted into the contemporary period. Superiors and inferiors were addressed quite differently, and elaborate honorifics were used to address elders. Even verb endings and conjugations differed according to station.

Chosn Dynasty Confucian doctrines also included a foreign policy known as "serving the great" (sadae), in this case, China. Chosn lived within the Chinese world order, which radiated outward from China to associated states, of which Korea was the most important. Korea was China's little brother, a model tributary state, and in many ways the most important of China's allies. Koreans revered things Chinese, and China responded for the most part by being a good neighbor, giving more than it took away. China assumed that enlightened Koreans would follow it without being forced. Absolutely convinced of its own superiority, China indulged in a policy that might be called benign neglect, thereby allowing Korea substantive autonomy as a nation.

This sophisticated world order was broken up by Western and Japanese influence in the late nineteenth century. Important legacies for the twentieth century remained, however. As a small power, Korea had to learn to be shrewd in foreign policy. Since at least the seventh century, Koreans have cultivated the sophisticated art of "low determines high" diplomacy, a practice whereby a small country maneuvers between two larger countries and seeks to use foreign power for its own ends. Although both North Korea and South Korea have often struck foreign observers as rather dependent on big-power support, both have not only claimed but also strongly asserted their absolute autonomy and independence as nation-states, and both have been adept at manipulating their big-power clients. Until the mid-1980s, North Korea was masterful not only in getting big powers to fight its battles, but also in maneuvering between the Soviet Union and China to obtain something from each and to prevent either from domination. And just as in the traditional period, P'yongyang's heart was with Beijing.

Nonetheless, the main characteristic of Korea's traditional diplomacy was isolationism, even what scholar Kim Key-hyuk has called exclusionism. After the Japanese invasions of the 1590s, Korea isolated itself from Japan, although the Edo Shogunate and the Chosn Dynasty established diplomatic relations early in the seventeenth century and trade was conducted between the two countries. Korea dealt harshly with errant Westerners who came to the country and kept the Chinese at arm's length. Westerners called Korea the Hermit Kingdom, a term suggesting the pronounced hostility toward foreign power and the deep desire for independence that marked traditional Korea.

Data as of June 1993

North Korea

North Korea - Dynastic Decline

North Korea

A combination of literati purges in the early sixteenth century, Japanese invasions at the end of the century, and Manchu invasions in the middle of the seventeenth century severely debilitated the Chosn state, and it never regained the heights of the fifteenth century. This period also saw the Manchus sweep away the Ming Dynasty in China, ending a remarkable period when Korean society seemed to develop apace with China, while making many independent innovations.

The doctrinaire version of Confucianism that was dominant during the Chosn Dynasty made squabbles between elites particularly vicious. The literati based themselves in neo-Confucian metaphysics, which reached a level of abstraction virtually unmatched elsewhere in East Asia in the writings of Yi Hwang, also known as Yi T'oe-gye, who was regarded as Korea's Zhu Xi after the Chinese founder of the neo-Confucian school. For many other scholar-officials, however, the doctrine rewarded arid scholasticism and obstinate orthodoxy. First, one had to commit his mind to one or another side of abstruse philosophical debate, and only then could the practical affairs of state be put in order. This situation quickly led to so-called literati purges, a series of upheavals beginning in the mid-fifteenth century and lasting more than 100 years. The losers found their persons, their property, their families, and even their graves at risk from victors determined to extirpate their influence--always in the name of a higher morality. Later in the dynasty, the concern with ideological correctness exacerbated more mundane factional conflicts that debilitated central power. The emphasis on ideology also expressed the pronounced Korean concern with the power of ideas; this emphasis is still visible in Kim Il Sung's chuch'e doctrine, which assumes that rectification of one's thinking precedes correct action, even to the point of Marxist heresy in which ideas determine material reality. By the end of the sixteenth century, the ruling elite had so homogenized its ideology that there were few heterodox miscreants left: all were presumably united in one idea.

At the end of the sixteenth century, Korea suffered devastating foreign invasions. The first came shortly after Toyotomi Hideyoshi ended Japan's internal disorder and unified the territory; he launched an invasion that put huge numbers of Japanese soldiers in Pusan in 1592. His eventual goal, however, was to control China. The Chosn court responded to the invasion by fleeing to the Yalu River, an action that infuriated ordinary Koreans and led slaves to revolt and burn the registries. Japanese forces marched through the peninsula at will until they were routed by General Yi Sun-sin and his fleet of armor-clad ships, the first of their kind. These warships, the so-called turtle ships, were encased in thick plating with cannons sticking out at every point on their oval shape. The Japanese fleets were destroyed wherever they were found, Japan's supply routes were cut, and facing Ming forces and so-called righteous armies that rose up to fight a guerrilla war (even Buddhist monks participated), the Japanese were forced to retreat to a narrow redoubt near Pusan.

After desultory negotiations and delay, Hideyoshi launched a second invasion in 1597. The Korean and Ming armies were ready this time. General Yi returned with a mere dozen warships and demolished the Japanese forces in Yellow Sea battles near the port of Mokp'o. Back in Japan, Hideyoshi died of illness, and his forces withdrew to their home islands, where they nursed an isolationist policy for the next 250 years. In spite of the victory, the peninsula had been devastated. Refugees wandered its length, famine and disease were rampant, and even basic land relationships had been overturned by widespread destruction of registers.

Korea had barely recovered when the Manchus invaded from the north, fighting on all fronts to oust the Ming Dynasty. Invasions in 1627 and 1636 established tributary relations between Korea and the Manchu's Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The invasions, however, were less destructive than the Japanese invasions, except in the northwest where Manchu forces wreaked havoc. Thereafter, the dynasty had a period of revival that, had it continued, might have left Korea much better prepared for its encounter with the West.

The Confucian literati were particularly reinvigorated by an intellectual movement advocating that philosophy be geared to solving real problems of the society. Known as the Sirhak (Practical Learning) Movement, it spawned people like Yu Hyngwn (1622-73), from a small farming village, who poured over the classics seeking reform solutions to social problems. He developed a thorough, detailed critique of nearly all the institutional aspects of Chosn politics and society, and a set of concrete reforms to invigorate it. Chng Yag-yong (1762-1836) was thought to be the greatest of the Sirhak scholars, producing several books that offered his views on administration, justice, and the structure of politics. Still others like Yi Su-kwang (1563-1628) traveled to China and returned with the new Western learning then spreading in Beijing, while Yi Ik (1681-1763) wrote a treatise entitled Record of Concern for the Underprivileged.

A new vernacular fiction also developed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, much of it taking the form of social criticism. The best known is The Tale of Ch'unhyang, which argues for the common human qualities of lowborn, commoners, and yangban alike. Often rendered as a play, it has been a favorite in both North Korea and South Korea. An older poetic form called sijo, which consists of short stanzas, became another vehicle for free expression of distaste for the castelike inequities of Korean society. Meanwhile, Pak Chi-wn journeyed to Beijing in 1780 and authored Jehol Diary, which compared Korean social conditions unfavorably with his observations of China.

The economy diversified as the transplant of rice seedlings boosted harvests and some peasants became enterprising small landlords. Commercial crops such as tobacco, ginseng, and cotton developed, and merchants proliferated at big markets like those in Seoul at East Gate and South Gate, at the gate to China at iju, and at the gate to Japan at Tongnae, near Pusan. The use of coins for commerce and for paying wages increased, and handicraft production increased outside government control. The old Kory capital at Kaesng became a strong center of merchant commerce and conspicuous wealth. Finally, throughout the seventeenth century, Western learning filtered into Korea, often through the auspices of a spreading Roman Catholic movement, which especially attracted commoners by its creed of equality.

North Korea


North Korea

The early nineteenth century witnessed a period of sharp decline in which most of these new developments were extinguished. Harsh persecution of Roman Catholics began in 1801, and agricultural production declined, forcing many peasants to pursue slash-and-burn agriculture in the mountains. Popular uprisings began in 1811 and continued sporadically throughout the rest of the century, culminating in the Tonghak (Eastern Learning) Movement of the 1860s, which spawned a major peasant rebellion in the 1890s.

Korean leaders were aware that China's position had been transformed by the arrival of powerful Western gunboats and traders, but they reacted to the Opium War (1839-42) between China and Britain by shutting Korea's doors even tighter. In 1853 United States Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry and his "black ships" entered Edo Bay, beginning the process of opening Japan to foreign trade. Korea, however, continued its isolationist policy. Japan's drastic reform of its institutions--the Meiji Restoration of 1868--and subsequent industrialization was attributed by Korean literati to Japan's alleged inferior grasp of Confucian doctrine. Through its successful rebuff of French and American attempts to "open" Korea, the regime was encouraged to think it could hold out indefinitely against external pressure. (The U.S.S. General Sherman steamed up the Taedong River in 1866 almost to P'yongyang, whereupon the natives burned the ship and killed all its crew; Kim Il Sung claimed that his great-grandfather was involved in this incident.)

Reforms from 1864 to 1873 under a powerful leader named the Taewn'gun, or Grand Prince (Yi Ha-ung, 1821-98), offered further evidence of Korean resilience; Yi Ha-ung was able to reform the bureaucracy, bring in new talent, extract new taxes from both the yangban and commoners, and keep the imperialists at bay. Korea's descent into the maelstrom of imperial rivalry was quick after this, however, as Japan succeeded in imposing a Western-style unequal treaty in February 1876, giving its nationals extraterritorial rights and opening three Korean ports to Japanese commerce. China sought to reassert its traditional position in Korea by playing the imperial powers off against each other, with the result that Korea entered into unequal treaties with the United States, Britain, Russia, Italy, and other countries. These events split the Korean court into pro-Chinese, pro-Japanese, pro-United States, and pro-Russian factions, each of which influenced policy until the final annexation of Korea by Japan in 1910. Meanwhile, various Korean reform movements sought to get underway, influenced by either Japanese or American progressives.

A small group of politically frustrated Korean aristocrats in the early 1880s came under the influence of the Japanese educator and student of Western knowledge, Fukuzawa Yukichi. This group of Koreans saw themselves as the vanguard of Korea's "enlightenment," a term that referred to their nation's release from its traditional subordination to China and its intellectual views and political institutions. The group, led by Kim Ok-kyun, included Kim Hong-jip, Yun Ch'i-ho, and Yu Kil-chun. Yun became an influential modernizer in the twentieth century, and Yu became the first Korean to study in the United States--at the Governor Drummer Academy in Byfield, Massachusetts. Kim Ok-kyun, impressed by the Meiji Restoration, sought to stage a coup d'�tat in 1884 with a handful of progressives, including Philip Jaisohn (S Chae-p'il, 1866-1948), and about 200 Japanese legation soldiers. Resident Chinese troops quickly suppressed it, however, and Kim fled to Japan. Philip Jaisohn, a Korean who had studied in the United States, was the first Korean to become a United States citizen. He had returned to Korea in 1896 to publish one of its first newspapers.

For a decade thereafter, China reasserted a rare direct influence when Yuan Shikai momentarily made China first among the foreign powers resident in Korea. He represented the scholar- general and governor of Tianjin, Li Hongzhang, as Director- General Resident in Korea of Diplomatic and Commercial Relations in Seoul in 1885. A reformer in China, Yuan had no use for Korean reformers and instead blocked the slightest sign of Korean nationalism.

Japan put a definitive end to Chinese influence during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, seizing on the reinvigorated Tonghak Movement, which spawned a large rebellion in 1894. Uniting peasants against Western pressure, growing Japanese economic penetration and their own corrupt and ineffectual government, the rebellion spread from the southwest into the center of the peninsula, thus threatening Seoul. The hapless court invited China to send troops to put the rebellion down, whereupon Japan had the pretext it needed to send troops to Korea. After defeating Chinese forces, Japan declared Korea independent, thus breaking its long tributary relationship with China. Thereafter, Japan pushed through epochal reforms that ended the old civil service examination system, abolished traditional class distinctions, ended slavery, and established modern fiscal and judicial mechanisms.

Korean reformers influenced by the West, such as Philip Jaisohn, launched an Independence Club (Tongnip Hyphoe) in 1896 to promote Westernization. They used the vernacular han'gl in their newspaper, the Tongnip simmun (The Independent), publishing alternate pages in English. The club included many Koreans who had studied Western learning in Protestant missionary schools, and for a while it influenced not only young reformers but also elements of the Korean court; one of the reformers was Yi Sng-man, otherwise known as Syngman Rhee (1875-1965), who later served as the first president of South Korea. The club was repressed, and it collapsed after two years.

The Korean people gradually became more hostile towards Japan. In 1897 King Kojong (r. 1864-1907), fleeing Japanese plots, ended up in the Russian legation; he conducted the nation's business from there for a year and shortly thereafter declared Korea to be the "Great Han [Korean] Empire," from which comes the name Taehan Min'guk, or Republic of Korea. It was a futile last gasp for the Chosn; the only question was which imperial power would colonize Korea.

By 1900 the Korean Peninsula was the focus of an intense rivalry between the powers then seeking to carve out spheres of influence in East Asia. Russia was expanding into Manchuria and Korea, and briefly enjoyed ascendancy on the peninsula when King Kojong sought its help in 1897. In alliance with France and Germany, Russia had forced Japan to return the Liaodong Peninsula, which it had acquired from China as a result of its victory in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). Japan promptly leased the region from China and continued to develop it; shortly thereafter, in 1900, Japanese forces intervened with the other imperial powers to put down the Boxer Uprising, a xenophobic conflict in China against Christians and foreigners. Russia continued to develop the railroad system in Manchuria and to exploit forests and gold mines in the northern part of Korea. The United States, fearing complete exclusion from the region-- especially from China--had declared its open door policy in 1900, but lacked the means to assert its will. During this period, however, Americans also were given concessions for rail and trolley lines, waterworks, Seoul's new telephone network, and mines. Japan briefly pulled back from the peninsula, but its 1902 alliance with Britain emboldened Japan to reassert itself there.

Russia and Japan initially sought to divide their interests in Korea, suggesting at one point that the thirty-eighth parallel be the dividing line between their spheres of influence. The rivalry devolved into the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) when Japan launched a successful surprise attack on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur (Dalian; or Japanese, Dairen). Japan electrified all of Asia by becoming the first nonwhite country to subdue one of the "great powers."

Under the peace treaty brokered by Theodore Roosevelt in a conference at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and signed in 1905, Russia recognized Japan's paramount rights in Korea. Japan would not question the rights of the United States in its colony, the Philippines, and the United States would not challenge Japan's new protectorate, established in 1905 to control Korea's foreign policy. Japan installed a resident-general and, two years later, deposed King Kojong. Significant Korean resistance followed this deposition, spreading through several provinces as local yangban organized militias for guerrilla warfare against Japan. In 1909, An Chung-gn, a Korean assassin, shot It Hirobumi, the former Japanese resident-general who had concluded the protectorate agreement; two expatriate Koreans in San Francisco also gunned down Durham Stevens, a foreign affairs adviser to the Japanese who had lauded their efforts in Korea. It was too little and too late. In 1910 Japan turned Korea into its colony, thus extinguishing Korea's hard-fought independence, which had first emerged with Silla and Kogury resistance to Chinese pressures.

Under Japanese imperial pressure that began in earnest with Korea's opening in l876, the Chosn Dynasty faltered and then collapsed in a few decades. The dynasty had had an extraordinary five-century longevity, but although the traditional system could adapt to the changes necessary to forestall or accommodate domestic or internal conflict and change, it could not withstand the onslaught of technically advanced imperial powers with strong armies. The old agrarian bureaucracy had managed the interplay of different and competing interests by having a system of checks and balances that tended over time to equilibrate the interests of different parties. The king and the bureaucracy kept watch over each other, the royal clans watched both, scholars criticized or remonstrated from the moral position of Confucian doctrine, secret inspectors and censors went around the country to watch for rebellion and assure accurate reporting, landed aristocrats sent sons into the bureaucracy to protect family interests, and local potentates influenced the county magistrates sent down from the central administration. The Chosn Dynasty was not a system that modern Koreans would wish to restore, but it was a sophisticated political system, adaptable enough and persistent enough to have given unified rule to Korea for half a millennium.

North Korea


North Korea

Korea did not escape the Japanese grip until 1945, when Japan lay prostrate under the Allied victory that brought World War II to a close. The colonial experience that shaped postwar Korea was intense and bitter. It brought development and underdevelopment, agrarian growth and deepened tenancy, industrialization and extraordinary dislocation, and political mobilization and deactivation. It also spawned a new role for the central state, new sets of Korean political leaders, communism and nationalism, and armed resistance and treacherous collaboration. Above all, it left deep fissures and conflicts that have gnawed at the Korean national identity ever since.

Colonialism was often thought to have created new countries where none existed before, to have drawn national boundaries, brought diverse tribes and peoples together, tutored the natives in self-government, and prepared for the day when the colonialist power decided to grant independence. But all this had existed in Korea for centuries before 19l0. Furthermore, by virtue of their relative proximity to China, Koreans had always felt superior to Japan and blamed Japan's devastating sixteenth-century invasions for hindering Korean wealth and power in subsequent centuries.

Thus the Japanese engaged not in creation, but in substitution after 19l0: substituting a Japanese ruling elite for the Korean yangban scholar-officials, colonial imperative coordination for the old central state administration, Japanese modern education for Confucian classics, Japanese capital and expertise for the budding Korean versions, Japanese talent for Korean talent, and eventually the Japanese language for Korean. Koreans never thanked the Japanese for these substitutions, did not credit Japan with creations, and instead saw Japan as snatching away the ancient regime, Korea's sovereignty and independence, its indigenous if incipient modernization, and above all its national dignity. Koreans never saw Japanese rule as anything but illegitimate and humiliating. Furthermore, the very closeness of the two nations--in geography, in common Chinese cultural influences, and in levels of development until the nineteenth century--made Japanese dominance all the more galling to Koreans and gave a peculiar intensity to their love/hate relationship.

Japan built bureaucracies in Korea, all of them centralized and all of them big by colonial standards. Unlike the relatively small British colonial cadre in India, there were 700,000 Japanese in Korea by the 1940s, and the majority of colonizers worked in government service. For the first time in history, Korea had a national police, responsive to the center and possessing its own communications and transportation facilities. The huge Japanese Oriental Development Company organized and funded industrial and agricultural projects, and came to own more than 20 percent of Korea's arable land; it employed an army of officials who fanned out through the countryside to supervise agricultural production. The official Bank of Korea performed central banking functions such as regulating interest rates and provisioned credit to firms and entrepreneurs, almost all of them Japanese. Central judicial bodies wrote new laws establishing an extensive, "legalized" system of racial discrimination against Koreans, making them second-class citizens in their own country. Bureaucratic departments proliferated at the Seoul headquarters of Japan's Government-General of Korea, turning it into the nerve center of the country. Semiofficial companies and conglomerates, including the big zaibatsu (commercial conglomerates) such as Mitsubishi and Mitsui, laid railroads, built ports, installed modern factories, and ultimately remade the face of old Korea.

Japan held Korea tightly, watched it closely, and pursued an organized, architectonic colonialism in which the planner and administrator were the model, not the swashbuckling conqueror. The strong, highly centralized colonial state mimicked the role that the Japanese state had come to play in Japan--intervening in the economy, creating markets, spawning new industries, and suppressing dissent. Politically, Koreans could barely breathe, but economically there was significant, if unevenly distributed, growth. Agricultural output rose substantially in the 1920s, and a hothouse industrialization occupied the 1930s. Growth rates in the Korean economy often outstripped those in Japan itself; one estimate suggested an annual growth rate for Korea of 3.57 percent in the 1911-38 period and a rate of 3.36 percent for Japan itself.

Koreans have always thought that the benefits of this growth went entirely to Japan and that Korea would have developed rapidly without Japanese help. Nonetheless, the strong colonial state, the multiplicity of bureaucracies, the policy of administrative guidance of the economy, the use of the state to found new industries, and the repression of labor unions and dissidents provided a surreptitious model for both Koreas in the postwar period. Japan showed them an early version of the "bureaucratic-authoritarian" path to industrialization, and it was a lesson that seemed well learned by the 1970s.

North Korea


North Korea

The colonial period brought forth an entirely new set of Korean political leaders, spawned by both the resistance to and the opportunities of Japanese colonialism. In 1919 mass movements swept many colonial and semicolonial countries, including Korea. Drawing on Woodrow Wilson's promises of self-determination, on March 1, 1919, a group of thirty-three intellectuals petitioned for independence from Japan and touched off nationwide mass protests that continued for months. These protests were put down fiercely by the Japanese, causing many younger Koreans to become militant opponents of colonial rule. The year was a watershed for imperialism in Korea: the leaders of the movement, predominantly Christian and Western in outlook, were moderate intellectuals and students who sought independence through nonviolent means and support from progressive elements in the West. Their courageous witness and the nationwide demonstrations that they provoked remained a touchstone of Korean nationalism. The movement succeeded in provoking reforms in Japanese administration, but its failure to realize independence also stimulated radical forms of anticolonial resistance. In the 1930s, new groups of armed resisters, bureaucrats, and--for the first time--military leaders emerged. Both North Korea and South Korea were profoundly influenced by the political elites and the political conflicts generated during colonial rule.

The emergence of nationalist and communist groups dates back to the 1920s; it was in this period that the left-right splits of postwar Korea began. The transformation of the yangban aristocracy also began during the 1920s. Although the higher scholar-officials were pensioned off and replaced by Japanese, landlords were allowed to retain their holdings and encouraged to continue disciplining peasants and extracting rice. The traditional landholding system was put on a new basis through new legal measures and a full cadastral survey shortly after Japan took over, but tenancy continued and was systematically deepened throughout the colonial period. By 1945 Korea had an agricultural tenancy system with few parallels in the world. More traditional landlords were content to sit back and let Japanese officials increase output; by 1945 such people were widely viewed as treacherous collaborators with the Japanese, and strong demands emerged that they share out land to their tenants. During the l920s, however, another trend began: landlords became entrepreneurs.

Some Korean militants went into exile in China and the Soviet Union and founded early communist and nationalist resistance groups. A Korean Communist Party (KCP) was founded in Seoul in 1925; one of the organizers was Pak Hn-yng, who became the leader of Korean communism in southern Korea after 1945. Various nationalist groups also emerged during this period, including the exiled Korean Provisional Government (KPG) in Shanghai, which included Syngman Rhee and another famous nationalist, Kim Ku, among its members.

Police repression and internal factionalism made it impossible for radical groups to exist for any length of time. Many nationalist and communist leaders were jailed in the early 1930s (they reappeared in 1945). When Japan invaded and then annexed Manchuria in 193l, however, a strong guerrilla resistance embracing both Chinese and Koreans emerged. There were well over 200,000 guerrillas--all loosely connected, and including bandits and secret societies--fighting the Japanese in the early 1930s; after murderous but effective counterinsurgency campaigns, the numbers declined to a few thousand by the mid-1930s. It was from this milieu that Kim Il Sung (originally named Kim Sng-ju, born in 1912) emerged. By the mid-1930s, he had become a significant guerrilla leader whom the Japanese considered one of the most effective and dangerous of guerrillas. They formed a special counterinsurgent unit to track Kim down and put Koreans in it as part of their divide-and-rule tactics.

Both Koreas have spawned myths about the guerrilla resistance: North Korea claims that Kim single-handedly defeated the Japanese, and South Korea claims that the present-day ruler of North Korea is an imposter who stole the name of a revered patriot. Nonetheless, the resistance is important for understanding postwar Korea. Resistance to Japan became the main legitimating doctrine of North Korea: North Koreans trace the origin of their army, leadership, and ideology back to this resistance. For the next five decades, the top North Korean leadership was dominated by a core group that had fought the Japanese in Manchuria. (Kim Il Sung's tenure in a Russian reconnaissance brigade also would have had an influence.)

Japan declared war on China in 1937 and on the United States in 194l. As this war took on global dimensions, Koreans for the first time had military careers opened to them. Although most Koreans were conscripted foot soldiers, a small number achieved officer status and a few attained high rank. The officer corps of the South Korean army during the Rhee period was dominated by Koreans with experience in the Japanese army. At least in part, the Korean War became a matter of Japanese-trained military officers fighting Japanese-spawned resistance leaders.

Japan's far-flung war effort also caused a labor shortage throughout the empire. In Korea this situation meant that bureaucratic positions were more available to Koreans than at any previous time; thus a substantial cadre of Koreans received administrative experience in government, local administration, police and judicial work, economic planning agencies, banks, and the like. That this occurred in the last decade of colonialism created a divisive legacy, however, for this period also was the harshest period of Japanese rule, the time Koreans remember with the greatest bitterness. Korean culture was quashed, and Koreans were required to speak Japanese and take Japanese names. The majority suffered badly at the precise time that a minority was doing well. This minority was tainted by collaboration, and that stigma was never lost. Korea from 1937 to 1945 was much like Vichy France in the early 1940s: bitter experiences and memories continued to divide people, even within the same family. Because it was too painful to confront directly, the experience became buried history and continued to play on the national identity.

In the mid-1930s, Japan's colonial policy entered a phase of heavy industrialization that embraced all of Northeast Asia. Unlike most colonial powers, Japan located heavy industry in its colonies and brought the means of production to the labor and raw materials. Manchuria and northern Korea got steel mills, automotive plants, petrochemical complexes, and enormous hydroelectric facilities. The region was held exclusively by Japan and tied together with the home market to the point that national boundaries had became less important than the new transnational, integrated production. To facilitate this production, Japan also built railroads, highways, cities, ports, and other modern transportation and communication facilities. By 1945 Korea proportionally had more kilometers of railroads than any other Asian country save Japan, leaving only remote parts of the central east coast and the wild northeastern Sino-Korean border region untouched by modern means of conveyance. These changes were externally induced and served Japanese, not Korean interests. Thus they represented a kind of overdevelopment.

The same exogenous changes fostered underdevelopment in Korean society as a whole. The Korean upper and managerial classes did not develop; instead their development was retarded or swelled suddenly at Japanese behest. Among the majority peasant class, change was advanced. Koreans became the mobile human capital used to work the new factories in northern Korea and Manchuria, mines and other enterprises in Japan, and urban factories in southern Korea. From 1935 to 1945, Korea began its industrial revolution with many of the usual characteristics: uprooting of peasants from the land, the emergence of a working class, urbanization, and population mobility. In Korea the process was telescoped, giving rise to comparatively remarkable population movements. By 1945 about 11 percent of the entire Korean population was abroad (mostly in Japan and Manchuria), and 20 percent of all Koreans were either abroad or in a province other than that in which they were born, with most of the interprovincial movement being southern peasants moving into northern industry. This was, by and large, a forced or mobilized movement; by 1942 it often meant drafted, conscripted labor. Peasants lost land or rights to work land only to end up working in unfamiliar factory settings, doing the dirty work for a pittance.

Perhaps the most important characteristic of Korea's colonial experience was the manner in which it ended: the last decade of a four-decade imperium was a pressure cooker. The colonial situation built to a crescendo, abruptly collapsed, and left the Korean people and two opposing great powers to deal with the results.

When the colonial system was abruptly terminated in 1945, millions of Koreans sought to return to their native villages from these far-flung mobilization details. But they were no longer the same people: they had grievances against those who had remained secure at home, they had suffered material and status losses, they had often come into contact with new ideologies, and they had all seen a broader world beyond the villages. It was these circumstances that loosed upon postwar Korea a mass of changed and disgruntled people who deeply disordered the early postwar period and the plans of the United States and the Soviet Union.

North Korea


North Korea

The crux of the period of national division and opposing states in Korea was the decade from 1943 to 1953, and the politics of contemporary Korea cannot be understood without comprehending this decade. It was the breeding ground of the two Koreas, of war, and of a reordering of international politics in Northeast Asia.

From the time of the tsars, Korea had been a concern of Russian security. The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 was fought in part over the disposition of the Korean Peninsula. It was often surmised that the Russians saw Korea as a gateway to the Pacific, especially to warm-water ports. However, the Soviets did not get a warm-water port out of their involvement in Korea.

There was greater complexity than this in Soviet policy. Korea had one of Asia's oldest communist movements. Although it would appear that postwar Korea was of great concern to the Soviet Union, many have thought that its policy was a simple matter of Sovietizing northern Korea, setting up a puppet state, and then, in 1950, directing Kim Il Sung to unify Korea by force. However, the Soviets did not have an effective relationship with Korean communists; Joseph Stalin purged and even executed many of the Koreans who had functioned in the Communist International, and he did not help Kim Il Sung and other guerrillas in their struggle against Japan.

The United States took the initiative in big power deliberations on Korea during World War II, suggesting a multilateral trusteeship for postwar Korea to the British in March 1943, and to the Soviet leaders at the end of the same year. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, concerned about the disposition of enemy-held colonial territories and aware of colonial demands for independence, sought a gradualist, tutelary policy of preparing former colonials--such as the Koreans--for self-government and independence. At the Cairo Conference in December 1943, the Allies, under United States urging, declared that after Japan was defeated Korea would become independent "in due course," a phrase consistent with Roosevelt's ideas. At about the same time, planners in the United States Department of State reversed the traditional United States policy of noninvolvement in Korea by defining the security of the peninsula as important to the security of the postwar Pacific, which was, in turn, very important to American security.

At a midnight meeting in Washington on August 10 and 11, 1945, War Department officials, including John J. McCloy and Dean Rusk, decided to make the thirty-eighth parallel the dividing line between the Soviet and United States zones in Korea. Neither the Soviet forces nor the Koreans were consulted. As a result, when 25,000 American soldiers occupied southern Korea in early September 1945, they found themselves up against a strong Korean impulse for independence and for thorough reform of colonial legacies. By and large, Koreans wished to solve their problems themselves and resented any inference that they were not ready for self-government.

During World War II, Stalin was mostly silent in his discussions with Roosevelt about Korea. From 194l to 1945, Kim Il Sung and other guerrillas were given sanctuary in Sino-Soviet border towns, trained at a small school, and dispatched as agents into Japanese-held territory. Recent research suggests that Chinese, not Soviet, communists controlled the border camps. Although the United States suspected that as many as 30,000 Koreans were being trained as Soviet guerrilla agents, postwar North Korean documents captured by General Douglas A. MacArthur showed that there could not have been more than a few hundred guerrilla agents. When Soviet troops occupied Korea north of the thirty-eighth parallel in August 1945, they brought these Koreans, now in the Soviet army, with them. They were often termed Soviet-Koreans, even though most of them were not Soviet citizens. Although this group was not large, several of them became prominent in the regime, for example H Ka-i, an experienced party organizer, who was Soviet-born, and Nam Il, who became well known during the Korean War when he led the North Korean delegation in peace talks. The Soviet side quietly acquiesced to the thirty-eighth parallel decision and then accepted the United States plan for a multilateral trusteeship at a foreign ministers' meeting in December 1945. Over the next two years, the two powers held so-called joint commission meetings trying to resolve their differences and establish a provisional government for Korea.

The United States military command, along with emissaries dispatched from Washington, tended to interpret resistance to United States desires in the south as radical and pro-Soviet. When Korean resistance leaders set up an interim "people's republic" and people's committees throughout southern Korea in September 1945, the United States saw this fundamentally indigenous movement as part of a Soviet master plan to dominate all of Korea. Radical activity, such as the ousting of landlords and attacks on Koreans in the former colonial police force, usually was a matter of settling scores left over from the colonial period, or of demands by Koreans to run their own affairs. But it immediately became wrapped up with United States- Soviet rivalry, such that the Cold War arrived early in Korea--in the last months of 1945.

Once the United States occupation force chose to bolster the status quo and resist radical reform of colonial legacies, it immediately ran into monumental opposition to its policies from the majority of South Koreans. The United States Army Military Government in Korea (1945-48) spent most of its first year suppressing the many people's committees that had emerged in the provinces. This action provoked a massive rebellion in the fall of 1946; after the rebellion was suppressed, radical activists developed a significant guerrilla movement in 1948 and 1949. Activists also touched off a major rebellion at the port of Ysu in South Korea in October 1948. Much of this disorder resulted from unresolved land problem caused by conservative landed factions who used their bureaucratic power to block redistribution of land to peasant tenants. North Koreans sought to take advantage of this discontent, but the best evidence shows that most of the dissidents and guerrillas were southerners upset about southern policies. Indeed, the strength of the left wing was in those provinces most removed from the thirty-eighth parallel--in the southwest, which had historically been rebellious (the Tonghaks came from there), and in the southeast, which had felt the greatest impact from Japanese colonialism.

By 1947 Washington was willing to acknowledge formally that the Cold War had begun in Korea and abandoned attempts to negotiate with the Soviet government to form a unified, multilateral administration. Soviet leaders had also determined that the postwar world would be divided into two blocs, and they deepened their controls over North Korea. When President Harry S Truman announced the Truman Doctrine and the containment policy in the spring of 1947, Korea was very nearly included along with Greece and Turkey as a key containment country; Department of State planners foresaw an enormous US$600-million package of economic and military aid for southern Korea, and backed away only when the United States Congress and the Department of War balked at such a huge sum. Instead, the decision was made to seek United Nations (UN) backing for United States policy in Korea, and to hold a UN-supervised plebiscite in all of Korea if the Soviet Union would go along, in southern Korea alone if it did not. North Korea refused to cooperate with the UN. The plebiscite was held in May 1948 and resulted in the establishment of the Republic of Korea in August of the same year.

From August 1945 until January 1946, Soviet forces worked with a coalition of communists and nationalists led by a Christian educator named Cho Man-sik. Kim Il Sung did not appear in North Korea until October 1945; what he did in the two months after the Japanese surrender is not known. When he reappeared, Soviet leaders presented Kim to the Korean people as a guerrilla hero. The Soviets did not set up a central administration, nor did they establish an army. In retrospect their policy was more tentative and reactive than American policy in South Korea, which moved forward with plans for a separate administration and army. In general, Soviet power in the Asia-Pacific region was flexible and resulted in the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Manchuria in early 1946.

Whether in response to United States initiatives or because most Koreans despised the trusteeship agreement that had been negotiated at the end of 1945, separate institutions began to emerge in North Korea in early 1946. In February 1946, an Interim People's Committee led by Kim Il Sung became the first central government. The next month, a revolutionary land reform took place, dispossessing landlords without compensation. In August 1946, a powerful political party, the North Korean Workers' Party, dominated politics as a result of a merger with the Korean Communist Party; in the fall the rudiments of a northern army appeared. Central agencies nationalized major industries that previously had been mostly owned by the Japanese and began a two-year economic program based on the Soviet model of central planning and priority for heavy industry. Nationalists and Christian leaders were ousted from all but pro forma participation in politics, and Cho Man-sik was placed under house arrest. Kim Il Sung and his allies dominated all the political parties, ousting resisters.

Within a year of the liberation from Japanese rule, North Korea had a powerful political party, a growing economy, and a single powerful leader, Kim Il Sung. Kim's emergence and that of the Kim system dated from mid-1946, by which time he had placed close, loyal allies at the heart of power. His prime assets were his background, his skills at organization, and his ideology. Only thirty-four years old when he came to power, Kim was fortunate to emerge in the last decade of a forty-year resistance that had killed off many leaders of the older generation. North Korea claimed that Kim was the leader of all Korean resisters, when, in fact, there were many other leaders. But Kim won the support and firm loyalty of several hundred people like him: young, tough, nationalistic guerrillas who had fought in Manchuria. Because the prime test of legitimacy in postwar Korea was one's record under the hated Japanese regime, Kim and his core allies possessed nationalist credentials superior to those of the South Korean leadership. Furthermore, Kim's backers had military force at their disposal and used it to their advantage against rivals with no military experience.

Kim's organizational skills probably came from experience gained in the Chinese Communist Party in the 1930s. He was also a dynamic leader. Unlike traditional Korean leaders and intellectual or theoretical communists such as Pak Hn-yng, he pursued a style of mass leadership that involved using his considerable charisma and getting close to the people. He often visited a factory or a farm for so-called "on-the-spot guidance" and encouraged his allies to do the same. Led by Kim, the North Koreans went against Soviet orthodoxy by including masses of poor peasants in the party; indeed, they termed the party a "mass" rather than a vanguard party.

Since the 1940s, from 12 to 14 percent of the population has been enrolled in the communist party, compared with 1 to 3 percent for communist parties in most countries. The Korean Workers' Party (KWP) was formed by a merger of the communist parties in North Korea and South Korea in 1949. The vast majority of KWP members were poor peasants with no previous political experience. Membership in the party gave them status, privileges, and a rudimentary form of political participation.

Kim's ideology in the 1940s tended to be revolutionary- nationalist rather than communist. The chuch'e ideology had its beginnings in the late 1940s, although the term chuch'e was not used until a 1955 speech in which Kim castigated some of his comrades for being too pro-Soviet. The concept of chuch'e, which means placing all foreigners at arm's length, has resonated deeply with Korea's Hermit Kingdom past. Chuch'e doctrine stresses self-reliance and independence, but also draws on neo-Confucian emphasis on rectification of one's thinking before action in the real world. Soon after Kim took power, virtually all North Koreans were required to participate in study groups and re-education meetings, where regime ideology was inculcated.

In the 1940s, Kim faced factional power struggles among his group. Factions included communists who had remained in Korea during the colonial period, called the domestic faction; Koreans associated with Chinese communism, the Yan'an faction; Kim's Manchurian partisans, the Kapsan faction; Soviet Union loyalists, the Soviet faction. In the aftermath of the Korean War, amid much false scapegoating for the disasters of the war, Kim purged the domestic faction, many of whose leaders were from southern Korea; Pak Hn-yng and twelve of his associates were pilloried in show trials under ridiculous charges that they were American spies, and ten of them subsequently were executed. In the mid-1950s, Kim eliminated key leaders of the Soviet faction, including H Ka-i, and overcame an apparent coup attempt by members of the Yan'an faction, after which he purged many of them. Some, such as the guerrilla hero Mu Chng, a Yan'an faction member, reportedly escaped to China. These power struggles took place only during the first decade of the regime. Later, there were conflicts within the leadership, but they were relatively minor and did not successfully challenge Kim's power.

In the period 1946 to 1948, there was much evidence that the Soviet Union hoped to dominate North Korea. In particular, it sought to involve North Korea in a quasi-colonial relationship in which Korean raw materials, such as tungsten and gold, were exchanged for Soviet manufactured goods. The Soviet Union also sought to keep Chinese communist influence out of Korea; in the late 1940s, Maoist doctrine had to be infiltrated into North Korean newspapers and books. Soviet influence was especially strong in the media, where major organs were staffed by Koreans from the Soviet Union, and in the security bureaus. Nonetheless, the Korean guerrillas who fought in Manchuria were not easily molded and dominated. They were tough, highly nationalistic, and determined to have Korea for themselves. This was especially so for the Korean People's Army (KPA), which was an important base for Kim Il Sung and which was led by Ch'oe Yng-gn, another Korean guerrilla who had fought in Manchuria. At the army's founding ceremony on February 8, 1948, Kim urged his soldiers to carry forward the tradition of the Koreans who had fought against the Japanese in Manchuria.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea was established on September 9, 1948, three weeks after the Republic of Korea had been formed in Seoul. Kim Il Sung was named premier, a title he retained until 1972, when, under a new constitution, he was named president. At the end of 1948, Soviet occupation forces were withdrawn from North Korea. This decision contrasted strongly with Soviet policies in Eastern Europe. Tens of thousands of Korean soldiers who fought in the Chinese civil war from 1945 to 1949 also filtered back to Korea. All through 1949, tough crack troops with Chinese, not Soviet, experience returned to be integrated with the KPA; the return of these Korean troops inevitably moved North Korea toward China. It enhanced Kim's bargaining power and enabled him to maneuver between the two communist giants. Soviet advisers remained in the Korean government and military, although far fewer than the thousands claimed by South Korean sources. There probably were 300 to 400 advisers posted to North Korea, but many of those were experienced military and security people. Both countries continued to trade, and the Soviet Union sold World War II-vintage weaponry to North Korea.

In 1949 Kim Il Sung had himself named suryng, an old Kogury term for "leader" that the Koreans always modified by the adjective "great"--as in "great leader" (Widaehan chidoja). The KPA was built up through recruiting campaigns for soldiers and bond drives to purchase Soviet tanks. The tradition of the Manchurian guerrillas was burnished in the party newspaper, Nodong simmun (Workers' Daily), perhaps to offset the influence of powerful Korean officers, who like Mu Chng and Pang Ho-san, had fought with the Chinese communists.

North Korea

North Korea - THE KOREAN WAR

North Korea

In early 1949, North Korea seemed to be on a war footing. Kim's New Year's speech was bellicose and excoriated South Korea as a puppet state. The army expanded rapidly, soldiers drilled in war maneuvers, and bond drives began to amass the necessary funds to purchase Soviet weaponry. The thirty-eighth parallel was fortified, and border incidents began breaking out. Neither Seoul nor P'yongyang recognized the parallel as a permanent legitimate boundary.

Although many aspects of the Korean War remained murky, it seemed that the beginning of conventional war in June 1950 was mainly Kim's decision, and that the key enabling factor was the existence of as many as 100,000 troops with battle experience in China. When the Rhee regime, with help from United States military advisers, severely reduced the guerrilla threat in the winter of 1949-50, the civil war moved into a conventional phase. Kim sought Stalin's backing for his assault, but documents from Soviet and Chinese sources suggested that he got more support from China.

Beginning on June 25, 1950, North Korean forces fought their way south through Seoul. South Korean resistance collapsed as the roads south of Seoul became blocked with refugees, who were fleeing North Korean columns spearheaded with tanks supplied by the Soviet Union. Task Force Smith, the first United States troops to enter the war, made a futile stand at Suwn, a town some thirty miles south of Seoul. Within a month of the start of the invasion, North Korean forces had seized all but a small corner of southeastern Korea anchored by the port city of Pusan. Repeated North Korean efforts, blunted by heavy United States Air Force bombing and stubborn resistance by the combined United States and South Korean forces on the Pusan perimeter, denied Kim Il Sung forceful reunification of the peninsula. The fortunes of war reversed abruptly in early September when General MacArthur boldly landed his forces at Inch'n, the port city for Seoul in west central Korea. This action severed the lines of communication and supply between the North Korean army and its base in the north. The army quickly collapsed, and combined United States and South Korean forces drove Kim Il Sung's units northward and into complete defeat.

The United States thrust in the fall of 1950, however, motivated China to bring its forces--the Chinese People's Volunteer Army--in on the northern side; these "volunteers" and the North Korean army pushed United States and South Korean forces out of North Korea within a month. Although the war lasted another two years, until the summer of 1953, the outcome of early 1951 was definitive: both a stalemate and a United States commitment to containment that accepted the de facto reality of two Koreas.

By the time the armistice was signed in 1953, North Korea had been devastated by three years of bombing attacks that had left almost no modern buildings standing. Both Koreas had watched as their country was ravaged and the expectations of 1945 were turned into a nightmare. Furthermore, when Kim's regime was nearly extinguished in the fall of 1950, the Soviet Union did very little to save it--China picked up the pieces.

North Korea


North Korea

North Korea has a socialist command economy. Beginning with the Three-Year Plan (1954-56) at the end of the Korean War and the shortened Five-Year Plan (1957-60) that succeeded it, reconstruction and the priority development of heavy industry has been stressed, with consumer goods a low priority. This strategy of industrialization, biased toward heavy industry, pushed the economy forward at record growth rates in the 1950s and 1960s. The First Seven-Year Plan (1961-70--extended for three years because of Soviet aid stoppages in the early 1960s caused by North Korea's support for China in the Sino-Soviet dispute)--also projected a higher than average growth rate.

By the early 1970s, North Korea had clearly exhausted extensive development of its industries based on its own, prewar Japanese, or new Soviet technologies, and therefore turned to the West and Japan to purchase turnkey plants. These purchases ultimately caused North Korea's problems with servicing its external debt-- estimated at between US$2 billion and US$3 billion for the years 1972-79. Later seven- and ten-year plans failed to reach projected growth rates; still, a study published by the United States Central Intelligence Agency in 1978 estimated that North Korea's per capita gross national product (GNP) equaled South Korea's as late as 1976. Since that time, however, it has fallen behind South Korea, and transportation bottlenecks and fuel resource problems have plagued the economy.

Agriculture was collectivized after the Korean War, in stages that went from mutual aid teams to second-stage cooperatives, but stopped short of building the huge state farms found in the Soviet Union or the communes of China. Relying mostly on cooperative farms corresponding to the old natural villages and using material incentives (there was apparently little ideological bias against using such incentives), North Korea pushed agricultural production ahead, and its general agricultural success was acknowledged. The United States government estimated in 1978 that grain production had grown more rapidly in North Korea than in South Korea and that living standards in North Korea's rural areas had probably improved more quickly than those in South Korea. Nevertheless, production has fallen behind and North Korea has failed to reach projected targets, for example, the production of 10 million tons of grain by 1986.

North Korea


North Korea

Marxism did not present a political model for achieving socialism, only an opaque set of prescriptions. This political vacuum opened the way for the development of an indigenous political culture. The strongest foreign influence on North Korea's leadership has been the Chinese communist model. Like Mao Zedong, Kim Il Sung has been very much a mass line leader, making frequent visits to factories and the countryside, sending cadres down to local levels to help policy implementation and to solicit local opinion, requiring small-group political study and so-called criticism and self-criticism, using periodic campaigns to mobilize people for production or education, and encouraging soldiers to engage in production in good "people's army" fashion.

The North Korean political system also differs in many respects from China and the former Soviet Union. The symbol of the KWP is a hammer and sickle with a superimposed writing brush, symbolizing the "three-class alliance" of workers, peasants, and intellectuals. Unlike Mao's China, the Kim regime has never excoriated intellectuals as a potential "new class" of exploiters; instead, it has followed an inclusive policy toward them, perhaps because postwar Korea was short of intellectuals and experts and because so many had left North Korea for South Korea in the 1945-50 period. For P'yongyang, the term intellectual refers to experts and technocrats, of which there are exceedingly few in North Korea. North Korea's political system is thus a mix of Marxism-Leninism, Korean nationalism, and indigenous political culture. The term that perhaps best captures this system is corporatism. Socialist corporatist doctrine has always preferred an organic politic to the liberal, pluralist conception: a corporeal body politic rather than a set of diverse groups and interests.

North Korea's goal of tight unity at home has produced a remarkable organicism, unprecedented in any existing communist regime. Kim Il Sung is not just the "iron-willed, ever-victorious commander," the "respected and beloved Great Leader"; he also is the "head and heart" of the body politic (even "the supreme brain of the nation"!). The flavor of this politics can be demonstrated through quotations taken from KWP newspapers in the spring of 1981:


Kim Il Sung ... is the great father of our people....Long is the history of the word father being used as a word representing love and reverence ... expressing the unbreak-able blood ties between the people and the leader. Father. This familiar word represents our people's single heart of boundless respect and loyalty.... The love shown by the Great Leader for our people is the love of kinship. Our respected and beloved Leader is the tender-hearted father of all the people.... Love of paternity ... is the noblest ideological sentiment possessed only by our people.

His heart is a traction power attracting the hearts of all people and a centripetal force uniting them as one.... Kim Il Sung is the great sun and great man ... thanks to this great heart, national independence is firmly guaranteed.

This type of language was especially strong when the succession of Kim Jong Il was publicly announced at the Sixth Party Congress in 1980. The KWP often is referred to as the "Mother" party, the mass line is said to provide "blood ties," the leader always is "fatherly," and the country is one big "family." Kim Il Sung is said to be paternal, devoted, and benevolent, and the people presumably respond with loyalty, obedience, and mutual love.

North Korean ideology buries Marxism-Leninism under the ubiquitous, always-trumpeted chuch'e idea. By the 1970s, chuch'e had triumphed fundamentally over Marxism-Leninism as the basic ideology of the regime, but the emphases were there from the beginning. Chuch'e is the opaque core of North Korean national solipsism.

National solipsism expresses an omnipotent theme found in North Korean written materials: an assumption that Korea is the center of the world, radiating outward the rays of chuch'e, especially to Third World countries that are thought by the North Koreans to be ready for chuch'e. The world tends toward Korea, with all eyes on Kim Il Sung. The presence of such an attitude is perhaps the most bizarre aspect of North Korea, but also one of the most noticeable. The model of ever-widening concentric circles--at the center of which is Kim Il Sung, next his family, next the guerrillas who fought with him, and then the KWP elite--is profoundly Korean and has characterized North Korea since 1946. This core circle controls everything at the top levels of the regime. The core moves outward and downward concentrically to encompass other elements of the population and provides the glue holding the system together. As the penumbra of workers and peasants is reached, trust gives way to control on a bureaucratic basis and to a mixture of normative and remunerative incentives. Nonetheless, the family remains the model for societal organization. An outer circle distinguishes the Korean from the foreign, a reflection of the extraordinary ethnic and linguistic unity of Koreans and Korea's history of exclusionism. Yet the circle keeps on expanding, as if to encompass foreigners under the mantle of Kim and his chuch'e idea.

North Korea


North Korea

Since the end of the Korean War, the two Koreas have faced each other across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), engaged most of the time in unremitting, withering, unregenerate hostility, punctuated by occasional, brief thaws and increasing exchanges between P'yongyang and Seoul. Huge armies still are poised to fight at a moment's notice. The emergence of the Sino-Soviet conflict in 1969, the United States opening to China in 1971-72, and the end of the Second Indochina War in 1975, however, were some of the watershed changes in world politics that both seemed to empty the Cold War logic of its previous meaning and changed the great power configuration.

The strategic logic of the 1970s had an immediate and beneficial impact on Korea. The Nixon administration withdrew a division of United States soldiers from South Korea. North Korea responded by virtually halting attempts at infiltration (compared with 1968, when more than 100 soldiers died along the DMZ and the United States spy ship Pueblo was seized) and by significantly reducing the defense budget in 1971. In what seemed to be a miraculous development, the Koreas held talks at a high level. These talks between the director of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency and Kim Yng-ju, Kim Il Sung's younger brother, in early 1972, culminated in a July 4, 1972, announcement that both sides would seek reunification peacefully, independently of outside forces, and with common efforts toward creating a "great national unity" that would transcend the many differences between the two systems. Within a year, however, this initiative had effectively failed.

United States policy again shifted, if less dramatically, when the administration of Jimmy Carter announced plans for a gradual but complete withdrawal of United States ground forces from South Korea (air and naval units would remain deployed in or near Korea). At that time, a prolonged period of North Korean courting of the United States began. In 1978, however, the first of the large-scale military exercises called Team Spirit, involving more than 200,000 United States and South Korean troops, was held. And, in 1979, the Carter administration dropped its program of troop withdrawal in reaction to North Korea's rapid and extensive upgrading of its army and the discovery of North Korean-built tunnels under the DMZ; the administration committed itself to a modest but significant build-up of force and equipment levels in South Korea.

In the late 1970s, P'yongyang's policy towards Moscow and Beijing was somewhat of a balancing act. Nonetheless, North Korea began using a term of opprobrium for Soviet imperialism, dominationism (chibaejui), a term akin to the Chinese term, hegemonism. By and large, P'yongyang adhered to the Chinese foreign policy line during the Carter years, while taking care not to antagonize the Soviet Union needlessly. When Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978, North Korea forcefully and publicly condemned the invasion while maintaining a studied silence when China responded by invading Vietnam.

By the early 1980s, changing United States-China relations also had repercussions in the two Koreas. China said publicly that it wished to play a role in reducing tension on the Korean Peninsula. In January 1984, for the first time, a major North Korean initiative called for three-way talks between the United States, South Korea, and North Korea. Through most of the 1980s, China sought to sponsor talks between Washington and P'yongyang-- talks that occasionally took place in Beijing at the ministercounselor level--and encouraged Kim Il Sung to take the path of diplomacy.

The reemergence of detente between the United States and the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s has provided a major opportunity to resolve the Korean confrontation. Seoul, more than P'yongyang, has been effective in exploiting these new opportunities. As Seoul's prestige has grown, it has clearly put P'yongyang on the defensive, perhaps more than at any time since the Korean War. The sharp changes in world politics in the late 1980s placed the fate of the Kim regime in the balance. If North Korea survives amid the failure of most other communist systems, it will be because of the historical, nationalistic, and indigenous roots that its leaders have sought to foster since the 1940s. Drawing on a tradition of resistance to foreign pressure going back to the states of Kogury and Parhae, the North Koreans demonstrated their tenacity and their resilience during the time of the Korean War. They will probably find the 1990s equally challenging.

North Korea

North Korea - GEOGRAPHY

North Korea

The Korean Peninsula extends for about 1,000 kilometers southward from the northeast Asian continental landmass. The main Japanese islands of Honsh and Ky sh are located some 200 kilometers to the southeast across the Tsushima Strait, the southeast part of the Korea Strait; China's Shandong Peninsula lies 190 kilometers to the west. Japan's Tsushima Island lies between the peninsula's southeast coast and Ky sh . The Korean Peninsula's west coast is bordered by the Yellow Sea (or Korea Bay as it is called in North Korea). The east coast is bordered by the Sea of Japan (known in Korea as the East Sea; North Korean sources sometimes refer to the Yellow and Japan seas as the West and East seas of Korea, respectively). The 8,460 kilometer coastline of Korea is highly irregular, with North Korea's half of the peninsula having 2,495 kilometers of coastline. Some 3,579 islands lie adjacent to the Korean Peninsula, mostly along the south and west coasts.

Korea's northern land border is formed by the Yalu (or Amnok) and Tumen rivers, which have their sources in the region around Paektu-san (Mount Paektu or White Head Mountain), an extinct volcano and Korea's highest mountain (2,744 meters). The Yalu River flows into the Yellow Sea, and the Tumen River flows east into the Sea of Japan. The northern border extends for 1,433 kilometers; 1,416 kilometers are shared with the Chinese provinces of Jilin and Liaoning, and the remaining 17 kilometers with Russia. Part of the border with China near Paektu-san has yet to be clearly demarcated.

At the end of World War II, the Korean Peninsula was divided along the thirty-eighth parallel into Soviet and United States occupation zones. With the signing of an armistice marking the end of the Korean War in 1953, the border between North Korea and South Korea became the Demaraction Line, which runs through the middle of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). This heavily guarded, 4,000-meter-wide strip of land runs east and west along the line of cease-fire for a distance of 241 kilometers (238 kilometers of that line form the land boundary with South Korea). The North Korean government claims territorial waters extending twelve nautical miles from shore. It also claims an exclusive economic zone 200 nautical miles from shore. In addition, a maritime military boundary that lies fifty nautical miles offshore in the Sea of Japan and 200 nautical miles offshore in the Yellow Sea demarcates the waters and airspace into which foreign ships and planes are prohibited from entering without permission.

The total land area of the Korean Peninsula, including islands, is 220,847 square kilometers, of which 55 percent, or 120,410 square kilometers, constitutes the territory of North Korea. The combined territories of North and South Korea are about the same size as the United Kingdom or the state of Minnesota. North Korea alone is about the size of the state of New York or Louisiana.

<> Topography and Drainage
<> Climate

North Korea

North Korea - Topography and Drainage

North 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's land area is composed of mountains and uplands, with all of the peninsula's mountains with elevations of 2,000 meters or more located in North Korea. The great majority of the population lives in the plains and lowlands.

The land around Paektu-san near the China border is volcanic in origin and includes a basalt lava plateau with elevations of between 1,400 and 2,000 meters above sea level. The Hamgyng Range, located in the extreme northeastern part of the peninsula, has many high peaks including Kwanmo-san at approximately 1,756 meters. Other major ranges include the Nangnim Range, which is located in the north-central part of North Korea and runs in a north-south direction, making communication between the eastern and western parts of the country rather difficult; and the Kangnam Range, which runs along the North Korea-China border. K mgang-san, or Diamond Mountain, (approximately 1,638 meters) in the T'aebaek Range, which extends into South Korea, is famous for its scenic beauty.

For the most part, the plains are small. The most extensive are the P'yongyang and Chaeryng plains, each covering about 500 square kilometers. Because the mountains on the east coast drop abruptly to the sea, the plains are even smaller there than on the west coast.

The mountain ranges in the northern and eastern parts of North Korea form the watershed for most of its rivers, which run in a westerly direction and empty into the Yellow Sea (Korea Bay). The longest is the Yalu River, which is navigable for 678 of its 790 kilometers. The Tumen River, one of the few major rivers to flow into the Sea of Japan, is the second longest at 521 kilometers but is navigable for only 85 kilometers because of the mountainous topography. The third longest river, the Taedong River, flows through P'yongyang and is navigable for 245 of its 397 kilometers. Lakes tend to be small because of the lack of glacial activity and the stability of the earth's crust in the region. Unlike neighboring Japan or northern China, North Korea experiences few severe earthquakes. The country is well-endowed with spas and hot springs, which number 124 according to one North Korean source.

North Korea

North Korea - Climate

North Korea

Located between 38 and 43 north latitude, North Korea has a continental climate with four distinct seasons. Long winters bring bitterly cold and clear weather interspersed with snow storms as a result of northern and northwestern winds that blow from Siberia. The daily average high and low temperatures for P'yongyang in January are -3� C and -13� C. Average snowfall is thirty-seven days during the winter. The weather is likely to be particularly harsh in the northern, mountainous regions. Summer tends to be short, hot, humid, and rainy because of the southern and southeastern monsoon winds that bring moist air from the Pacific Ocean. The daily average high and low temperatures for P'yongyang in August are 29� C and 20� C. On average, approximately 60 percent of all precipitation occurs from June to September. Typhoons affect the peninsula on an average of at least once every summer. Spring and autumn are transitional seasons marked by mild temperatures and variable winds and bring the most pleasant weather.

North Korea

North Korea - Environment

North Korea

Lack of information makes it difficult to assess the extent to which industrialization and urbanization have damaged North Korea's natural environment. Using generally obsolete technology transferred from the former Soviet Union and China, the country embarked on a program of ambitious industrialization after the Korean War. Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania, which had similar industrial policies, had some of the world's worst air, water, and soil pollution in the early 1990s.

The April 1986 passage of an environment protection law by the Supreme People's Assembly, the country's national legislature, suggested that North Korea might also have serious pollution problems. Speaking about the bill, Vice President Yi Chong-ok claimed that "big successes" had been accomplished in this field in the past, and that "visitors to the DPRK can easily confirm that pollution has not reached there the levels experienced in other countries." Although Yi described the law as a preventive rather than a curative measure, a German publication noted that the attendance of representatives from the cities of Namp'o, Hamhng, and Ch'ngjin at preliminary discussions of the bill suggested that these localities might have more serious pollution problems than other North Korean cities.

Air pollution is moderated by the extensive reliance on electricity rather than on fossil fuels, both for industry and the heating of urban residences. Air pollution is further limited by the absence of private automobiles and restrictions on using gasoline-powered vehicles because of the critical shortage of oil. The extent of water pollution is unknown, but it did not seem to be a serious problem in the P'yongyang area as of early 1993.

North Korea

North Korea - Environment

North Korea

THE KOREAN PENINSULA, located at the juncture of the northeast Asian continent and the Japanese archipelago, has been home to a culturally and linguistically distinct people for more than two millennia. The ancestors of modern Koreans are believed to have come from northeast and Inner Asia. Like their Japanese neighbors, they have been deeply influenced by Chinese civilization. The elite culture and social structure of traditional Korea, especially during the Chosn Dynasty (1392-1910) founded by General Yi Sng-gye, reflected neoConfucian norms. Despite centuries of Chinese cultural influence, an episode of Japanese colonialism (1910-45), division into United States and Soviet spheres after World War II (1939-45), and the Korean War (1950-53, known in North Korea as the Fatherland Liberation War), the Korean people have retained their ethnic and cultural distinctiveness. Indeed, cultural distinctiveness, autonomy, and creativity have become central themes in the North Korean regime's chuch'e ideology.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea) is a socialist society with a Soviet style authoritarian political system in which the leadership emphasizes the formulation of a distinctively Korean style of socialism termed chuch'e. Its antithesis is "flunkeyism", or sadejuui, which traditionally referred to subordination to Chinese culture but has come to mean subservience to a foreign power. North Korean leaders label as "flunkeyism" anything that they wish to criticize as excessively dependent on foreign influence.

The North Korean regime has attempted to break with its China-dependent Confucian past, but the more authoritarian strains in Confucian thought are reinforced by the authoritarianism of Marxism-Leninism and Stalinism and by contemporary social values. Like the ideal Confucian ruler, North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are depicted as morally perfect leaders whose boundless benevolence earns them the gratitude and loyalty of the masses.

Kim Il Sung's domination of the political system after 1948 and his formulation of chuch'e ideology has made him the focus of an intense personality cult comparable to, and perhaps even more extreme, than that of Joseph Stalin. Through means of the state-controlled media and the education system, which includes an elaborate network of "social education" institutions aimed at creating a proper environment for the rearing of North Korean youth, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are the focus of nationwide veneration.

North Korea's rigidly hierarchical social structure resembles that of pre-modern Korea: an unequal society, both in terms of status and economic rewards. The rulers are at the apex, next come a small elite of Korean Workers' Party (KWP) officers, then a larger group of KWP cadres, and, finally, the majority of the population. At the bottom of the social-political pyramid are the politically suspect, including those whose relatives fled to the Republic of Korea (ROK, or South Korea) after 1945. The treatment of people is largely determined by political criteria. For example, talented people with "tainted" political backgrounds usually find it impossible to attend a college or university.

Insight into this cloistered society has benefited since the late 1980s from North Korea's release of statistics about its population, health conditions, educational enrollment, and other data previously kept secret. This information suggests that as of July 1991, the approximately 21.8 million North Koreans have life expectancies, health conditions, and mortality rates roughly equivalent to those of South Korea, which at that time had about twice the population. In the early 1990s, however, relatively limited information is available on living standards, especially for those living outside the capital city of P'yongyang.

North Korea

North Korea - POPULATION

North Korea

Estimating the size, growth rate, sex ratio, and age structure of North Korea's population has been extremely difficult. Until release of official data in 1989, the 1963 edition of the North Korea Central Yearbook was the last official publication to disclose population figures until 1989. After 1963 demographers used varying methods to estimate the population. They either totaled the number of delegates elected to the Supreme People's Assembly (each delegate representing 50,000 people before 1962 and 30,000 people afterward) or relied on official statements that a certain number of persons, or percentage of the population, was engaged in a particular activity. Thus, on the basis of remarks made by President Kim Il Sung in 1977 concerning school attendance, the population that year was calculated at 17.2 million persons. During the 1980s, health statistics, including life expectancy and causes of mortality, were gradually made available to the outside world.

In 1989 the Central Statistics Bureau released demographic data to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) in order to secure the UNFPA's assistance in holding North Korea's first nationwide census since the establishment of the DPRK in 1948. Although the figures given to the United Nations (UN) might have been purposely distorted, it appears that in line with other attempts to open itself to the outside world, the North Korean regime has also opened somewhat in the demographic realm. Although the country lacks trained demographers, accurate data on household registration, migration, and births and deaths are available to North Korean authorities. According to the United States scholar Nicholas Eberstadt and demographer Judith Banister, vital statistics and personal information on residents are kept by agencies on the ri, or ni (village, the local administrative unit) level in rural areas and the dong (district or block) level in urban areas.

Size and Growth Rate

In their 1992 monograph, The Population of North Korea, Eberstadt and Banister use the data given to the UNFPA and also make their own assessments. They place the total population at 21.4 million persons in mid-1990, consisting of 10.6 million males and 10.8 million females. This figure is close to an estimate of 21.9 million persons for mid-1988 cited in the 1990 edition of the Demographic Yearbook published by the UN. Korean Review, a book by Pan Hwan Ju published by the P'yongyang Foreign Languages Press in 1987, gives a figure of 19.1 million persons for 1986.

The figures disclosed by the government reveal an unusually low proportion of males to females: in 1980 and 1987, the maleto -female ratios were 86.2 to 100, and 84.2 to 100, respectively. Low male-to-female ratios are usually the result of a war, but these figures were lower than the sex ratio of 88.3 males per 100 females recorded for 1953, the last year of the Korean War. The male-to-female ratio would be expected to rise to a normal level with the passage of years, as happened between 1953 and 1970, when the figure was 95.1 males per 100 females. After 1970, however, the ratio declined. Eberstadt and Banister suggest that before 1970 male and female population figures included the whole population, yielding ratios in the ninetieth percentile, but that after that time the male military population was excluded from population figures. Based on the figures provided by the Central Statistics Bureau, Eberstadt and Banister estimate that the actual size of the "hidden" male North Korean military had reached 1.2 million by 1986 and that the actual male-to-female ratio was 97.1 males to 100 females in 1990. If their estimates are correct, 6.1 percent of North Korea's total population was in the military, numerically the world's fifth largest military force, in the late 1980s.

The annual population growth rate in 1960 was 2.7 percent, rising to a high of 3.6 percent in 1970, but falling to 1.9 percent in 1975. This fall reflected a dramatic decline in the fertility rate: the average number of children born to women decreased from 6.5 in 1966 to 2.5 in 1988. Assuming the data are reliable, reasons for falling growth rates and fertility rates probably include late marriage, urbanization, limited housing space, and the expectation that women would participate equally in terms of work hours in the labor force. The experience of other socialist countries suggests that widespread labor force participation by women often goes hand-in-hand with more traditional role expectations; in other words, they are still responsible for housework and childrearing. The high percentage of males aged seventeen to twenty-six may also have contributed to the low fertility rate. According to Eberstadt and Banister's data, the annual population growth rate in 1991 was 1.9 percent.

The North Korean government seems to perceive its population as too small in relation to that of South Korea. In its public pronouncements, P'yongyang has called for accelerated population growth and encouraged large families. According to one KoreanAmerican scholar who visited North Korea in the early 1980s, the country has no birth control policies; parents are encouraged to have as many as six children. The state provides t'agaso (nurseries) in order to lessen the burden of childrearing for parents and offers a seventy-seven-day paid leave after childbirth. Eberstadt and Banister suggest, however, that authorities at the local level make contraceptive information readily available to parents and that intrauterine devices are the most commonly adopted birth control method. An interview with a former North Korean resident in the early 1990s revealed that such devices are distributed free at clinics.

Population Structure and Projections

Demographers determine the age structure of a given population by dividing it into five-year age-groups and arranging them chronologically in a pyramidlike structure that "bulges" or recedes in relation to the number of persons in a given age cohort. Many poor, developing countries have a broad base and steadily tapering higher levels, which reflects a large number of births and young children but much smaller age cohorts in later years as a result of relatively short life expectancies. North Korea does not entirely fit this pattern; data reveal a "bulge" in the lower ranges of adulthood. In 1991 life expectancy at birth was approximately sixty-six years for males, almost seventy-three for females.

It is likely that annual population growth rates will increase in the future, as will as difficulties in employing the many young men and women entering the labor force in a socialist economy already suffering from stagnant growth. Eberstadt and Banister estimate that the population will increase to 25.5 million by the end of the century and to 28.5 million in 2010. They project that the population will stabilize (that is, cease to grow) at 34 million persons in 2045 and will then experience a gradual decline. By comparison, South Korea's population is expected to stabilize at 52.6 million people in 2023.

Settlement Patterns and Urbanization

North Korea's population is concentrated in the plains and lowlands. The least populated regions are the mountainous Chagang and Yanggang provinces adjacent to the Chinese border; the largest concentrations of population are in North P'yngan and South P'yngan provinces, in the municipal district of P'yongyang, and in South Hamgyng Province, which includes the Hamhng-Hngnam urban area . Eberstadt and Banister calculate the average population density at 167 persons per square kilometer, ranging from 1,178 persons per square kilometer in P'yongyang Municipality to 44 persons per square kilometer in Yanggang Province. By contrast, South Korea had an average population density of 425 persons per square kilometer in 1989.

Like South Korea, North Korea has experienced significant urban migration since the end of the Korean War. Official statistics reveal that 59.6 percent of the total population was classified as urban in 1987. This figures compares with only 17.7 percent in 1953. It is not entirely clear, however, what standards are used to define urban populations. Eberstadt and Banister suggest that although South Korean statisticians do not classify settlements of under 50,000 as urban, their North Korean counterparts include settlements as small as 20,000 in this category. And, in North Korea, people who engage in agricultural pursuits inside municipalities sometimes are not counted as urban.

Urbanization in North Korea seems to have proceeded most rapidly between 1953 and 1960, when the urban population grew between 12 and 20 percent annually. Subsequently, the increase slowed to about 6 percent annually in the 1960s and between 1 and 3 percent from 1970 to 1987.

In 1987 North Korea's largest cities were P'yongyang, with approximately 2.3 million inhabitants; Hamhng, 701,000; Ch'ngjin, 520,000; Namp'o, 370,000; Sunch'n, 356,000; and Siniju, 289,000. In 1987 the total national population living in P'yongyang was 11.5 percent. The government also restricts and monitors migration to cities and ensures a relatively balanced distribution of population in provincial centers in relation to P'yongyang.

Koreans Living Overseas

Large-scale emigration from Korea began around 1904 and continued until the end of World War II. During the Japanese colonial occupation (1910-45), many Koreans emigrated to Manchuria (China's three northeastern provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning), other parts of China, the Soviet Union, Hawaii, and the continental United States. People from Korea's northern provinces went mainly to Manchuria, China, and Siberia; many from the southern provinces went to Japan. Most �migr�s left for economic reasons because employment opportunities were scarce; many Korean farmers had lost their land after the Japanese colonial government introduced a system of private land tenure, imposed higher land taxes, and promoted the growth of an absentee landlord class charging exorbitant rents.

In the 1980s, more than 4 million ethnic Koreans lived outside the peninsula. The largest group, about 1.7 million people, lived in China; most had assumed Chinese citizenship. Approximately 1 million Koreans, almost exclusively from South Korea, lived in North America. About 389,000 ethnic Koreans resided in the former Soviet Union. One observer noted that Koreans have been so successful in running collective farms in Soviet Central Asia that being Korean is often associated by other citizens there with being rich, and as a result there is growing antagonism against Koreans. Smaller groups of Koreans are found in Central America and South America (85,000), the Middle East (62,000), Europe (40,000), Asia (27,000), and Africa (25,000).

Many of Japan's approximately 680,000 Koreans have belowaverage standards of living. This situation is partly because of discrimination by the Japanese. Many resident Koreans, loyal to North Korea, remain separate from, and often hostile to, the Japanese social mainstream. The pro-North Korean Choch'ongryn (General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, known as Ch sen s ren or Ch s ren in Japanese) (see Glossary) initially was more successful than the pro-South Korean Mindan (Association for Korean Residents in Japan) in attracting adherents among residents in Japan.

Between 1959 and 1982, Choch'ongryn encouraged the repatriation of Korean residents in Japan to North Korea. More than 93,000 Koreans left Japan, the majority (80,000 persons) in 1960 and 1961. Thereafter, the number of repatriates declined, apparently because of reports of hardships suffered by their compatriots. Approximately 6,637 Japanese wives accompanied their husbands to North Korea, of whom about 1,828 retained Japanese citizenship in the early 1990s. P'yongyang had originally promised that the wives could return home every two or three years to visit their relatives. In fact, however, they are not allowed to do so, and few have had contact with their families in Japan. In normalization talks between North Korean and Japanese officials in the early 1990s, the latter urged unsuccessfully that the wives be allowed to make home visits.

Updated population figures for North Korea.

North Korea

North Korea - Confucian and Neo-Confucian Values

North Korea

Neo-Confucianism, the dominant value system of the Chosn Dynasty (1392-1910), combines the social ethics of the classical Chinese philosophers Confucius (Kong Zi, 551-479 B.C.) and Mencius (Meng Zi, 372-289 B.C.) with Buddhist and Daoist metaphysics. One of neo-Confucianism's basic ideas is that the institutions and practices of a properly ordered human community express the immutable principles or laws that govern the cosmos. Through correct social practice, as defined by Confucian sages and their commentators, individuals can achieve self-cultivation and a kind of spiritual unity with heaven (although this was rarely described in mystic or ecstatic terms). Neo-Confucianism defines formal social relations on all levels of society. Social relations are not conceived in terms of the happiness or satisfaction of the individuals involved, but in terms of the harmonious integration of individuals into a collective whole, which, like the properly cultivated individual, mirrors the harmony of the natural order.

During the Chosn Dynasty, Korean kings made the neoConfucian doctrine of the Chinese philosopher Zhu Xi (1130-1200) their state ideology. Although it was a foreign philosophy, Korean neo-Confucian scholars, of whom the most important was Yi Hwang, also known as Yi T'oe-gye (1501-70), played a role in adapting Zhu Xi's teachings to Korean conditions. This was done without denying the cultural superiority of China as the homeland of civilized thought and forms of life.

Neo-Confucianism in Korea became quite rigid and conservative by the mid-sixteenth century. In practice, the doctrine emphasized hierarchy in human relations and self-control for the individual. The Five Relationships (o ryun in Korean; wu lun in Chinese), formulated by classical Chinese thinkers such as Mencius and subsequently sanctified by Zhu Xi and other neo-Confucianist metaphysicians, governed proper human relations: that "between father and son there should be affection; between ruler and minister there should be righteousness; between husband and wife there should be attention to their separate functions; between old and young there should be proper order; and between friends there should be faithfulness." Only the last was a relationship between equals; the others were based on authority and subordination.

Throughout traditional Korean society, from the royal palace and central government offices in the capital to the humblest household in the countryside, the themes of hierarchy and inequality were pervasive. There was no concept of the rights of the individual. In the context of the wider society, a welldefined elite of scholar-officials versed in neo-Confucian orthodoxy was legitimized in terms of the traditional ethical distinction between the educated "superior man" or "gentleman," who seeks righteousness, and the "small man," who seeks only profit. This theme was central in the writings of both Confucius and Mencius. Confucianism and neo-Confucianism as political philosophies proposed a benevolent paternalism: the masses had no role in government, but the scholar-officials were supposed to look after them as fathers look after their children. In the Chosn Dynasty, status and power inequalities, defined precisely within a vertical hierarchy, were generally considered both natural and good. The hierarchy extended from the household relationships of fathers and children through the intermediary relationships of ruler and ruled within the kingdom, to Korea's subordinate status as a tributary of China.

There is a danger, however, in overstressing the idea of Korea as a homogeneously Confucian society, even during the Chosn Dynasty. Foreign observers have been impressed with the diversity of the Korean character as expressed in day-to-day human relations. There is, on the one hand, the image of Koreans as self-controlled, deferential, and meticulous in the fulfillment of their social obligations; on the other hand, there is the Korean reputation for volatility and emotionalism. The ecstasy and euphoria of shamanistic religious practices, one of Korea's most characteristic cultural expressions, contrast sharply with the austere self-control idealized by Confucianists. Although relatively minor themes in the history of Korean ethics and social thought, the concepts of equality and respect for individuals are not entirely lacking. The doctrines of Ch'ndogyo, an indigenous religion that arose in the nineteenth century and combined elements of Buddhism, Daoism, shamanism, Confucianism, and Catholicism, taught that every human being "bears divinity" and that one must "treat man as god."

North Korea

North Korea - Chosn Dynasty Social Structure

North Korea

In the Chosn Dynasty, four distinct social strata developed: the scholar-officials (or nobility), collectively referred to as the yangban; the chungin (literally, "middle people"), technicians and administrators subordinate to the yangban; the commoners or sangmin, a large group composed of farmers, craftsmen, and merchants; and the ch'mmin (despised, or base people, often slaves) at the bottom of society. To arrest social mobility and ensure stability, the government devised a system of personal tallies in order to identify people according to their status, and elites kept detailed genealogies, or chokpo.

In the strictest sense of the term, yangban referred to government officials or officeholders who had passed the civil service examinations, which tested knowledge of the Confucian classics and their neo-Confucian interpretations. They were the Korean counterparts of the scholar-officials, or mandarins, of imperial China. The term yangban, first used during the Kory Dynasty (918-1392), literally means two groups, that is, civil and military officials. Over the centuries, however, its usage became rather vague, so the term can be said to have several overlapping meanings. A broader use of the term included within the yangban two other groups that could be considered associated with, but outside, the ruling elite. The first included those scholars who had passed the preliminary civil service examination and sometimes the higher examinations but failed to secure government appointment. In the late Chosn Dynasty, there were many more successful examination candidates than there were positions. The second included the relatives and descendants of government officials because formal yangban rank was hereditary. Even if these people were poor and did not themselves serve in the government, they were considered members of a "yangban family" and thus shared the aura of the elite so long as they retained Confucian culture and rituals.

In principle, however, the yangban were a meritocratic elite. They gained their positions through educational achievement. Although certain groups of persons (including artisans, merchants, shamans [mudang], slaves, and Buddhist monks) were prohibited from taking the higher civil service examinations, they formed only a small portion of the population. In theory, the examinations were open to the majority of people, who were farmers. In the early years of the Chosn Dynasty, some commoners may have been able to attain high positions by passing the examinations and advancing on sheer talent. Later, talent was a necessary but not a sufficient prerequisite for getting into the core elite because of the surplus of successful examinees. Influential family connections were virtually indispensable for obtaining high official positions. Moreover, special posts called "protection appointments" were inherited by descendants of the Chosn royal family and certain high officials. Despite the emphasis on educational merit, the yangban became in a very real sense a hereditary elite. Thus, when progressive officials enacted the 1984 Kabo Reforms, a program of social reforms, they found it necessary to abolish the social distinctions between yangban and commoners.

Below the yangban, yet superior to the commoners, were the chungin, a small group of technical and administrative officials. This group included astronomers, physicians, interpreters, and career military officers. Local functionaries, who were members of an inferior hereditary class, were an important and frequently oppressive link between the yangban and the common people, and were often the de facto rulers of a local region.

The sangmin, or commoners, comprised about 75 percent of the total population. These farmers, craftsmen, and merchants bore the burden of taxation and were subject to military conscription. Farmers had higher prestige than merchants, but lived a hard life. Below the commoners, the ch'mmin performed what was considered vile or low-prestige work. They included servants and slaves in government offices and resthouses, jailkeepers and convicts, shamans, actors, female entertainers (kisaeng), professional mourners, shoemakers, executioners, and, for a time, Buddhist monks and nuns. Also included in the category were the paekchng who dealt with meat and the hides of animals; they were considered "unclean" and lived in segregated communities. Slaves were treated as chattel but could own property and even other slaves. Although slaves were numerous at the beginning of the Chosn Dynasty, their numbers had dwindled by the time slavery was officially abolished with the Kabo Reforms.

North Korea

North Korea - The Traditional Family and Kinship

North Korea

Filial piety (hyo in Korean; xiao in Chinese), the first of the Five Relationships defined by Mencius, had traditionally been the normative foundation of Korean family life. Historically, the Korean family was patrilineal. The most important concern of the family group was to produce a male heir to carry on the family line and to perform ancestor rituals in the household and at the family gravesite. The first son customarily assumed leadership of the family after his father's death and inherited his father's house and a greater portion of land than his younger brothers. His birthright enabled him to carry out the ritually prescribed obligations to the family ancestors.

The special reverence shown to ancestors was both a social ethic and a religion. Koreas were taught that deceased family members did not pass into oblivion, to a remote afterlife, or, as Buddhists believed, to rebirth as humans or animals in some remote place; rather, they remained, in spiritual form, securely within the family circle. Even in the early 1990s, the presence of the deceased is intensely real and personal for traditionally minded Koreans. Fear of death is blunted by the consoling thought that even in the grave one will be cared for by one's own people. Succeeding generations are obligated to remember the deceased in a yearly cycle of rituals and ceremonies.

The purpose of marriage was to produce a male heir, not to provide mutual companionship and support for husband and wife, even though this sometimes happened. Marriages were arranged. A go-between or matchmaker, usually a middle-aged woman, carried on the negotiations between the two families involved; because of a very strict law on exogamy, these two families sometimes did not know each other and often lived in different communities. The bride and groom met for the first time at the marriage ceremony, a practice that was gradually abandoned in urban areas before World War II.

The traditional Korean kinship system, defined in terms of different obligations in relation to the reverence shown to ancestors, was complex. Anthropologists generally view it in terms of four separate levels, beginning with the household at the lowest level and reaching to the clan, which included many geographically dispersed members. The household, chip or jip, consisted of a husband and wife, their children, and, if the husband was the eldest son, his parents. The eldest son's household, the stem family, was known as the "big house" (k'nchip, or k' njip); that of each of the younger sons, a branch family containing husband, wife, and children only, was known as a "little house" (chag nchip, or chag njip). It was through the stem family of the eldest son that the main line of descent was traced from generation to generation.

The second level of kinship was the "mourning group" (changnye), which consisted of all those descendants of a common patrilineal forebear up to four generations back. Its role was to organize ceremonies at gravesites. These included the reading of a formal message by the eldest male descendant of the changnye progenitor and the offering of elaborate and attractive dishes to the ancestral spirits.

Similar rituals were carried out at the third level of kinship organization, the lineage, p'a. A lineage might comprise only a handful of households, or hundreds or even thousands of households. The lineage was responsible for rites to ancestors of the fifth generation or above, performed at a common gravesite. During the Chosn Dynasty, the lineage commonly possessed land, gravesites, and buildings. Croplands were allocated to support the ancestral ceremonies. The p'a also performed other functions--aiding poor or distressed lineage members, educating children at schools maintained by the p'a, and supervising the behavior of younger lineage members. Because most people living in a single village were members of a common lineage during the Chosn Dynasty, the p'a performed many social services at the local level that, in the 1990s, are provided by state-run schools, public security organs, and the state system of clinics and hospitals.

The fourth and most inclusive kinship organization was the clan or, more accurately, the surname origin group (tongsng). Members of the same munjung (extended family) shared both a surname and origins in the generally remote past. For example, the Chnju Yi, who originated in Chnju in North Chlla Province (in contemporary South Korea), claimed, and continue to claim, as their progenitor the founder of the Chosn Dynasty, Yi Sng-gye. Unlike members of smaller kinship groups, however, they often lacked strong feelings of solidarity. In many if not most cases, the real function of the surname origin group was to define groups of permissible marriage partners. The strict rule of exogamy prohibited marriage between people from the same tongsng and tongbon (ancestral origin) even if their closest common ancestors had lived centuries earlier. Confuciansts regarded this prohibition, which originated during the Chosn Dynasty, as a sign of Korea's civilized status; they believed that only barbarians married within their own clan or kin group.

North Korea

North Korea - The Colonial Transformation of Korean Society

North Korea

The social strata of the Chosn Dynasty and the family system were sustained by a highly stable environment composed, for the most part, of rural communities. The Hermit Kingdom, as it was called by Westerners, had very little contact with the outside world even in the late nineteenth century. Rapid changes, however, occurred during the Japanese colonial period, which disrupted the centuries-old ways of life and caused considerable personal hardship.

These changes were particularly disruptive in rural areas. Traditionally, all land belonged to the king and was granted by him to his subjects. Although specific tracts of land tended to remain within the same family from generation to generation (including communal land owned by clans and lineages), land occupancy, use, and ownership patterns were often ambiguous and varied from one part of the country to another. Land was not privately held.

Between 1910 and 1920, the Japanese carried out a comprehensive land survey in order to place land ownership on a modern legal footing. Farmers who had tilled the same land for generations but could not prove ownership had their land confiscated. Such land ended up in the hands of the colonial government, to be sold to Japanese enterprises such as the Oriental Development Company or to Japanese immigrants.

These policies forced many Koreans to emigrate overseas or to become tenant farmers. Still other Koreans fled to the hills to become "fire field," or slash-and-burn, farmers, living under extremely harsh and primitive conditions. By 1936 there were more than 1.5 million slash-and-burn farmers. Other former farmers moved to urban areas to work in factories.

The fortunes of the yangban elite were mixed. Some prospered under the Japanese as landlords or even entrepreneurs. Those yangban who remained aloof from their country's new overlords, however, often fell into poverty. A few Koreans educated in modern Japanese or foreign missionary schools formed the nucleus of a modern middle class.

The Japanese built railroads and highways--a logistic system- -and schools and hospitals. A modern system of administration was established to link the colonial economy more effectively with that of Japan. These changes also fostered employment for Koreans as mid- and lower-level civil servants and technicians. During the 1930s and early 1940s, industrial development projects, especially in the border area between Korea and China, employed thousands of Koreans as workers and lower level industrial managers. All the top posts were held by Japanese; prewar and wartime industrialization nevertheless created new classes of workers and managers.

At the end of World War II, Korea's traditional social fabric, based on rural communities and stable social hierarchies, was tattered but not entirely destroyed. In South Korea, the traditional social system survived, although drastically altered by urbanization and economic development. In North Korea, an occupation by Soviet troops, the communist revolution, and the rule of Kim Il Sung, transformed the society.

North Korea

North Korea - Tradition and Modernity in North Korea

North Korea

The extent to which the Confucian values of the Chosn Dynasty continue to exert an influence on North Korean society in the 1990s is an intriguing question that cannot be adequately answered until outside observers can gain greater access to the country. The regime practices a very strict regimen of "revolutionary tourism" for those few people allowed to visit the country, so observing everyday life and gleaning opinions and attitudes are impossible. The average tourist views countless monuments to Kim Il Sung, revolutionary theatrical performances, model farms and factories, large, new apartment complexes, and scenic splendor, but hears little of what the people really think or feel. Confucianism clearly does not serve as a formal ideology or social ethic (being condemned because of its history of class exploitation, its cultural subservience to a foreign state, and as a contradiction of the chuch'e ideology). Yet its more authoritarian and hierarchical themes seem to have made the population receptive to the personality cult of Kim Il Sung.

This authoritarian strain of Confucianism has apparently survived, transformed by socialist and chuch'e ideology. It appears that P'yongyang has chosen to co-opt some of the traditional values rather than to eradicate them. For example, the education system and the media strongly emphasize social harmony. But the nature of education beginning at the preschool level and the limited amount of time parents are able to spend with children because of work schedules subordinates parental authority to that of the state and its representatives. Some aspects of filial piety remain salient in contemporary North Korea; for example, children are taught by the state-controlled media to respect their parents. However, filial piety plays a secondary role in relation to loyalty to the state and Kim Il Sung.

Kim Il Sung is not only a fatherly figure, but was described, in childhood, as a model son. A 1980 article entitled "Kim Il Sung Termed Model for Revering Elders" tells of how he warmed his mother's cold hands with his own breath after she returned from work each day in the winter and gave up the pleasure of playing on a swing because it tore his pants, which his mother then had to mend. "When his parents or elders called him, he arose from his spot at once no matter how much fun he had been having, answered 'yes' and then ran to them, bowed his head and waited, all ears, for what they were going to say." According to Kim, "Communists love their own parents, wives, children, and their fellow comrades, respect the elderly, live frugal lives and always maintain a humble mien." The "dear leader," or Kim Jong Il, is also described as a filial son; when he was five years old, a propagandist wrote, he insisted on personally guarding his father from evil imperialists with a little wooden rifle.

The personality cult of Kim Il Sung resembles those of Stalin in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s and Nicolae Ceau escu in Romania until his overthrow in 1989. But in North Korea, special attention is paid to the theme of Kim's benevolence and the idea that North Koreans must repay that benevolence with unquestioning loyalty and devotion, recalling old Confucian values of repaying debts of gratitude. Kim's birthday, April 15, is a national holiday. His eightieth birthday, celebrated in 1992, was the occasion for massive national celebrations. The state-run media similarly depicts Kim Jong Il in a benevolent light.

One enthusiastic Japanese writer related in a 1984 book how the younger Kim, learning of the poor living standards of lighthouse keepers and their families on a remote island, personally arranged for various life-style improvements, including water storage tanks, television sets, special scholarships for the children, and "colorful clothes, coats and caps of the kind that were worn by children in P'yongyang." In the writer's words, "the lighthousemen and their families shed tears of gratitude to the Secretary [Kim Jong Il] for his warmhearted care for them." The writer also described the "bridge of love," built on Kim's order in a remote area in order to allow thirteen children to cross a river on the way to school. He emphasized that the bridge had absolutely "no economic merit."

North Korea

North Korea - Chuch'e and Contemporary Social Values

North Korea

Chuch'e is a significant break with the Confucian past. Developed during the period of revolutionary struggle against Japanese imperialism, chuch'e is the product of Kim Il Sung's thinking. Chuch'e emphasizes the importance of developing the nation's potential using its own resources and reserves of human creativity. Chuch'e legitimizes cultural, economic, and political isolationism by stressing the error of imitating foreign countries or of becoming excessively "international." During the 1970s, Kim Jong Il suggested that chuch'e ideology be renamed Kim Il Sung Chuui (Kim Il Sungism). Kim Il Sungism, epitomizing chuch'e, is described as superior to all other systems of human thought, including (apparently) Marxism.

Chuch'e thought is not, at least in principle, xenophobic. P'yongyang has devoted considerable resources to organizing chuch'e study societies around the world and bringing foreign visitors to North Korea for national celebrations--for example, 4,000 persons were invited to attend Kim Il Sung's eightieth birthday celebrations.

The government opposes "flunkeyism." Kim Jong Il, depicted as an avid student of Korean history in his youth, was said to have made the revolutionary proposal that Kim Yushin, the great general of the Silla Dynasty (668-935), was a "flunkeyist" rather than a national hero because he enlisted the aid of Tang Dynasty (618-907) China in order to defeat Silla's rivals, Kogury and Paekche, and unify the country. Chuch'e's opposition to flunkeyism, moreover, is probably also a reaction to the experience of Japanese colonialism.

Apart from the North Korean people's almost complete isolation from foreign influences, probably the most significant impact of chuch'e thought and Kim Il Sungism with regard to daily life is the relentless emphasis on self-sacrifice and hard work. The population is told that everything can be accomplished through dedication and the proper revolutionary spirit. This view is evident in the perennial "speed battles" initiated by the leadership to dramatically increase productivity; another example is the bizarre phenomenon called the "drink no soup movement," apparently designed to keep workers on the factory floor rather than going to the lavatory. Moreover, chuch'e provides a "proper" standpoint from which to create or judge art, literature, drama, and music, as well as a philosophical underpinning for the country's educational system.

North Korea

North Korea - Classes and Social Strata

North Korea

Although socialism promises a society of equals in which class oppression is eliminated, most evidence shows that great social and political inequality continues to exist in North Korea in the early 1990s. The state is the sole allocator of resources, and inequalities are justified in terms of the state's political and economic imperatives. Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are described by unsympathetic foreign observers as living like kings. (The South Korean film director Sin Sangok and his actress wife, Ch'oe Unhui, who were apparently kidnapped and taken to North Korea on Kim Jong Il's orders, described him as a fanatic film buff with a library of 15,000 films; they claimed that he alone could view these films, which were collected for his benefit by North Korean diplomats abroad.) Equally important from the standpoint of social stratification, however, is a small and clearly defined elite within the ruling KWP, who, like the privileged communists listed in the former Soviet Union's nomenklatura, a listing of positions and personnel, have emerged as a "new class" with a relatively high standard of living and access to consumer goods not available to ordinary people.

According to North Korean sources cited by Eberstadt and Banister, total membership in the KWP in 1987 was "over 3 million," or almost 15 percent of the estimated population of 20.3 million that year. Membership in the party requires a politically "clean" background. Given the KWP's status as a revolutionary "vanguard party," these individuals clearly constitute an elite; it is unclear, however, how the standards of living of lower echelon party members differ from those of nonparty members. Nonetheless, party membership is clearly the smoothest path for upward social mobility. It opens opportunities such as university attendance to members and their children. The statecontrolled media repeatedly exhorts party members to eschew "bureaucratism" and arrogance in dealing with nonparty people. But it is unclear how successful the regime is in uprooting the centuries-old tradition of kwanjon minbi (honor officials, despise the people), which often make the traditional aristocratic yangban elite insufferably arrogant.

Although Japan had promoted some industrialization in the northern part of their Korean colony during the occupation, most of the Korean Peninsula's population before 1945 were farmers. North Korea's industrialization after the Korean War, however, transformed the nature of work and occupational categories. In the late 1980s, the government divided the labor force into four categories: "workers," who were employed at state-owned enterprises; "farmers," who worked on agricultural collectives; "officials," who performed nonmanual labor and probably included teachers, technicians, and health-care workers as well as civil servants and KWP cadres; and workers employed in "cooperative industrial units," which Eberstadt and Banister suggest constitute a minuscule private sector. North Korean government statistics showed that the state "worker" category constituted the largest category in 1987, or 57 percent of the labor force. Farmers comprised the second largest category at 25.3 percent; and officials and industrial cooperative workers, 16.8 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively. Within the "worker" category, skilled workers in the fisheries and in the heavy, mining, and defense industries tend to be favored in terms of economic incentives over their counterparts in light and consumer industries; the labor force in urban areas tend to be favored over farmers. Despite the small size of the "cooperative industrial sector," that is, the industrial counterpart of the cooperative (collective) farms enterprise, a black market apparently exists, with prices as much as ten times higher than those in the official distribution system. Farmers' markets also exist. The black market is not likely to be large enough to foster the emergence of a sizable, shadowy class of smugglers and entrepreneurs.

Food and other necessities of life are strictly rationed, and different occupational groups are reported to receive different qualities and kinds of goods. Sin Sangok and Ch'oe Unhui wrote in the South Korean media in the late 1980s that consumption of beef and pork is largely restricted to "middle-class" and "upper-class people"; "ordinary people" can obtain no meat except dog meat, which is not rationed. An exception is made for the New Year's holidays, Kim Il Sung's birthday, and other holidays, when pork is made available to all. They also report that the regime is actively encouraging sons to assume the occupations of their fathers and that "job succession is regarded as a cardinal virtue in North Korea."

Housing is another area of social inequality. According to a South Korean source, North Korea has five types of standardized housing allotted according to rank; the highest ranks--the party and state elite--live in one- or two-story detached houses. Sixty percent of the population, consisting of ordinary workers and farmers, live in multi-unit dwellings of no more than one or two rooms, including the kitchen.

Family background, in terms of political and ideological criteria, is extremely relevant to one's social status and standard of living. Sons and daughters of revolutionaries and those who died in the Korean War are favored for educational opportunities and advancement. For these children, a special elite school, the Mangyngdae Revolutionary Institute, was established near P'yongyang at the birthsite of Kim Il Sung. South Korean scholar Lee Mun Woong wrote that illegitimate children are also favored because they are raised entirely in state-run nurseries and schools and are not subject to the corruption of traditionally minded parents.

Conversely, the children and descendants of "exploiting class" parents--those who collaborated with the Japanese during the colonial era, opposed agricultural collectivization in the 1950s, or were associated with those who had fled to South Korea- -are discriminated against. They are considered "contaminated" by the bad influences of their parents and have to work harder to acquire reputable positions. Relatives of those who had fled to South Korea are especially looked down on and considered "bad elements." Persons with unfavorable political backgrounds are often denied admission to institutions of higher education, despite their intellectual qualifications.

With the exception of disabled Korean War veterans, physically handicapped people appear to be subject to special discrimination, according to international human rights organizations. For example, they are not allowed to enter P'yongyang, and those who manage to live in the capital are periodically sought out by the police and expelled. These sources also allege that persons of below-normal height (dwarfs) have been forced to live in a special settlement in a remote rural area. South Korean sources also cite examples of single women over forty years of age who are considered social misfits and are thus harassed.

North Korea

North Korea - Urban Life

North Korea

According to reports by defectors from North Korea and information gleaned from the limits imposed by "revolutionary tourism," urban life in P'yongyang probably resembles that in other East Asian cities, such as Seoul or Tokyo, in that living space is extremely limited. Little remains of traditional, however; architecture with its modern-style, high-rise buildings, P'yongyang appears to lack lively neighborhoods, as well as the local festivals and bustling market life of other Asian cities. Spacious highways span the metropolis, but seem devoid of traffic except for military vehicles. Unlike the residents of Tokyo and Seoul, however, residents of P'yongyang have access to expansive parks and green spaces.

Beginning in the 1980s, several high-rise apartment complexes were built in P'yongyang, some of them reaching forty stories. The Kwangbok New Town, opened in 1989 as housing for representatives to the Thirteenth World Festival of Youth and Students, has been described as accommodating 25,000 families of the KWP elite. A sympathetic Japanese visitor reports that units are 110 square meters in area, with a kitchen-dining room and three or four additional rooms. Maintenance fees (not rent) for the housing of manual workers and office workers constitute 0.3 percent of their monthly income; utilities, including heating, cost about 3 percent of monthly income. Heating in rural areas during the frigid winters seems to be supplied primarily by charcoal briquettes.

Although urban standards of living--at least in P'yongyang-- appear to be better than rural standards of living, observers note that city shops have limited supplies of necessities. Visitors to the capital during the celebration of Kim Il Sung's eightieth birthday (and as well at other times), however, have toured department stores full of goods. One widely repeated rumor suggests that crowds of local residents are paid by the day to throng department stores but that virtually the only goods actually on sale for them are soap and special consignments of notebooks. Otherwise, access to most department stores in P'yongyang is limited to KWP members and foreigners.

North Korea

North Korea - Village Life

North Korea

A land reform law enacted in 1946 confiscated the holdings of big landowners and distributed them to poor farmers and tenants. The consequences of this compulsory redistribution were as much social as economic. Many rich farmers fled to the United Statesoccupied half of the peninsula south of the thirty-eighth parallel.

Rural collectivization, carried out in three stages between 1945 and 1958, had profound implications for a society consisting mainly of farmers living in small hamlets scattered throughout the countryside. The new class of individual landholders--whose holdings could not exceed five chngbo in lowland areas, or twenty chngbo in mountainous ones--had little time to enjoy their status as independent proprietors because the state quickly initiated a process of collectivization. In the initial stage, "permanent mutual aid teams" were formed in which landholders managed their own land as private property but pooled labor, draft animals, and agricultural tools. This stage was followed by the stage of "semisocialist cooperatives," in which land, still privately held, was pooled. The cooperative purchased animals and tools out of a common fund, and the distribution of the harvest depended on the amount of land and labor contributed. The third and final stage involved the establishment of "complete socialist cooperatives" in which all land was turned over to collective ownership and management. Cooperative members were paid solely on the basis of labor contributed.

The 1959 edition of the North Korea Central Yearbook reported that approximately 80 percent of all farmers had joined socialist cooperatives by December 1956 and that by August 1958 all had joined. A land law passed in 1977 stipulated that all land held by cooperatives would be transferred gradually to state ownership or "ownership by the entire people."

The state encouraged the merging of cooperatives so that they would coincide with the ri, or ni (village). The number of cooperatives with between 101 and 200 households increased from 222 cooperatives in 1954 to 1,074 cooperatives in 1958. The number of cooperatives with between 201 and 300 households increased from twenty cooperatives in 1955 to 984 cooperatives in 1958.

The merging process had important implications for kinship and family life: it broke down the isolation of the single hamlet by making the socialist cooperative the basic local unit and thus diluted p'a ties. The traditional kinship system and its strict rules of exogamy worked best in the isolation of hamlets. With the passing of the hamlets, the traditional kinship system and its strict rules of exogamy were seriously undermined.

North Korea

North Korea - Family Life

North Korea

The family is regarded by North Korean authorities as a "cell," or basic unit of society, but not an economic entity. A person participates in production in a cooperative, factory, or office and individually earns "work points." Although on a socialist cooperative payment for work points earned by family members goes to the family unit as a whole, the family head--the father or the grandfather--no longer manages and organizes the family's economic life.

Both in urban areas and in socialist cooperatives, family size tends to be small--between four and five people and usually no more than two generations, as opposed to the three generations or more found in the traditional "big house." Parents often live with their youngest, rather than oldest, son and his wife. Observers discovered, however, that sons are still more desired than daughters for economic reasons and for continuing the family name. The eldest son's wedding is a lavish affair compared with those of his brothers. But the traditionally oppressive relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law common to East Asian countries seems to have been fundamentally transformed. A South Korean source reported that an overly demanding mother-in-law might be criticized by a local branch of women's organizations such as the Korean Democratic Women's Union.

A Korean-American scholar learned in discussions with North Korean officials in the early 1980s that a wife's inability to bear a son still gives a husband grounds for divorce. If a man desires a divorce, he has to obtain his wife's permission. A woman, however, is able to divorce without her husband's consent. A South Korean source reported the opposite--that it is easier for a husband to obtain a divorce than it is for a wife. Divorce from those branded "reactionaries," or "bad elements," is granted rather easily in the case of either gender and in fact often is strongly encouraged by the authorities. In general, the authorities seem to discourage divorce with the exceptions noted above. Eberstadt and Banister, using statistics provided by the Central Statistics Bureau, indicate that the number of divorces granted annually between 1949 and 1987 ranged between 3,000 and 5,000 (a low of 3,021 in 1965 and a high of 4,763 in 1949).

The legal age for males to marry is eighteen years; for females, seventeen years. Marrying in one's late twenties or early thirties is common because of work and military service obligations; late marriage also affects fertility rates. Most marriages seem to be between people in the same rural cooperative or urban enterprise. Traditional arranged marriages have by and large disappeared, in favor of "love matches"; nevertheless, children still seem to seek their parents' permission before getting married. The taking of secondary wives, a common practice in traditional times, is prohibited.

Wedding ceremonies are much simpler and less costly than in traditional times. However, they still contain such practices as meetings between families of the bride and groom, gift exchanges, formal letters of proposal, and wedding feasts. Among farming families, weddings usually take place after the fall harvest and before the spring plowing; this is when families have the most resources to invest and the bride can bring her yearly income from work points to her new household.

In 1946 the North Korean regime confiscated the remaining lineage land, and the elaborate ceremonies of the past lost their economic base. Since that time, the traditional ceremonies surrounding death and veneration of the ancestors have been simplified. The remains are no longer carried in a special carriage, but, in rural areas, in a cart or tractor. One Korean source reported that at the funeral of his grandmother in North Korea incense was offered in front of a photograph of the deceased; the source also said that the ceremony generally retains the outlines of the traditional rites. Relatives and neighbors apparently still donate some money to the family of the deceased. Some "revolutionary" content has been added to funeral practices. One traditional chant has been rewritten to include the phrase "though this body is deceased, the spirit of the revolution still lives." Widowers frequently remarry, but widows rarely do.

Gravesites are still preserved and remain a common feature of the North Korean landscape. According to one observer, if construction projects necessitate disturbing graves, relatives are notified beforehand, and graves are carefully relocated. If no relative claims the graves, they are still relocated elsewhere. The custom of visiting graves at certain times of the year apparently continues, even though large kinship groups cannot meet--not because the state has prohibited it, but because the groups are scattered across the country and travel restrictions make it difficult for them to get together.

In households in which both parents work and no grandparents live nearby, infants over three months usually are placed in a t'agaso (nursery). They remain in these nurseries until they are four years old. Although t'agaso are not part of the compulsory education system, most families find them indispensable. In the early 1970s, North Korean statistics counted 8,600 t'agaso. The nurseries not only free women from child care but also provide infants and small children with the foundations of a thorough ideological and political education. A South Korean source reported that when meals are given to the infants, they are expected to give thanks to a portrait of "Father Kim Il Sung."

North Korea

North Korea - The Role of Women

North Korea

In the Chosn Dynasty, women were expected to give birth to and rear male heirs to assure the continuation of the family line. Women had few opportunities to participate in the social, economic, or political life of society. There were a few exceptions to limitations imposed on women's roles. For example, female shamans were called on to cure illnesses by driving away evil spirits, to pray for rain during droughts, or to perform divination and fortune-telling.

Few women received any formal education in traditional Korean society. After the opening of Korea to foreign contact in the late nineteenth century, however, Christian missionaries established girls' schools, thus allowing young Korean females to obtain a modern education.

The social status and roles of women were radically changed after 1945. On July 30, 1946, authorities north of the thirtyeighth parallel passed a Sex Equality Law. The 1972 constitution asserted that "women hold equal social status and rights with men." The 1990 constitution stipulates that the state creates various conditions for the advancement of women in society. In principle, North Korea strongly supports sexual equality.

In contemporary North Korea, women are expected to fully participate in the labor force outside the home. Apart from its ideological commitment to the equality of the sexes, the government views women's employment as essential because of the country's labor shortage. No able-bodied person is spared from the struggle to increase production and compete with the more populous southern half of the peninsula. According to one South Korean source, women in North Korea are supposed to devote eight hours a day to work, eight hours to study (presumably, the study of chuch'e and Kim Il Sungism), and eight hours to rest and sleep. Women who have three or more children apparently are permitted to work only six hours a day and still receive a full, eight-hour-a-day salary.

The media showcases role models. The official newspaper P'yongyang Times, in an August 1991 article, described the career of Kim Hwa Suk, a woman who had graduated from compulsory education (senior middle school), decided to work in the fields as a regular farmer in a cooperative located in the P'yongyang suburbs, and gradually rose to positions of responsibility as her talents and dedication became known. After serving as leader of a youth workteam, she attended a university. After graduating, she became chairperson of her cooperative's management board. Kim was also chosen as a deputy to the Supreme People's Assembly.

Despite such examples, however, it appears that women are not fully emancipated. Sons are still preferred over daughters. Women do most if not all of the housework, including preparing a morning and evening meal, in addition to working outside the home; much of the responsibility of childrearing is in the hands of t'agaso and the school system. The majority of women work in light industry, where they are paid less than their male counterparts in heavy industry. In office situations, they are likely to be engaged in secretarial and other low-echelon jobs.

Different sex roles, moreover, are probably confirmed by the practice of separating boys and girls at both the elementary and higher middle-school levels. Some aspects of school curricula for boys and girls also are apparently different, with greater emphasis on physical education for boys and on home economics for girls. In the four-year university system, however, women majoring in medicine, biology, and foreign languages and literature seem especially numerous.

North Korea

North Korea - The Role of Religion

North Korea

Koreans are traditionally pragmatic and eclectic in their religious commitments. Their religious outlook is not conditioned by a single, exclusive faith but by a combination of indigenous beliefs and creeds, such as Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. Belief in a world inhabited by spirits is probably the oldest Korean religion. Daoism and Buddhism were introduced from China around the fourth century A.D., the latter becoming predominant during the Silla Dynasty (668-935), but reaching its height during the Kory Dynasty (918-1392). Buddhism suffered a decline, however, and Buddhists were persecuted to some extent during the Chosn Dynasty. For the average Korean in late traditional and early modern times, the elaborate rituals of ancestor veneration connected to Confucianism were generally the most important form of religious life. Korean neo-Confucian philosophers, moreover, developed concepts of the cosmos and humanity's place in it that were, in a basic sense, religious rather than philosophical.

In 1785 the first Christian missionary, a Roman Catholic, entered Korea. The government prohibited the propagation of Christianity, and by 1863 there were only some 23,000 Roman Catholics in the country. Subsequently, the government ordered harsh persecution of Korean Christians, a policy that continued until the country was opened to Western countries in 1881. Protestant missionaries began entering Korea during the 1880s. They established schools, universities, hospitals, and orphanages, and played a significant role in the modernization of the country. Before 1948 P'yongyang was an important Christian center; one-sixth of its population of about 300,000 residents were converts.

Another important religious tradition is Ch'ndogyo. A new religion that developed out of the Tonghak (Eastern Learning) Movement of the mid- and late nineteenth century, Ch'ndogyo emphasizes the divine nature of all people. A syncretic religion, Ch'ndogyo contains elements of shamanism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and Catholicism.

Between 1945, when Soviet forces first occupied the northern half of the Korean Peninsula and the end of the Korean War in 1953, many Christians, considered "bad elements" by North Korean authorities, fled to South Korea to escape the socialist regime's antireligious policies. The state co-opted Buddhism, which had weakened over the centuries. P'yongyang has made a concerted effort to uproot indigenous animist beliefs. In the early 1990s, the practices of shamanism and fortune-telling seem to have largely disappeared.

Different official attitudes toward organized religion are reflected in various constitutions. Article 14 of the 1948 constitution noted that "citizens of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea shall have the freedom of religious belief and of conducting religious services." Article 54 of the 1972 constitution, however, stated that "citizens have religious liberty and the freedom to oppose religion" (also translated as "the freedom of antireligious propaganda"). Some observers argued that the change occurred because in 1972 the political authorities no longer needed the support of the much-weakened organized religions. In the 1992 constitution, Article 68 grants freedom of religious belief and guarantees the right to construct buildings for religious use and religious ceremonies. The article also states, however, that "No one may use religion as a means by which to drag in foreign powers or to destroy the state or social order. North Korea has been represented at international religious conferences by state-sponsored religious organizations such as the Korean Buddhists' Federation, the Christian Federation, and the Ch'ndogyo Youth Party.

Many churches and temples have been taken over by the state and converted to secular use. Buddhist temples, such as those located at Kmgang-san and Myohyang-san, are considered "national treasures," however, and have been preserved and restored. This action is in accord with the chuch'e principle that the creative energies of the Korean people in the past must be appreciated.

In the late 1980s, it became apparent that North Korea was beginning to use the small number of Christians remaining in the country to establish contacts with Christians in South Korea and the West. Such contacts are considered useful for promoting the regime's political aims, including reunifying the peninsula. In 1988 two new churches, the Protestant Pongsu Church and the Catholic Changchung Cathedral, were opened in P'yongyang. Other signs of the regime's changing attitude toward Christianity include holding the International Seminar of Christians of the North and South for the Peace and Reunification of Korea in Switzerland in November 1988, allowing papal representatives to attend the opening of the Changchung Cathedral in OctoberNovember of the same year, and sending two North Korean novice priests to study in Rome. Moreover, a new association of Roman Catholics was established in June 1988. A North Korean Protestant pastor reported at a 1989 meeting of the National Council of Churches in Washington, D.C., that his country has 10,000 Protestants and 1,000 Catholics who worship in 500 home churches. In March-April 1992, American evangelist Billy Graham visited North Korea to preach and to speak at Kim Il Sung University.

A limited revival of Buddhism is apparently taking place. This includes the establishment of an academy for Buddhist studies and the publication of a twenty-five-volume translation of the Korean Tripitaka, or Buddhist scriptures, which had been carved on 80,000 wooden blocks and kept at the temple at Myohyang-san in central North Korea. A few Buddhist temples conduct religious services.

Many if not most observers of North Korea would agree that the country's official religion is the cult of Kim Il Sung. North Korean Christians attending overseas conferences claim that there is no contradiction between Christian beliefs and the veneration of the "great leader" or his secular chuch'e philosophy. This position does not differ much from that of the far more numerous Japanese Christian communities before and during World War II, which were pressured into acknowledging the divine status of the emperor.

North Korea


North Korea

In terms of ethnicity, the population of the Korean Peninsula is one of the world's most homogeneous. Descended from migratory groups who entered the Korean Peninsula from Siberia, Manchuria, and Inner Asia several thousands of years ago, the Korean people are distinguished from the neighboring populations of mainland Asia and Japan in terms of ethnicity, culture, and language, even though they share many cultural elements with these peoples.

Since the establishment of the Han Chinese colonies in the northern Korean Peninsula 2,000 years ago, Koreans have been under the cultural influence of China. During the period of Japanese domination (1910-45), the colonial regime attempted to force Koreans to adopt the Japanese language and culture. Neither the long and pervasive Chinese influence nor the more coercive and short-lived Japanese attempts to make Koreans loyal subjects of the Japanese emperor, however, succeeded in eradicating their ethnic, cultural, and linguistic distinctiveness. The desire of the North Korean regime to preserve its version of Korean culture, including many traditional aspects such as food, dress, art, architecture, and folkways, is motivated in part by the historical experience of cultural domination by both the Chinese and the Japanese.

Chuch'e ideology asserts Korea's cultural distinctiveness and creativity as well as the productive powers of the working masses. The ways in which chuch'e rhetoric is used shows a razor-thin distinction between revolutionary themes of self-sufficient socialist construction and a virulent ethnocentrism. In the eyes of North Korea's leaders, the "occupation" of the southern half of the peninsula by "foreign imperialists" lends special urgency to the issue of culturalethnic identity. Not only must the people of South Korea be liberated from foreign imperialism, but also they must be given the opportunity to participate in the creation of a new, but still distinctively Korean, culture.

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<> Literature, Music, and Film
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<> The Korean Language

North Korea

North Korea - Contemporary Cultural Expression

North Korea

The role of literature and art in North Korea is primarily didactic; cultural expression serves as an instrument for inculcating chuch'e ideology and the need to continue the struggle for revolution and reunification of the Korean Peninsula. There is little subtlety in most contemporary cultural expression. Foreign imperialists, especially the Japanese and the Americans, are depicted as heartless monsters; revolutionary heroes and heroines are seen as saintly figures who act from the purest of motives. The three most consistent themes are martyrdom during the revolutionary struggle (depicted in literature such as The Sea of Blood), the happiness of the present society, and the genius of the "great leader."

Kim Il Sung himself was described as a writer of "classical masterpieces" during the anti-Japanese struggle. Novels created "under his direction" include The Flower Girl, The Sea of Blood, The Fate of a Self-Defense Corps Man, and The Song of Korea; these are considered "prototypes and models of chuch'e literature and art." A 1992 newspaper report describes Kim in semiretirement as writing his memoirs--"a heroic epic dedicated to the freedom and happiness of the people."

The state and the Korean Workers' Party control the production of literature and art. In the early 1990s, there was no evidence of any underground literary or cultural movements such as those that exist in the Soviet Union or in China. The party exercises control over culture through its Propaganda and Agitation Department and the Culture and Arts Department of the KWP's Central Committee. The KWP's General Federation of Korean Literature and Arts Unions, the parent body for all literary and artistic organizations, also controls cultural activity.

The population has little or no exposure to foreign cultural influences apart from performances by song-and-dance groups and other entertainers brought in periodically for limited audiences. These performances, such as the Spring Friendship Art Festival held annually in April, are designed to show that the peoples of the world, like the North Koreans themselves, love and respect the "great leader." During the 1980s and the early 1990s, the North Korean media gave Kim Jong Il credit for working ceaselessly to make the country a "kingdom of art" where a cultural renaissance unmatched in other countries was taking place. Indeed, the younger Kim is personally responsible for cultural policy.

A central theme of cultural expression is to take the best from the past and discard "reactionary" elements. Popular, vernacular styles and themes in literature, art, music, and dance are esteemed as expressing the truly unique spirit of the Korean nation. Ethnographers devote much energy to restoring and reintroducing cultural forms that have the proper "proletarian" or "folk" spirit and that encourage the development of a collective consciousness. Lively, optimistic musical and choreographic expression are stressed. Group folk dances and choral singing are traditionally practiced in some but not all parts of Korea and were being promoted throughout North Korea in the early 1990s among school and university students. Farmers' musical bands have also been revived. Kim Il Sung condemns such cultural expressions as plaintive p'ansori ballads. Kim also condemns the sad "crooning tunes" composed during the Japanese colonial occupation, although he apparently has made an exception for songs that indirectly criticize the injustices of the colonial society.

P'yongyang and other large cities offer the broadest of a necessarily narrow selection of cultural expression. "Art propaganda squads" travel to production sites in the provinces to perform poetry readings, one-act plays, and songs in order to "congratulate workers on their successes" and "inspire them to greater successes through their artistic agitation." Such squads are prominent in the countryside during the harvest season and whenever "speed battles" to increase productivity are held.

North Korea

North Korea - Literature, Music, and Film

North Korea

Literature and music are other venues for politics. A series of historical novels--Pulmyouui yoksa (Immortal History)-- depict the heroism and tragedy of the preliberation era. The Korean War is the theme of Korea Fights and The Burning Island. Since the late 1970s, five "great revolutionary plays" have been promoted as prototypes of chuch'e literature: The Shrine for a Tutelary Deity, a theatrical rendition of The Flower Girl, Three Men, One Party, "A Letter from a Daughter, and Hyolbun mangukhoe" (Resentment at the World Conference).

"Revolutionary operas," derived from traditional Korean operas, known as ch'angguk, often utilize variations on Korean folk songs. Old fairy tales have also been transformed to include revolutionary themes. As part of the chuch'e policy of preserving the best from Korea's past, moreover, premodern vernacular works such as the Sasong kibong (Encounter of Four Persons) and the Ssangch'on kibong (Encounter at the Two Rivers) have been reprinted.

Musical compositions include the "Song of General Kim Il Sung," "Long Life and Good Health to the Leader," and "We Sing of His Benevolent Love"--hymns that praise the "great leader." According to a North Korean writer, "Our musicians have pursued the party's policy of composing orchestral music based on famous songs and folk songs popular among our people and produced numerous instrumental pieces of a new type." This music includes a symphony based on the theme of The Sea of Blood, which has also been made into a revolutionary opera.

Motion pictures are recognized as "the most powerful medium for educating the masses" and play a central role in "social education." According to a North Korean source, "films for children contribute to the formation of the rising generation, with a view to creating a new kind of man, harmoniously evolved and equipped with well-founded knowledge and a sound mind in a sound body." One of the most influential films, "An Chung-gn Shoots It Hirobumi," tells of the assassin who killed the Japanese resident-general in Korea in 1909. An is depicted as a courageous patriot, but one whose efforts to liberate Korea were frustrated because, in the words of one reviewer, the masses had not been united under "an outstanding leader who enunciates a correct guiding thought and scientific strategy and tactics." Folk tales such as "The Tale of Chun Hyang," about a nobleman who marries a servant girl, and "The Tale of Ondal" have also been made into films.

North Korea

North Korea - Architecture and City Planning

North Korea

Arguably the most distinct and impressive form of contemporary cultural expression in North Korea is architecture and city planning. P'yongyang, almost completely destroyed during the Korean War, has been rebuilt on a grand scale. Many new buildings have been constructed during the 1980s and 1990s in order to enhance P'yongyang's status as a capital.

Major structures are divided architecturally into three categories: monuments, buildings that combine traditional Korean architectural motifs and modern construction, and high-rise buildings of a totally modern design. Examples of the first include the Ch'llima Statue; a twenty-meter high bronze statue of Kim Il Sung in front of the Museum of the Korean Revolution (itself, at 240,000 square meters, one of the largest structures in the world); the Arch of Triumph (similar to its Parisian counterpart, although a full ten meters higher); and the Tower of the Chuch'e Idea, 170 meters high, built on the occasion of Kim's seventieth birthday in 1982. According to a North Korean publication, the tower is covered with 25,550 pieces of granite, each representing a day in the life of the "great leader."

The second architectural category makes special use of traditional tiled roof designs and includes the People's Culture Palace and the People's Great Study Hall, both in P'yongyang, and the International Friendship Exhibition Hall at Myohyang-san. The latter building displays gifts given to Kim Il Sung by foreign dignitaries. In light of Korea's tributary relationship to China during the Chosn Dynasty, it is significant that the section of the hall devoted to gifts from China is the largest.

The third architectural category includes high-rise apartment complexes and hotels in the capital. The most striking of these buildings is the Ryugong Hotel, still unfinished in the early 1990s, and noted by some observers to be clearly leaning and perhaps not able to be completed. Described as the world's tallest hotel at 105 stories, its triangular shape looms over north-central P'yongyang. The Kory Hotel is an ultramodern, twin-towered structure forty-five stories high.

A flurry of construction occurred before celebrations of Kim Il Sung's eightieth birthday, including the building of apartment complexes and the Reunification Expressway, a four-lane road connecting the capital and the Demilitarized Zone. According to a journalist writing in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the highway is "an impressive piece of engineering" that "cuts a straight path through mountainous terrain with 21 tunnels and 23 bridges on the 168 kilometers route to P'anmunjm." As in many other construction projects, the military provided the labor.

North Korea

North Korea - The Korean Language

North Korea

There is a consensus among linguists that Korean is a member of the Altaic family of languages, which originated in northern Asia and includes the Mongol, Turkic, Finnish, Hungarian, and Tungusic (Manchu) languages. Although a historical relationship between Korean and Japanese has not been established, the two languages have strikingly similar grammatical structures. Both, for example, employ particles after nouns to indicate case (the particle used to indicate "of" as in "the wife of Mr. Li" is no in Japanese and ui in Korean).

Both Korean and Japanese possess what is sometimes called "polite" or "honorific" language, the use of different levels of speech in addressing persons of superior, inferior, or equal rank. These distinctions depend both on the use of different vocabulary and on basic structural differences in the words employed. For example, in Korean, the imperative "go" can be rendered kara for speaking to an inferior or a child, kage to an adult inferior, kao or kaseyo to a superior, and kasipsio to a person of still higher rank. The proper use of polite language, or of the levels of polite language, is extremely complex and subtle. Like Japanese, Korean is extremely sensitive to the nuances of hierarchical human relationships. Two people who meet for the first time are expected to use the more distant or formal terms, but they will shift to more informal or "equal" terms if they become friends. Younger people invariably use formal language in addressing elders; the latter use "inferior" terms in "talking down" to those who are younger.

The Korean language may be written using a mixture of Chinese characters (hancha) and a native Korean alphabet known as han'gl, or in han'gl alone. Han'gl was invented by scholars at the court of King Sejong (1418-50), not solely to promote literacy among the common people as was sometimes claimed, but also, as Professor Gari K. Ledyard has noted, to assist in studies of Chinese historical phonology. According to a statement by the king, an intelligent man could learn han'gl in a morning's time, and even a fool could master it in ten days. As a result, it was scorned and relegated to women and merchants. Scholars of linguistics consider the script one of the most scientific ever devised; it reflects quite consistently the phonemes of the spoken Korean language.

Although the Chinese and Korean languages are not related in terms of grammatical structure, a large percentage of the Korean vocabulary has been derived from Chinese loanwords, a reflection of China's long cultural dominance. In many cases, there are two words--a Chinese loanword and an indigenous Korean word--that mean the same thing. The Chinese-based word in Korean often has a bookish or formal nuance. Koreans select one or the other variant to achieve the proper register in speech or in writing, and to make subtle distinctions in accordance with established usage.

There is considerable divergence in the Korean spoken north and south of the DMZ. It is unclear to what extent the honorific language and its grammatical forms have been retained in the north. However, according to a South Korean scholar, Kim Il Sung "requested people to use a special, very honorific deference system toward himself and his family and, in a 1976 publication, Our Party's Language Policy, rules formulated on the basis of Kim Il Sung's style of speech and writing were advocated as the norm."

During the colonial period, large numbers of Chinese character compounds coined in Japan to translate modern Western scientific, technical, social science, and philosophical concepts came into use in Korea. The North Korean regime has attempted to eliminate as many of these loanwords as possible, as well as older terms of Chinese origin; Western loanwords are also being dropped.

P'yongyang regards hancha, or Chinese characters, as symbols of "flunkeyism" and has systematically eliminated them from all publications. Klloja (The Worker), the monthly KWP journal of the Central Committee, has been printed exclusively in han'gl since 1949. An attempt has also been made to create new words of exclusively Korean origin. Parents are encouraged to give their children Korean rather than Chinese-type names. Nonetheless, approximately 300 Chinese characters are still taught in North Korean schools.

North Koreans refer to their language as "Cultured Language" (munhwa), which uses the regional dialect of P'yongyang as its standard. The "Standard Language" (p'yojuno) of South Korea is based on the Seoul dialect. North Korean sources vilify Standard Language as "coquettish" and "decadent," corrupted by English and Japanese loanwords, and full of nasal twangs. Two documents, or "instructions," by Kim Il Sung, "Some Problems Related to the Development of the Korean Language," promulgated in 1964, and "On the Development of the National Language: Conversations with Linguists," published in 1966, define basic policy concerning Cultured Language.

North Korea

North Korea - EDUCATION

North Korea

Formal education has played a central role in the social and cultural development of both traditional Korea and contemporary North Korea. During the Chosn Dynasty, the royal court established a system of schools that taught Confucian subjects in the provinces as well as in four central secondary schools in the capital. There was no state-supported system of primary education. During the fifteenth century, state-supported schools declined in quality and were supplanted in importance by private academies, the swn, centers of a neo-Confucian revival in the sixteenth century. Higher education was provided by the Snggyungwan, the Confucian national university, in Seoul. Its enrollment was limited to 200 students who had passed the lower civil service examinations and were preparing for the highest examinations.

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed major educational changes. The swn were abolished by the central government. Christian missionaries established modern schools that taught Western curricula. Among them was the first school for women, Ehwa Woman's University, established by American Methodist missionaries as a primary school in Seoul in 1886. During the last years of the dynasty, as many as 3,000 private schools that taught modern subjects to both sexes were founded by missionaries and others. Most of these schools were concentrated in the northern part of the country. After Japan annexed Korea in 1910, the colonial regime established an educational system with two goals: to give Koreans a minimal education designed to train them for subordinate roles in a modern economy and make them loyal subjects of the emperor; and to provide a higher quality education for Japanese expatriates who had settled in large numbers on the Korean Peninsula. The Japanese invested more resources in the latter, and opportunities for Koreans were severely limited. In 1930 only 12.2 percent of Korean children aged seven to fourteen attended school. A state university modeled on Tokyo Imperial University was established in Seoul in 1923, but the number of Koreans allowed to study there never exceeded 40 percent of its enrollment; the rest of its students were Japanese. Private universities, including those established by missionaries such as Sungsil College in P'yongyang and Chosun Christian College in Seoul, provided other opportunities for Koreans desiring higher education.

After the establishment of North Korea, an education system modeled largely on that of the Soviet Union was established. The system faces serious obstacles. According to North Korean sources, at the time of North Korea's establishment, two-thirds of school-age children did not attend primary school, and most adults, numbering 2.3 million, were illiterate. In 1950 primary education became compulsory. The outbreak of the Korean War, however, delayed attainment of this goal; universal primary education was not achieved until 1956. By 1958 North Korean sources claimed that seven-year compulsory primary and secondary education had been implemented. In 1959 "state-financed universal education" was introduced in all schools; not only instruction and educational facilities, but also textbooks, uniforms, and room and board are provided to students without charge. By 1967 nine years of education became compulsory. In 1975 the compulsory eleven-year education system, which includes one year of preschool education and ten years of primary and secondary education, was implemented; that system remains in effect as of 1993. According to a 1983 speech given by Kim Il Sung to education ministers of nonaligned countries in P'yongyang, universal, compulsory higher education was to be introduced "in the near future." At that time, students had no school expenses; the state paid for the education of almost half of North Korea's population of 18.9 million.

Educational Themes and Methods

As in other communist countries, politics come first in the education system. In his 1977 "Theses on Socialist Education," Kim Il Sung wrote that "political and ideological education is the most important part of socialist education. Only through a proper political and ideological education is it possible to rear students as revolutionaries, equipped with a revolutionary world outlook and the ideological and moral qualities of a communist. And only on the basis of sound political and ideological education will the people's scientific and technological education and physical culture be successful." Education is a "total experience" encompassing not only formal school education but also extracurricular "social education" and work-study adult education. According to the "Theses on Socialist Education," the socialist state should not only organize and conduct comprehensive educational programs, eliminating the need for private educational institutions, but should also "run education on the principle of educating all members of society continuously--the continued education of all members of society is indispensable for building socialism and communism."

Chuch'e is a central theme in educational policy. According to Kim Il Sung, "in order to establish chuch'e in education, the main emphasis should be laid on things of one's own country in instruction and people should be taught to know their own things well." In his 1983 speech to education ministers of nonaligned countries, Kim also emphasized that chuch'e in education was relevant to all Third World countries. Kim asserted that although "flunkeyism" should be avoided, it might be necessary to adopt some techniques from developed countries.

Closely tied to the central theme of chuch'e in education is the "method of heuristic teaching"--a means of developing the independence and creativity of students and a reaction against the traditional Confucian emphasis on rote memorization. "Heuristics give students an understanding of the content of what they are taught through their own positive thinking, and so greatly help to build up independence and creativeness." Coercion and "cramming" should be avoided in favor of "persuasion and explanation," particularly in ideological education.

Primary and Secondary Education

In the early 1990s, the compulsory primary and secondary education system was divided into one year of kindergarten, four years of primary school (people's school) for ages six to nine, and six years of senior middle school (secondary school) for ages ten to fifteen). There are two years of kindergarten, for children aged four to six; only the second year (upper level kindergarten) is compulsory.

In the mid-1980s, there were 9,530 primary and secondary schools. After graduating from people's school, students enter either a regular secondary school or a special secondary school that concentrates on music, art, or foreign languages. These schools teach both their specialties and general subjects. The Mangyngdae Revolutionary Institute is an important special school.

In the early 1990s, graduation from the compulsory education system occurred at age sixteen. Eberstadt and Banister report that according to North Korean statistics released in the late 1980s, primary schools enrolled 1.49 million children in 1987; senior middle schools enrolled 2.66 million that same year. A comparison with the total number of children and youths in these age brackets shows that 96 percent of the age cohort is enrolled in the primary and secondary educational system.

School curricula in the early 1990s are balanced between academic and political subject matter. According to South Korean scholar Park Youngsoon, subjects such as Korean language, mathematics, physical education, drawing, and music constitute the bulk of instruction in people's schools; more than 8 percent of instruction is devoted to the "Great Kim Il Sung" and "Communist Mora1ity." In senior middle schools, politically oriented subjects, including the "Great Kim Il Sung" and "Communist Morality" as well as "Communist Party Policy," comprise only 5.8 percent of instruction. However, such statistics understate the political nature of primary and secondary education. Textbooks in the Korean language, for example, include titles such as We Pray for "Our Master," Following Mrs. Kim, Our Father, Love of Our Father, and Kim Jong Il Looking at Photos. Kindergarten children receive instruction in "Marshal Kim's Childhood" and "Communist Morality." Park noted that when students read Kim Il Sung's writings in the classroom, they are expected to do so "loudly, and slowly and with a feeling of respect." They also are taught a special way of speaking toward Kim, in terms of pronunciation, speed, and a special deference system and attitude."

Social Education

Outside the formal structure of schools and classrooms is the extremely important "social education." This education includes not only extracurricular activities but also family life and the broadest range of human relationships within society. There is great sensitivity to the influence of the social environment on the growing child and its role in the development of his or her character. The ideal of social education is to provide a carefully controlled environment in which children are insulated from bad or unplanned influences. According to a North Korean official interviewed in 1990, "School education is not enough to turn the rising generation into men of knowledge, virtue, and physical fitness. After school, our children have many spare hours. So it's important to efficiently organize their afterschool education."

In his 1977 "Theses on Socialist Education," Kim Il Sung described the components of social education. In the Pioneer Corps and the Socialist Working Youth League (SWYL), young people learn the nature of collective and organizational life; some prepare for membership in the Korean Workers' Party. In students' and schoolchildren's halls and palaces, managed by the SWYL Central Committee, young people participate in many extracurricular activities after school. There also are cultural facilities such as libraries and museums, monuments and historical sites of the Korean revolution, and the mass media dedicated to serving the goals of social education. Huge, lavishly appointed "schoolchildren's palaces" with gymnasiums and theaters have been built in P'yongyang, Mangyngdae, and other sites. These palaces provide political lectures and seminars, debating contests, poetry recitals, and scientific forums. The Students' and Children's Palace in P'yongyang attracted some 10,000 children daily in the early 1990s.

Although North Korean children would not seem to have much time to spend at home, the family's status as the "basic unit" of society also makes it a focus of social education. According to a North Korean publication, when "homes are made revolutionary," parents are "frugal . . . courteous, exemplary in social and political life," and children have proper role models.

Higher Education

Institutions of higher education in the early 1990s included colleges and universities; teachers' training colleges, with a four-year course for preparing kindergarten, primary, and secondary instructors; colleges of advanced technology with twoor three-year courses; medical schools with six-year courses; special colleges for science and engineering, art, music, and foreign languages; and military colleges and academies. Kim Il Sung's report to the Sixth Party Congress of the KWP in October 1980 revealed that there were 170 "higher learning institutions" and 480 "higher specialized schools" that year. In 1987 there were 220,000 students attending two- or three-year higher specialized schools and 301,000 students attending four- to sixyear colleges and university courses. According to Eberstadt and Banister, 13.7 percent of the population sixteen years of age or older was attending, or had graduated from, institutions of higher education in 1987-88. In 1988 the regime surpassed its target of producing "an army of 1.3 million intellectuals," graduates of higher education, a major step in the direction of achieving the often-stated goal of "intellectualization of the whole society."

Kim Il Sung University, founded in October 1946, is the country's only comprehensive institution of higher education offering bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. It is an elite institution whose enrollment of 16,000 full- and part-time students in the early 1990s occupies, in the words of one observer, the "pinnacle of the North Korean educational and social system." Competition for admission to its faculties is intense. According to a Korean-American scholar who visited the university in the early 1980s, only one student is admitted out of every five or six applicants. An important criterion for admission is senior middle school grades, although political criteria are also major factors in selection. A person wishing to gain acceptance to any institution of higher education has to be nominated by the local "college recommendation committee" before approval by county- and provincial-level committees.

Kim Il Sung University's colleges and faculties include economics, history, philosophy, law, foreign languages and literature, geography, physics, mathematics, chemistry, atomic energy, biology, and computer science. There are about 3,000 faculty members, including teaching and research staff. All facilities are located on a modern, high-rise campus in the northern part of P'yongyang.

Adult Education

Because of the emphasis on the continued education of all members of society, adult or work-study education is actively supported. Practically everyone in the country participates in some educational activity, usually in the form of "small study groups." In the 1980s, the adult literacy rate was estimated at 99 percent.

In the early 1990s, people in rural areas were organized into "five-family teams." These teams have educational and surveillance functions; the teams are the responsibility of a schoolteacher or other intellectual, each one being in charge of several such teams. Office and factory workers have two-hour "study sessions" after work each day on both political and technical subjects.

Adult education institutions in the early 1990s include "factory colleges," which teach workers new skills and techniques without forcing them to quit their jobs. Students work part-time, study in the evening, or take short intensive courses, leaving their workplaces for only a month or so. There also are "farm colleges," where rural workers can study to become engineers and assistant engineers, and a system of correspondence courses. For workers and peasants who are unable to receive regular school education, there are "laborers' schools" and "laborers' senior middle schools," although in the early 1990s these had become less important with the introduction of compulsory eleven-year education.

North Korea


North Korea

North Korea claimed a dramatic improvement in the health and longevity of its population with the creation of a state-funded and state-managed public health system based on the Soviet model. According to North Korean statistics, the average life expectancy at birth for both sexes was a little over thirty-eight years in the 1936-40 period. By 1986 North Korean statistics claimed life expectancy had risen to 70.9 years for males and 77.3 years for females. According to UN statistics, life expectancy in 1990 was about sixty-six years for males and almost seventy-three years for females. North Korean sources reported that crude death rates fell from 20.8 per 1,000 people in 1944 to 5 per 1,000 in 1986; infant mortality, from 204 per 1,000 live births to 9.8 per 1,000 in the same period. Eberstadt and Banister report that these mortality figures were probably understated (they estimate infant mortality at around 31 per 1,000 live births in 1990); they conclude, however, that the statistics "suggest that the mortality transition in North Korea over the past three decades has not only improved overall survival chances but reduced previous differences in mortality between urban and rural areas."

North Korean statistics reveal a substantial increase in the number of hospitals and clinics, hospital beds, physicians, and other health-care personnel since the 1950s. Between 1955 and 1986, the number of hospitals grew from 285 to 2,401; clinics increased from 1,020 to 5,644; hospital beds per 10,000 population from 19.1 to 135.9; physicians per 10,000 population from 1.5 to 27; and nurses and paramedics per 10,000 population from 8.7 to 43.2. There are hospitals at the provincial, county, ri, and dong levels. Hospitals are also attached to factories and mines. Specialized hospitals, including those devoted to treating tuberculosis, hepatitis, and mental illness, are generally found in large cities.

Preventive medicine is the foundation for health policies. According to the Public Health Law enacted on April 5, 1980, "The State regards it as a main duty in its activity to take measures to prevent the people from being afflicted by disease and directs efforts first and foremost to prophylaxis in public health work." Disease prevention is accomplished through "hygiene propaganda work," educating the people on sanitation and healthy lifestyles , and the "section-doctor system." This system, also known as the "doctor responsibility system," assigns a single physician to be responsible for an area containing several hundred individuals. In general, medical examinations are required twice a year, and complete records are kept at local hospitals. According to one source, persons are required to follow the orders of their assigned physician and can not refuse treatment. In the countryside, medical examination teams (kmjindae) composed of personnel from the provincial central hospital make rounds to investigate health conditions; local doctors also make frequent rounds.

North Korean statistics reveal that the major causes of death are similar to those in developed countries; 1986 figures showed that 45.3 percent of reported deaths were caused by circulatory ailments such as heart disease and stroke, 13.9 percent by cancer, 10.4 percent by digestive diseases, and 9.4 percent by respiratory diseases. Infectious diseases and parasitism, major causes of death in earlier decades, were a relatively insignificant cause of death and accounted for only 3.9 percent of reported deaths in 1986. As of 1990, the latest year for which data were available, no cases of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) had been reported.

Although shamanistic medicine has been repudiated as superstition, herbal medicine, known as Eastern Medicine (Tonguihak), is still highly esteemed. Practitioners of Eastern Medicine not only give preparations orally, but also practice moxibustion (burning herbs and grasses on the skin) and acupuncture. The high value accorded traditional herbal medicine reflects not only its efficacy but also the chuch'e emphasis on using native products and ingenuity. Moreover, in 1979 Kim Il Sung published an essay entitled "On Developing Traditional Korean Medicine." Central Eastern Medicine Hospital in P'yongyang, the Research Institute of Eastern Medicine in the North Korean Academy of Medical Sciences, and many pharmacies deal in traditional herbal remedies.

Over the centuries, Korean physicians have developed an extensive pharmacopeia of curative herbs. North Korean sources claim that herbal medicines are superior to Western medicines because they have no dangerous side effects. According to a 1991 article in the P'yongyang Times, "[t]he combination of Korean medicine with Western medicine has reached 70 percent in the primary medical treatment," and "[t]he native system is popular among the people for its effectiveness in internal and surgical treatment, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics and other sectors of clinical treatment and health and longevity." Natural products with medical properties distributed by pharmacies include extracts of insam (ginseng), deer's placenta, and a "metabolism activator" called tonghae chongsimhwan, a mixture of herbs, and animal and mineral products collected around Kwanmo-san and along the coast of the East Sea.

Physical education is an important part of public health. Children and adults are expected to participate in physical exercises during work breaks or school recesses; they are also encouraged to take part in recreational sports activities such as running, gymnastics, volleyball, ice skating, and traditional Korean games. Group gymnastic exercises are considered an art form as well as a form of discipline and education. Mass gymnastic displays, involving several tens of thousands of uniformed participants, are frequently organized. Some of the largest were held in commemoration of the eightieth birthday of Kim Il Sung and the fiftieth birthday of Kim Jong Il, both celebrated in 1992.

North Korea

North Korea - THE ECONOMY

North Korea

THE DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF KOREA (DPRK, or North Korea) possesses extensive economic resources with which to build a modern economy. These include sizable deposits of coal, other minerals, and nonferrous metals. The river systems of the Yalu, Tumen, and Taedong, and lesser rivers supplement North Korea's coal reserves and form an abundant source of power. Although the mountainous terrain prohibits paddy rice cultivation except in the coastal lowlands, corn, wheat, and soybeans grow well on dry field plateaus. The country's hilly areas also provide for timber forests, livestock grazing, and orchards.

North Korea inherited the basic infrastructure of a modern economy at the end of the Japanese colonial era (1910-45) and achieved considerable success because of the ability of the communist regime to marshall unutilized resources and idle labor and to impose a low rate of consumption. Around the beginning of the 1960s, however, the economy had reached a stage where delays and bottlenecks began to emerge. Once growth could be achieved only by raising productivity through increased efficiency, an expanded resource base, and technological advances, slowdowns and setbacks occurred. Slow economic growth continued into the 1970s and 1980s. Based on chuch'e, the self-reliant economic policy emphasizes heavy industry. This policy, coupled with economic difficulties, has resulted in a poor record of exports, chronic trade deficits, and a sizable foreign debt, as well as foreign trade primarily oriented toward other communist countries. At the outset of the 1990s, North Korea's economy was in a deep slump and in great disarray, and was hopelessly behind its rival, the Republic of Korea (ROK, or South Korea), which has become a world-class economic powerhouse.

North Korea's economy remains one of the world's last centrally planned systems. The role of market allocation is sharply limited--mainly in the rural sector where peasants sell produce from small private plots. There are almost no small businesses. Although there have been scattered and limited attempts at decentralization, as of mid-1993, P'yongyang's basic adherence to a rigid command economy continues, as does its reliance on fundamentally non-pecuniary incentives. A North Korean decision to create Chinese-style special economic zones represents a major breakthrough in decentralizing the economy.

As the country faces the 1990s, great challenges lie ahead. The collapse of communist regimes, particularly North Korea's principal benefactor, the Soviet Union, have forced the already depressed North Korean economy to fundamentally realign its foreign economic relations. Economic exchanges with South Korea have even begun in earnest.

North Korea


North Korea

Korea under the Japanese Occupation

North Korea inherited the basic infrastructure of a modern economy because of Japan's substantial investment in development during the Japanese occupation. The Japanese had developed considerable heavy industry, particularly in the metal and chemical industries, hydroelectric power, and mining in the northern half of Korea, where they introduced modern mining methods. The southern half of the country produced most of the rice and a majority of textiles. The hydroelectric power and chemical plants were said to be second to none in Asia at that time in terms of both their scale and technology. The same applied to the railroad and communication networks.

There were, however, serious defects in the industrial structures and their location. The Korean economy, geared primarily to benefit the Japanese homeland, was made dependent on Japan for final processing of products; heavy industry was limited to the production of mainly raw materials, semifinished goods, and war supplies, which were then shipped to Japan proper for final processing and consumption. Japan did not allow Korea to develop a machine tool industry. Most industrial centers were strategically located on the eastern or western coasts near ports so as to connect them efficiently with Japan. Railroad networks ran mainly along the north-south axis, facilitating Japan's access to the Asian mainland. Because the Japanese occupied almost all the key government positions and owned and controlled the industrial and financial enterprises, few Koreans benefited from acquiring basic skills essential for modernization. Moreover, the Japanese left behind an agrarian structure--land tenure system, size of landholdings and farm operation, pattern of land use and farm income--that needed much reform. Farms were fragmented and small, and landownership was extremely unequal. Toward the end of the Japanese occupation, about 50 percent of all farm households in Korea were headed by tenant farmers.

The sudden withdrawal of the Japanese and the subsequent partition of the country created economic chaos. Severance of the complementary "agricultural" south from the "industrial" north and from Japan meant that North Korea's traditional markets for raw materials and semifinished goods--as well as its sources of food and manufactured goods--were cut off. Furthermore, the withdrawal of the entrepreneurial and engineering skills supplied mainly by Japanese personnel affected the economic base. Thus the task facing the communist regime in North Korea was to develop a viable economy, which it reoriented mainly toward other communist countries, while at the same time to rectify the "malformation" in the colonial industrial structure. Subsequently, the problem was compounded further by the devastation of industrial plants during the Korean War (1950-53). North Korea's economic development therefore did not tread a new path until after the Korean War.

Developmental Strategy

As of mid-1993, North Korea's economy remained one of the world's most highly centralized and planned, even by pre-1990 communist standards. Complete "socialization" of the economy was accomplished by 1958, when private ownership of the means of production, land, and commercial enterprises was replaced by state or cooperative (collective) ownership and control. As a result, industrial firms were either state-owned or cooperatives, the former contributing more than 90 percent of total industrial output in the 1960s.

Unlike in industry, collectives are the predominant form of ownership and production in agriculture; the remaining rural enterprises are organized as state farms. The sole negligible exception to state and collective ownership in agriculture is the ownership of small garden plots and fruit trees, as well as the raising of poultry, pigs, bees, and the like, which are permitted both for personal consumption and sale at the peasant market. Private plots can be no more than roughly 160 square meters in area. State and cooperative ownership and control extends to foreign trade, as well as to all other sectors of the economy, including banking, transportation, and communications.

In commerce nearly all goods are distributed through either state-operated or cooperative stores. Less than 1 percent of retail transactions are carried out at peasant markets, where surplus farm products are sold at free-market prices.

As in other Soviet-type or "command" economies, all economic decisions concerning the selection of output, output targets, allocation of inputs, prices, distribution of national income, investment, and economic development are implemented through the economic plan devised at the center and are "blueprinted" by the State Planning Committee. In the face of the worldwide political and economic collapse of communist regimes in the early 1990s, North Korea defiantly continues to sing the praises of a command economy. Attempts to increase production through rigid central control and exhortations and other non-pecuniary incentives have not ceased, as exemplified by the campaign entitled "Speed of the 1990s." On-site industrial visits by President Kim Il Sung and his son and heir-apparent, Kim Jong Il, continue.

However, there have been some minor efforts toward relaxing central control of the economy in the 1980s that involve industrial enterprises. Encouraged by Kim Jong Il's call to strengthen the implementation of the independent accounting system (tongnip ch'aesangje) of enterprises in March 1984, interest in enterprise management and the independent accounting system has increased, as evidenced by increasing coverage of the topic in various North Korean journals. Under the system, factory managers still are assigned output targets but are given more discretion in making decisions about labor, equipment, materials, and funds.

In addition to fixed capital, each enterprise is allocated a minimum of working capital from the state through the Central Bank and is required to meet various operating expenses with the proceeds from sales of its output. Up to 50 percent of the "profit" is taxed, the remaining half being kept by the enterprise for purchase of equipment, introduction of new technology, welfare benefits, and bonuses. As such, the system provides some built-in incentives and some degree of micro-level autonomy, unlike the budget allocation system, under which any surplus is turned over to the government in its entirety.

Another innovation, the August Third People's Consumer Goods Production Movement, is centered on consumer goods production. This measure was so named after Kim Jong Il made an inspection tour of an exhibition of light industrial products held in P'yongyang on August 3, 1984. The movement charges workers to use locally available resources and production facilities to produce needed consumer goods. On the surface, the movement does not appear to differ much from the local industry programs in existence since the 1960s, although some degree of local autonomy is allowed. However, a major departure places output, pricing, and purchases outside central planning. In addition, direct sales stores have been established to distribute goods produced under the movement directly to consumers. The movement is characterized as a third sector in the production of consumer goods, alongside centrally controlled light industry and locally controlled traditional light industry. Moreover, there were some reports in the mid-1980s of increasing encouragement of small-scale private handicrafts and farm markets. As of 1992, however, no move was reported to expand the size of private garden plots.

All these measures appear to be minor stop-gap measures to alleviate severe shortages of consumer goods by infusing some degree of incentives. In mid-1993 no significant moves signaling a fundamental deviation from the existing system had occurred. The reluctance to initiate reform appears to be largely political. It is, perhaps, the linkage between economic reform and political liberalization that worries the leadership. This concern is based on the belief that economic reform will produce new interests that will demand political expression, and that demands for the institutionalization of such pluralism eventually will lead to political liberalization. There clearly exists a catch-22 situation for Kim Il Sung and, particularly, for Kim Jong Il. In order to legitimize his power base, the younger Kim needs an economic base. However, his economic reforms challenge his position as the advancer of chuch'e and may eventually undo the regime.

In the mid-1980s, the speculation that North Korea would emulate China in establishing Chinese-style special economic zones was flatly denied by then deputy chairman of the Economic Policy Commission Yun Ki-pok (Yun became chairman as of June 1989). China's special economic zones typically are coastal areas established to promote economic development and the introduction of advanced technology through foreign investment. Investors are offered preferential tax terms and facilities. The zones, which allow greater reliance on market forces, have more decisionmaking power in economic activities than do provincial-level units. Over the years, China has tried to convince the North Korean leadership of the advantages of these zones by giving tours of the various zones and explaining their values to visiting high-level officials.

In December 1991, North Korea established a "zone of free economy and trade" to include the northeastern port cities of Unggi, Ch'ngjin, and Najin. The establishment of this zone also had ramifications on the questions of how far North Korea would go in opening its economy to the West and to South Korea, the future of the development scheme for the Tumen River area, and, more important, how much North Korea would reform its economic system.

North Korea


North Korea

North Korea's reliance on a command economy has led to an inward-looking development strategy, demonstrated in policies on domestic industrial development, foreign trade, foreign capital, imported technology, and other forms of international economic cooperation. Priority is assigned to establishing a selfsufficient industrial base. Consumer goods are produced primarily to satisfy domestic demand, and private consumption is held to low levels. This approach is in sharp contrast to South Korea's outward-oriented strategy begun in the mid-1960s, which started with light industry in order to meet the demands of growing domestic and foreign markets and export expansion.

As a consequence of the government's policy of establishing economic self-sufficiency, the North Korean economy has become increasingly isolated from that of the rest of the world, and its industrial development and structure do not reflect its international competitiveness. Domestic firms are shielded from international as well as domestic competition; the result is chronic inefficiency, poor quality, limited product diversity, and underutilization of plants. This protectionism also limits the size of the market for North Korean producers, which, in turn, prevents them from taking advantage of economies of scale.

Beginning in the mid-1980s, and particularly around the end of the decade, North Korea began slowly to modify its rigid selfreliant policy. The changes, popularly identified as the opendoor policy, included an increasing emphasis on foreign trade, a readiness to accept direct foreign investment by enacting a joint venture law, the decision to open the country to international tourism, and economic cooperation with South Korea.

Record of Economic Performance

A lack of reliable data inhibits an accurate quantitative assessment of North Korea's economic performance. In mid-1993 North Korea remains one of the most secretive nations in the world, limiting the release of its economic data to the outside world and, for that matter, to its own population. Until about 1960, North Korea released economic data relatively more freely. Beginning in the 1960s, the publication of economic data began to dwindle dramatically; the withholding of information coincided with the beginning of the economy's slowdown.

The small amount of data that is published suffers from ambiguities and gaps and--more often than not--is in the form of percentages that do not provide base figures or explain the precise meaning of aggregated data. Moreover, North Korean macroeconomic aggregates such as national income, which is based on Marxist definitions, has to be modified in order to be comparable to customary Western standards. In the 1980s and early 1990s, only limited quantitative or qualitative information about the North Korean economy was available. Quantitative information on foreign trade is a welcome exception because the statistical returns from North Korea's trade partners are gathered by such international organizations as the United Nations (UN) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and South Korean organizations such as the National Unification Board.

Estimating gross national product (GNP) is a difficult task because of the dearth of economic data, the national income accounting procedures based on the Marxist definition of production, and the problem of choosing an appropriate rate of exchange for the wn-- the nonconvertible North Korean currency. The South Korean government's estimate placed North Korea's GNP in 1991 at US$22.9 billion, or US$1,038 per capita. This estimate of economic accomplishment pales next to South Korea's GNP of US$237.9 billion with a per capita income of US$5,569 that same year. North Korea's GNP in 1991 showed a 5.2 percent decline over 1989, and preliminary indications were that the decline would continue. In contrast, South Korea's GNP grew by 9.3 percent and 8.4 percent, respectively, in 1990 and 1991.

Postwar Economic Planning

During what North Korea called the "peaceful construction" period before the Korean War, the fundamental task of the economy was to overtake the level of output and efficiency attained toward the end of the Japanese occupation; to restructure and develop a viable economy reoriented toward the communist-bloc countries; and to begin the process of socializing the economy. Nationalization of key industrial enterprises and land reform, both of which were carried out in 1946, laid the groundwork for two successive one-year plans in 1947 and 1948, respectively, and the Two-Year Plan of 1949-50. It was during this period that the piece-rate wage system and the independent accounting system began to be applied and that the commercial network increasingly came under state and cooperative ownership.

The basic goal of the Three-Year Plan, officially named the Three-Year Post-war Reconstruction Plan of 1954-56, was to reconstruct an economy torn by the Korean War. The plan stressed more than merely regaining the prewar output levels. The Soviet Union, China, and East European countries provided reconstruction assistance. The highest priority was developing heavy industry, but an earnest effort to collectivize farming also was begun. At the end of 1957, output of most industrial commodities had returned to 1949 levels, except for a few items such as chemical fertilizers, carbides, and sulfuric acid, whose recovery took longer.

Having basically completed the task of reconstruction, the state planned to lay a solid foundation for industrialization while completing the socialization process and solving the basic problems of food and shelter during the Five-Year Plan of 1957- 60. The socialization process was completed by 1958 in all sectors of the economy, and the Ch'llima Movement (see Glossary) was introduced. Although growth rates reportedly were high, there were serious imbalances among the different economic sectors. Because rewards were given to individuals and enterprises that met production quotas, frantic efforts to fulfill plan targets in competition with other enterprises and industries caused disproportionate growth among various enterprises, between industry and agriculture and between light and heavy industries. Because resources were limited and the transportation system suffered bottlenecks, resources were diverted to politically well-connected enterprises or those whose managers complained the loudest. An enterprise or industry that performed better than others often did so at the expense of others. Such disruptions intensified as the target year of the plan approached.

Until the 1960s, North Korea's economy grew much faster than South Korea's. Although P'yongyang was behind in total national output, it was ahead of Seoul in per capita national output, because of its smaller population relative to South Korea. For example, in 1960 North Korea's population was slightly over 10 million persons, while South Korea's population was almost 25 million persons. Phenomenal annual economic growth rates of 30 percent and 21 percent during the Three-Year Plan of 1954-56 and the Five-Year Plan of 1957-60, respectively, were reported. After claiming early fulfillment of the Five-Year Plan in 1959, North Korea officially designated 1960 a "buffer year"--a year of adjustment to restore balances among sectors before the next plan became effective in 1961. Not surprisingly the same phenomenon recurred in subsequent plans. Because the Five-Year Plan was fulfilled early, it became a de facto four-year plan. Beginning in the early 1960s, however, P'yongyang's economic growth slowed until it was stagnant at the beginning of the 1990s.

Various factors explain the very high rate of economic development of the country in the 1950s and the general slowdown since the 1960s. During the reconstruction period after the Korean War, there were opportunities for extensive economic growth--attainable through the communist regime's ability to marshall idle resources and labor and to impose a low rate of consumption. This general pattern of initially high growth resulting in a high rate of capital formation was mirrored in other Soviet-type economies. Toward the end of the 1950s, as reconstruction work was completed and idle capacity began to diminish, the economy had to shift from the extensive to the intensive stage, where the simple communist discipline of marshalling underutilized resources became less effective. In the new stage, inefficiency arising from emerging bottlenecks led to diminishing returns. Further growth would only be attained by increasing efficiency and technological progress.

Beginning in the early 1960s, a series of serious bottlenecks began to impede development. Bottlenecks were pervasive and generally were created by the lack of arable land, skilled labor, energy, and transportation, and deficiencies in the extractive industries. Moreover, both land and marine transportation lacked modern equipment and modes of transportation. The inability of the energy and extractive industries as well as of the transportation network to supply power and raw materials as rapidly as the manufacturing plants could absorb them began to slow industrial growth.

The First Seven-Year Plan (initially 1961-67) built on the groundwork of the earlier plans but changed the focus of industrialization. Heavy industry, with the machine tool industry as its linchpin, was given continuing priority. During the plan, however, the economy experienced widespread slowdowns and reverses for the first time, in sharp contrast to the rapid and uninterrupted growth during previous plans. Disappointing performance forced the planners to extend the plan three more years, until 1970. During the last part of the de facto ten-year plan, emphasis shifted to pursuing parallel development of the economy and of defense capabilities. This shift was prompted by concern over the military takeover in South Korea by General Park Chung Hee (1961-79), escalation of the United States involvement in Vietnam, and the widening Sino-Soviet split. It was thought that stimulating a technological revolution in the munitions industry was one means to achieve these parallel goals. In the end, the necessity to divert resources to defense became the official explanation for the plan's failure.

The Six-Year Plan of 1971-76 followed immediately in 1971. In the aftermath of the poor performance of the preceding plan, growth targets of the Six-Year Plan were scaled down substantially. Because some of the proposed targets in the First Seven-Year Plan had not been attained even by 1970, the Six-Year Plan did not deviate much from its predecessor in basic goals. The Six-Year Plan placed more emphasis on technological advance, self-sufficiency in industrial raw materials, improving product quality, correcting imbalances among different sectors, and developing the power and extractive industries; the last of these had been deemed largely responsible for slowdowns during the First Seven-Year Plan. The plan called for attaining a self- sufficiency rate of 60 to 70 percent in all industrial sectors by substituting domestic raw materials wherever possible and by organizing and renovating technical processes to make the substitution feasible. Improving transport capacity was seen as one of the urgent tasks in accelerating economic development-- understandable since it was one of the major bottlenecks of the Six-Year Plan.

North Korea claimed to have fulfilled the Six-Year Plan by the end of August 1975, a full year and four months ahead of schedule. Under the circumstances, it was expected that the next plan would start without delay in 1976, a year early, as was the case when the First Seven-Year Plan was instituted in 1961. Even if the Six-Year Plan had been completed on schedule, the next plan should have started in 1977. However, it was not until nearly two years and four months later that the long-awaited plan was unveiled--1977 had become a "buffer year."

The inability of the planners to continuously formulate and institute economic plans reveals as much about the inefficacy of planning itself as the extent of the economic difficulties and administrative disruptions facing the country. For example, targets for successive plans have to be based on the accomplishments of preceding plans. If these targets are underfulfilled, all targets of the next plan--initially based on satisfaction of the plan--have to be reformulated and adjusted. Aside from underfulfillment of the targets, widespread disruptions and imbalances among various sectors of the economy further complicate plan formulation.

The basic thrust of the Second Seven-Year Plan (1978-84) was to achieve the three-pronged goals of self-reliance, modernization, and "scientification." Although the emphasis on self-reliance was not new, it had not previously been the explicit focus of an economic plan. This new emphasis might have been a reaction to mounting foreign debt originating from large- scale imports of Western machinery and equipment in the mid- 1970s. Through modernization North Korea hoped to increase mechanization and automation in all sectors of the economy. "Scientification" is a buzzword for the adoption of up-to-date production and management techniques. The specific objectives of the economic plan were to strengthen the fuel, energy, and resource bases of industry through priority development of the energy and extractive industries; to modernize industry; to substitute domestic resources for certain imported raw materials; to expand freight-carrying capacity in railroad, road, and marine transportation systems; to centralize and containerize the transportation system; and to accelerate a technical revolution in agriculture.

In order to meet the manpower and technology requirements of an expanding economy, the education sector also was targeted for improvements. The quality of the comprehensive eleven-year compulsory education system was to be enhanced to train more technicians and specialists, and to expand the training of specialists, particularly in the fields of fuel, mechanical, electronic, and automation engineering.

Successful fulfillment of the so-called nature-remaking projects also was part of the Second Seven-Year Plan. These projects referred to the five-point program for nature transformation unveiled by Kim Il Sung in 1976: completing the irrigation of non-paddy fields; reclaiming 100,000 hectares of new land; building 150,000 hectares to 200,000 hectares of terraced fields; carrying out afforestation and water conservation work; and reclaiming tidal land.

From all indications, the Second Seven-Year Plan was not successful. North Korea generally downplayed the accomplishments of the plan, and no other plan received less official fanfare. It was officially claimed that the economy had grown at an annual rate of 8.8 percent during the plan, somewhat below the planned rate of 9.6 percent. The reliability of this aggregate measure, however, is questionable. During the plan, the target annual output of 10 million tons of grains (cereals and pulses) was attained. However, by official admission, the targets of only five other commodities were fulfilled. Judging from the growth rates announced for some twelve industrial products, it is highly unlikely that the total industrial output increased at an average rate of 12.2 percent as claimed. After the plan concluded, there was no new economic plan for two years, indications of both the plan's failure and the severity of the economic and planning problems confronting the economy in the mid-1980s.

The main targets of the Third Seven-Year Plan of 1987-93 are to achieve the so-called "Ten Long-Range Major Goals of the 1980s for the Construction of the Socialist Economy". These goals, conceived in 1980, are to be fulfilled by the end of the decade. The fact that these targets are rolled over to the end of the Third Seven-Year Plan is another indication of the disappointing economic performance during the Second Seven-Year Plan. The three policy goals of self-reliance, modernization, and "scientification" were repeated. Economic growth was set at 7.9 percent annually, lower than the previous plan. Although achieving the ten major goals of the 1980s is the main thrust of the Third Seven-Year Plan, some substantial changes have been made in specific quantitative targets. For example, the target for the annual output of steel has been drastically reduced from 15 million tons to 10 millon tons. This reduction will have serious negative secondary effects on heavy industry. The output targets of cement and non-ferrous metals-- two major export items--have been increased significantly. The June 1989 introduction of the Three-Year Plan for Light Industry as part of the Third Seven-Year Plan is intended to boost the standard of living by addressing consumer needs.

The Third Seven-Year Plan gives a great deal of attention to developing foreign trade and joint ventures, the first time a plan has addressed these issues. By the end of 1991, however, two years before the termination of the plan, no quantitative plan targets had been made public, an indication that the plan has not fared well. The diversion of resources to build highways, theaters, hotels, airports, and other facilities in order to host the Thirteenth World Festival of Youth and Students in July 1989, must have had a negative impact on industrial and agricultural development, although the expansion and improvement of social infrastructure have resulted in some long-term economic benefits.

The shortage of foreign exchange because of a chronic trade deficit, a large foreign debt, and dwindling foreign aid has constrained economic development. In addition, North Korea has been diverting scarce resources from developmental projects to defense; it spent more than 20 percent of GNP on defense toward the end of the 1980s, a proportion among the highest in the world. These negative factors, compounded by the declining efficiency of the central planning system and the failure to modernize the economy, have slowed the pace of growth since the 1960s. The demise of the communist regimes in the Soviet Union and East European countries--North Korea's traditional trade partners and benefactors--has compounded the economic difficulties in the early 1990s.

Concomitant with the socialization of the economy and the growth in the total magnitude of national output has been a dramatic and revealing change in the relative share of output, indicating that the economy has been transformed from being primarily agricultural to primarily industrial. Whereas in 1946, industrial and agricultural outputs were 16.8 percent and 63.5 percent, respectively, of total national output, the relative position has reversed fundamentally since then so that the respective shares in 1970 were 57.3 percent and 21.5 percent. Judging from the agricultural share of 24 percent in 1981, there were slight reverses in the relative composition in the 1970s.

Growth and changes in the structure and ownership pattern of the economy also have changed the labor force. By 1958 individual private farmers, who once constituted more than 70 percent of the labor force, had been transformed into or replaced by state or collective farmers. Private artisans, merchants, and entrepreneurs had joined state or cooperative enterprises. In the industrial sector in 1963, the last year for which such data are available, there were 2,295 state enterprises and 642 cooperative enterprises. The size and importance of the state enterprises can be surmised by the fact that state enterprises, which constituted 78.1 percent of the total number of industrial enterprises, contributed 91.2 percent of total industrial output.

<>Economic Planning

North Korea

North Korea - Economic Planning

North Korea

Although general economic policy objectives are decided by the Central People's Committee (CPC), it is the task of the State Planning Committee to translate the broad goals into specific annual and long-term development plans and quantitative targets for the economy as a whole, as well as for each industrial sector and enterprise. Under the basic tenets of the 1964 reforms, the planning process is guided by the principles of "unified planning" (ilwnhwa) and of "detailed planning" (saebunhwa).

Under "unified planning," regional committees are established in each province, city, and county to systematically coordinate planning work. These committees do not belong to any regional organization and are directly supervised by the State Planning Committee. As a result of a reorganization in 1969, they are separated into provincial planning committees, city/county committees, and enterprise committees (for large-scale enterprises).

The various planning committees, under the auspices of the State Planning Committee, coordinate their planning work with the existing planning offices of the various economy-related government organizations in each of the corresponding regional and local areas. The system attempts to enable the regional planning staffs to better coordinate with economic establishments in their areas, which are directly responsible to them with regard to planning, as well as to communicate directly with staff at the CPC. "Detailed planning" seeks to construct plans with precise accuracy and scientific methods based on concrete assessment of the available resources, labor, funds, plant capacities, and all other necessary information.

There are four stages in drafting the final national economic plan. The first stage is collecting and compiling preliminary statistical data. These figures, which are used as the basic planning data on the productive capacities of various economic sectors, originally are prepared by lower level economic units and aggregated on a national level by respective departments and committees. Simultaneously, the regional, local, and enterprise planning committees prepare their own data and forward them to the CPC. Through this two-channel system of simultaneous but separate and independent preparation of statistical data by economic units and planning committees, the government seeks to ensure an accurate, objective, and realistic data base unfettered by local and bureaucratic bias. The second stage is preparing the control figures by the CPC based on the preliminary data in accordance with the basic plan goals presented by the Central People's Committee. In the third stage, a draft plan is prepared.

The draft plan, prepared by the CPC, is the result of coordinating all draft figures submitted by the lower level economic units, which, in turn, base their drafts on the control figures handed down from the committee. In the fourth stage, the CPC submits a unified national draft plan to the Central People's Committee and the State Administration Council for confirmation. After approval by the Supreme People's Assembly, the draft becomes final and is distributed to all economic units as well as to regional and local planning committees. The plan then becomes legal and compulsory. Frequent directives from the central government contain changes in the plan targets or incentives for meeting the plan objectives.

Although the central government is most clearly involved in the formulation and evaluation of the yearly and long-term plans, it also reviews summaries of quarterly or monthly progress. Individual enterprises divide the production period into daily, weekly, ten-day, monthly, quarterly, and annual periods. In general, the monthly plan is the basic factory planning period.

The success of an economic plan depends on the quality and detail of information received, the establishment of realistic targets, coordination among different sectors, and correct implementation. High initial growth during the Three-Year Plan and, to a lesser extent, during the Five-Year Plan contributed to a false sense of confidence among the planners. Statistical overreporting--an inherent tendency in a economy where rewards lie in fulfilling the quantitative targets, particularly when the plan target year approaches--leads to overestimation of economic potential, poor product quality, and eventually to plan errors. Inefficient utilization of plants, equipment, and raw materials also add to planning errors. Lack of coordination in planning and production competition among sectors and regions cause imbalances and disrupt input-output relationships. The planning reforms in 1964 were supposed to solve these problems, but the need for correct and detailed planning and strict implementation of plans was so great that their importance was emphasized in the report unveiling the Second Seven-Year Plan, indicating that planning problems persisted in the 1980s.

The Ch'ongsan-ni Method

The Ch'ongsan-ni Method, or Chngsan-ri Method, of management was born out of Kim Il Sung's February 1960 visit to the Ch'ongsan-ni Cooperative Farm in South P'yngan Province. Kim and other members of the KWP Central Committee offered "on-the-spot guidance" and spent fifteen days instructing and interacting with the workers. The avowed objective of this new method is to combat "bureaucratism" and "formalism" in the farm management system.

The leadership claimed that farm workers were unhappy and produced low output because low-ranking party functionaries, who expounded abstract Marxist theories and slogans, were using incorrect tactics that failed to motivate. To correct this, the leadership recommended that the workers receive specific guidance in solving production problems and be promised readily available material incentives. The Ch'ongsan-ni Method called for highranking party officials, party cadres, and administrative officials to emulate Kim Il Sung by making field inspections. The system also provided opportunities for farmers to present their grievances and ideas to leading cadres and managers.

Perhaps more important than involving administrative personnel in on-site inspections was the increased use of material incentives, such as paid vacations, special bonuses, honorific titles, and monetary rewards. In fact, the Ch'ongsan-ni Method appeared to accommodate almost any expedient to spur production. The method, however, subsequently was undercut by heavy-handed efforts to increase farm production and amalgamate farms into ever-larger units. Actual improvement in the agricultural sector began with the adoption of the subteam contract system as a means of increasing peasant productivity by adjusting individual incentives to those of the immediate, small working group. Thus the increasing scale of collective farms was somewhat offset by the reduction in the size of the working unit. "On-the-spot guidance" by high government functionaries, however, continues in the early 1990s, as exemplified by Kim Il Sung's visits to such places as the Wangjaesan Cooperative Farm in Ssng County and the Kyngsn Branch Experimental Farm of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences between August 20 and 30, 1991.

The Taean Work System

The industrial management system developed in three distinct stages. The first stage was a period of enterprise autonomy that lasted until December 1946. The second stage was a transitional system based on local autonomy, with each enterprise managed by the enterprise management committee under the direction of the local people's committee. This system was replaced by the "oneman management system," with management patterned along Soviet lines as large enterprises were nationalized and came under central control. The third stage, the Taean Work System, was introduced in December 1961 as an application and refinement of agricultural management techniques to industry. The Taean industrial management system grew out of the Ch'ongsan-ni Method.

The highest managerial authority under the Taean system is the party committee. Each committee consists of approximately twenty-five to thirty-five members elected from the ranks of managers, workers, engineers, and the leadership of "working people's organizations" at the factory. A smaller "executive committee," about one-fourth the size of the regular committee, has practical responsibility for day-to-day plant operations and major factory decisions. The most important staff members, including the party committee secretary, factory manager, and chief engineer, make up its membership. The system focuses on cooperation among workers, technicians, and party functionaries at the factory level.

Each factory has two major lines of administration, one headed by the manager, the other by the party committee secretary. A chief engineer and his or her assistants direct a general staff in charge of all aspects of production, planning, and technical guidance. Depending on the size of the factory, varying numbers of deputies oversee factory logistics, marketing, and workers' services. The supply of materials includes securing, storing, and distributing all materials for factory use, as well as storing finished products and shipping them from the factory.

Deputies are in charge of assigning workers to their units and handling factory accounts and payroll. Providing workers' services requires directing any farming done on factory lands, stocking factory retail shops, and taking care of all staff amenities. Deputies in charge of workers' services are encouraged to meet as many of the factory's needs as possible using nearby agricultural cooperatives and local industries.

The secretary of the party committee organizes all political activities in each of the factory party cells and attempts to ensure loyalty to the party's production targets and management goals. According to official claims, all management decisions are arrived at by consensus among the members of the party committee. Given the overwhelming importance of the party in the country's affairs, it seems likely that the party secretary has the last say in any major factory disputes.

The Taean system heralded a more rational approach to industrial management than that practiced previously. Although party functionaries and workers became more important to management under the new system, engineers and technical staff also received more responsibility in areas where their expertise could contribute the most. The system recognizes the importance of material as well as "politico-moral" incentives for managing the factory workers. The "internal accounting system," a spin-off of the "independent accounting system," grants bonuses to work teams and workshops that use raw materials and equipment most efficiently. These financial rewards come out of enterprise profits.

A measure of the success of the Taean Work System is its longevity and its continued endorsement by the leadership. In his 1991 New Year's address marking the thirtieth anniversary of the creation of the system, Kim Il Sung said that the "Taean work system is the best system of economic management. It enables the producer masses to fulfill their responsibility and role as masters and to manage the economy in a scientific and rational manner by implementing the mass line in economic management, and by combining party leadership organically with administrative, economic, and technical guidance."

Mass Production Campaigns

Parallel to management techniques such as the Ch'ongsan-ni Method and the Taean Work System, which were designed to increase output in the course of more normalized and regularized operations of farms and enterprises, the leadership continuously resorts to exhortations and mass campaigns to motivate the workers to meet output targets. The earliest and the most pervasive mass production campaign was the Ch'llima Movement. Introduced in 1958, and fashioned after China's Great Leap Forward (1958-60), the Ch'llima Movement organized the labor force into work teams and brigades to compete at increasing production. The campaign was aimed not only at industrial and agricultural workers but also at organizations in education, science, sanitation and health, and culture. In addition to work teams, units eligible for Ch'llima citations included entire factories, factory workshops, and such self-contained units as a ship or a railroad station. The "socialist competition" among the industrial sectors, enterprises, farms, and work teams under the Ch'llima Movement frantically sought to complete the Five-Year Plan (1957-60), but instead created chaotic disruptions in the economy. The disruptions made it necessary to set aside 1959 as a "buffer year" to restore balance in the economy.

Although the Ch'llima Movement was replaced in the early 1960s by the Ch'ongsan-ni Method and the Taean Work System, the regime's reliance on some form of mass campaign continued into the early 1990s. Campaigns conducted after the Ch'llima Movement have been narrower in scope and have concentrated on specific time frames for a particular industry or economic sector. Often, the mass production movement takes the form of a "speed battle"-- the "100-day speed battle" being most common. The fact that the leadership has to resort to these campaigns points to the weakness or improper functioning of the regular day-to-day management system, as well as to a lack of incentives for workers to achieve the desired economic results. The leadership frequently resorts to speed battles toward the end of a certain period (such as a month, a year, or a particular economic plan) to reach production targets. The "Speed of the 1990s" is designed to carry out the economic goals of the decade.

North Korea

North Korea - INDUSTRY

North Korea

North Korea's self-reliant development strategy assigned top priority to developing heavy industry, with parallel development in agriculture and light industry. This policy was achieved mainly by giving heavy industry preferential allocation of state investment funds. More than 50 percent of state investment went to the industrial sector during the 1954-76 period (47.6 percent, 51.3 percent, 57.0 percent, and 49.0 percent, respectively, during the Three-Year Plan, Five-Year Plan, First Seven-Year Plan, and Six-Year Plan). As a result, gross industrial output grew rapidly.

As was the case with the growth in national output, the pace of growth has slowed markedly since the 1960s. The rate declined from 41.7 percent and 36.6 percent a year during the Three-Year Plan and Five-Year Plan, respectively, to 12.8 percent, 16.3 percent, and 12.2 percent, respectively, during the First SevenYear Plan, Six-Year Plan, and Second Seven-Year Plan. As a result of faster growth in industry, that sector's share in total national output increased from 16.8 percent in 1946 to 57.3 percent in 1970. Since the 1970s, industry's share in national output has remained relatively stable. From all indications, the pace of industrialization during the Third Seven-Year Plan up to 1991 is far below the planned rate of 9.6 percent. In 1990 it was estimated that the industrial sector's share of national output was 56 percent.

Industry's share of the combined total of gross agricultural and industrial output climbed from 28 percent in 1946 to well over 90 percent in 1980. Heavy industry received more than 80 percent of the total state investment in industry between 1954 and 1976 (81.1 percent, 82.6 percent, 80 percent, and 83 percent, respectively, during the Three-Year Plan, Five-Year Plan, First Seven-Year Plan, and Six-Year Plan), and was overwhelmingly favored over light industry.

North Korea claims to have fulfilled the Second Seven-Year Plan (1978-84) target of raising the industrial output in 1984 to 120 percent of the 1977 target, equivalent to an average annual growth rate of 12.2 percent. Judging from the production of major commodities that form the greater part of industrial output, however, it is unlikely that this happened. For example, the increase during the 1978-84 plan period for electric power, coal, steel, metal-cutting machines, tractors, passenger cars, chemical fertilizers, chemical fibers, cement, and textiles, respectively, was 78 percent, 50 percent, 85 percent, 67 percent, 50 percent, 20 percent, 56 percent, 80 percent, 78 percent, and 45 percent.

Development in Major Sectors

Growth in total industrial output was accompanied by changes in the composition of industry, but large gaps and inconsistencies in official statistics made it impossible to assess specific changes accurately. In 1965, the last year for which data were available for several sectors, the machine building and metal processing sector--the "engineering sector"-- accounted for the largest share of total industrial production-- 29 percent. This figure was a dramatic change from 1946, when the share of this sector was only 5.1 percent. Machinery building was regarded as the key to industrialization. The next largest shares in total industrial production in 1965 were 17.2 percent for textiles and 9.1 percent for the food processing and luxury goods industries. The share of the machinery manufacturing industry increased further to 33.7 percent of gross industrial output in 1980. Although the production of consumer goods was given more emphasis in the 1970s and 1980s, most economic resources continue to be devoted to the production of minerals, metals, and heavy machinery. In fact, most industry is located around the major mining and machinery manufacturing centers that form the focal points of the transportation and communications networks. At the start of the 1990s, the country had a variety of relatively well developed industries, and in per capita production of some industrial items was comparable to those of many middle-income countries.

Mining and Metal Processing

The economy depends to a considerable degree on the extraction of its many mineral resources for fuels, industrial raw materials, and metal processing as well as for exports. Anthracite coal, with estimated reserves of 1.8 billion tons, is the most abundant of the country's mineral resources. It is produced in large quantity for both domestic consumption and export. Coal mines, largely concentrated in South P'yngan Province, produced 68 million tons and 22 million tons, respectively, of anthracite and the less abundant lignite coal in 1990. Despite a fairly steady increase in the 1980s, coal production has not been able to catch up with rising demand. This situation has created a persistent energy shortage because the country relies on coal as its main energy source and lacks any reserves of oil or gas.

The lagging coal industry remains a major bottleneck. The aging of existing mining equipment and facilities, the inefficiency that arises from the increasing need to mine deeper seams, and a lack of modern, efficient equipment are the primary reasons for the production lag in extractive industries. The persistence of these problems prompted Kim Il Sung to stress the importance of developing the mining and power industries and rail transport even in his 1992 New Year's address--the same theme he has repeated annually in his New Year's address for at least the previous fifteen years.

Because of the lack of domestic reserves, the country continues to rely on foreign sources for bituminous coal. Toward the end of the 1980s, China was the chief source of coking coal, followed by the Soviet Union.

The Anju District coal mining complex is the leading coal producer. A large-scale open-pit mine was being developed in the Anju District in 1990. High-quality anthracite deposits are located in the Paegam District of Yanggang Province, and have estimated reserves of at least 1 million tons. Coal deposits amounting to 10 million tons also exist in Chunbi, T'- gol, and Kangdong in Kangdong District.

With estimated reserves of 400 million tons, iron ore continues to be important for domestic industry and is a major source of foreign exchange. According to Western estimates, annual iron ore output increased from 8 million tons in 1985 to 10 million tons in 1990. In the 1980s, new mines were added at Tksng and Shae-ri; they supplemented older mines at Musan, nryul, Tkch'n, Chaeryng, and Hasng, all of which received considerable state investment. The expansion projects started in early 1988 to increase the production capacity of the Musan Mining Complex to 10 millions tons per year were completed in 1989. The long-term annual output target, however, is 15 million tons. The Chngp'yng Mine in South Hamgyng Province was commissioned to produce ores in February 1991.

North Korea possesses the largest and some of the best quality magnesite deposits in the world--an estimated 490 million tons. The mining of magnesite is important for the domestic industrial ceramics industry and for exports. Magnesite mines are concentrated in the Tanch'n District in South Hamgyng Province; annual output of magnesite in 1990 was estimated at 1.5 million tons. With the completion of expansion projects of the Tanch'n Magnesia Plant and the construction of the Unsng Crushing and Screening Plant in 1987, the production capacity of magnesia increased to 2 million tons annually. The government also began efforts to expand output capacity of magnesia in the Taehng District toward the end of the 1980s.

Other important minerals are lead, zinc, tungsten, mercury, copper, phosphate, gold, silver, and sulfur; manganese, graphite, apatite, fluorite, barite, limestone, and talc also are found in great supply. Zinc and lead ingots, among the leading exports, are produced at domestic smelting plants in Tanch'n, Namp'o, Haeju, and Munpyng. With a capacity of 15 million tons, the K mdk Mining Complex in South Hamgyng Province is one of the leading producers. An estimated 200,000 tons of high-grade electrolytic zinc and an estimated 80,000 tons of lead were produced in 1990.

A joint venture project to redevelop the Unsan Gold Mine was unveiled in March 1987. The successful reexploitation of the mine, originally opened by a United States firm in 1896, with deposits estimated at more than 1,000 tons, could make it one of the world's major gold mines.

Building materials, such as the cement used in almost every construction project, are manufactured in large as well as smallscale local industrial plants. Annual cement output was estimated at 11.77 million tons and 12.02 millon tons, respectively, in 1989 and 1990.


The machine building industry grew rapidly beginning in the mid-1950s and had become the most important industrial sector by 1960. It supplies machinery needed for domestic industry and agriculture, such as tractors and other farm machinery, as well as an extensive range of military equipment. Production levels since the early 1960s, however, have been disappointing. The output of metal cutting machines reached 30,000 units in 1975, but was far below the planned target of 50,000 units in 1984. Output in 1990 was estimated at 35,000 units. Similarly, the output of tractors in 1984 was estimated to be less than 40,000 units, below the Second Seven-Year Plan target of 45,000 units per year. Annual automobile production in 1990 was estimated at 33,000 units.

The quality of machinery generally is considered below international standards. Some of the largest machinery plants are the Yongsng Machinery Works and the Rakwn Machinery Works. The Taean Heavy Machinery Works, built during the Second Seven-Year Plan (1978-84) with Soviet assistance, is the country's largest machinery plant.

During the Third Seven-Year Plan (1987-93), the government plans to modernize the machinery industry by introducing hightechnology and high-speed precision machines and equipment. For example, it was reported in 1990 that the H ich'n Machine Tool General Works had completed a flexible manufacturing process by introducing robots into the plant's numerically controlled machine tools and that the Ch'ngjin Machine Tool Plant and others were hastening to do the same. The Third Seven-Year Plan calls for an increase of 150 percent in machinery output, slightly higher than the claimed increase of 130 percent during the previous plan.

Utilizing the country's relatively abundant iron ore, the steel industry is a major industrial sector. The Kimch'aek Integrated Iron and Steel Works has surpassed the Hwanghae Iron Works to become the largest steel and iron center. The planned annual production targets for the Second Seven-Year Plan of 6.4 million tons to 7 million tons of pig-iron and granulated iron, 7.4 million tons to 9 million tons of crude steel, and 5.6 million tons to 6 million tons of rolled and structural steel were not met. Estimated output of crude and rolled steel in 1990 was 5.9 million tons and 4 million tons, respectively. Outdated technology, a lack of coking coal, and the low purity of domestic iron ore created serious problems for the iron and steel industry. These difficulties forced the government to scale down the crude steel target by the end of the Third Seven-Year Plan compared with the earlier target of 15 million tons by the end of the 1980s. Completion of the second-stage expansion of Kimch'aek in 1988 reportedly increased the output capacity of the complex to 5 million tons or more per year. New expansion projects completed in 1989 added a 100-ton converter, an oxygen plant, and other production and auxiliary systems.

Capacity expansion projects have been under way at the Ch'ngjin and Ch'llima steel complexes. In October 1989, the Large Size Stamp-Forging Plant of the Ch'llima Steel Complex, with a capacity of 2 million tons a year and equipped with a 100,000-ton press, began operation. An expansion project completed in 1989 at the S ngri General Motor Works quadrupled the production capacity of the heavy duty trucks and plant manufactures.

The French-built Ch'ngnyn Integrated Chemical Works in the Anju District north of P'yongyang is the first petrochemical complex designed to produce ethylene, polyethylene, acrylonitrite, and urea. The nearby refinery at Unggi supplies the necessary crude petroleum. The Eight February Synthetic Fiber Integrated Plant, a large-scale complex, produces chemical fibers and has an annual capacity of 50,000 tons. A synthetic fiber complex in Sunch'n, the country's largest, began operation in 1989 after completing its first stage of construction. When all stages are completed, production capacity is expected to reach 100,000 tons of synthetic fiber, 1 million tons of calcium carbide, 750,000 tons of methanol, 900,000 tons of nitrogen fertilizers, 250,000 tons of caustic soda, 250,000 tons of vinyl chloride, and 400,000 tons of soda ash per year.

Light manufacturing has not kept pace with heavy industry. Since the 1970s, the leadership has begun to admit openly the backwardness of consumer goods in terms of quality and variety. The government's stress on providing adequate consumer goods continues into the early 1990s, but is not backed by any real efforts to divert state investment funds from heavy industrial projects. In his 1992 New Year's address, Kim Il Sung stressed achieving the people's long cherished desire that "all people might equally eat rice and meat soup regularly, wear silk clothes, and live in a house with a tiled roof." However, this was preceded by his exhortation that the most important and urgent tasks for 1992 were increasing the production of electricity and coal, and developing rail transport.

The textile industry, the most important light industrial sector, utilizes primarily locally produced synthetics and petrochemically based fibers, as well as cotton and silk. P'yongyang, the site of the P'yongyang Integrated Textile Mill, is the country's textile capital, but Siniju and Sariwn have been gaining in importance. During the Second Seven-Year Plan (1978-84), output of textile fabrics increased by 78 percent registered an annual growth rate of 8.6 percent, and, according to official claims, achieved the 1984 target of 800 million meters. However, foreign estimates placed textile output in 1990 at only 670 million meters. During the Second Seven-Year Plan, knitted goods, particularly those using domestically produced acrylic fibers, were emphasized. Efforts to expand the production capacity of knitwear continue in the Third Seven-Year Plan (1987- 93). By modernizing existing equipment and installing new spinning and weaving machines, the government plans to increase the annual output of textiles to 1.5 billion meters by 1993. Judging from the 1990 level of output, it is unlikely that this target will be fulfilled.

The Third Seven-Year Plan emphasizes synthetic fiber production based on indigenous technology using coal and limestone, and on the production of chemical fiber based on petrochemistry. The government has called for accelerating the expansion projects at both the Siniju and Ch'ngjin chemical fiber complexes. The planned annual output target for chemical fibers in the Third Seven-Year Plan is 225,000 tons while the output for synthetic resin and plasticizer is targeted at 500,000 tons. Foreign estimates place the output of chemical fibers in 1990 at 177,000 tons. North Korea also has a chemical weapons capability.

Since the early 1960s, local industry has been the major supplier of consumer goods and foodstuffs. With the introduction of the August Third People's Consumer Goods Production Movement, in effect since 1984, the government's policy of developing small- and medium-scale local industrial plants simultaneously with large-scale, centrally controlled light industrial plants continues into the 1990s.

North Korea


North Korea

The task of increasing agricultural production beyond simple recovery from the Korean War was not easy. The country's sparse agricultural resources limit agricultural growth. Climate, terrain, and soil conditions are not particularly favorable for farming. Only about 18 percent of the total landmass, or approximately 2.2 million hectares, is arable; the major portion of the country is rugged mountain terrain. The weather varies markedly according to elevation, and lack of precipitation, along with infertile soil, makes land at elevations higher than 400 meters unsuitable for purposes other than grazing. Precipitation is geographically and seasonally irregular, and in most parts of the country as much as half the annual rainfall occurs in the three summer months. This pattern favors the cultivation of paddy rice in warmer regions that are outfitted with irrigation and flood control networks. Where these conditions are lacking, however, farmers have to substitute other grains for the traditional favorite.

Farming is concentrated in the flatlands of the four west coast provinces, where a longer growing season, level land, adequate rainfall, and good, irrigated soil permit the most intensive cultivation of crops. A narrow strip of similarly fertile land runs through the eastern seaboard Hamgyng provinces and Kangwn Province, but the interior provinces of Chagang and Yanggang are too mountainous, cold, and dry to allow much farming. The mountains, however, contain the bulk of North Korea's forest reserves while the foothills within and between the major agricultural regions provide lands for livestock grazing and fruit tree cultivation.

Since self-sufficiency remains an important pillar of North Korean ideology, self-sufficiency in food production is deemed a worthy goal. Another aim of government policies--to reduce the "gap" between urban and rural living standards--requires continued investment in the agricultural sector. Finally, as in most countries, changes in the supply or prices of foodstuffs probably are the most conspicuous and sensitive economic concerns for the average citizen. The stability of the country depends on steady, if not rapid, increases in the availability of food items at reasonable prices. In the early 1990s, there also were reports of severe food shortages.

The most far-reaching statement on agricultural policy is embodied in Kim Il Sung's 1964 "Theses on the Socialist Agrarian Question in Our Country," which underscores the government's concern for agricultural development. Kim emphasized technological and educational progress in the countryside as well as collective forms of ownership and management. As industrialization progressed, the share of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries in the total national output declined from 63.5 percent and 31.4 percent, respectively, in 1945 and 1946, to a low of 26.8 percent in 1990. Their share in the labor force also declined from 57.6 percent in 1960 to 34.4 percent in 1989.

Resource Development

Resource development in agriculture is a crucial means for increasing agricultural production, recognizing the unfavorable natural endowments--topography, climate, and soil. This development consists of what North Koreans call "nature-remaking" projects. These projects generally increase the quantity of arable land, and rural investment projects, which, in turn, increase the yield of the available land through increased capital and improved technology. "Nature-remaking" projects include irrigation, flood control, and land reclamation. Rural investment projects consist of mechanization, electrification, and "chemicalization"--that is, the increased use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Despite priority allocation of state funds for heavy industry, North Korea has achieved considerable success in irrigation since the Korean War. Irrigation projects began with paddy fields and then continued to non-paddy fields. Irrigated land increased from 227,000 hectares in 1954 to 1.2 million hectares in 1988. North Korea claimed that paddy field irrigation was completed by 1970. In 1990 there were more than 1,700 reservoirs throughout the country, watering 1.4 million hectares of fields with a ramified irrigation network of 40,000 kilometers, which irrigated about 70 percent of the country's arable land. Water-jetting irrigation of non-paddy fields was introduced in the 1980s. In 1989 construction began on a 400- kilometer canal by diverting the flow of the Taedong River along its west coast.

Rural electrification has progressed rapidly. The proportion of villages supplied with electricity increased from 47 percent in 1953 to 92 percent of all villages by the end of 1961. The process of extending electrical lines to the rural areas reportedly was completed in 1970. The annual supply of electricity to the rural areas reached 2.5 billion kilowatt-hours toward the end of the 1980s.

Mechanization is another agricultural target. By 1984 mechanization had reached the level of seven tractors per 100 hectares in the plains and six tractors per 100 hectares in the intermediate and mountainous areas. The fact that the same tractor ratios are quoted in official pronouncements of the early 1990s probably indicates that there is no further improvement in these ratios, and that the planned target of ten tractors per 100 hectares by the end of the Second Seven-Year Plan in 1984 still has not been met. Given the disappointing output record of tractors in recent years, it is doubtful that the target of ten to twelve tractors per 100 hectares will be fulfilled by the end of the Third Seven-Year Plan in 1993. Nonetheless, North Korea claimed that 95 percent of rice planting was mechanized and that there were 5.5 rice transplanting machines per 100 hectares of paddy fields in 1990.

Chemical fertilizers receive much government attention and investment because of their importance for agriculture. Most fertilizers are produced by the enormous fertilizer plant in H ngnam, which has an annual capacity of 1 million tons. According to official claims, the output of 4.7 million tons in 1984 compared with 3 million tons in 1976, had fulfilled the 1978-84 plan target. Judging from a foreign estimate of 3.5 million tons in 1990, however, production of chemical fertilizers has been deteriorating. The Sariwn Potassium Fertilizer Complex, which has an annual capacity of 3 million tons of potassium feldspar, began construction in 1988 and when completed is expected to raise the country's potassium fertilizer capacity to 500,000 tons, aluminum capacity to 420,000 tons, and cement capacity to 10 million tons per year. In his 1991 New Year's address, Kim Il Sung noted that the complex still was under construction.

By 1977 the "chemicalization" process had increased the average fertilizer application to 1.3 tons per hectare and 1.2 tons per hectare, respectively, for paddy and non-paddy fields, and the 1984 target of two tons per hectare was claimed to have been achieved. The target of the Third Seven-Year Plan is to increase the rate to 2.5 tons. In a 1991 "advisory note" addressing the North Korean economy for the years 1992-96, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the only international agency resident in P'yongyang, warned that the practice of intensive chemicalization has led to land degradation--that is, declining soil fertility, falling organic matter content, erosion and soil acidification, and water pollution, with resulting environmental damage.

The objectives of the "nature-remaking program" launched in 1976 are to complete the irrigation of non-paddy lands, to reclaim 100,000 hectares of new land, to build 150,000 hectares to 200,000 hectares of terraced fields, to reclaim tidal land, and to conduct afforestation and water conservation projects. The reclamation of 6,200 hectares of tideland at Taedong Bay was underway as part of the 1987-93 plan to reclaim a total of 300,000 hectares of tidal land. The largest land reclamation scheme, the West Sea Barrage, involves an eight-kilometer-long sea wall across the Taedong River, and was completed in June 1986. The multipurpose project, five years in construction at a reported cost of US$4 billion, consists of a main dam, three locks, and thirty-six sluices, and reportedly was the longest dam in the world as of 1992.

Production and Distribution of Crops and Livestock

The total cropland of about 2.2 million hectares is overwhelmingly planted with grains, of which rice accounted for 30.1 percent in 1989-90. Official data on cropland distribution and agricultural production are scanty, and there are discrepancies in the methods of calculating the weight of rice (husked or unhusked). North Korea claims to have produced 10 million tons of grains in 1984. The grain output in 1989 was estimated at 12.04 million tons by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. In 1989 the output of the two most important crops, rice and corn, was estimated at 6.4 million tons and 3 million tons, respectively. The output of potatoes was 2.05 million tons in 1989. Other important crops are wheat, barley, millet, sorghum, oats, and rye. Corn grows in most areas, except for parts of Yanggang and North Hamgyng provinces. Barley and wheat are cultivated mostly in both Hwanghae provinces and in South P'yngan Province. Rice is exported, but other grains, such as wheat, are imported. P'yongyang's goal is to increase the grain output to 15 million tons by 1993.

Major rice production centers are located in the provinces of North and South Hwanghae and in the provinces of North and South P'yngan. North Korea's climate precludes double-cropping of rice in most areas, and different methods had to be devised to increase productivity. One method is to use cold-bed seeding, a process that enables farmers to begin rice growing before the regular season by planting seedlings in protected, dry beds.

Fruits, vegetables, and livestock also are important, particularly around cities and in upland areas unsuited to grain cultivation. Fruit orchards are concentrated in both Hamgyng provinces, South P'yngan Province, and South Hwanghae Province. Soybeans, whose output was around 450,000 tons toward the end of the 1980s, are raised in many parts of the country, but primarily in South P'yngan Province.

The post-Korean War trend of increasing the share of livestock in the total value of agricultural output continued during the 1980s, judging from the steady growth, which outpaced grain production. Cattle are raised in the mountainous parts of the two P'yngan provinces, and sheep and goats are kept in the rugged areas of the two Hamgyng provinces and in Yanggang and Kangwn provinces. Pigs and poultry, probably the most important types of livestock, are raised near P'yongyang and in North P'yngan and South Hwanghae provinces. The government is particularly proud of its large chicken farms.

According to a 1988 agreement with the UNDP, North Korea was to receive livestock aid from the UNDP, along with assistance in modernizing vegetable farms, fruit production and storage, rice cultivation, and construction of a fish farm and soil and plant experimental stations. A rice nursery and a vegetable research institute began operation in March 1991. The Third Seven-Year Plan called for attaining an annual output of 1.7 million tons of meat, 7 billion eggs, and 2 million tons of fruit by 1993.

In the early 1990s, there were persistent reports of severe food shortages as a result of several years of consecutive crop failures, coupled with distribution problems that had serious consequences for food rationing. An indirect admission of food shortages came in Kim Il Sung's 1992 New Year's address, in which he defined 1992 as the "year of put-greater-efforts-into- agriculture" in order to provide the population with sufficient food.

Organization and Management

Efforts to increase agricultural production include a variety of experiments with land tenure, farm organization, and managerial techniques. Following a typical communist pattern, land initially was redistributed to tillers in a sweeping land reform in 1946 soon after the communists took over the country. By 1958 private farming, which ironically was given a boost by land reform, was completely collectivized.

The Land Reform Act of March 1946 had, in the remarkably short period of one month, abolished tenancy and confiscated and redistributed more than 1 million hectares of land. The government reallocated most of the land formerly owned by the Japanese colonists and all properties exceeding five hectares to individual farming households. The number of peasant holdings increased dramatically, but the average size of individual holdings dropped from 2.4 hectares to 1.4 hectares. It was difficult to determine the effect of such massive land distribution on production because the Korean War interrupted farming in the early 1950s. The reform, however, was quickly replaced by a drive for collectivization.

During the 1954-58 transition period, farm holdings went through three progressively collective phases: "permanent mutualaid teams," "semisocialist cooperatives," and "complete socialist cooperatives." In the final stage, all land and farm implements are owned collectively by the members of each cooperative. The pace of collectivization quickened during 1956, and by the end of that year about 80 percent of all farmland was cooperatively owned. By the time this process was completed in August 1958, more than 13,300 cooperatives with an average of eighty households and 130 hectares of land dotted the countryside. Only two months later, however, the government increased the size of the average cooperative to 300 households managing 500 hectares of land through consolidation of all farms in each ri, or ni (village, the lowest administrative unit) into one. As a result, the number of cooperatives decreased but their average size increased. Judging from the timing of the consolidation of farms, this sudden decision to increase the size of the cooperatives appears to have been influenced by the introduction of communes in China. Newly consolidated farms established and operated such nonagricultural institutions as clinics, rest homes, day nurseries, schools, and community dining halls.

Each cooperative farm elects a management committee to oversee all aspects of farm activity, including retail services and marketing, and the local party committee closely supervises its management. The party committee chairman usually is the vice chairman of the management committee. Within the management committee, an auditing unit wields the most power and controls the management of farm accounts, work points, cooperative shops, and credit facilities. Auditors report to the plenary session of the management committee as well as to county authorities.

The basic unit of production and accounting on the cooperative farm is the work team, which is further divided into subteams. Most cooperatives have several agricultural work teams and at least one animal husbandry work team. In some cooperatives, work teams or subteams specialize in vegetable farming, sericulture, fruit cultivation, aquaculture, or other activities. Work is allocated to teams and subteams according to physical ability. Most able-bodied men and women are assigned to rice growing units, which require the most effort. Wages are distributed in both cash and kind.

State farms are considered the more ideologically "advanced" agricultural organizations. Both the means of production and output are state owned, and farmers receive standardized wages on the basis of an eight-hour workday rather than shares of production. Managers of state farms, appointed by the state farm bureau of the national-level Agricultural Committee, run the farms as if they were industrial enterprises. State farms often are coterminous with a county and are model farms that experiment with new cropping methods or specialize in livestock or fruit production. Their larger scale allows for greater mechanization, and their output per worker is undoubtedly higher because their operations are more efficient than those of the rural cooperative farms. State farms attempt to integrate all county agricultural and industrial activities into one complementary and integrated management system. Utilizing about 10 percent of the country's total cropland, they contribute about 20 percent of total agricultural output. Kim Il Sung often stresses the need for transforming agriculture from cooperative ownership to "allpeople 's" or state ownership, but as of 1993 no action had been taken to change cooperative farms to state farms.

Dissatisfied with low levels of agricultural production, the government developed a new administrative structure to perform for the rural cooperatives what the management of state farms is supposed to have accomplished. The county Cooperative Farm Management Committee, established in 1962, took over all the economic functions of the county people's committees. The new committee was to bring agricultural management closer to the ideal "industrial method," by "the strengthening of technical guidance of production and the planification and systematization of all management activities of the enterprise."

The composition of the management committee varies from county to county, but the staff usually consists of agronomists, technicians, directors of county agricultural agencies, and, where appropriate, forestry and fishery agents. The function of the committee is to set production targets for the cooperatives within its jurisdiction, allocate resources and materials necessary to achieve these goals, and monitor the payment of wage shares and the collection of receipts. County managers report to their counterparts at the provincial-level Rural Management Committee, who in turn direct all their reports to the General Bureau for Cooperative Farm Guidance at the national-level Agricultural Committee.

In spite of lagging agricultural output, there have been no significant changes in the agricultural organization and management system in place since the early 1960s. Furthermore, as exemplified by Kim Il Sung's exhortation to strengthen the application of the Ch'ongsan-ni Method of farming, no fundamental changes in the agricultural incentive system have been introduced. The strategy for achieving greater agricultural production continues to emphasize "industrialization" of agriculture through increased irrigation, fertilizer use, and mechanization while maintaining the existing administrative, management, and incentive systems.

<> Forestry
<> Fisheries

North Korea

North Korea - Forestry

North Korea

North Korea's forests have a variety of trees and other plant life. Predominant trees include larch, poplar, oak, alder, pine, spruce, and fir. In the early 1990s, approximately 80 percent of the total area of the country, or 9.4 million hectares, was made up of forests and woodlands; over 70 percent of these reserves were in the mountainous Hamgyng provinces, and in Yanggang and Chagang provinces. Much of this area was severely damaged by overcutting during the last years of Japanese colonial rule and by the effects of the Korean War. The government has promoted afforestation projects to make up for these losses, and during the First Seven-Year Plan an estimated 914,000 hectares were planted, with an average of 2,900 trees per hectare. In the early 1970s, however, the rate of afforestation dropped to about 10,000 hectares per year.

Timber production was estimated at 600,000 cubic meters in 1977, basically unchanged since the late 1960s. In 1987, however, timber production was estimated at 3 million cubic meters. The amount of fuelwood available for rural households increased by 11 percent from 1970 to 1977, when approximately 4.6 million cubic meters were used for heating.

The Ministry of Forestry was established in 1980 to oversee the development of the forestry industry. The ministry sent agents to the county level to manage the rotation of harvest and replanting. Since the 1980s, almost no official quantitative information on forestry has been forthcoming. The government failed to mention the performance of the forestry sector in its report on the fulfillment of the Second Seven-Year Plan, and the Third Seven-Year Plan does not even contain any reference to forestry.

North Korea

North Korea - Fisheries

North Korea

North Korea's coastline of about 2,495 kilometers, mixture of warm and cold ocean currents, and many rivers, lakes, and streams make its potential for fishery development better than for most other countries. Not until the early 1960s, however, did the domestic fishing industry begin to expand rapidly, receiving increased investment in vessels, equipment, and port facilities. Total marine products increased from 465,000 tons in 1960 to 1.14 million tons in 1970, registering an annual growth rate of 9.4 percent compared with the planned rate of 14.5 percent. The SixYear Plan target of 1.6 million tons was met in 1976, as was the target of 3.5 million tons for the Second Seven-Year Plan in 1984. The output target for the Third Seven-Year Plan was 11 million tons by 1993, including a catch of 3 million tons of fish. With an estimated total output of 1.5 million tons in 1990, down from 1.6 million tons in 1989, it is highly unlikely that the 1993 target for marine products will be met.

The major fishing grounds are in the coastal areas of the Sea of Japan, or East Sea, to the east and the Yellow Sea to the west. Deep-sea fishing began in earnest in the 1970s. The principal catch from the Sea of Japan is pollack, a favorite fish of most Koreans; sardine and squid catches also are significant. From the west coast, yellow covina and hairtail are the most common varieties of fish. Deep-sea catches include herring, mackerel, pike, and yellowtail. The main fishery ports are Sinp'o, Kimch'aek and the nearby deep-sea fishery bases of Yanghwa and Hongwn. Most large-scale storage and canning facilities also are located on the east coast. Besides the fishery stations, smaller fishery cooperatives are located along both coasts in traditional fishing centers. Aquaculture and freshwater fishing take place on regular cooperative farms.

In order to expand marine products, the Third Seven-Year Plan calls for modernizing the fishery industry. Specifically, the plan urges increasing the numbers of 14,000-ton class processing ships, 3,750-ton class stern-trawlers, and 1,000-ton and 480-ton class fishing vessels, as well as generally increasing the size of vessels. The government also called for widespread introduction of modern fishing implements and rationalizing the fishery labor system. Improvements also are slated for expanding and modernizing the cold-storage and processing facilities in order to facilitate speedy processing of catches. The slow progress in state investment, combined with the shortages of oil, are the main factors in the disappointing record of marine output in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

North Korea

North Korea - ENERGY

North Korea

An abundance of coal and water resources has allowed North Korea to build a well-developed electrical power network. North Korea's preeminence as an energy producer began during the Japanese occupation with the Sup'ung Hydroelectric Plant, located in the northwest; at the time the plant was the largest of its kind in Asia. North Korea supplied more than 90 percent of the electricity in the Korean Peninsula before partition.

Since the 1970s, the country has increasingly turned to coal as an energy source. Compared with hydroelectrical plants, coalbased thermal plants can be built at locations near industrial and population centers at lower initial costs, require shorter construction time, and are not subject to instability arising from periods of drought.

Thermal plants tend to be less efficient and have higher operating costs. North Korea's installed generating capacity was estimated at 7.14 million kilowatts in 1990, with 60 percent-- 4.29 million kilowatts--from hydropower and the remainder from thermal sources. With output estimated at 50 billion kilowatthours (Kwh) and 55 billion Kwh, in 1984 and 1988, respectively, the Second Seven-Year Plan target of 56 billion Kwh to 60 billion Kwh had not yet been fulfilled five years after the plan had ended. It is therefore unlikely that the 1993 target of 100 billion Kwh will be realized.

The only oil-fired thermal plant is at Unggi, near the Russian border. The 200-megawatt plant receives its fuel oil from the nearby Unggi refinery, which uses crude petroleum imported from Russia.

In the early 1990s, many power plants were under construction, including the T'aech'n power station, in the northwest, reportedly to be the largest hydroelectric plant in North Korea when completed. Other large-scale projects include the Kmgang-san, Hch'n, Nam-gang, Kmyagang, and Orang-ch'on plants. In addition, thermal power plants such as the East P'yongyang Power Plant and the Hamh ng Power Plant were under construction in the early 1990s. Four large hydroelectric plants- -some built with Chinese aid--are situated along the Yalu River; they supply power jointly to both countries.

In 1986 the Soviet Union announced that it was building a 1,760-megawatt nuclear power plant in North Korea. According to South Korean sources, the construction of the plant began in 1990 in the Sinp'o District. Completion of the plant, originally targeted for 1992, is in doubt because of pressure exerted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and termination of assistance from the former Soviet Union, which is burdened with its own economic difficulties. Wood-burning is still significant for domestic heating and related purposes.

There are no domestic oil reserves. The capacity of North Korea's two oil refineries totals 4.5 million tons a year. Oil is imported from China and the Soviet Union by pipeline, and from Iran by sea. Because both Russia and China have insisted on hard currency payments at international prices for oil since 1991, Iran is becoming the major oil source under a 1989 agreement to supply 40,000 barrels of oil per day.

North Korea


North Korea

Foreign economic relations have been shaped largely by chuch'e ideology and the development strategy of building a virtually autarkic economy. These factors have led to an inward-looking and import-substituting trade policy, which has resulted in a small scale of foreign trade and a chronic trade deficit. North Korea's main trade partners have been communist countries, principally the Soviet Union and China, and Japan has been a major trading partner since the 1960s.

Although still adhering to the basic principle of selfreliance , P'yongyang is flexible in its application whenever the economic need arises. After the Korean War, North Korea received a substantial amount of economic aid from communist countries for reconstructing its war-torn economy. In the early 1970s, the country accepted a massive infusion of advanced machinery and equipment from Western Europe and Japan in an effort to modernize its economy and to catch up with South Korea. By the late 1980s, P'yongyang had moved towards making exporting a priority in order to garner foreign exchange so as to be able to import advanced technologies needed for industrial growth and to pay for oil imports.

The most recent and important manifestation of a flexible and practical application of self-reliance--prompted by severe economic difficulties--is the gradual move toward an open-door policy. This policy shift, which involves North Korea's attitudes toward foreign trade, tourism, direct foreign investment, joint ventures, and economic cooperation with South Korea, has the potential to significantly change the country's foreign economic relations.

The importance of trading with Western developed countries was expounded by Kim Il Sung as early as 1975. The origin of the open-door policy, however, was Kim Il Sung's 1979 New Year's address, in which he mentioned the need to expand foreign trade rapidly in order to meet the requirements of an expanding economy. Kim publicly alluded to some serious problems impeding North Korean exports, exhorting the population to adhere to a reliability-first principle: improving product quality, strictly meeting delivery dates, and expanding harbor facilities and the number of cargo vessels. In his 1980 New Year's address, Kim repeated this theme and announced that foreign trade had increased 30 percent in 1979 over 1978. This speech marked the first time in a decade that trade statistics had been made public--even in this limited and relative form. Unexpectedly and uncharacteristically, North Korea joined the UNDP in 1979 and accepted US$8.85 million in technical assistance. This action was further evidence of a small opening to outside economic involvement.

The year 1984 was the benchmark in officially launching the open-door policy. The Supreme People's Assembly's policy statement, entitled "For Strengthening South-South Cooperation and External Economic Work and Further Developing Foreign Trade," stressed the need to expand economic relations with the developing world as well as to promote economic and technical cooperation with advanced industrial countries. The document also repeated the export bottlenecks listed by Kim in his 1979 and 1980 New Year's addresses. North Korea indicated its readiness to accept direct foreign investment by enacting a joint venture law in 1984. And, since 1986, the country has begun to encourage tourism by accepting some tour groups from the West.

The most far-reaching change in foreign economic relations occurred in 1988 when North Korea began to trade with South Korea. Inter-Korean trade has grown rapidly, and by 1993 the two Koreas expanded into joint ventures and other forms of economic cooperation. North Korea's readiness to open its economy to the West and to South Korea is, no doubt, prompted by its need to import sophisticated Western industrial equipment, plants, and up-to-date technologies in order to modernize and jump-start the economy, and to catch up with South Korea. Given its sizable foreign debt, sagging exports, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, its largest trade partner, North Korea does not have much choice and recognizes the need to revise its trade laws so as to encourage foreign investment.

<> Economic Assistance

North Korea

North Korea - Economic Assistance

North Korea

Economic assistance from communist countries plays an important role in securing resources for economic development. Estimates vary, but it is likely that the equivalent of US$4.75 billion of aid was accepted between 1946 and 1984. Almost 46 percent of the assistance came from the Soviet Union, followed by China with about 18 percent, and the rest from East European communist countries. Most of the assistance--about two-thirds--was in the form of loans; the rest were outright grants. Understandably, grants dominated in the years immediately after the Korean War, but subsequently loans became the predominant form of aid. Whereas in 1954 aid receipts made up one-third of national revenues, by 1960 foreign assistance had dropped to less than 3 percent of total revenues. Officially, declining foreign aid in the 1960s was blamed for being partly responsible for poor economic performance during the First Seven-Year Plan. In the 1970s, loans (for importing Western machinery and plants) from Japan and Western Europe were larger than those from communist countries. Grants, terminated since the 1960s, were restored when China gave approximately US$300 million between 1978 and 1984. In November 1990, China reportedly promised North Korea economic aid amounting to US$150 million over five years, largely made up of deliveries of grain and oil. North Korea receives no multilateral economic assistance other than from the UNDP.

Between 1949 and 1990, the Soviet Union helped North Korea build or rehabilitate 170 large plants in sectors such as power, mining, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, chemicals, construction materials, oil-refining, machinery, textiles, food, transportation, and communications. During the same period, these plants reportedly produced about 60 percent of all electric power, 40 percent of steel and rolled steel, 50 percent of oil products, 10 percent of coke, 13 percent of fertilizers, 19 percent of fabrics, and 40 percent of iron ore. Soviet assistance also was important in the construction of expanded port facilities at Najin. In addition, a total of 6,000 Soviet engineers and experts were sent to North Korea to train 20,000 Korean workers and 2,000 North Koreans received technical training in the Soviet Union.

Beginning in the late 1970s, Soviet assistance began to take the form of output-sharing ventures. Enterprises under these ventures include an enamel wire plant, a small electric motor plant, a car battery plant, a cold rolled steel shop, and a hot rolled steel shop at the Kimch'aek Integrated Iron and Steel Works. Under a buy-back arrangement, Soviet assistance for constructing industrial projects was paid for with commodities produced at the plants.

There were reports in 1978 that approximately 10,000 Chinese laborers were working on construction projects. Chinese workers had assisted in the construction of the Sup'ung and Unbong hydroelectric power stations, from which China also drew electricity.

In spite of its domestic economic difficulties, North Korea also is an aid donor on a fairly modest scale. Between 1980 and 1989, North Korea provided a total of approximately US$26.4 million in aid to Third World countries, of which almost 74 percent went to African countries in the form of technical agricultural assistance.

North Korea

North Korea - GOVERNMENT

North Korea

THE DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF KOREA (DPRK, or North Korea) was liberated from Japanese colonial rule by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II (1939-45). When Kim Il Sung, born April 15, 1912, returned to North Korea from the Soviet Union where he and his guerrillas had been based from 1941-45, the Soviet occupation forces in the northern part of the country presented him to the North Korean people as a hero. In mid-1993 Kim Il Sung was general secretary of North Korea's ruling party and president of the state.

North Korea is a classic example of the "rule of man." Overall, political management is highly personalized and is based on loyalty to Kim Il Sung and the Korean Workers' Party (KWP). The cult of personality, the nepotism of the Kim family, and the strong influence of former anti-Japanese partisan veterans and military leaders are unique features of North Korean politics.

Kim Il Sung's eldest son Kim Jong Il, born February 16, 1942, is a secretary of the KWP Central Committee Secretariat and chairman of the National Defense Commission. On December 24, 1991, Kim Jong Il succeeded his father as commander of the Korean People's Army.

In addition, as of mid-1993, Kim Il Sung's wife, Kim Song-ae, was a member of the KWP Central Committee, a member of the Standing Committee of the Supreme People's Assembly, a deputy to the assembly, and chairwoman of the Korean Democratic Women's Union Central Committee. Kim Il Sung's daughter, Kim Kyong-hui, was a member of the KWP Central Committee and deputy to the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), and his son-in-law, Chang Songtaek , was premier and a candidate member of the KWP Central Committee and deputy to the SPA. Kang Song-san, Kim Il Sung's cousin by marriage, was premier and a member of the KWP Central Committee and Political Bureau, deputy to the SPA, and member of the state Central People's Committee (CPC). The late Ho Tam, who died in 1991, was Kim Il Sung's brother-in-law, a member of the KWP Central Committee and Political Bureau, chairman of the SPA Foreign Affairs Committee, deputy to the SPA, and chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland.

Although the Korean communist party dates from the 1920s, North Korea claims that the KWP was founded by Kim Il Sung in 1945. Since that time, North Korea has been under the one-party rule of the KWP. The party is by far North Korea's most politically significant entity; its preeminence in all spheres of society places it beyond the reach of dissent or disagreement. Party membership is composed of the "advanced fighters" among North Korea's working people: workers, peasants, and working intellectuals who struggle devotedly for the success of the socialist and communist cause. The KWP claimed a membership of "over three million" people in 1988. The ruling elite considers KWP members the major mobilizing and developmental cadres. In principle, every worker, peasant, soldier, and revolutionary element can join the party. Among KWP members, however, the military has a major political role, and all key military leaders have prestigious positions in top party organs.

The political system originally was patterned after the Soviet model. The party is guided by the concept of chuch'e --"national self-reliance" in all activities. The essence of chuch'e is to apply creatively the general principles of Marxism and Leninism in the North Korean way (woorisik-dero salja). Chuch'e is a response to past political economic dependence. As historian DaeSook Suh has noted, chuch'e is "not the philosophical exposition of an abstract idea; rather it is firmly rooted in the North Korean people and Kim Il Sung."

In the decades since the departure of Soviet occupation forces in 1948, and as the party leadership gradually has grown more confident in its management of various problems, the system has been somewhat modified in response to specific domestic circumstances. In April 1992, North Korea promulgated an amended constitution that deleted Marxism and Leninism as principal national ideas and emphasized chuch'e. The constitutional revisions also granted supreme military power to the chairman of the National Defense Commission, Kim Il Sung.

Another salient feature of the country's political system is glorification of Kim Il Sung's authority and cult of personality. Kim uses the party and the government to consolidate his power. He is addressed by many honorary titles: the "great leader," the son of the nation, national hero, liberator, and the fatherly leader. According to the party, there can be no greater honor or duty than being loyal to him "absolutely and unconditionally." Kim's executive power is not checked by any constitutional provision. The party's principal concern is to ensure strict popular compliance with the policies of Kim Il Sung and the party; such compliance implants an appearance of institutional imprimatur on Kim's highly personalized and absolute rule. Politics as a function of competition for power by aspiring groups and promotion of the interests of special groups is not germane to the North Korean setting.

Personalism centers on Kim Il Sung, but he has been gradually preparing Kim Jong Il as heir apparent since 1971. Between 1971 and 1980, Kim Jong Il was given positions of increasing importance in the KWP hierarchy. Since the Sixth Party Congress in October 1980, Kim Jong Il's succession has been consolidated with his phased assumption of control over the civil administration, followed by his designation as supreme commander of the Korean People's Army in December 1991.


North Korea


North Korea

As of the early 1990s, the philosophy underlying the relationship between the government and the party had not changed since independence. Government organs are regarded as executors of the general line and policies of the party. They are expected to implement the policies and directives of the party by mobilizing the masses. All government officials or functionaries are exhorted to behave as servants of the people, rather than as overbearing "bureaucrats." The persistence in party literature of admonitory themes against formalism strongly suggests that authoritarian bureaucratic behavior remains a major source of concern to the party leadership. This concern may explain in part the party's intensified efforts since the early 1970s to wage an ideological struggle against the bureaucratic work style of officials. The general trend is toward tightened party control and supervision of all organs of administrative and economic policy implementation.

In January 1990, Kim Jong Il introduced the slogan "to serve the people" and directed party functionaries to mingle with the people and to devotedly work as faithful servants of the people. Kim said that the collapse of socialism in some countries is a stern lesson to North Korea and is related to failures in party building and party activity. He stressed the importance of reinforcing the party's ideological unity and cohesion, and elucidated tasks that would strengthen education in the principle of chuch'e, revolutionary traditional education, and socialist and patriotic education.

The party is the formulator of national purpose, priorities, and administrative hierarchy. It is the central coordinator of administrative and economic activities at the national and local levels. Through its own organizational channels, which permeate all government and economic agencies, the party continues to oversee administrative operations and enforce state discipline. Without exception, key government positions are filled by party loyalists, most of whom are trained in the North Korean system, which emphasizes ideology and practical expertise.

<>The Korean Workers' Party (KWP)
<>The Constitution

North Korea

North Korea - The Korean Workers' Party (KWP)

North Korea

The Korean Workers' Party (KWP) is North Korea's most politically significant entity. In theory, according to Article 21 of the Rules and Regulations of the Korean Workers' Party as revised in October 1980 (hereafter referred to as the party rules), the national party congress is the supreme party organ. The party congress approves reports of the party organs, adopts basic party policies and tactics, and elects members to the KWP Central Committee and the Central Auditing Committee. The election, however, is perfunctory because the members of these bodies are actually chosen by Kim Il Sung and his few trusted lieutenants. When the party congress is not in session, the Central Committee acts as the official agent of the party, according to Article 14 of the party rules. As of September 1992, the KWP had 160 Central Committee members and 143 Central Committee alternate (candidate) members. The Central Committee meets at least once every six months. Article 24 of the party rules stipulates that the Central Committee elects the general secretary of the party, members of the Political Bureau Presidium (or the Standing Committee), members of the Political Bureau (or Politburo), secretaries, members of the Central Military Commission, and members of the Central Inspection Committee. A party congress is supposed to be convened every five years, but as of 1993, one had not been held since the Sixth Party Congress of October 1980. Party congresses are attended by delegates elected by the members of provincial-level party assemblies at the ratio of one delegate for every 1,000 party members.

The long-delayed Sixth Party Congress, convened from October 10-14, 1980, was attended by 3,220 party delegates (3,062 full members and 158 alternate members) and 177 foreign delegates from 118 countries. Approximately 1,800 delegates attended the Fifth Party Congress in November 1970. The 1980 congress was convened by the KWP Central Committee to review, discuss, and endorse reports by the Central Committee, the Central Auditing Committee, and other central organs covering the activities of these bodies since the last congress.

The Sixth Party Congress reviewed and discussed the report on the work of the party in the ten years since the Fifth Party Congress. It also elected a new Central Committee. In his report to the congress, Kim Il Sung outlined a set of goals and policies for the 1980s. He proposed the establishment of a Democratic Confederal Republic of Kory as a reasonable way to achieve the independent and peaceful reunification of the country. Kim Il Sung also clarified a new ten-point policy for the unified state and stressed that North Korea and South Korea (the Republic of Korea, or ROK) should recognize and tolerate each other's ideas and social systems, that the unified central government should be represented by P'yongyang and Seoul on an equal footing, and that both sides should exercise regional autonomy with equal rights and duties. Specifically, the unified government should respect the social systems and the wishes of administrative organizations and of every party, every group, and every sector of people in the North and the South, and prevent one side from imposing its will on the other.

Kim Il Sung also emphasized the Three Revolutions, which were aimed at hastening the process of political and ideological transformation based on chuch'e ideology, improving the material and technical standards of the economy, and developing socialist national culture. According to Kim, these revolutions are the responsibility of the Three Revolution Team Movement--"a new method of guiding the revolution, which combined political and ideological guidance with scientific and technical guidance. This approach enabled the upper bodies to help the lower levels and rouse masses of the working people to accelerate the Three Revolutions." The teams perform their guidance work by sending their members to factories, enterprises, and cooperative farms. Their members are party cadres, including those from the KWP Central Committee, reliable officials of the government, persons from economic and mass organizations, scientists and technicians, and young intellectuals. Kim Il Sung left no question that the Three Revolution Team Movement had succeeded the Ch'llima Movement and would remain the principal vehicle through which the party pursued its political and economic objectives in the 1980s.

The linkage between party and economic work also was addressed by Kim Il Sung. In acknowledging the urgent task of economic construction, he stated that party work should be geared toward efficient economic construction and that success in party work should be measured by success in economic construction. Accordingly, party organizations were told to "push forward economic work actively, give prominence to economic officials, and help them well." Party officials were also advised to watch out for signs of independence on the part of technocrats.

The membership and organization of the KWP are specified in the party rules. There are two kinds of party members: regular and probationary. Membership is open to those eighteen years of age and older, but party membership is granted only to those who have demonstrated their qualifications; applications are submitted to a cell along with a proper endorsement from two party members of at least two years in good standing. The application is acted on by the plenary session of a cell; an affirmative decision is subject to ratification by a county-level party committee. A probationary period of one year is mandatory, but may be waived under certain unspecified "special circumstances." Recruitment is under the direction of the Organization and Guidance Department and its local branches. After the application is approved, an applicant must successfully complete a one-year probationary period before becoming a full party member.

North Korea

North Korea - The Constitution

North Korea

The constitutions of North Korea have been patterned after those of other communist states. The constitutional framework delineates a highly centralized governmental system and the relationship between the people and the state. On December 27, 1972, the Fifth Supreme People's Assembly ratified a new constitution to replace the first constitution, promulgated in 1948. Innovations of the 1972 constitution included the establishment of the positions of president and vice presidents and a super-cabinet called the Central People's Committee (CPC). The 1972 constitution was revised in April 1992, and ratified by the Sixth Supreme People's Assembly. The South Korean press published unofficial translations of the document in late 1992.

The revised constitution has 171 articles and seven chapters (twenty-two more and four less, respectively, than the 1972 constitution). Among the more significant changes are the elevation of chuch'e at the expense of Marxism-Leninism, the removal of references to the expulsion of foreign troops, and the addition of articles encouraging joint ventures, guaranteeing the "legitimate rights and interests of foreigners," and establishing a framework for expanded ties with capitalist countries. More important, the new constitution provides a legal framework for the 1991 appointment of Kim Jong Il as supreme commander of the armed forces by removing the military from the command of the president and by placing the military under the control of the National Defense Commission, of which he is chairman.

The eighteen articles of Chapter 1 deal with politics. Article 1 defines North Korea as an independent socialist state representing the interests of all the Korean people. Article 15 states that the DPRK defends the democratic, national rights of overseas Koreans and their legitimate rights under international law. Sovereignty emanates from four expressly mentioned social groups: workers, peasants, soldiers, and working intellectuals. State organs are organized on and operate on the principle of democratic centralism. In a change from the previous constitution, attaining "the complete victory of socialism in the northern half" was to be accomplished through the execution of the three revolutions of ideology, technology and culture, while struggling to realize unification of the fatherland by following the principles of independence, peaceful unification, and grand national unity. Previously socialism was to have been accomplished by driving out foreign forces on a countrywide scale and by reunifying the country peacefully on a democratic basis. Other articles in this chapter refer to the mass line, the Ch'ongsan-ni Method (or Ch'ongsan-ri) and spirit, and the Three Revolution Team Movement. The constitution states that foreign policy and foreign activities are based on the principles of independence, peace, and friendship. Diplomatic, political, economic, and cultural relations are to be established with all friendly countries based on the principles of complete equality, independence, mutual respect, noninterference in each other's internal affairs, and mutual benefit.

In Chapter 2, economic affairs are codified. The constitution declares that the means of production are owned by state and cooperative organizations. The text reiterates that natural resources, major factories and enterprises, harbors, banks, and transportation and telecommunications establishments are state owned and that land, draft animals, farm implements, fishing boats, buildings, and small- and medium-sized factories and enterprises may be owned by cooperative organizations. Article 24 defines personal property as that for personal use by the working people for the purpose of consumption and derived from the "socialist distribution according to work done and from additional benefits received from the state and society." Benefits derived from supplementary pursuits, such as the small garden plots of collectivized farmers, are considered personal property; such benefits are protected by the state as private property and are guaranteed by law as a right of inheritance. The planned, national economy is directed and managed through the Taean Work System.

Culture, education, and public health are covered in Chapter 3. Article 45 stipulates that the state develop a mandatory eleven-year education system, including one year of preschool education. Other articles state that education is provided at no cost and that scholarships are granted to students enrolled in colleges and professional schools. Education in nurseries and kindergartens is also at the state and society's expense. Article 56 notes that medical service is universal and free. Medical care and the right to education are also covered in Chapter 5 articles. Article 57 places environmental protection measures before production; this emphasis is in line with the attention given to preserving the natural environment and creating a "cultural and sanitary" living and working environment by preventing environmental pollution.

Chapter 5 extensively details the fundamental rights and duties of citizens. Citizens over the age of seventeen may exercise the right to vote and be elected to office regardless of gender, race, occupation, length of residency, property status, education, party affiliation, political views, and religion. Citizens in the armed forces may vote or to be elected; insane persons and those deprived by court decisions of the right to vote do not have the right to vote and be elected. According to Article 67, citizens have freedom of speech, publication, assembly, demonstration, and association. Citizens also have the right to work, and Article 70 stipulates that they work according to their ability and are remunerated according to the quantity and quality of work performed. Article 71 provides for a system of working hours, holidays, paid leave, sanitoriums, and rest homes funded by the state, as well as for cultural facilities. Article 76 accords women equal social status and rights. Women are also granted maternity leave and shortened working hours when they have large families. Marriage and the family are protected by the state.

Chapter 6, entitled "State Institutions," has eighty articles and eight sections--more sections than any other chapter. The chapter covers the Supreme People's Assembly, the president of the DPRK, the National Defense Commission, the Central People's Committee, the State Administration Council, the local people's assemblies and people's committees, the local administrative and economic committees, and the court and the procurator's office. Chapter 7, which covers the national emblem, the flag, and capital, describes the first two items, designates P'yongyang as the capital, and names the national anthem. In a change from the previous constitution, the 1992 revision mandates that "the sacred mountain of the revolution"--Paektu-san--be added to the national emblem. It is to stand above the existing symbols: a hydroelectric power plant, the beaming light of a five-pointed red star, ovally framed ears of rice bound with a red band, and the inscription "Democratic People's Republic of Korea."

North Korea


North Korea

The Supreme People's Assembly

Although under the constitution the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) is "the highest organ of state power," it is not influential and does not initiate legislation independently of other party and state organs. Invariably the legislative process is set in motion by executive bodies according to the predetermined policies of the party leadership. The assembly is not known to have ever criticized, modified, or rejected a bill or a measure placed before it, or to have proposed an alternative bill or measure.

The constitution provides for the SPA to be elected every five years by universal suffrage. Article 88 indicates that legislative power is exercised by the SPA and the Standing Committee of the SPA when the assembly is not in session. Elections to the Ninth Supreme People's Assembly were held in April 1990, with 687 deputies, or representatives, elected. The KWP approves a single list of candidates who stand for election without opposition. Deputies usually meet once a year in regular sessions in March or April, but since 1985 they have also met occasionally in extraordinary sessions in November or December. Sessions are convened by the assembly's Standing Committee, whose chairman as of 1992 was Yang Hyong-sop (also a full member of the KWP Central Committee and a vice chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland). Assembly members are elected by the deputies, as are the chairman and vice chairmen. The assembly also has five committees: Bills, Budget, Foreign Affairs, Qualifications Screening, and Reunification Policy Deliberation.

Article 91 states that the assembly has the authority to adopt or amend the constitution, laws, and ordinances; formulate the basic principles of domestic and foreign policies; elect or recall the president of the state and other top officials of the government; approve the state economic plan and national budget; and decide whether to ratify or abrogate treaties and questions of war and peace. Matters deliberated are submitted by the president, the Central People's Committee, the assembly's Standing Committee, the State Administration Council (the cabinet), or individual deputies.

Assembly decisions are made by a simple majority and signified by a show of hands. Deputies, each representing a constituency of approximately 30,000 persons, are guaranteed inviolability and immunity from arrest. Between assembly sessions, the Standing Committee does legislative work; this body may also interpret and amend the laws and ordinances in force, conduct the election of deputies to the SPA, organize the election of deputies to local legislative bodies, conduct election of deputies to the SPA, convene sessions of the SPA and people's assessors or lay judges, and elect or recall judges of the Central Court.

The Executive Branch

The President and Vice Presidents

The president is the head of state and the head of government in his capacity as chairman of the Central People's Committee (CPC). The president is elected every four years by the SPA. The title "president" (chusk) was adopted in the 1972 constitution. Before 1972 an approximate equivalent of the presidency was the chairmanship of the Standing Committee of the SPA. The constitution has no provisions for removing, recalling, or impeaching the president, or for limiting the number of terms of service. On May 24, 1990, the SPA unanimously reelected Kim Il Sung to a fifth presidential term.

Presidential powers are stated only in generalities. The chief executive convenes and guides the State Administration Council as occasion demands. Under the 1972 constitution, he was also the supreme commander of the armed forces and chairman of the National Defense Commission--although Kim Il Sung appointed his son to the former position in December 1991 and to the latter position in April 1993. The president's prior assent is required for all laws, decrees, decisions, and directives. The president's edicts command the force of law more authoritatively than any other legislation. The president promulgates the laws and ordinances of the SPA; the decisions of the Standing Committee of the SPA; and the laws, ordinances, and decisions of the CPC. The president also grants pardons, ratifiers or abrogates treaties, and receives foreign envoys or requests their recall. No one serves in top government posts without the president's recommendation. Even the judiciary and the procurators are accountable to Kim Il Sung.

The constitution states that two vice presidents "assist" the president, but it does not elaborate a mode of succession. As of July 1992, Pak Sng-ch'l (elected in 1977) and Yi Chong-k (elected in 1984) were vice presidents of North Korea.

The Central People's Committee

The top executive decision-making body is the Central People's Committee (CPC) created under the 1972 constitution. Seven articles in the 1992 constitution relate to the CPC. The president of the DPRK is the head of the CPC; it is also composed of the vice presidents, the CPC secretary, and unspecified "members." The term is the same as that for the SPA. All CPC members are elected by the SPA and can be recalled by the assembly on presidential recommendation. Inasmuch as CPC members overlap with the top-ranking members of the party's Political Bureau, the CPC provides the highest visible institutional link between the government and the party and serves in effect as a de facto super-cabinet.

The CPC's formal powers are all-inclusive. Among its responsibilities are formulating domestic and foreign policies, directing the work of the State Administration Council and its local organs, directing the judiciary, ensuring the enforcement of the constitution and other laws, appointing or removing the vice premiers and cabinet members, establishing or changing administrative subdivisions or their boundaries, and ratifying or abolishing treaties signed with foreign countries. The CPC also may issue decrees, decisions, and instructions.

The CPC oversees nine commissions: economic policy, foreign policy, internal policy, justice and security, legislative, national defense, parliamentary group, state inspection, and state price fixing. The members of these commissions are appointed by the CPC. The National Defense Commission's vice chairmen (an unspecified number) are elected by the SPA on the recommendation of the president, who also is chairman of the commission.

The State Administration Council

Since 1972 the highest administrative arm of the government has been the State Administration Council. From 1948 to 1972, the cabinet was the highest level of the executive branch. The 1972 constitution changed the name and role of the cabinet. The newly named State Administration Council has a similar function to that of the cabinet, but is directed by the president and the CPC. The State Administration Council is composed of the premier (chong-ri), vice premiers (bochong-ri), ministers (boojang), committee chairmen, and other cabinet-level members of central agencies. Among its duties, the council is responsible for foreign affairs, national defense, public order and safety, economic and industrial affairs, general government operation, concluding treaties with foreign countries and conducting external affairs, and safeguarding the rights of the people. It also has the power to countermand decisions and directives issued by subordinate organs. The formulation of state economic development plans and measures for implementing them, the preparation of the state budget, and the handling of other monetary and fiscal matters also are under the council's jurisdiction.

As of mid-1993, the State Administration Council, headed by Premier Kang Song-san since December 1992, had ten vice premiers. Vice premiers often concurrently are ministers or chairpersons of cabinet-level commissions. Under the premier and vice premiers, there are ministries, commissions, and other bodies of the State Administration Council. Governmental responsibilities that require coordination and a close working relationship among two or more ministries are generally placed under a commission, whose chairman usually holds the title of vice premier.

The Judiciary

In the North Korean judicial process, both adjudicative and prosecuting bodies function as powerful weapons for the proletarian dictatorship. The constitution states that justice is administered by the central court, provincial- or special-city level courts, the people's court, or special courts.

The Central Court, the highest court of appeal, stands at the apex of the court system. As of July 1992, it had two associate chief judges, or vice presidents--Choe Yong-song and Hyon Hongsam . Pang Hak Se, who died in July 1992, had been chief judge, or president, since 1972. In the case of special cities directly under central authority, provincial or municipal courts serve as the courts of first instance for civil and criminal cases at the intermediate level. At the lowest level are the people's courts, established in ordinary cities, counties, and urban districts. Special courts exist for the armed forces and for railroad workers. The military courts have jurisdiction over all crimes committed by members of the armed forces or security organs of the Ministry of Public Security. The railroad courts have jurisdiction over criminal cases involving rail and water transport workers. In addition, the Korean Maritime Arbitration Committee adjudicates maritime legal affairs.

Judges and people's assessors, or lay judges, are elected by the organs of state power at their corresponding levels, those of the Central Court by the SPA's Standing Committee, and those of the lower courts by the provincial- and county-level people's assemblies. Neither legal education nor practical legal experience is required for judgeship. In addition to administering justice based on criminal and civil codes, the courts are in charge of political indoctrination through "reeducation." The issue of punishment is not expressly stated in the constitution or the criminal code.

The collective interests of the workers, peasants, soldiers, and working intellectuals are protected by a parallel hierarchy of organs controlled at the top by the Central Procurator's Office. This office acts as the state's prosecutor and checks on the activities of all public organs and citizens to ensure their compliance with the laws and their "active struggle against all lawbreakers." Its authority extends to the courts, the decisions of which (including those of the Central Court) are subject to routine scrutiny. A judgment of the Central Court may be appealed to the plenary session of the Central Court, of which the state's chief prosecutor is a statutory member.

The chief prosecutor, known as the procurator general, is appointed by and accountable in theory, though not in fact, to the SPA. As of mid-1993, the procurator general was Yi Yong-sp. There are three deputy procurators general.

Local Government

There are three levels of local government: province (do) and special province-level municipalities (chikalsi, or jikhalsi) (see Glossary); ordinary cities (si), urban districts (kuyk), and counties (gun, or kun); and traditional villages (ri, or ni). Towns and townships (myn) no longer functioned as administrative units in North Korea after the Korean War, but still exist in South Korea. At the village level, administrative and economic matters are the responsibility of the chairman of the cooperative farm management committee in each village.

As of mid-1993, there were nine provinces: Changang, North Hamgyng, and South Hamgyng, North Hwanghae and South Hwanghae, Kangwn, North P'yngan and South P'yngan, and Yanggang; three special provincial-level cities: Kaesng, Namp'o, and P'yongyang, municipalities under central authority; seventeen ordinary cities under provincial authority; thirty-six urban districts; over 200 counties; and some 4,000 villages. Among these divisions, the counties serve as the intermediate administrative link between provincial authorities and the grass-roots-level village organizations. Local organs at the county level provide other forms of guidance to such basic units as blocks and workers' districts (nodongja-ku).

Three types of local organs elect local officials to carry out centrally planned policies and programs: KWP local committees, local people's assemblies, and local administrative committees (such as local administration, economic guidance, and rural economic committees). These committees are local extensions of the three higher bodies at the national level: the Supreme People's Assembly, the Central People's Committee, and the State Administration Council.

The local people's assemblies, established at all administrative levels, perform the same symbolic functions as the SPA. They provide a fa�ade of popular support and involvement and serve as a vehicle through which loyal and meritorious local inhabitants are given visible recognition as deputies to the assemblies. The assemblies meet once or twice a year for only a few days at each session. Their duties are to approve the plan for local economic development and the local budget; to elect the officers of other local bodies, including the judges and people's assessors of the courts within their jurisdictions; and to review the decisions and directives issued by local organs at their corresponding and lower levels. The local people's assemblies have no standing committees. Between regular sessions, their duties are performed by the local people's committees, whose members are elected by assemblies at corresponding levels and are responsible both to the assemblies and to the local people's committees at higher levels.

The officers and members of the people's committees are influential locally as party functionaries and as senior administrative cadres. These committees can convene the people's assemblies; prepare for the election of deputies to the local assemblies; implement the decisions of the assemblies at the corresponding level and those of the people's committees at higher levels; and control and supervise the work of administrative bodies, enterprises, and social and cooperative organizations in their respective jurisdictions.

The day-to-day affairs of local communities are handled by the local administrative committees. The chairman, vice chairmen, secretary, and members of these bodies are elected by the local people's committees at the corresponding levels.

North Korea


North Korea

Chuch'e ideology is the basic cornerstone of party construction, party works, and government operations. Chuch'e is sanctified as the essence of what has been officially called Kim Il Sung Chuui (Kim Il Sung-ism) since April 1974. Chuch'e is also claimed as "the present-day MarxismLeninism ." North Korean leaders advocate chuch'e ideology as the only correct guiding ideology in their ongoing revolutionary movement.

Chuch'e also is referred to as "the unitary ideology" or as "the monolithic ideology of the Party." It is inseparable from and, for all intents and purposes, synonymous with Kim Il Sung's leadership and was said to have been "created" or "fathered" by the great leader as an original "encyclopedic thought which provides a complete answer to any question that arises in the struggle for national liberation and class emancipation, in the building of socialism and communism." Chuch'e is viewed as the embodiment of revealed truth attesting to the wisdom of Kim's leadership as exemplified in countless speeches and "on-the-spot guidance."

Chuch'e was proclaimed in December 1955, when Kim underlined the critical need for a Korea-centered revolution rather than one designed to benefit, in his words, "another country." Chuch'e is designed to inspire national pride and identity and mold national consciousness into a potentially powerful focus for internal solidarity centered on Kim and the KWP.

According to Kim, chuch'e means "the independent stance of rejecting dependence on others and of using one's own powers, believing in one's own strength and displaying the revolutionary spirit of self-reliance." Chuch'e is an ideology geared to address North Korea's contemporary goals--an independent foreign policy, a self-sufficient economy, and a self-reliant defense posture. Kim Il Sung's enunciation of chuch'e in 1955 was aimed at developing a monolithic and effective system of authority under his exclusive leadership. The invocation of chuch'e was a psychological tool with which to stigmatize the foreign-oriented dissenters and remove them from the center of power. Targeted for elimination were groups of pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese anti-Kim dissenters.

Chuch'e did not become a prominent ideology overnight. During the first ten years of North Korea's existence, MarxismLeninism was accepted unquestioningly as the only source of doctrinal authority. Nationalism was toned down in deference to the country's connections to the Soviet Union and China. In the mid-1950s, however, chuch'e was presented as a "creative" application of Marxism-Leninism. In his attempt to establish an interrelationship between Marxism-Leninism and chuch'e, Kim contended that although Marxism-Leninism was valid as the fundamental law of revolution, it needed an authoritative interpreter to define a new set of practical ideological guidelines appropriate to the revolutionary environment in North Korea.

Kim's practical ideology was given a test of relevancy throughout the mid-1960s. In the late 1950s, Kim was able to mobilize internal support when he purged pro-Soviet and proChinese dissenters from party ranks. During the first half of the 1960s, Kim faced an even more formidable challenge when he had to weather a series of tense situations that had potentially adverse implications for North Korea's economic development and national security. Among these were a sharp decrease in aid from the Soviet Union and China; discord between the Soviet Union and China and its disquieting implications for North Korea's confrontation with the United States and South Korea; P'yongyang's disagreements with Moscow and apprehensions about the reliability of the Soviet Union as an ally; and the rise of an authoritarian regime in Seoul under former General Park Chung Hee (1961-79).

These developments emphasized the need for self-reliance--the need to rely on domestic resources, heighten vigilance against possible external challenges, and strengthen domestic political solidarity. Sacrifice, austerity, unity, and patriotism became dominant themes in the party's efforts to instill in the people the importance of chuch'e and collective discipline. By the mid-1960s, however, North Korea could afford to relax somewhat; its strained relations with the Soviet Union had eased, as reflected in part by Moscow's decision to rush economic and military assistance to P'yongyang.

Beginning in mid-1965, chuch'e was presented as the essence of Kim Il Sung's leadership and of party lines and policies for every conceivable revolutionary situation. Kim's past leadership record was put forward as the "guide and compass" for the present and future and as a source of strength sufficient to propel the faithful through any adversity.

Nonetheless, the linkage of chuch'e to MarxismLeninism remains a creed of the party. The April 1972 issue of K lloja (The Worker) still referred to the KWP as "a Marxist-Leninist Party"; the journal pointed out that "the only valid policy for Korean Communists is Marxism-Leninism" and called for "its creative application to our realities."

Since 1974 it has become increasingly evident, however, that the emphasis is on the glorification of chuch'e as "the only scientific revolutionary thought representing our era of Juche and communist future and the most effective revolutionary theoretical structure that leads to the future of communist society along the surest shortcut." This new emphasis was based on the contention that a different historical era, with its unique sociopolitical circumstances, requires an appropriately unique revolutionary ideology. Accordingly, Marxism and Leninism were valid doctrines in their own times, but had outlived their usefulness in the era of chuch'e, which prophesies the downfall of imperialism and the worldwide victory of socialism and communism.

As the years have passed, references to Marxism-Leninism in party literature have steadily decreased. By 1980 the terms Marxism and Leninism had all but disappeared from the pages of K lloja. An unsigned article in the March 1980 K lloja proclaimed, "Within the Party none but the leader Kim Il Sung's revolutionary thought, the chuch'e ideology, prevails and there is no room for any hodgepodge thought contrary to it." The report Kim Il Sung presented to the Sixth Party Congress in October 1980 did not contain a single reference to Marxism-Leninism, in marked contrast to his report to the Fifth Party Congress in November 1970. In the 1980 report, Kim declared: "The whole party is rallied rock-firm around its Central Committee and knit together in ideology and purpose on the basis of the chuch'e idea. The Party has no room for any other idea than the chuch'e idea, and no force can ever break its unity and cohesion based on this idea."

Chuch'e is instrumental in providing a consistent and unifying framework for commitment and action in the North Korean political arena. It offers an underpinning for the party's incessant demand for spartan austerity, sacrifice, discipline, and dedication. Since the mid-1970s, however, it appears that chuch'e has become glorified as an end in itself.

In his annual New Year's message on January 1, 1992, Kim Il Sung emphasized the invincibility of chuch'e ideology: "I take great pride in and highly appreciate the fact that our people have overcome the ordeals of history and displayed to the full the heroic mettle of the revolutionary people and the indomitable spirit of chuch'e Korea, firmly united behind the party . . . . No difficulty is insurmountable nor is any fortress impregnable for us when our party leads the people with the ever-victorious chuch'e-oriented strategy and tactics and when all the people turn out as one under the party's leadership."

North Korea


North Korea

The party congress, the highest KWP organ, meets infrequently. As of mid-1993, the most recently held congress was the Sixth Party Congress of October 1980. The official agent of the party congress is the Central Committee. As of July 1991, the Sixth Party Congress Central Committee had 329 members: 180 full members and 149 alternate members. Nearly 40 percent of these members, 131 members, are first-termers. Among the 329 members, the technocrats--economists, managers, and technicians--are the most numerous.

Influence and prestige within the party power structure are directly associated with the rank order in which the members of the Central Committee are listed. Key posts in party, government, and economic organs are assigned; higher-ranking Central Committee members also are found in the armed forces, educational and cultural institutions, and other social and mass organizations. Many leaders concurrently hold multiple positions within the party, the government, and the military.

The Central Committee holds a plenum, or plenary session, at least once every six months to discuss major issues. The plenum also elects the general secretary, members of the Political Bureau (called the Political Committee until October 1980), and its Standing Committee, or Presidium, which was established in October 1980.

In early 1981, the Political Bureau had thirty-four members: nineteen regular members and fifteen alternate members. This figure was substantial increase in membership from the Fifth Party Congress, when there were eleven regular members and five alternate members. As of 1992, however, the Political Bureau had only twenty-four members--fourteen regular members and ten alternate members--because a number of the members either had died or had stepped down. The inner circle of powerful leaders within the Political Bureau include the president, premier, vice premiers, and minister of the people's armed forces.

Several central organizations are subordinate to the Political Bureau Presidium. One of the most important executive organs is the Secretariat of the Central Committee, led by General Secretary Kim Il Sung and eleven other secretaries as of mid-1992. Each secretary is in charge of one or more departmental party functions. Other key bodies include the Central Military Commission headed by Kim Il Sung; the Central Auditing Committee, the fiscal watchdog of the party; and the Central Inspection Committee, which enforces party discipline and acts as a trial and appeals board for disciplinary cases.

The various departments of the Secretariat of the Central Committee depend for implementation of party policies and directives on the party committees in the provincial- and countylevel administrative divisions and in organizations where there are more than 100 party members--for example, major enterprises, factories, government offices, military units, and schools. In the countryside, village party committees are formed with a minimum of fifty party members. The basic party units are cells to which all party members belong and through which they participate in party organizational activities. Attendance at cell meetings and party study sessions, held at least once a week, is mandatory.

Party Members

The KWP claimed a membership of more than 3 million persons as of 1988, a significant increase from the 2 million members announced in 1976. This increase may have been a result of the active mobilization drive for the Three Revolution Team Movement.

The Korean Workers' Party has three constituencies: industrial workers, peasants, and intellectuals, that is, office workers. Since 1948 industrial workers have constituted the largest percentage of party members, followed by peasants and intellectuals. Beginning in the 1970s, when North Korea's population reached the 50 percent urban mark, the composition of the groups belonging to the party changed. More people working in state-owned enterprises became party members and the number of members working in agricultural cooperatives decreased.

Party Cadres

The recruitment and training of party cadres (kanbu) has long been the primary concern of party leadership. Party cadres are those officials placed in key positions in party organizations, ranging the Political Bureau to the village party committees; in government agencies; in economic enterprises; in military and internal security units; in educational institutions; and in mass organizations. The duties of cadres are to educate and lead party and nonparty members of society and to ensure that party policies and directives are carried out faithfully. The party penetrates all aspects of life. Associations and guidance committees exist at all levels of society, with a local party cadre serving as a key member of each committee.

Some cadres are concerned principally with ideological matters, whereas others are expected both to be ideologically prepared and to give guidance to the technical or managerial activities of the state. Regardless of specialization, all party cadres are expected to devote two hours a day to the study of chuch'e ideology and Kim Il Sung's policies and instruction.

The party has a number of schools for cadre training. At the national level, the most prestigious school is the Kim Il Sung Higher Party School, directly under the Central Committee. Below the national level are communist colleges established in each province for the education of county-level cadres. Village-level cadres are sent to county training schools.

The rules governing cadre selection have undergone subtle changes in emphasis. Through the early 1970s, "good class origin," individual ability, and ideological posture were given more or less equal consideration in the appointment of cadres. Since the mid-1970s, however, the doctrinally ordained "class principle" has been downgraded on the assumption that the actual social or class status of people should not be judged on the basis of their past family backgrounds but on their "present class preparation and mental attitudes." The party increasingly stresses individual merit and "absolute" loyalty as the criteria for acceptance into the elite status of cadre. Merit and competence have come to mean "a knowledge of the economy and technology." Such knowledge is considered crucial because, as Kim Il Sung stressed in July 1974, "Party organizational work should be intimately linked to economic work and intraparty work should be conducted to ensure success in socialist construction and backup economic work."

An equally important, if not more important criterion for cadre selection is political loyalty inasmuch as not all cadres of correct class origin nor all highly competent cadres are expected to pass the rigorous tests of party life. These tests entail absolute loyalty to Kim Il Sung and the party, thorough familiarity with chuch'e ideology, refusal to temporize in the face of adversity, and a readiness to respond to the party's call under any conditions and at all times.

Although information on the composition of cadre membership was limited as of mid-1993, the number of cadres of nonworker and nonpeasant origin has steadily increased. These cadres generally are classified as "working intellectuals" engaged in occupations ranging from party and government activities to educational, technical, and artistic pursuits. Another notable trend is the infusion of younger, better educated cadres into the party ranks. An accent on youth and innovation was very much in evidence after 1973 when Kim Jong Il assumed the leading role in the Three Revolution Team Movement.

The Ruling Elite

Persons with at least one major position in leading party, government, and military organs are considered the ruling elite. This group includes all political leaders who are, at a given time, directly involved in the preparation of major policy decisions and who participate in the inner circle of policy making. The ruling elite include Political Bureau members and secretaries of the KWP, Central People's Committee members, members of the State Administration Council, and members of the Central Military Commission and the National Defense Commission. Because overlapping membership is common in public office, topranking office holders number less than 100. In any event, those having the most influential voice in policy formulation are members of the Political Bureau Presidium.

Top leaders share a number of common social characteristics. They belong to the same generation; the average age of the party's top fifty leaders was about sixty-eight years in 1990. By the end of 1989, aging members of the anti-Japanese partisan group accounted for 24 percent of the Political Bureau's full members. There is no clear evidence of regional underrepresentation. Nonetheless, many Hamgyng natives are included in the inner circle--for example, O Chin-u, Pak Sngch 'l, Kim Yong-nam, and Kye Ung-t'ae. The latter is a member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee and secretary in charge of economics.

North Korea


North Korea

Beginning in the fall of 1975, North Koreans used the term party center to refer to Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Il is reported to have concentrated a great deal of effort on the performing arts, and many artists began to use the term when referring to Kim in articles in K lloja. However, for a few years after its initial introduction the term was used only infrequently because Kim Il Sung's efforts to promote his son met some resistance. Many of Kim Jong Il's opponents have been purged by Kim Il Sung, however, and neither Kim faces any active opposition any longer.

Kim Il Sung was awarded the rank of generalissimo (taewnsu) on April 13, 1992. On April 20, 1992, Kim Jong Il, as supreme commander of the armed forces, was given the title marshal (wnsu) of the DPRK. Kim Il Sung was the president and chairman of the National Defense Commission with command and control of the armed forces until Kim Jong Il assumed the latter position in April 1993. O Chin-u also became a marshal.

There are many scenarios for leadership succession. Some of the prospects are based on a common postulation that Kim Il Sung's succession scheme will take at least a few years because of the decades-long preparation of a succession plan. South Korean scholar Yang Sung-Chul labels this "positive skepticism" and calls short-term failure, such as a coup d'�tat or a revolution, "negative skepticism." "Negative skepticism" is not to be dismissed, however, because of Kim Jong Il's weaknesses-- his lack of charisma, poor international recognition, and unknown governing skills--as well as the sagging domestic economy and external factors such as inter-Korean, Japan-DPRK, and United States-DPRK relations.

Kim Jong Il's appointment as commander of the Korean People's Army suggests that the succession issue finally has been solved because the military was once considered Kim's weak point; he already has full control of the state and the economic administration. Kim Jong Il also manages political affairs and KWP businesses as a primary authority and handles symbolic roles such as meeting with foreign leaders and appearing at national celebrations.

In addition, Kim Jong Il plays a prominent role in the KWP propaganda machine--mass media, literature, and art. Many literary and art works--including films, operas, and dramas--are produced under the revolutionary tradition of the KWP and Kim's guidance. Kim uses popular culture to broaden his public image and gain popular support.

Kim Jong Il has tried to expedite economic growth and productivity using the Three Revolution Team Movement and the Three Revolution Red Flag Movement. Both movements are designed to inspire the broad masses into actively participating in the Three Revolutions. At the Fifth Party Congress, Kim Il Sung emphasized the necessity of pressing ahead more vigorously with the three revolutions to consolidate the socialist system. In response, Kim Jong Il developed the follow-up slogan, "Let us meet the requirements of the chuch'e in ideology, technology and culture." Most units forged ahead with "ideological education" to teach the party members and other workers to become revolutionaries of the chuch'e idea. In many spheres of the national economy, productivity also is expected to increase as a result of the technology emphasis of the campaigns. In addition, the "cultural revolution" addresses promoting literacy and cultural identity.

Chuch'e, instrumental in providing a consistent and unifying framework for commitment and action in the political arena, offers a foundation for the party's incessant demand for spartan austerity, sacrifice, discipline, and dedication. It has not yet been determined, however, whether chuch'e is an asset or liability for Kim. Nonetheless, Kim is likely to continue to emphasize chuch'e as the only satisfactory answer to all challenging questions in North Korea, particularly because he attributes the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and East European countries to their lack of chuch'e ideology.

Graduates of the first class of the Mangyngdae Revolutionary Institute, established in 1947, support Kim Jong Il's power base. Many of these graduates occupy key positions in government and the military. For example, O Guk-nyol and General Paek Hak-nim-- the latter, the minister of public security--are members of the Central Military Commission, KWP Central Committee, and the SPA; Kim Hwan, the former minister of chemical industry and a vice premier as of mid-1993, is a member of both the KWP Central Committee and the SPA; and Kim Yong-sun, a candidate member of the Politburo, is the director of the International Affairs Department, KWP Central Committee.

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North Korea

All mass organizations are guided and controlled by the party. A number of political and social organizations appear concerned with the promotion of special interest groups but actually serve as auxiliaries to the party. Many of these organizations were founded in the early years of the KWP to serve as vehicles for the party's efforts to penetrate a broader cross section of the population.

Mass organizations have another important function: to create the impression that there are noncommunist social, political, cultural, and professional groups that can work with their South Korean counterparts toward national reunification. Most of these organizations were established to develop a unified strategy in dealing with the ruling establishment of South Korea and other foreign countries and organizations. As of July 1992, these included the Korean Social Democratic Party headed by Yi Kyepaek ; the Chondoist Chongu Party headed by Chong Sin-hyok, the Socialist Working Youth League (SWYL) headed by Ch'oe Yong- hae; the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland headed by Yun Ki-pok; the Korean Democratic Women's Union headed by Kim Il Sung's wife, Kim Song-ae; the Korean National Peace Committee headed by Chong Chun-ki; the Korean Students Committee headed by Mun Kyong-tok; the General Federation of Trade Unions headed by Han Ki-chang; and many others. In the early 1990s, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland was actively involved in the two Koreas' reconciliation talks.

Among auxiliary organizations, one frequently covered in the media is the SWYL. Directly under the party Central Committee, it is the only mass organization expressly mentioned in the charter of the KWP. The league is the party's most important ideological and organizational training ground, with branches and cells wherever there are regular party organizations. Youth league cells exist in the army, factories, cooperative farms, schools, cultural institutions, and government agencies. The organization is hailed as a "militant reserve" of the party; its members are described as heirs to the revolution, reliable reserves, and active assistants of the party. Youths between the ages of fifteen and twenty-six are eligible to join the league regardless of other organizational affiliations, provided they meet requirements similar to those for party membership. The junior version of the youth league is the Young Pioneer Corps, open to children between the ages of nine and fifteen. The Students' and Children's Palace in P'yongyang is maintained by the SWYL for the extracurricular activities of Young Pioneer Corps members; these activities include study sessions in chuch'e ideology as well as other subjects taught in the primary and secondary schools.

The principal vehicle for P'yongyang's united front strategy in dealing with South Korea and foreign counterparts is the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland (DFRF), popularly known as the Fatherland Front. The Fatherland Front actually is an umbrella for various other organizations and thus ostensibly is a nonpolitical, nongovernmental organization.

Choch'ongryn (General Association of Korean Residents in Japan), is one of the best known of the foreign auxiliary organizations. Its mission is to enlist the allegiance of the more than 600,000 Korean residents in Japan. At least a third of these residents, who also are assiduously courted by Seoul, are considered supporters of P'yongyang. The remaining two-thirds of the members are divided into South Korean loyalists and neutralists. Those who are friendly toward North Korea are regarded by P'yongyang as its citizens and are educated at Korean schools in Japan that are financially subsidized by North Korea. These Koreans are expected to work for the North Korean cause either in Japan or as returnees to North Korea.

The activities of these mass organizations are occasionally reported in the news. However, it is difficult to ascertain what these organizations actually do. Organizations such as the Korean Social Democratic Party and the Chondoist Chongu Party publicize only the officially published names of their leaders and do not report anything about their membership or activities.

North Korea

North Korea - THE MEDIA

North Korea

Although Article 53 of the constitution states that North Korean citizens have freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and demonstration, such activities are permitted only in support of government and KWP objectives. Other articles of the constitution require citizens to follow the socialist norms of life; for example, a collective spirit takes precedence over individual political or civil liberties.

Domestic media censorship is strictly enforced, and deviation from the official government line is not tolerated. The regime prohibits listening to foreign media broadcasts, and violators are reportedly subject to severe punishment. Senior party cadres, however, have good access to the foreign media. No external media are allowed free access to North Korea, but an agreement to share in Japan's telecommunications satellites was reached in September 1990.

Newspapers, broadcasting, and other mass media are major vehicles for information dissemination and political propaganda. Although most urban households have radios and some have television sets, neither radios nor televisions can be tuned to anything other than official programming. Only some 10 percent of the radios and 30 percent of the televisions are in private households. Government control extends to artistic and academic circles, and visitors report that the primary function of plays, movies, books, and the performing arts is to contribute to the cult of personality surrounding Kim Il Sung.

The media is government controlled. As of mid-1993, there were eleven television stations, approximately two dozen AM stations, ten FM stations, eight domestic shortwave stations, and a powerful international shortwave station. The latter broadcast in English, French, Spanish, German, and several Asian languages. Korean Central Broadcasting Station and P'yongyang Broadcasting Station (Radio P'yongyang) are the central radio stations; there are also several local stations and stations for overseas broadcasts.

A number of newspapers are published. Nodong simmun (Workers' Daily), the organ of the party Central Committee, claimed a circulation of approximately 1.5 million as of 1988. K lloja (The Worker), the theoretical organ of the party Central Committee, claimed a circulation of about 300,000 readers. Minju Chosn (Democratic Korea) is the government newspaper, and Nodong chngnyn (Working Youth) is the newspaper of the SWYL. There also are specialized newspapers for teachers, the army, and railway workers.

The Korean Central News Agency (Chosn Chungyang Tngsinsa-- KCNA) is the primary agency for gathering and disseminating news. KCNA publishes the daily paper Korean Central News (Chosn Chungyang T'ongsin), Photographic News (Sajin T'ongsin), and the Korean Central Yearbook (Chosn Chungyang Ynbo). KCNA issues daily press releases in English, Russian, French, and Spanish; newscasts in these languages are beamed overseas. The Foreign Languages Press Group issues the monthly magazine Korea Today and the weekly newspaper the P'yongyang Times published in English, Spanish, and French.

North Korea


North Korea

North Korea's foreign relations are shaped by a mixture of historical, nationalistic, ideological, and pragmatic considerations. The territorial division of the peninsula looms large in the political thinking of North Korean leaders and is a driving force in their management of internal and external affairs. Over the centuries, unequal relations, foreign depredation, dependence on foreigners for assorted favors, and the emulation of foreign cultures and institutions are less the exception than the rule in Korea's relationship with the outside world. These patterns give rise to the widely shared assumption among Koreans that their capacity to control their national destiny is limited by geopolitical constraints.

Inter-Korean Affairs

The reunification of the two Koreas is seen as a difficult goal. Although P'yongyang and Seoul agreed in principle in 1972 that unification should be achieved peacefully and without foreign interference, they continued to differ substantially on the practical methods of attaining reunification; this area of disagreement has not narrowed in subsequent years.

North Korea's goal of unification remains constant, but tactics have changed depending on the perception of opportunities and limitations implicit in shifting domestic and external situations. From the beginning, North Korea has insisted that an inter-Korean political formula should be based on parity or coequality, rather than population. Because South Korea has more than twice the population of North Korea, a supreme Korean council set up according to a one-person, one-vote formula will give South Korea a commanding position in that type of relationship. Another constant is P'yongyang's insistence that the Korean question be settled as an internal Korean affair without foreign interference.

P'yongyang's position that unification should be achieved by peaceful means was belied by circumstances surrounding the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 and by subsequent infiltrations, the digging of tunnels, and other incidents. North Korea's contention that the conflict was started by South Korea and the United States failed to impress South Korea's population. The war, in effect, reinforced the obvious ideological and systemic incompatibilities that were in place at the time of the division of the peninsula in 1945. At the Geneva Conference in mid-1954, North Korea proposed the formation of an all-Korean commission and a single Korean legislature through elections; the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the Korean Peninsula; and the formal declaration by outside powers of the need for peaceful development and unification in Korea. P'yongyang also proposed that the armies of both countries be reduced to 100,000 persons each within a year, that neither side enter into any military alliance, and that measures be taken to facilitate economic and cultural exchanges. Kim Il Sung urged a mutual reduction of armed forces and a sharp cutback in the "heavy burden of military expenditure in South Korea," recognizing that any arms buildup could lead to a renewed arms race on the Korean Peninsula. Kim also called on "South Korean authorities, political parties, social organizations, and individual personages" to have their representatives meet their northern counterparts in P'yongyang, Seoul, or P'anmunjm to start negotiations on all "burning issues awaiting urgent solution."

In mid-1969 Kim signaled the resumption of peaceful gestures to South Korea. In October 1969, P'yongyang announced that the policy of peaceful unification would be renewed, adding that this option had not been stressed "in the last few years" because of alleged war policies being pursued by the United States and South Korea. Beginning in August 1970, Seoul proposed that the two Koreas open "a bona fide competition" to see which side could better satisfy the various needs of the Korean people. This development ended P'yongyang's previous monopoly on the rhetoric of neighborly intentions and peaceful unification.

Inter-Korean affairs became more complex in 1970 and 1971, in part because of the United States decision to withdraw some of its troops from South Korea and because of moves by the United States and China to improve their relations. In August 1971, amid signs of a thaw in the Cold War and an uncertain international environment, the Red Cross societies of Seoul and P'yongyang agreed to open talks aimed at the eventual reunion of dispersed families. These high-level talks--between Kim Il Sung's brother and the chief of the South Korean Central Intelligence Agency, were held alternately in the two capitals and paralleled behind- the-scenes contacts to initiate political negotiations, reportedly at South Korea's suggestion. The talks continued to evolve and resulted in a joint communiqu� issued on July 4, 1972, in which the two countries agreed to abide by three principles of unification. As such, the two Koreas agreed to work towards reunifying the country independently and without foreign interference; transcending differences in ideology and political systems; and unifying the country peacefully without the use of armed force.

The communiqu� also contained an accord designed to ease tensions and foster mutual trust by instructing the two countries to refrain from slandering and defaming each other, expediting the Red Cross talks, installing a hot line between P'yongyang and Seoul, and establishing a South-North Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as the machinery for substantive negotiations and for implementing the points of the agreement. The SNCC met three times. The first and third meetings were held in Seoul from November 30 to December 2, 1972, and June 12-14, 1973, respectively; the second meeting was held in P'yongyang March 14- 16, 1973. At the second meeting, the committee agreed to set up five subcommittees--political, military, foreign, economic, and cultural affairs--under joint direction. It was stipulated however, that subcommittees would be formed only when progress had been made vis-�-vis SNCC dialogue.

By June 1973, inter-Korean dialogue had become deadlocked. The fourth meeting was scheduled for August 28, 1973, in P'yongyang, but North Korea declined to convene it, making it official that it was no longer interested in participating in SNCC meetings. No significant agreement has been reached through the SNCC mechanism.

It quickly became obvious to both sides that they have fundamentally divergent approaches. North Korea's position focuses on three major themes: that the inter-Korean armed confrontation must first be ended; that North Korea's transitional scheme of coexistence called "confederation" be recognized as a practical necessity; and that a one-Korea policy should be pursued under all circumstances. P'yongyang seeks to settle military questions first, proposing cessation of the military buildup and the withdrawal of all foreign troops from South Korea. South Korea's position is one of peaceful coexistence based on "peace first, unification later." Seoul seeks recognition of the political systems of the two Koreas, noninterference in each side's internal affairs, and the promotion of mutual economic cooperation. South Korean president Park Chung Hee stressed the importance of preserving peace at all costs, specifying that each side refrain from invading the other or interfering in the other's affairs.

The contrast in positions is especially evident in international relations. South Korea suggested that both Koreas become members of the United Nations (UN) if it were the wish of the majority of UN members and if membership would not impede unification. In reaffirming peace and good-neighborliness as the basis of its foreign policy, Seoul declared its readiness to establish formal relations even with those countries whose ideologies and social institutions were different from South Korea's. In an obvious allusion to communist states, Seoul called on these countries to reciprocate by opening their doors.

North Korea began to urge the United States to refrain from obstructing the dialogue and from giving military aid to South Korea. In March 1974, P'yongyang proposed direct negotiations to Washington on the question of replacing the "outdated" Korean armistice agreement with a peace agreement. Relations between North Korea and South Korea had, by 1975, become increasingly complicated because of the ripple effect created by the fall of the government in Saigon. Following Vietnam's reunification in mid-1975, the Nixon administration reduced the United States troop level in South Korea by about one-third. This move, in conjunction with Nixon's opening to China, worried South Korea.

Leaders in both P'yongyang and Seoul talked increasingly about the dangers of renewed military conflict on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea called on South Koreans to overthrow President Park's government and reiterated its support for what it called a "massive popular struggle for independence and democracy" in South Korea. In South Korea, the cry of "threat from the North" became more shrill after Vietnam's reunification. In August 1976, against the backdrop of escalating tensions along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the telephone hot line that had linked P'yongyang and Seoul ceased operations and remained unused until February 1980.

In the late 1970s, North Korea and South Korea attempted to revive their dialogue. In January 1979, North Korea agreed to South Korea's proposal to resume talks unconditionally, but preliminary talks held in February and March failed to narrow the differences. North Korea maintained that the talks should be within the framework of a "whole-nation congress" composed of political and social groups from both sides. South Korea countered that the talks should be on a government-to-government basis without participation of nongovernmental mass organizations.

In February 1980, preparatory talks got under way at P'anmunjm in the DMZ. Through August 1980, the two sides met ten times and agreed on several minor procedural and technical points, even though they were unable to decide on an agenda for the premiers' conference or on an interpretation of such terms as "collaboration," "unity," and "peaceful reunification." Another impediment was disagreement on whether the premiers' talks should be treated as part of broader North-South contacts involving various mass organizations--as North Korea contends--or whether the talks should be on a more manageable government-to-government basis--as South Korea demands. On September 24, 1980, two days before the eleventh scheduled meeting, North Korea suspended the talks, citing "the South Korean military fascist" policy of seeking confrontation and division. On September 25, P'yongyang also once again suspended operation of the telephone hot line. In October 1980, at the Sixth Party Congress, Kim Il Sung proposed the establishment of the Democratic Confederal Republic of Kory, a system of unification based on mutual convenience and toleration. According to the proposal, a single unified state would be founded on the principle of coexistence, leaving the two systems intact and federating the two governments. The Democratic Confederal Republic of Kory, so named after a unified state that previously existed in Korea (918-1392), is viewed by North Korea as "the most realistic way of national reunification." A supreme national assembly with an equal number of representatives from north and south and an appropriate number of representatives of overseas Koreans would be formed, with a confederal standing committee to "guide the regional government of the north and the south and to administer all the affairs of the confederal state." The regional governments of the north and south would have independent policies--within limits--consistent with the fundamental interests and demands of the whole nation and strive to narrow their differences in all areas.

The proposal provided that the supreme national confederal assembly and the confederal standing committee--its permanent organ and the de facto central government--would be the unified government of the confederal state and, as such, would be responsible for discussing and deciding domestic and foreign affairs, matters of national defense, and other matters of common concern related to the interests of the whole country and nation. Further, the coordinated development of the country and nation should be promoted. The confederal government would be neutral and nonaligned. South Korea rejected the confederation as another propaganda ploy.

No significant dialogue occurred between the two countries until the middle of 1984, when South Korea suffered a devastating flood. North Korea proposed to send relief goods to flood victims in South Korea; the offer was accepted. This occasion provided the momentum for both sides to resume their suspended dialogue. In 1985 the two countries exchanged performing arts groups, and ninety-two members of separated families met. In January 1986, however, North Korea once again suddenly cut off all talks with South Korea, blaming "Team Spirit," the annual United States- South Korean joint military exercise.

After the inauguration of South Korean president Roh Tae Woo in 1988, a more vigorous dialogue commenced between Seoul and P'yongyang. Nordpolitik, South Korea's efforts since 1984 to expand ties with the former communist bloc, and the slowing pace of North Korea's economic development have contributed to a basic change in P'yongyang's strategy toward Seoul. Further encouraging this shift were the political upheaval and demise of communism in Eastern Europe and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, one of North Korea's key allies.

Subsequently, North Korea lost its guaranteed access to the market once provided by the Soviet Union and its satellites. At the same time, South Korea established commercial and diplomatic relations with many East European countries. Next, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council approved the simultaneous entry of both Koreas into the UN in September 1991.

Five rounds of meetings were held alternately in Seoul and P'yongyang before the Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression, Exchanges, and Cooperation between the South and the North was signed on December 13, 1991. The agreement called for reconciliation and nonaggression on the Korean Peninsula. Then North Korean premier Yon Hyong-muk called the agreement "the most valuable achievement ever made between the South and North Korean authorities." It was agreed that further meetings would be held to resolve such issues as creating a nuclear-free Korea, uniting divided families, and discussing economic cooperation.

For the first time, North Korea "officially recognized" the existence of South Korea. The accord called for North Korea and South Korea to formally end the Korean War. Among the terms of the accord are agreements to issue a joint declaration of nonaggression, advance warning of troop movements and exercises, and the installation of a hot line between top military commanders. The Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression, Exchanges, and Cooperation has led to the establishment of several joint North-South Korea subcommittees that are to work out the specifics for implementing the general terms of the accord. These subcommittees report to the committees that met in conjunction with the prime ministerial level talks that had began in September 1990. There are subcommittees on economic cooperation affairs (concerning South Korea's commercial investments in North Korea) and on trade and the opening of lines of travel and communication (including telephonic) between the two Koreas; cultural exchange, concerning the exchange of entertainment and athletic groups and the joint sponsorship of single teams to represent both Koreas in international sports competitions; political affairs, on working to eliminate mutual slander in their respective mass media and to abrogate laws detrimental to improving understanding and cooperation; and military affairs, on devising ways and means to reduce tensions and exchange notice of military exercises. Separate from the prime ministerial dialogue, yet closely associated with it, are talks held between the North and South Korean Red Cross organizations about reunification of families.

The two Koreas also agree that their peninsula should be "free of nuclear weapons." The joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula calls for the establishment of a Joint Nuclear Control Committee (JNCC) to negotiate a credible and effective bilateral nuclear inspection regime as called for in the declaration. Although negotiations in all these areas produced substantive progress toward the drafting of detailed accords for the terms of implementing the Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression, Exchanges and Cooperation, nothing has been implemented as of mid-1993. As for negotiation of a bilateral inspection regime, these talks also had not achieved any significant progress by mid-1993.

Foreign Relations with
<>China and the Soviet Union
<> Japan
<> The United States

North Korea

North Korea - China and the Soviet Union

North Korea

North Korea owes its survival as a separate political entity to China and the Soviet Union. Both countries provided critical military assistance--soldiers and mat�riel--during the Korean War. From that time and until the early 1990s, China and the Soviet Union both provided North Korea with its most important markets and were its major suppliers of oil and other basic necessities. In turn, China and the Soviet Union were reliable pillars of diplomatic support. The demise of the Soviet Union and the former communist bloc in Eastern Europe, combined with the gradually warming relationship between Beijing and Seoul--which resulted in the establishment of diplomatic relations in August 1992--significantly altered P'yongyang's ties with Beijing and Moscow.

More out of economic necessity than ideological compatibility, North Korea sought to maintain good relations with China, despite the latter's increasingly close economic and diplomatic ties with South Korea. In October 1991, Kim Il Sung visited China for ten days, reportedly to ask for economic and military assistance, and to persuade Beijing not to establish diplomatic ties with Seoul. Predictably, North Korea and China reaffirmed their commitment to socialism, but at the time China did not express clear signals for North Korea's other agenda.

Close Sino-North Korean ties continue, but Beijing is striving to maintain a balance in its relationship with the two Koreas, a far cry from its previous four decades of dealing solely with P'yongyang. China welcomed the Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, making clear its preference for a non-nuclear Korea. Beijing also urged P'yongyang to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Although China remains a crucial trade partner for North Korea, Beijing's former willingness to assist P'yongyang economically by extending easy credit is increasingly giving way to no assistance and less and less extension of credit.

The Soviet Union stunned North Korea in September 1990 when it established diplomatic relations with South Korea. Since that time and since the collapse of the Soviet Union in August 1991, North Korea has worked to build a relationship with Russia's new political leaders. North Korea's efforts to recapture some of the previous closeness and economic benefits of its relationship with the former Soviet Union are seriously hampered, however, by Russia's preoccupation with its own political and economic woes. Trade between the two nations has dropped dramatically since 1990. North Korea cannot compete with the quality of goods South Korea can offer. Whereas the Soviet Union had extended credit without problems to North Korea, Russia has demanded hard currency for whatever North Korea purchases. Russia also has signalled North Korea that it intends to revise the 1961 defense treaty between North Korea and the Soviet Union. The revision will most likely mean Russia will not be obligated to militarily assist North Korea except in the event that North Korea is invaded.

North Korea was diplomatically, politically, and economically far more isolated in mid-1993 than at any time since 1945. Although a member of the UN since 1991, North Korea's relations with its two closest allies--China and the former Soviet Union-- have undergone a fundamental shift unlikely to revert to previous patterns. This shift poses a dilemma for North Korea. Will it persist in the pattern of conduct that has made it an international outlaw, or will it set out in a new direction aimed at integrating itself into the international community? In mid1993 North Korea appears to be on a dual track. On the one hand, P'yongyang's signing of the Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression, Exchanges, and Cooperation, and the conclusion of a nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA point to its striving for greater acceptance in the international community by measuring up to internationally desired norms. On the other hand, P'yongyang continues to act as an international outlaw by selling ballistic missiles abroad, refusing to sign the convention on chemical and biological warfare, and refusing to comply with the terms for nuclear inspections.

North Korea

North Korea - Japan

North Korea

Until the late 1980s, North Korea's post-World War II policy toward Japan was mainly aimed at minimizing cooperation between Japan and South Korea, and at deterring Japan's rearmament while striving for closer diplomatic and commercial ties with Japan. Crucial to this policy was the fostering within Japan of support for North Korea, especially among the Japanese who supported the Japanese communist and socialist parties and the Korean residents of Japan. Over the years, however, North Korea did much to discredit itself in the eyes of many potential supporters in Japan. Japanese who had accompanied their spouses to North Korea had endured severe hardships and were prevented from communicating with relatives and friends in Japan. Japan watched with disdain as North Korea gave safe haven to elements of the Japanese Red Army, a terrorist group. North Korea's inability and refusal to pay its debts to Japanese traders also reinforced popular Japanese disdain for North Korea.

Coincidental with the changing patterns in its relations with China and Russia, North Korea has moved to improve its strained relations with Japan. P'yongyang's primary motives appear to be a quest for relief from diplomatic and economic isolation, which has also caused serious shortages of food, energy, and hard currency. Normalization of relations with Japan also raises the possibility of North Korea's gaining monetary compensation for the period of Japan's colonial rule (1910-45), a precedent set when Japan normalized relations with South Korea.

The first round of normalization talks was held January 30- 31, 1991, but quickly broke down over the question of compensation. P'yongyang has demanded compensation for damages incurred during colonial rule as well as for "sufferings and losses" in the post-World War II period. Japan, however, insists that North Korea first resolve its differences with South Korea over the question of bilateral nuclear inspections. Other points of contention are North Korea's refusal both to provide information about Japanese citizens who had migrated to North Korea with their Korean spouses in the 1960s, and to discuss the case of Yi Un Hee, a Korean resident of Japan whom North Korean agents had allegedly kidnapped to North Korea to teach Japanese in a school for espionage agents. As of mid-1993, several rounds of talks had yet to produce any significant progress toward normalization of relations.

North Korea

North Korea - The United States

North Korea

Since 1945 North Korea's relationship with the United States has been marked by almost continuous confrontation and mistrust. North Korea views the United States as the strongest imperialist force in the world and as the successor to Japanese imperialism. The Korean War only intensified this perception. The United States views North Korea as an international outlaw. The uneasy armistice that halted the intense fighting of the Korean War has occasionally been broken. Perpetuating the mutual distrust was North Korea's 1968 seizure of the United States Navy intelligence-gathering ship Pueblo, the downing of a United States reconnaissance plane in 1969, and the 1976 killing of two American soldiers at the P'anmunjm "Peace Village" in the middle of the DMZ. North Korea's assassination of several United States-educated South Korean cabinet officials in 1983 and the terrorist bombing of a South Korean airliner in 1987 likewise has reinforced United States perceptions of North Korea as unworthy of having diplomatic or economic ties with the United States.

Following South Korea's lead, the United States in 1988 launched its own modest diplomatic initiative. Washington sought to reduce P'yongyang's isolation and to encourage its opening to the outside world. Consequently, the United States government began facilitating cultural, scholarly, journalistic, athletic, and other exchanges with North Korea. After a hesitant start, by the early 1990s almost monthly exchanges were occurring in these areas between the two nations, a halting but significant movement away from total estrangement.

The atmosphere between P'yongyang and Washington warmed significantly in 1991 and 1992. The United States supported the simultaneous admission of both Koreas into the UN in September 1991. That same month, President George Bush announced the withdrawal of all tactical nuclear weapons worldwide. In January 1992, after North Korea had publicly committed itself to the signing of a nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA and to permitting IAEA inspections of its primary nuclear facility at Yngbyn, President Bush and South Korean president Roh Tae Woo took the unprecedented step of cancelling their 1992 joint annual military exercise Team Spirit.

In February 1992, United States Department of State Under Secretary for Political Affairs Arnold Kanter met with his North Korean counterpart, Korean Workers' Party Director for International Affairs Kim Yong-sun, in New York. At this meeting, the United States set forth the steps it wanted North Korea to take prior to normalization of relations. North Korea had to facilitate progress in the North-South Korea dialogue; end its export of missile and related technology; renounce terrorism; cooperate with accounting for all Korean War United States military personnel classified as Missing in Action; demonstrate increasing respect for human rights; and conclude a credible and effective North-South nuclear inspection regime designed to complement inspections conducted by the IAEA. Once a credible and effective bilateral North-South Korean inspection regime has been implemented, the United States government will initiate a policy level dialogue with North Korea to formulate specifics for resolving other outstanding United States concerns.

North Korea

North Korea - Bibliography

North Korea
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North Korea

CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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