North Korea

North Korea

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North Korea is a country with a population of some 25 million people, located on the northern half of the Korean Peninsula between the East Sea (Sea of Japan) and the Yellow Sea. Formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK, it was founded in 1948 when the United States and the Soviet Union divided control of the peninsula after World War II. North Korea is a highly secretive communist state that remains isolated from much of the rest of the world. In recent years, leader Kim Jong Un and his aggressive nuclear program have posed a growing threat to international stability.


In 1910, Japan formally annexed the Korean Peninsula, which it had occupied five years earlier following the Russo-Japanese War. Over the next 35 years of colonial rule, the country modernized and industrialized significantly, but many Koreans suffered brutal repression at the hands of Japan’s military regime.

During World War II, Japan sent many Korean men to the front as soldiers or forced them to work in wartime factories, while thousands of young Korean women became “comfort women,” providing sexual services to Japanese soldiers.

Upon Japan’s defeat in 1945, the United States and the Soviet Union divided the peninsula into two zones of influence along the the 38th parallel, or 38 degrees north latitude. In 1948, the pro-U.S. Republic of Korea (or South Korea) was established in Seoul, led by the strongly anti-communist Syngman Rhee.

In the northern industrial center of Pyongyang, the Soviets installed the dynamic young communist guerrilla Kim Il Sung, who became the first premier of the DPRK.


With both leaders claiming jurisdiction over the entire Korean Peninsula, tensions soon reached a breaking point. In 1950, with the backing of the Soviet Union and China, North Korean forces invaded South Korea, setting off the Korean War.

The United States came to the South’s aid, leading an army of some 340,000 United Nations troops in opposing the invasion. After three years of bitter fighting and more than 2.5 million military and civilian casualties, both sides signed an armistice in the Korean War in July 1953.

The agreement left the borders of North and South Korea essentially unchanged, with a heavily guarded demilitarized zone about 2.5 miles wide running roughly along the 38th parallel. A formal peace treaty, however, was never signed.


After the Korean War, Kim Il Sung shaped his country according to the nationalist ideology of “Juche” (self-reliance). The state assumed tight control over the economy, collectivized agricultural land and effectively asserted ownership over all private property.

State-controlled media and restrictions on all travel into or out of the country helped preserve the veil of secrecy around North Korea’s political and economic operations and maintain its isolation from most of the international community. The country’s population would remain almost entirely Korean, except for a small number of Chinese transplants.

Thanks to investment in mining, steel production and other heavy industries, North Korea’s civilian and military economy initially outpaced its southern rival. With Soviet backing, Kim built his military into one of the world’s strongest, even as many ordinary civilians grew poorer. By the 1980s, however, South Korea’s economy boomed, while growth in the north stagnated.


The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc hurt North Korea’s economy and left the Kim regime with China as its only remaining ally. In 1994, Kim Il Sung died of a heart attack and was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Il.

The new leader instituted a new policy of “Songun Chong’chi,” or military first, establishing the Korean People’s Army as the leading political and economic force in the nation. The new emphasis widened existing inequalities between the military and elite classes and the vast majority of ordinary North Korean citizens.

Over the course of the 1990s, widespread flooding, poor agricultural policies and economic mismanagement led to a period of extended famine, with hundreds of thousands of people dying of starvation and many more crippled by malnutrition. The emergence of a robust black market to meet such shortages would force the government to take measures to liberalize the state-run economy.


North Korea’s economic woes let up a bit due to improved relations with South Korea, which adopted a “sunshine policy” of unconditional aid towards its northern neighbor in the early 2000s.

Around the same time, North Korea came closer than ever before to forging peace with the United States, even hosting U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Pyongyang in 2000.

But relations between the two Koreas, and between North Korea and the West, soon deteriorated, due to North Korea’s aggressive efforts to become a nuclear power. Though Kim Jong Il had pledged to abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signed in 1995, in the early 2000s reports began to surface of underground nuclear facilities and ongoing research into the production of highly enriched uranium.

By 2003, North Korea had withdrawn from the NPT, expelled international weapons inspectors and resumed nuclear research at a facility in Yongbyon. Three years later, Kim’s government announced it had carried out its first underground nuclear test.


After Kim Jong Il died after a heart attack in December 2011, the job of supreme leader went to the second youngest of his seven children, then-27-year-old Kim Jong Un.

Fashioning himself as a modern version of his legendary grandfather, Kim Jong Un took steps to consolidate power, ordering the execution of his own uncle and other political and military rivals.

Kim’s government also continued to work on its nuclear arsenal, further damaging his nation’s relations with the West. In 2013, a third nuclear test resulted in trade and travel sanctions from the UN Security Council, as well as a formal protest from North Korea’s only major ally and main trading partner, China.


Over the course of 2017, tensions between North Korea and the United States reached an unprecedented level.

North Korea launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile with the strength to reach the mainland United States, threatened to launch missiles near the U.S. territory of Guam and tested a bomb seven times the size of those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Such actions prompted even harsher sanctions by the UN Security Council and an aggressive response from U.S. President Donald Trump, leaving the global community fearing the possibility of nuclear war.


North Korea.The World Factbook, CIA.
Korea, Asia for Educators. Columbia University.
North Korea country profile. BBC News.
Evan Osnos, “The Risk of Nuclear War With North Korea.” The New Yorker, September 18, 2017.

North Korea 101: The History of North Korea

If you want to go even further back, here's how North Korea came to be!

668 A.D: Ancient Korea

People have been living on the Korean peninsula since prehistoric times, slowly developing their own distinct culture and civilization. The Korean people were first united by the Silla Dynasty in 668 A.D. Since then, Korea has had to contend with the expansionist ambitions of its neighbors.

1910: Japan Colonizes Korea

In 1910, the Chosun Dynasty ended with Japan’s annexation and colonization of Korea. Koreans remember the Japanese colonial rule as a brutal experience. Resistance groups formed in Korea and China, mostly adopting leftist politics in reaction to the right-wing Japanese administration. Memories of the Japanese Imperial Administration’s oppression continue to haunt relations between the people of both Koreas and Japan today. Korea also began to modernize during this period, and the city of Pyongyang in particular became a vibrant center for Christianity and western culture.

1945: The Division of the Korean People

Following Japan’s defeat in 1945 the Soviet Union and United States agreed to split the post-war control of the Korean peninsula between themselves. On August 10, 1945 two young U.S. military officers drew up a line demarcating the U.S. and Soviet occupation zones at the 38th parallel. The divide should have been temporary, a mere footnote in Korea’s long history, but the emergence of the Cold War made this a seminal event. Seeking to ensure the maintenance of their respective influences in Korea, the U.S. and USSR installed leaders sympathetic to their own cause, while mistrust on both sides prevented cooperation on elections that were supposed to choose a leader for the entire peninsula. The United States handed control over the southern half of the peninsula to Syngman Rhee, while the Soviet Union gave Kim Il-sung power over the north. In 1948, both sides claimed to be the legitimate government and representative of the entire Korean people.

August 15, 1948

Syngman Rhee declares the formation of the Republic of Korea in Seoul, claiming jurisdiction over all of Korea..

September 8, 1948

Kim Il-sung declares the formation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in Pyongyang, also claiming jurisdiction over all of Korea.

1950: The Korean War Begins

June 25, 1950

In 1950, Kim Il-sung attempted to unify Korea under his rule through military force, starting the Korean War. By far the most destructive and divisive event in Korean history, the war altered the life of almost every Korean person. Some historians claim that the U.S. military dropped more napalm on urban centers in Korea than Vietnam. The bombing campaigns reduced Pyongyang to rubble, and North Korea’s population was reduced by 10%.

July 27, 1953

Both sides eventually signed the armistice ending major hostilities in 1953. The DMZ (demilitarized zone) was established at almost the same position as the border before war broke out, separating millions of families caught on opposite sides of the border.

1953-1970s: Building a Stalinist State

From 1953 to the 1970s North Korea was considered by some outside observers to be a successful state. During this period, many North Koreans were actually better off than their southern brethren.

Kim Il-sung remodeled North Korean society along the lines of Juche—North Korea’s radically nationalistic ideology promoting Korean autonomy. The state-seized control of all private property and organizations. Officially, everything in the country, from businesses to the clothes on one’s back, belonged to the North Korean state. The regime rebuilt Pyongyang as a socialist capital and erected numerous monuments to Kim Il-sung, part of nationwide efforts to build a cult of personality to secure obedience by the people. The state took control of all media and restricted international travel. Kim Il-sung also worked constantly to centralize power under the Workers’ Party of Korea under his rule, and implemented a perpetual purge to rid the country of potential internal opponents to his rule.


Massive inequalities began to emerge in North Korean society. The regime introduced the songbun system, which is still in place today. Under this system the entire population were sorted into different social classes according to one’s perceived loyalty to socialism and the regime. This classification determined the course of people’s lives. One’s songbun dictates the schools one can attend, the occupations one can be placed in, and even where one can live.At the time, the regime expelled around a quarter of the population of Pyongyang to the outer provinces for being of low songbun. For more on songbun, see this blog post.

The regime silenced anyone who opposed the system with extreme prejudice. Free speech became an offense punishable by imprisonment or even death. Worse, when one was arrested, up to three generations of their family would be sent to political prison camps. The regime instructed children to inform on their parents, and neighbors to inform on each other. Under these conditions, the North Korean people became fearful and distrusting of each other.


By the 1970s, the initial gains of postwar reconstruction and modernization had dissipated, and Kim Il-sung’s ideologically driven governance failed to produce prosperity. North Korea was also highly dependent on trade and aid from the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc, so when the economies of those countries began to decline it greatly affected North Korea’s economy. The people’s quality of life stagnated in the 1980s and began to decline until the collapse of the USSR in 1991, at which point the North Korean socialist command economy stopped functioning. Poor agricultural policies and environmental mismanagement increased vulnerability to extreme weather conditions and brought increasingly meager crop yields. To make matters worse, the regime had lost allies to fall back on when the economy failed. North Korea’s reserves were quickly running out. These were the circumstances the country found itself in when Kim Il-sung died in 1994.

Economic Collapse

Kim Jong-il took power in the post-Cold War era when North Korea was on the brink of disaster. Realizing the need to handle both external and internal threats, Kim Jong-il instituted a “military first” policy that prioritized the military and elites over the general population to an even greater extent than before. This policy made the coming crisis even worse for the average North Korean. Many North Koreans blame Kim Jong-il’s leadership for the famine. In reality, Kim Jong-il’s policies exacerbated a crisis that was long in the making.

The economic collapse and subsequent famine in North Korea had its peak in the mid-to-late 1990s. It is estimated that up to one million people died—roughly 5% of the population. Even many of those that survived suffered immensely. Starvation in childhood has stunted the growth of an entire generation of North Koreans. The North Korean government had to lower the minimum required height for soldiers because 145 cm (4 feet 9 inches) was too tall for most 16-17 year olds.

In Barbara Demick’s book “Nothing to Envy”, a North Korean doctor tells of how even she became desperately hungry. After fleeing to China, she discovered a bowl of food left out for a dog. Upon examining the white rice and generous chunks of meat, she concluded that “dogs in China ate better than doctors in North Korea.”

July 8, 1994

Kim Il-sung dies and his son Kim Jong-il takes over as leader.

Social Changes

The collapse of the command economy led to widespread social changes. The need for food drove the North Korean people away from the regime’s control, as when the government stopped providing food, the survivors found other ways to feed themselves. People foraged and sold anything they could to buy food at small, illegal markets that began to spring up, creating a process of bottom-up marketization. Some fled to China, leading to a wave of refugees from North Korea, while information about the outside world slowly began to flow back into the country. Some resorted to prostitution or crime. What was once a highly ordered and controlled society gave way to a disorganized and fluid society, with new independent paths to wealth and power for those who defied the regime and pursued the markets. These social effects would continue even after the worst of the famine had passed.

2000s: The People & Markets Prove Their Resilience

By the early 2000s, the people began to recover. The markets, which initially emerged as a survival mechanism, gradually grew to encompass a broader range of goods and services and became better established. The markets today are the major source of food for ordinary North Koreans. South Korea also adopted the “Sunshine Policy”, in which it gave unconditional aid to North Korea, and increased economic cooperation between the Koreas. Established in 2003, the Kaesong Industrial Complex just north of the DMZ was part of this policy and now allows South Korean companies to hire over 50,000 North Korean workers. China also gradually strengthened its economic relationship with North Korea, and today is by far North Korea’s most important economic and political partner. Nevertheless, ordinary North Koreans continue to face the severe challenges of chronic food shortages and grinding poverty, while their basic freedoms are curtailed by a repressive regime whose number one concern is staying in power.

Always uneasy about the growth of the markets, in late 2009 the regime made their most drastic attempt to restrain the markets to date: a currency reform aimed at wiping out private wealth. The resultant market disruption and rapid inflation reversed the people’s hard-won progress, and even regime projects were derailed. North Korean refugees have described this as a watershed moment in their diminishing belief in the regime, with anti-regime sentiment so strong that it even rose to the surface in some communities. It is now absolutely clear to the regime that the markets are a fact of life they must learn to live with.

December, 2011

Kim Jong-il dies and his son Kim Jong-un takes over as leader.

Now: The Third Kim Era

In December 2011, Kim Jong-il died and his son Kim Jong-un inherited control of the nation. Thought to be just 27 or 28 years old at the time of his succession, Kim Jong-un was largely unknown to the North Korean people as well as to the outside world. North Koreans that escaped the country in 2011 told us that there had not been a lot of propaganda about Kim Jong-un during that year. By contrast, Kim Jong-il was much better known to the North Korean people when he came to power in 1994.

In his first years in power, Kim Jong-un has implemented a new PR style that has portrayed him as a modern version of his grandfather, while purging, demoting and promoting regime officials to secure his power base. The new leadership also moved to crack down on illegal cross-border movement and the inflow of foreign media, increasing repression in the border regions and reducing the number of defectors who managed to make it to South Korea by almost half. Meanwhile, there have been signs of cautious experimentation with economic liberalization in order to adapt to the reality of the entrenched de facto market economy inside the country.

North Korea’s history is far from over. In fact, it may be entering its most interesting phase. The people are becoming increasingly empowered and the grassroots changes spreading across North Korean society are steadily increasing the people’s physical and psychological independence from the regime, making the system as it is currently structured unsustainable. We cannot know the pathway that North Korea’s change and opening will take, but change and opening will happen, and the future of North Korea will be increasingly driven by the North Korean people themselves.

Historic handshake

2000 June - Landmark inter-Korean summit takes place in Pyongyang between Kim Jong-il and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, paving the way for the reopening of border liaison offices and family reunions. The South also grants amnesty to over 3,500 North Korean prisoners.

2002 January - US President George W Bush labels North Korea, Iraq and Iran an "axis of evil" for continuing to build "weapons of mass destruction".

2002 June - North and South Korean naval vessels wage a gun battle in the Yellow Sea. Some 30 North Korean and four South Korean sailors are killed.

2002 September - Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi makes historic visit during which North Korea admits to having abducted 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s and that at least four are still alive.


Paleolithic Edit

No fossil proven to be Homo erectus has been found in the Korean Peninsula, [21] though a candidate has been reported. [2] Tool-making artifacts from the Palaeolithic period have been found in present-day North Hamgyong, South Pyongan, Gyeonggi, and north and south Chungcheong Provinces of Korea, [22] which dates the Paleolithic Age to half a million years ago, [5] though it may have begun as late as 400,000 years ago [1] or as early as 600,000–700,000 years ago. [2] [3]

Neolithic Edit

The earliest known Korean pottery dates back to around 8000 BC, [23] and evidence of Mesolithic Pit–Comb Ware culture (or Yunggimun pottery) is found throughout the peninsula, such as in Jeju Island. Jeulmun pottery, or "comb-pattern pottery", is found after 7000 BC, and is concentrated at sites in west-central regions of the Korean Peninsula, where a number of prehistoric settlements, such as Amsa-dong, existed. Jeulmun pottery bears basic design and form similarities to that of Mongolia, the Amur and Sungari river basins of Manchuria, the Jōmon culture in Japan, and the Baiyue in Southern China and Southeast Asia. [24] [25]

Archaeological evidence demonstrates that agricultural societies and the earliest forms of social-political complexity emerged in the Mumun pottery period (c. 1500–300 BC). [26]

People in southern Korea adopted intensive dry-field and paddy-field agriculture with a multitude of crops in the Early Mumun Period (1500–850 BC). The first societies led by big-men or chiefs emerged in the Middle Mumun (850–550 BC), and the first ostentatious elite burials can be traced to the Late Mumun (c. 550–300 BC). Bronze production began in the Middle Mumun and became increasingly important in ceremonial and political society after 700 BC. Archeological evidence from Songguk-ri, Daepyeong, Igeum-dong, and elsewhere indicate that the Mumun era was the first in which chiefdoms rose, expanded, and collapsed. The increasing presence of long-distance trade, an increase in local conflicts, and the introduction of bronze and iron metallurgy are trends denoting the end of the Mumun around 300 BC. [26]

In addition, 73 tombs similar to the ones found in Japan, estimated to date back to Gojoseon (100 BC), have been found in the southern tip of the Korean peninsula, and the discovery of jar burials, suggest a close relationship with Japan, [27] and Gojoseon, proving that Gojoseon and Yayoi period Japan maintained close relations with one another even during the ancient times.

Gojoseon, Chinese Rule and Jin state Edit

Gojoseon was the first Korean kingdom, located in the north of the peninsula and Manchuria, later alongside the state of Jin in the south of the peninsula.The historical Gojoseon kingdom was first mentioned in Chinese records in the early 7th century BC. [13] [14] By about the 4th century BC, Gojoseon had developed to the point where its existence was well known in China, [28] [29] and around this time, its capital moved to Pyongyang. [30] [31]

Dangun Joseon Edit

The founding legend of Gojoseon, which is recorded in the Samguk Yusa (1281) and other medieval Korean books, [32] states that the country was established in 2333 BC by Dangun, said to be descended from heaven. [33] While no evidence has been found that supports whatever facts may lie beneath this, [34] [35] the account has played an important role in developing Korean national identity.

Gija Joseon Edit

In the 12th century BC, Gija, a prince from the Shang dynasty of China, purportedly founded Gija Joseon. In pre-modern Korea, Gija represented the authenticating presence of Chinese civilization, and until the 12th century, Koreans commonly believed that Dangun bestowed upon Korea its people and basic culture, while Gija gave Korea its high culture—and presumably, standing as a legitimate civilisation. [36] However, due to contradicting historical and archaeological evidence, its existence was challenged in the 20th century, and today no longer forms the mainstream understanding of this period.

Wiman Joseon Edit

In 194 BC, Gija Joseon was overthrown by Wi Man (also known as Wei Man), a Chinese refugee from the Han vassal state of Yan. Wi Man then established Wiman Joseon. [37] [38]

Chinese Rule Edit

In 108 BC, the Chinese Han dynasty defeated Wiman Joseon and installed four commanderies in the northern Korean peninsula. Three of the commanderies fell or retreated westward within a few decades, but the Lelang commandery remained as a center of cultural and economic exchange with successive Chinese dynasties for four centuries, until it was conquered by Goguryeo in 313 AD.

Jin State Edit

Around 300 BC, a state called Jin arose in the southern part of the Korean peninsula. Very little is known about Jin, but it established relations with Han China and exported artifacts to the Yayoi of Japan. [41] [42] [43] Around 100 BC, Jin evolved into the Samhan confederacies. [44]

Many smaller states sprang from the former territory of Gojoseon such as Buyeo, Okjeo, Dongye, Goguryeo, and Baekje. The Three Kingdoms refer to Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla, although Buyeo and the Gaya confederacy existed into the 5th and 6th centuries respectively.

Metallurgy Edit

The Bronze Age is often held to have begun around 900-800 BC in Korea, [5] though the transition to the Bronze Age may have begun as far back as 2300 BC. [6] Bronze daggers, mirrors, jewelry, and weaponry have been found, as well as evidence of walled-town polities. Rice, red beans, soybeans and millet were cultivated, and rectangular pit-houses and increasingly larger dolmen burial sites are found throughout the peninsula. [45] Contemporaneous records suggest that Gojoseon transitioned from a feudal federation of walled cities into a centralised kingdom at least before the 4th-century BC. [46] It is believed that by the 4th century BC, iron culture was developing in Korea by northern influence via today's Russia's Maritime Province. [47] [48]

Proto–Three Kingdoms Edit

The Proto-Three Kingdoms period, sometimes called the Several States Period (열국시대), [49] is the time before the rise of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, which included Goguryeo, Silla, and Baekje, and occurred after the fall of Gojoseon. This time period consisted of numerous states that sprang up from the former territories of Gojoseon. Among these states, the largest and most influential were Dongbuyeo and Bukbuyeo.

Buyeo and other Northern states Edit

After the fall of Gojoseon, Buyeo arose in today's North Korea and southern Manchuria, from about the 2nd century BC to AD 494. Its remnants were absorbed by Goguryeo in 494, and both Goguryeo and Baekje, two of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, considered themselves its successor. [50]

Although records are sparse and contradictory, it is thought that in 86 BC, Dongbuyeo (East Buyeo) branched out, after which the original Buyeo is sometimes referred to as Bukbuyeo (North Buyeo). Jolbon Buyeo was the predecessor to Goguryeo, and in 538, Baekje renamed itself Nambuyeo (South Buyeo). [51]

Okjeo was a tribal-state that was located in the northern Korean Peninsula, and was established after the fall of Gojoseon. Okjeo had been a part of Gojoseon before its fall. It never became a fully developed kingdom due to the intervention of its neighboring kingdoms. Okjeo became a tributary of Goguryeo, and was eventually annexed into Goguryeo by Gwanggaeto Taewang in the 5th century. [52]

Dongye was another small kingdom that was situated in the northern Korean Peninsula. Dongye bordered Okjeo, and the two kingdoms faced the same fate of becoming tributaries of the growing empire of Goguryeo. Dongye was also a former part of Gojoseon before its fall. [53]

Samhan Edit

Sam-han (삼한, 三韓) refers to the three confederacies of Mahan, Jinhan, and Byeonhan. The Samhan were located in the southern region of the Korean Peninsula. [54] The Samhan countries were strictly governed by law, with religion playing an important role. Mahan was the largest, consisting of 54 states, and assumed political, economic, and cultural dominance. Byeonhan and Jinhan both consisted of 12 states, bringing a total of 78 states within the Samhan. The Samhan were eventually conquered by Baekje, Silla, and Gaya in the 4th century. [55]

Goguryeo Edit

Goguryeo was founded in 37 BC by Jumong (posthumously titled as Dongmyeongseong, a royal given title). [59] Later, King Taejo centralized the government. Goguryeo was the first Korean kingdom to adopt Buddhism as the state religion in 372, in King Sosurim's reign. [60] [61]

Goguryeo (also spelled as Koguryŏ) was also known as Goryeo (also spelled as Koryŏ), and it eventually became the source of the modern name of Korea. [62]

The 3rd and 4th centuries were characterized by territorial competition with the Chinese and Xianbei, resulting in both losses and gains. Goguryeo initiated the Goguryeo–Wei War by attacking a Chinese fortress in 242 in an attempt to cut off Chinese access to its territories in Korea. Cao Wei of the Three Kingdoms of China retaliated by invading and destroying Hwando in 244. This forced the king to flee with Cao Wei in pursuit and broke Goguryeo's rule over the Okjeo and Ye, damaging its economy. The king eventually settled in a new capital, and Goguryeo focused on rebuilding and regaining control. In the early 4th century Goguryeo once again attacked the Chinese (now Sima Jin) to cut off their access to Korea and this time succeeded, and soon afterward conquered Lelang and Daifang ending the Chinese presence in Korea. However Goguryeo's expansion led to confrontation with the rising Xianbeis. The Xianbeis devastated Goguryeo's capital in the mid 4th century and the king retreated. Goguryeo eventually regrouped and began striking back in the late 4th century by King Gogukyang, culminating with the conquests of Gwanggaeto the Great. [63] [64]

Goguryeo reached its zenith in the 5th century, becoming a powerful empire and one of the great powers in East Asia, [65] [66] [67] [68] when Gwanggaeto the Great and his son, Jangsu, expanded the country into almost all of Manchuria, parts of Inner Mongolia, [69] parts of Russia, [70] and took the present-day city of Seoul from Baekje. [69] Goguryeo experienced a golden age under Gwanggaeto and Jangsu, [71] [72] [73] [74] who both subdued Baekje and Silla during their times, achieving a brief unification of the Three Kingdoms of Korea and becoming the most dominant power of the Korean peninsula. [75] [61] [76] Jangsu's long reign of 79 years saw the perfecting of Goguryeo's political, economic and other institutional arrangements. [77]

Goguryeo was a highly militaristic state [78] [79] in addition to contesting for control of the Korean Peninsula, Goguryeo had many military conflicts with various Chinese dynasties, [80] most notably the Goguryeo–Sui War, in which Goguryeo defeated a huge force traditionally said to number over a million men, [note 2] and contributed to the Sui dynasty's fall. [81] [82] [83] [84] [85]

In 642, the powerful general Yeon Gaesomun led a coup and gained complete control over Goguryeo. In response, Emperor Tang Taizong of China led a campaign against Goguryeo, but was defeated and retreated. [86] [87] [88] [89] After the death of Tang Taizong, his son Emperor Tang Gaozong allied with the Korean kingdom of Silla and invaded Goguryeo again, but was unable to overcome Goguryeo's stalwart defenses and was defeated in 662. [90] [91] However, Yeon Gaesomun died of a natural cause in 666 and Goguryeo was thrown into chaos and weakened by a succession struggle among his sons and younger brother, [92] [93] with his eldest son defecting to Tang and his younger brother defecting to Silla. [94] The Tang–Silla alliance mounted a fresh invasion in 667, aided by the defector Yeon Namsaeng, and was finally able to conquer Goguryeo in 668. [95] [96]

After the collapse of Goguryeo, Tang and Silla ended their alliance and fought over control of the Korean Peninsula. Silla succeeded in gaining control over most of the Korean Peninsula, while Tang gained control over Goguryeo's northern territories. However, 30 years after the fall of Goguryeo, a Goguryeo general by the name of Dae Joyeong founded the Korean-Mohe state of Balhae and successfully expelled the Tang presence from much of the former Goguryeo territories.

Baekje Edit

Baekje was founded by Onjo, a Goguryeo prince and the third son of the founder of Goguryeo, in 18 BC. [97] Baekje and Goguryeo shared founding myths and originated from Buyeo. [98] The Sanguo Zhi mentions Baekje as a member of the Mahan confederacy in the Han River basin (near present-day Seoul). It expanded into the southwest (Chungcheong and Jeolla provinces) of the peninsula and became a significant political and military power. In the process, Baekje came into fierce confrontation with Goguryeo and the Chinese commanderies in the vicinity of its territorial ambitions.

At its peak in the 4th century during the reign of King Geunchogo, Baekje absorbed all of the Mahan states and subjugated most of the western Korean peninsula (including the modern provinces of Gyeonggi, Chungcheong, and Jeolla, as well as part of Hwanghae and Gangwon) to a centralized government. Baekje acquired Chinese culture and technology through maritime contacts with the Southern dynasties during the expansion of its territory. [99]

Baekje was a great maritime power [100] its nautical skill, which made it the Phoenicia of East Asia, was instrumental in the dissemination of Buddhism throughout East Asia and continental culture to Japan. [101] [102] Baekje played a fundamental role in transmitting cultural developments, such as Chinese characters, Buddhism, iron-making, advanced pottery, and ceremonial burial to ancient Japan. [68] [103] [104] [105] [106] [107] [108] Other aspects of culture were also transmitted when the Baekje court retreated to Japan after Baekje was conquered by the Silla–Tang alliance.

Baekje was once a great military power on the Korean Peninsula, especially during the time of Geunchogo, [109] but was critically defeated by Gwanggaeto the Great and declined. [110] [ self-published source ] Ultimately, Baekje was defeated by a coalition of Silla and Tang forces in 660. [111]

Silla Edit

According to legend, the kingdom of Silla began with the unification of six chiefdoms of the Jinhan confederacy by Bak Hyeokgeose in 57 BC, in the southeastern area of Korea. Its territory included the present-day port city of Busan, and Silla later emerged as a sea power responsible for destroying Japanese pirates, especially during the Unified Silla period. [112]

Silla artifacts, including unique gold metalwork, show influence from the northern nomadic steppes and Iranian peoples and especially Persians, with less Chinese influence than are shown by Goguryeo and Baekje. [113] Silla expanded rapidly by occupying the Nakdong River basin and uniting the city-states.

By the 2nd century, Silla was a large state, occupying and influencing nearby city-states. Silla gained further power when it annexed the Gaya confederacy in 562. Silla often faced pressure from Goguryeo, Baekje and Japan, and at various times allied and warred with Baekje and Goguryeo.

Silla was the smallest and weakest of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, but it used cunning diplomatic means to make opportunistic pacts and alliances with the more powerful Korean kingdoms, and eventually Tang China, to its great advantage. [114] [115]

In 660, King Muyeol of Silla ordered his armies to attack Baekje. General Kim Yu-shin, aided by Tang forces, conquered Baekje. In 661, Silla and Tang moved on Goguryeo but were repelled. King Munmu, son of Muyeol and nephew of Kim, launched another campaign in 667 and Goguryeo fell in the following year. [116]

Gaya Edit

Gaya was a confederacy of small kingdoms in the Nakdong River valley of southern Korea, growing out of the Byeonhan confederacy of the Samhan period. Gaya's plains were rich in iron, so export of iron tools was possible and agriculture flourished. In the early centuries, the Confederacy was led by Geumgwan Gaya in the Gimhae region. However, its leading power changed to Daegaya in the Goryeong region after the 5th century.

Constantly engaged in war with the three kingdoms surrounding it, Gaya was not developed to form a unified state, and was ultimately absorbed into Silla in 562. [117]

The term North-South States refers to Unified Silla and Balhae, during the time when Silla controlled the majority of the Korean peninsula while Balhae expanded into Manchuria. During this time, culture and technology significantly advanced, especially in Unified Silla.

Unified Silla Edit

After the unification wars, the Tang dynasty established outposts in the former Goguryeo, and began to establish and administer communities in Baekje. Silla attacked Tang forces in Baekje and northern Korea in 671. Tang then invaded Silla in 674 but Silla drove the Tang forces out of the peninsula by 676 to achieve unification of most of the Korean peninsula. [118]

Unified Silla was a golden age of art and culture. [119] [120] [121] [122] During this period, long-distance trade between Unified Silla and the Abbasid Caliphate was documented by Persian geographer Ibn Khordadbeh in the Book of Roads and Kingdoms. [123] Buddhist monasteries such as the World Heritage Sites Bulguksa temple and Seokguram Grotto are examples of advanced Korean architecture and Buddhist influence. [124] Other state-sponsored art and architecture from this period include Hwangnyongsa Temple and Bunhwangsa Temple. Persian chronics described Silla as located at the eastern end of China and reads 'In this beautiful country Silla, there is much gold, majestetic cities and hardworking people. Their culture is comparable with Persia'. [125]

Unified Silla carried on the maritime prowess of Baekje, which acted like the Phoenicia of medieval East Asia, [126] and during the 8th and 9th centuries dominated the seas of East Asia and the trade between China, Korea and Japan, most notably during the time of Jang Bogo in addition, Silla people made overseas communities in China on the Shandong Peninsula and the mouth of the Yangtze River. [127] [128] [129] [130] Unified Silla was a prosperous and wealthy country, [131] and its metropolitan capital of Gyeongju [132] was the fourth largest city in the world. [133] [134] [135] [136]

Buddhism flourished during this time, and many Korean Buddhists gained great fame among Chinese Buddhists [137] and contributed to Chinese Buddhism, [138] including: Woncheuk, Wonhyo, Uisang, Musang, [139] [140] [141] [142] and Kim Gyo-gak, a Silla prince whose influence made Mount Jiuhua one of the Four Sacred Mountains of Chinese Buddhism. [143] [144] [145] [146] [147]

Silla began to experience political troubles in late 8th century. This severely weakened Silla and soon thereafter, descendants of the former Baekje established Hubaekje. In the north, rebels revived Goguryeo, beginning the Later Three Kingdoms period.

Unified Silla lasted for 267 years until King Gyeongsun surrendered the country to Goryeo in 935, after 992 years and 56 monarchs. [148]

Balhae Edit

Balhae was founded only thirty years after Goguryeo had fallen, in 698. It was founded in the northern part of former lands of Goguryeo by Dae Joyeong, a former Goguryeo general [149] [150] or chief of Sumo Mohe. [151] [152] [153] Balhae controlled the northern areas of the Korean Peninsula, much of Manchuria (though it didn't occupy Liaodong peninsula for much of history), and expanded into present-day Russian Primorsky Krai. It also adopted the culture of Tang dynasty, such as the government structure and geopolitical system. [154]

In a time of relative peace and stability in the region, Balhae flourished, especially during the reigns of King Mun and King Seon. Balhae was called the "Prosperous Country in the East". [155] However, Balhae was severely weakened and eventually conquered by the Khitan Liao dynasty in 926. [154] Large numbers of refugees, including Dae Gwang-hyeon, the last crown prince of Balhae, were welcomed by Goryeo. [17] [156] Dae Gwang-hyeon was included in the imperial family of Wang Geon, bringing a national unification between the two successor nations of Goguryeo. [18]

No historical records from Balhae have survived, and the Liao left no histories of Balhae. While Goryeo absorbed some Balhae territory and received Balhae refugees, it compiled no known histories of Balhae either. The Samguk sagi ("History of the Three Kingdoms"), for instance, includes passages on Balhae, but does not include a dynastic history of Balhae. The 18th century Joseon dynasty historian Yu Deukgong advocated the proper study of Balhae as part of Korean history, and coined the term "North and South States Period" to refer to this era. [154]

Later Three Kingdoms Edit

The Later Three Kingdoms period (892 – 936) consisted of Unified Silla and the revival of Baekje and Goguryeo, known historiographically as "Later Baekje" and "Later Goguryeo". During the late 9th century, as Silla declined in power and exorbitant taxes were imposed on the people, rebellions erupted nationwide and powerful regional lords rose up against the waning kingdom. [157]

Later Baekje was founded by the general Gyeon Hwon in 892, and its capital was established in Wansanju (modern Jeonju). The kingdom was based in the southwestern regions in the former territories of Baekje. In 927, Later Baekje attacked Gyeongju, the capital of Unified Silla, and placed a puppet on the throne. Eventually, Gyeon Hwon was ousted by his sons due to a succession dispute and escaped to Goryeo, where he served as a general in the conquest of the kingdom he personally founded. [158]

Later Goguryeo was founded by the Buddhist monk Gung Ye in 901, and its original capital was established in Songak (modern Kaesong). The kingdom was based in the northern regions, which were the strongholds of Goguryeo refugees. [159] [160] Later Goguryeo's name was changed to Majin in 904, and Taebong in 911. In 918, Wang Geon, a prominent general of Goguryeo descent, deposed the increasingly despotic and paranoid Gung Ye, and established Goryeo. By 936, Goryeo conquered its rivals and achieved the unification of the Later Three Kingdoms. [161]

Goryeo was founded by Wang Geon in 918 and became the ruling dynasty of Korea by 936. It was named "Goryeo" because Wang Geon, a descendant of Goguryeo nobility, [162] deemed the nation as the successor of Goguryeo. [163] [164] [165] [166] [167] [156] Wang Geon made his hometown Kaesong (in present-day North Korea) the capital. The dynasty lasted until 1392, although the government was controlled by military regime leaders between 1170 and 1270. Goryeo (also spelled as Koryŏ) is the source of the English name "Korea". [168] [169]

During this period, laws were codified and a civil service system was introduced. Buddhism flourished and spread throughout the peninsula. The development of celadon pottery flourished in the 12th and 13th centuries. [170] [171] The production of the Tripitaka Koreana onto 81,258 wooden printing blocks, [172] and the invention of the metal movable type attest to Goryeo's cultural achievements. [173] [174] [175] [176] [177]

In 1018, the Khitan Empire, which was the most powerful empire of its time, [178] [179] invaded Goryeo but was defeated by General Gang Gam-chan at the Battle of Kuju to end the Goryeo–Khitan War. After defeating the Khitan Empire, Goryeo experienced a golden age that lasted a century, during which the Tripitaka Koreana was completed, and there were great developments in printing and publishing, promoting learning and dispersing knowledge on philosophy, literature, religion, and science by 1100, there were 12 universities that produced famous scholars and scientists. [180] [181]

In 1231, the Mongols began their invasions of Korea during seven major campaigns and 39 years of struggle, but were unable to conquer Korea. [182] Exhausted after decades of fighting, Goryeo sent its crown prince to the Yuan capital to swear allegiance to the Mongols Kublai Khan accepted, and married one of his daughters to the Korean crown prince, [182] and for the following 80 years Goryeo existed under the overlordship of the Mongol-ruled Yuan dynasty in China. [183] [184] The two nations became intertwined for 80 years as all subsequent Korean kings married Mongol princesses, [182] and the last empress of the Yuan dynasty was a Korean princess. [185] [ self-published source ]

In the 1350s, the Yuan dynasty declined rapidly due to internal struggles, enabling King Gongmin to reform the Goryeo government. [186] Gongmin had various problems that needed to be dealt with, including the removal of pro-Mongol aristocrats and military officials, the question of land holding, and quelling the growing animosity between the Buddhists and Confucian scholars. [187] During this tumultuous period, Goryeo momentarily conquered Liaoyang in 1356, repulsed two large invasions by the Red Turbans in 1359 and 1360, and defeated the final attempt by the Yuan to dominate Goryeo when General Choe Yeong defeated an invading Mongol tumen in 1364. During the 1380s, Goryeo turned its attention to the Wokou menace and used naval artillery created by Choe Museon to annihilate hundreds of pirate ships.

The Goryeo dynasty would last until 1392. Taejo of Joseon, the founder of the Joseon dynasty, took power in a coup in 1388 and after serving as the power behind the throne for two monarchs, established the Joseon dynasty in 1392. [188]

Political history Edit

In 1392, the general Yi Seong-gye, later known as Taejo, established the Joseon dynasty (1392–1897), named in honor of the ancient kingdom Gojoseon, [189] [14] [190] and based on idealistic Confucianism-based ideology. [191] The prevailing philosophy throughout the Joseon dynasty was Neo-Confucianism, which was epitomized by the seonbi class, scholars who passed up positions of wealth and power to lead lives of study and integrity.

Taejo moved the capital to Hanyang (modern-day Seoul) and built Gyeongbokgung palace. In 1394 he adopted Neo-Confucianism as the country's official religion, and pursued the creation of a strong bureaucratic state. His son and grandson, King Taejong and Sejong the Great, implemented numerous administrative, social, and economic reforms and established royal authority in the early years of the dynasty. [192]

During the 15th and 16th centuries, Joseon enjoyed many benevolent rulers who promoted education and science. [193] Most notable among them was Sejong the Great (r. 1418–50), who personally created and promulgated Hangul, the Korean alphabet. [194] This golden age [193] saw great cultural and scientific advancements, [195] including in printing, meteorological observation, astronomy, calendar science, ceramics, military technology, geography, cartography, medicine, and agricultural technology, some of which were unrivaled elsewhere. [196]

Internal conflicts within the royal court, civil unrest and other political struggles plagued the nation in the years that followed, worsened by the Japanese invasion of Korea between 1592 and 1598. Toyotomi Hideyoshi marshalled his forces and tried to invade the Asian continent through Korea, but was eventually repelled by the Korean military, with the assistance of the righteous armies and Chinese Ming dynasty. This war also saw the rise of the career of Admiral Yi Sun-sin with the turtle ship. As Korea was rebuilding, it had to repel invasions by the Manchu in 1627 and 1636. Internal politics were bitterly divided and settled by violence. [197] Historian JaHyun Kim Haboush, in the summary by her editor William Haboush in 2016, interpreted the decisive impact of the victories against the Japanese and Manchu invaders:

Out of this great war at the end of the 16th century and the Manchu invasions of 1627 and 1636–1637, Koreans emerged with a discernible sense of themselves as a disethnic united by birth, language, and belief forged by this immense clash of the three great powers of East Asia . Korea arrived at the brink of the seventeenth century as a nation. [198]

After the second Manchu invasion and stabilized relations with the new Qing dynasty, Joseon experienced a nearly 200-year period of external peace. However internally, the bitter and violent factional battles raged on. In the 18th century, King Yeongjo (reigned 1724–76) and his grandson King Jeongjo (reigned 1776–1800) led a new renaissance. [199] Yeongjo and Jeongjo reformed the tax system which grew the revenue stream into the treasury, strengthened the military and sponsored a revival of learning. The printing press was rejuvenated by using movable metal type the number and quality of publications sharply increased. Jeongjo sponsored scholars from various factions to work in the Kyujanggak, or Inner Royal Library, established in 1776. [200]

Period of "rule by royal in-laws" Edit

Corruption in government and social unrest prevailed after 1776. The government attempted sweeping reforms in the late 19th century, but adhered to a strict isolationist policy, earning Korea the nickname "Hermit Kingdom". The policy had been established primarily for protection against Western imperialism, but soon the Joseon dynasty was forced to open trade, beginning an era leading into Japanese rule. [201] The destabilization of the Korean nation may be said to have begun in the period of Sedo Jeongchi (Korean: 세도정치 Hanja: 勢道政治 lit. in-law politics) whereby, on the death of King Jeongjo of Joseon (r. 1776–1800), the 10-year-old Sunjo of Joseon (r. 1800–34) ascended the Korean throne, with the true power of the administration residing with his regent, Kim Jo-sun, as a representative of the Andong Kim clan. As a result, the disarray and blatant corruption in the Korean government, particularly in the three main areas of revenues – land tax, military service, and the state granary system – heaped additional hardship on the peasantry. Of special note is the corruption of the local functionaries (Hyangni), who could purchase an appointment as an administrator and so cloak their predations on the farmers with an aura of officialdom. Yangban families, formerly well-respected for their status as a noble class and being powerful both "socially and politically", were increasingly seen as little more than commoners unwilling to meet their responsibilities to their communities. Faced with increasing corruption in the government, brigandage of the disenfranchised (such as the mounted fire brigands, or Hwajok, and the boat-borne water brigands or Sujok) and exploited by the elite, many poor village folk sought to pool their resources, such as land, tools, and production, to survive. Despite the government effort in bringing an end to the practice of owning slaves in 1801, slavery in Korea remained legal until 1894. [202]

Anti-Christian forces Edit

At this time, Catholic and Protestant missions were well tolerated among the nobles, most notably in and around the area of Seoul. [203] Animus and persecution by more conservative elements, the Pungyang Jo clan, took the lives of priests and followers, known as the Korean Martyrs, dissuading membership by the upper class. The peasants continued to be drawn to Christian egalitarianism, though mainly in urban and suburban areas. Arguably of greater influence were the religious teachings of Choe Je-u, (최제우, 崔濟愚, 1824–64) called "Donghak", which literally means Eastern Learning, and the religion became especially popular in rural areas. Themes of exclusionism (from foreign influences), nationalism, salvation and social consciousness were set to music, allowing illiterate farmers to understand and accept them more readily. Along with many other Koreans, Choe was alarmed by the intrusion of Christianity and the Anglo-French occupation of Beijing during the Second Opium War. He believed the best way to counter foreign influence in Korea was to introduce democratic and human rights reforms internally. Nationalism and social reform struck a chord among peasant guerrillas, and Donghak spread all across Korea. Progressive revolutionaries organized the peasants into a cohesive structure. Arrested in 1863 following the Jinju uprising led by Yu Kye-chun, Choe was charged with "misleading the people and sowing discord in society". Choe was executed in 1864, sending many of his followers into hiding in the mountains. [204]

King Gojong, 1864-1907 Edit

Gojong of Korea (r. 1864–1907), enthroned at the age of twelve, succeeded Cheoljong of Joseon (r. 1849–63). King Gojong's father, the Heungseon Daewongun (Yi Ha-ung 1820–98), ruled as the de facto regent and inaugurated far-ranging reforms to strengthen the central administration. Of special note was the decision to rebuild palace buildings and finance the project through additional levies on the population. Further inherited rule by a few elite ruling families was challenged by the adoption of a merit system for official appointments. In addition, Sowon – private academies – which threatened to develop a parallel system to the corrupt government and enjoyed special privileges and large landholdings, were taxed and repressed despite bitter opposition from Confucian scholars. Lastly, a policy of steadfast isolationism was enforced to staunch the increasing intrusion of Western thought and technology. He was impeached in 1873 and forced into retirement by the supporters of Empress Myeongseong, also called "Queen Min". [205]

Culture and society Edit

Korea's culture was based on the philosophy of Neo-Confucianism, which emphasizes morality, righteousness, and practical ethics. Wide interest in scholarly study resulted in the establishment of private academies and educational institutions. Many documents were written about history, geography, medicine, and Confucian principles. The arts flourished in painting, calligraphy, music, dance, and ceramics. [206]

The most notable cultural event of this era is the creation and promulgation of the Korean alphabet Hunmin jeongeom (later called Hangul) by Sejong the Great in 1446. [194] This period also saw various other cultural, scientific and technological advances. [207]

During Joseon dynasty, a social hierarchy system existed that greatly affected Korea's social development. The king and the royal family were atop the hereditary system, with the next tier being a class of civil or military officials and landowners known as yangban, who worked for the government and lived off the efforts of tenant farmers and slaves.

A middle class, jungin, were technical specialists such as scribes, medical officers, technicians in science-related fields, artists and musicians. Commoners, i.e. peasants, constituted the largest class in Korea. They had obligations to pay taxes, provide labor, and serve in the military. By paying land taxes to the state, they were allowed to cultivate land and farm. The lowest class included tenant farmers, slaves, entertainers, craftsmen, prostitutes, laborers, shamans, vagabonds, outcasts, and criminals. Although slave status was hereditary, they could be sold or freed at officially set prices, and the mistreatment of slaves was forbidden. [208]

This yangban focused system started to change in the late 17th century as political, economic and social changes came into place. By the 19th century, new commercial groups emerged, and the active social mobility caused the yangban class to expand, resulting in the weakening of the old class system. The Korea government ordered the freedom of government slaves in 1801. The class system of Korea was completely banned in 1894. [209]

Foreign pressure Edit

Korea dealt with a pair of Japanese invasions from 1592 to 1598 (Imjin War or the Seven Years' War). Prior to the war, Korea sent two ambassadors to scout for signs of Japan's intentions of invading Korea. However, they came back with two different reports, and while the politicians split into sides, few proactive measures were taken.

This conflict brought prominence to Admiral Yi Sun-sin as he contributed to eventually repelling the Japanese forces with the innovative use of his turtle ship, a massive, yet swift, ramming/cannon ship fitted with iron spikes. [210] [211] [212] The use of the hwacha was also highly effective in repelling the Japanese invaders from the land.

Subsequently, Korea was invaded in 1627 and again in 1636 by the Manchus, who went on to conquer China and establish the Qing dynasty, after which the Joseon dynasty recognized Qing suzerainty. Though Joseon respected its traditional subservient position to China, there was persistent loyalty for the perished Ming China and disdain for the Manchus, who were regarded as barbarians.

During the 19th century, Joseon tried to control foreign influence by closing its borders to all nations but China. In 1853 the USS South America, an American gunboat, visited Busan for 10 days and had amiable contact with local officials. Several Americans shipwrecked on Korea in 1855 and 1865 were also treated well and sent to China for repatriation. The Joseon court was aware of the foreign invasions and treaties involving Qing China, as well as the First and Second Opium Wars, and followed a cautious policy of slow exchange with the West.

In 1866, reacting to greater numbers of Korean converts to Catholicism despite several waves of persecutions, the Joseon court clamped down on them, massacring French Catholic missionaries and Korean converts alike. Later in the year France invaded and occupied portions of Ganghwa Island. The Korean army lost heavily, but the French abandoned the island.

The General Sherman, an American-owned armed merchant marine sidewheel schooner, attempted to open Korea to trade in 1866. After an initial miscommunication, the ship sailed upriver and became stranded near Pyongyang. After being ordered to leave by the Korean officials, the American crewmen killed four Korean inhabitants, kidnapped a military officer and engaged in sporadic fighting that continued for four days. After two efforts to destroy the ship failed, she was finally set aflame by Korean fireships laden with explosives.

This incident is celebrated by the DPRK as a precursor to the later USS Pueblo incident.

In response, the United States confronted Korea militarily in 1871, killing 243 Koreans in Ganghwa island before withdrawing. This incident is called the Sinmiyangyo in Korea. Five years later, the reclusive Korea signed a trade treaty with Japan, and in 1882 signed a treaty with the United States, ending centuries of isolationism.

Conflict between the conservative court and a reforming faction led to the Gapsin Coup in 1884. The reformers sought to reform Korea's institutionalized social inequality, by proclaiming social equality and the elimination of the privileges of the yangban class. The reformers were backed by Japan, and were thwarted by the arrival of Qing troops, invited by the conservative Queen Min. The Chinese troops departed but the leading general Yuan Shikai remained in Korea from 1885-1894 as Resident, directing Korean affairs.

In 1885, British Royal Navy occupied Geomun Island, and withdrew in 1887.

Korea became linked by telegraph to China in 1888 with Chinese controlled telegraphs. China permitted Korea to establish embassies with Russia (1884), Italy (1885), France (1886), the United States, and Japan. China attempted to block the exchange of embassies in Western countries, but not with Tokyo. The Qing government provided loans. China promoted its trade in an attempt to block Japanese merchants, which led to Chinese favour in Korean trade. Anti-Chinese riots broke out in 1888 and 1889 and Chinese shops were torched. Japan remained the largest foreign community and largest trading partner. [213]

A rapidly modernizing Meiji Japan successfully challenged China in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895), forcing it to abandon its long-standing claims to deference by Korea. Modernization began in Korea when Japan forced it to open its ports in 1876. However, the forces of modernization met strong opposition not only from the traditionalism of the ruling Korean elite but from the population at large, which supported the traditional Confucian system of government by gentlemen. Japan used modernization movements to gain more and more control over Korea. [214]

In 1895, the Japanese were involved in the murder of Empress Myeongseong, [215] [216] who had sought Russian help, and the Russians were forced to retreat from Korea for the time.

Korean Empire (1897–1910) Edit

As a result of the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895), the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki was concluded between China and Japan. [217] It stipulated the abolition of subordinate relationships Korea had with China, in which Korea was a tributary state of China since the Qing invasion of Joseon in 1636.

In 1897, Joseon was renamed the Korean Empire, and King Gojong became Emperor Gojong. The imperial government aimed to become a strong and independent nation by implementing domestic reforms, strengthening military forces, developing commerce and industry, and surveying land ownership. Organizations like the Independence Club also rallied to assert the rights of the Joseon people, but clashed with the government which proclaimed absolute monarchy and power. [218]

Russian influence was strong in the Empire until being defeated by Japan in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905). Korea effectively became a protectorate of Japan on 17 November 1905, the 1905 Protectorate Treaty having been promulgated without Emperor Gojong's required seal or commission. [219] [220]

Following the signing of the treaty, many intellectuals and scholars set up various organizations and associations, embarking on movements for independence. In 1907, Gojong was forced to abdicate after Japan learned that he sent secret envoys to the Second Hague Conventions to protest against the protectorate treaty, leading to the accession of Gojong's son, Emperor Sunjong. In 1909, independence activist An Jung-geun assassinated Itō Hirobumi, former Resident-General of Korea, for Ito's intrusions on the Korean politics. [221] [222] This prompted the Japanese to ban all political organizations and proceed with plans for annexation.

Japanese rule (1910–1945) Edit

In 1910, the Empire of Japan effectively annexed Korea through the Japan–Korea Annexation Treaty. Along with all other previously signed treaties between Korea and Japan, the annexation treaty was confirmed to be null and void in 1965. While Japan asserts the treaty was concluded legally, Korea [ who? ] disputes the legality of the treaty, because the treaty was not signed by the Emperor of Korea as required [ by whom? ] and it violated the international convention [ which? ] on external pressures regarding treaties. [223] [224] Many Koreans formed the Righteous army to fight against Japanese rule. [225]

Korea was controlled by Japan under a Governor-General of Korea from 1910 until Japan's unconditional surrender to the Allied Forces on 15 August 1945. De jure sovereignty was deemed to have passed from the Joseon dynasty to the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea. [221]

After the annexation, Japan set out to suppress many traditional Korean customs, including eventually even the Korean language itself. [226] [227] Economic policies were implemented primarily for Japanese benefit. [228] [229] European-styled transport and communication networks were constructed across the nation in order to extract resources and exploit labor. However, much of the built infrastructure was later destroyed during the devastating Korean War. The banking system was consolidated and the Korean currency abolished.

The Japanese removed the Joseon hierarchy and gave the census register to the Baekjeong and Nobi who were not allowed to have the census register during Joseon period, [230] The Gyeongbokgung palace was mostly destroyed, and replaced with the office building of the Governor-General of Korea. [231]

After Emperor Gojong died in January 1919, with rumors of poisoning, independence rallies against the Japanese colonizers took place nationwide on 1 March 1919 (the March 1st Movement). This movement was suppressed by force and about 7,000 persons were killed by Japanese soldiers [note 3] [232] and police. [233] An estimated 2 million people took part in peaceful, pro-liberation rallies, although Japanese records claim participation of less than half million. [234] This movement was partly inspired by United States President Woodrow Wilson's speech of 1919, declaring support for right of self-determination and an end to colonial rule after World War I. [234]

The Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea was established in Shanghai, China, in the aftermath of the March 1 Movement, which coordinated the liberation effort and resistance against Japanese rule. Some of the achievements of the Provisional Government included the Battle of Chingshanli of 1920 and the ambush of Japanese military leadership in China in 1932. The Provisional Government is considered to be the de jure government of the Korean people between 1919 and 1948. The legitimacy of the provisional government is enshrined into the preamble of the constitution of the Republic of Korea. [235]

So far as primary and secondary education in Korea were classified as being for “those habitually using the Korean language”, and for “those habitually using the Japanese language”. Thus, the ethnic Koreans could attend the schools primarily for Japanese, and vice versa. [236]

As of 1926, the Korean language was taught for 4 hours a week for the first and second year of a common school having a six-year course, 3 for the rest of the course. Both Japanese and Koreans paid school-fees, without exception. The average fee in a common school was about 25 cents a month. The educational assessment levied by District educational bodies, paid by the ethnic Koreans, averaged about 20 cents in 1923, per capita of the Korean population, that levied by school associations, paid by the ethnic Japanese, averaged about 3.30 dollars per capita of the Japanese population comprised within all the school associations in Korea. [237]

The literacy rate of Korea reached 22% in 1945. [238] The school curriculum was radically modified to eliminate teaching of the Korean language and history. [221] The Korean language was banned, and Koreans were forced to adopt Japanese names, [239] [note 4] [240] and newspapers were prohibited from publishing in Korean. Numerous Korean cultural artifacts were destroyed or taken to Japan. [241] According to an investigation by the South Korean government, 75,311 cultural assets were taken from Korea. [241] [242]

Some Koreans left the Korean Peninsula to exile in China, the United States, and elsewhere. Koreans in Manchuria formed resistance groups known as Dongnipgun (Liberation Army) they would travel in and out of the Sino-Korean border, fighting guerrilla warfare with Japanese forces. Some of them would group together in the 1940s as the Korean Liberation Army, which took part in allied action in China and parts of South East Asia. Tens of thousands of Koreans also joined the People's Liberation Army and the National Revolutionary Army.

The expulsion of the Japanese in 1945 removed practically all administrative and technical expertise. While the Japanese only comprised 2.6 percent of the population in 1944, they were an urban elite. The largest 50 cities contained 71 percent of the Japanese but only 12 percent of the Koreans. They largely dominated the ranks of the well-educated occupations. Meanwhile, 71 percent of the Koreans worked on farms. [243]

Division and Korean War (1945–1953) Edit

At the Cairo Conference on November 22, 1943, the US, UK, and China agreed that "in due course Korea shall become free and independent" [244] [245] at a later meeting in Yalta in February 1945, the Allies agreed to establish a four-power trusteeship over Korea. [246] On August 14, 1945, Soviet forces entered Korea by amphibious landings, enabling them to secure control in the north. Japan surrendered to the Allied Forces on August 15, 1945.

The unconditional surrender of Japan, combined with fundamental shifts in global politics and ideology, led to the division of Korea into two occupation zones, effectively starting on September 8, 1945. The United States administered the southern half of the peninsula and the Soviet Union took over the area north of the 38th parallel. The Provisional Government was ignored, mainly due to American belief that it was too aligned with the communists. [247] This division was meant to be temporary and was intended to return a unified Korea back to its people after the United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, and Republic of China could arrange a single government.

In December 1945, a conference convened in Moscow to discuss the future of Korea. [248] A 5-year trusteeship was discussed, and a joint Soviet-American commission was established. The commission met intermittently in Seoul but members deadlocked over the issue of establishing a national government. In September 1947, with no solution in sight, the United States submitted the Korean question to the United Nations General Assembly. On December 12, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations recognised the Republic of Korea as the sole legal government of Korea. [249]

On June 25, 1950, the Korean War broke out when North Korea breached the 38th parallel line to invade the South, ending any hope of a peaceful reunification for the time being. After the war, the 1954 Geneva conference failed to adopt a solution for a unified Korea. Approximately 3 million people died in the Korean War, with a higher proportional civilian death toll than World War II or the Vietnam War, making it perhaps the deadliest conflict of the Cold War-era. In addition, virtually all of Korea's major cities were destroyed by the war. [250] [251] [252] [253] [254]

Modern Korea (1953–present) Edit

Beginning with Syngman Rhee in 1948, a series of autocratic governments took power in South Korea with American support and influence.

With the coup of Park Chung-Hee in 1961, a new economic policy began. In order to promote economic development, a policy of export-oriented industrialization was applied. President Park developed the South Korean economy through a series of highly successful Five-Year Plans. South Korea's economic development was spearheaded by the chaebol, family conglomerates such as Samsung, Hyundai, SK Group, LG Corporation. The chaebol received state-backing via tax breaks and cheap loans, and took advantage of South Korea's inexpensive labor to produce exportable products. [255] The government made education a very high priority to create a well-educated populace capable of productively contributing to the economy. Despite occasional political instability, the Korean economy subsequently saw enormous growth for nearly forty years, in a period known as the Miracle on the Han River. The unparalleled economic miracle brought South Korea from one of the poorest states in the world after the Korean War into a fully developed country within a generation.

South Korea eventually transitioned into a market-oriented democracy in 1987 largely due to popular demand for political reform, and then hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics, the second Summer Olympic Games to be held on the Asian continent, in the following year.

Moving on from cheap, lower-value light industry exports, the South Korean economy eventually moved onto more capital-intensive, higher-value industries, such as information technology, shipbuilding, auto manufacturing, and petroleum refining. Today, South Korea is a leading economy and a technological powerhouse, rivaling even countries such as the United States in information and communication technology. South Korean pop culture has also boomed abroad in recent years, in a phenomenon known as the Korean Wave.

Due to Soviet Influence, North Korea established a communist government with a hereditary succession of leadership, with ties to China and the Soviet Union. Kim Il-sung became the supreme leader until his death in 1994, after which his son, Kim Jong-il took power. Kim Jong-il's son, Kim Jong-un, is the current leader, taking power after his father's death in 2011. After the Soviet Union's dissolution in 1991, the North Korean economy went on a path of steep decline, and it is currently heavily reliant on international food aid and trade with China.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Although the government officially claims that North Korea is a classless society that has done away with the remnants of feudalism

The vast majority of North Koreans are ordinary citizens who are divided and subdivided into ranks according to their family history and revolutionary or unrevolutionary origin. Status is regularly reviewed, and if any member of the family commits an antirevolutionary crime, other members of the family are also demoted in status.


European Union Edit

The European Union has imposed a series of sanctions against North Korea since 2006. These include: [2]

  • embargoing arms and related materials. [2]
  • banning the export of aviation and rocket fuel to North Korea.
  • banning the trade of gold, precious metals, and diamonds with the North Korean government. [2]
  • banning the import of minerals from North Korea, with some exemptions for coal and iron ore.
  • banning the export of luxury goods. [2]
  • restricting financial support for trade with North Korea. [2]
  • restricting investment and financial activities. [2]
  • inspecting and monitoring cargoes imported to and exported from North Korea. [2]
  • prohibiting certain North Korean individuals from entering the EU. [3]

On 21 September 2017, EU banned oil exports and investments in North Korea. [4]

United Nations Security Council Edit

The UN Security Council has passed a number of resolutions since North Korea's first nuclear test in 2006. [5]

    , passed in 2006, demanded that North Korea cease nuclear testing and prohibited the export of some military supplies and luxury goods to North Korea. [6][2] The UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea was established, supported by the Panel of Experts. [7][8][9] , passed after the second nuclear test in 2009, broadened the arms embargo. Member states were encouraged to inspect ships and destroy any cargo suspected of being related to the nuclear weapons program. [2][5] , passed in January 2013 after a satellite launch, strengthened previous sanctions by clarifying a state's right to seize and destroy cargo suspected of heading to or from North Korea for purposes of military research and development. [2][5] , passed in March 2013 after the third nuclear test, imposed sanctions on money transfers and aimed to shut North Korea out of the international financial system. [2][5] , passed in March 2016 after the fourth nuclear test, further strengthened existing sanctions. [10] It banned the export of gold, vanadium, titanium, and rare earth metals. The export of coal and iron were also banned, with an exemption for transactions that were purely for "livelihood purposes." [11][5] , passed in November 2016, capped North Korea's coal exports and banned exports of copper, nickel, zinc, and silver. [12][13] In February 2017, a UN panel said that 116 of 193 member states had not yet submitted a report on their implementation of these sanctions, though China had. [14] , passed in August 2017, banned all exports of coal, iron, lead, and seafood. The resolution also imposed new restrictions on North Korea's Foreign Trade Bank and prohibited any increase in the number of North Koreans working in foreign countries. [15] , passed on 11 September 2017, limited North Korean crude oil and refined petroleum product imports banned joint ventures, textile exports, natural gas condensate and liquid imports and banned North Korean nationals from working abroad in other countries. [16] , passed on 22 December 2017 after the launch of a Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile, limited North Korean crude oil and refined petroleum product imports to 500,000 barrels per year, banned the export of food, machinery and electrical equipment, called for the repatriation of all North Korean nationals earning income abroad within 24 months. The resolution also authorized member states to seize and inspect any vessel in their territorial waters found to be illicitly providing oil or other prohibited products to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. [17]

United Nations agencies are restricted in the aid they can give to North Korea because of the sanctions, but they can help with nutrition, health, water, and sanitation. [18]

Australia Edit

Australia has imposed a series of sanctions against North Korea since August 2017. [19]

China Edit

In February 2017, China banned all imports of coal from North Korea for the rest of the year. [20] China also banned exports of some petroleum products and imports of textiles from North Korea in line with United Nations resolutions. [21]

Japan Edit

In 2016, Japan imposed sanctions against North Korea including: [2]

  • banning remittances, except those made for humanitarian purposes less than ¥100,000 in value. [2]
  • prohibiting North Korean citizens from entering Japan. [2]
  • renewing the ban on North Korean ships entering Japanese ports and extending it to include other ships that have visited North Korea. [2]
  • banning nuclear and missile technicians who have been to North Korea from entering Japan. [22]

Russia Edit

On 30 March 2010, President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree implementing intensified United Nations Security Council sanctions against Pyongyang's nuclear programs. The presidential decree banned the purchase of weapons and relevant materials from the DPRK by government offices, enterprises, banks, organizations and individuals currently under Russia's jurisdiction. It also prohibited the transit of weapons and relevant materials via Russian territory or their export to the DPRK. Any financial aid and educational training that might facilitate North Korea's nuclear program and proliferation activities were also forbidden. [23]

In December 2013 Russia joined the sanctions against North Korea, introduced in March by the UN Security Council (Resolution 2087). The corresponding decree signed by President Putin specified that Russian companies were prohibited to provide North Korea any technical assistance and advice in the development and production of ballistic missiles. In addition, North Korean naval vessels to call at Russian ports would be required to undergo inspection. Also, the authorities ordered to be vigilant when dealing with North Korean diplomats. [24] [25]

In October 2017 Russian President Vladimir Putin signed Presidential decree (ukaz) No. 484 "On measures to implement UN Security Council resolution 2321 of November 30, 2016" imposing sanctions on North Korea in connection with the adoption of UN Security Council resolution 2321 of 30 November 2016. [26] The decree supplements a number of applications, including a list of individuals and legal entities associated with the North Korean nuclear program or its ballistic missile program, which are subject to restrictions. The measures provided for by Security Council resolution 2321 introduce additional bans on trade, economic, banking, financial, scientific and technical cooperation with North Korea. In the trade and economic field, the purchase of copper, nickel, silver and zinc from the North Korea is prohibited. At the same time, the exception provided for by UN Security Council resolution 2270 of 2 March 2016 is retained for the project for the transit of Russian coal through Russian Railways through the North Korean port of Rajin for subsequent export to third countries. In addition, scientific and technical cooperation with the participation of persons or groups representing North Korea should be suspended, with the exception of exchanges in the field of medicine. In addition, targeted restrictions are expanding on a number of North Korean individuals and legal entities, as well as lists of products, including "luxury goods", the import and export of which is prohibited to and from North Korea. In addition, expanding the list of dual-use goods and other items whose import into the DPRK is prohibited due to their potential use for nuclear missile program of the country and other actions that violate the North Korean sanctions regime. The document also provides for a complete ban on the import of textile products from North Korea. Additional restrictions on cooperation in the transport sector were introduced in the decree: the delivery of new helicopters and ships to North Korea became prohibited all seagoing ships owned or controlled by the North Korea should be removed from state registration North Korean aircraft and ship inspection measures were tightened on the territory of UN member states. [27]

South Korea Edit

In 2010, South Korea imposed sanctions against North Korea in response to the sinking of the South Korean naval ship, the ROKS Cheonan, known as the May 24 measures. These sanctions included: [2]

  • banning North Korean ships from South Korean territorial waters. [2]
  • suspending inter-Korean trade except at the Kaesong Industrial Zone. [2]
  • banning most cultural exchanges. [2]

In 2016, President Park Geun-hye ordered the Kaesong Industrial Region to close in retaliation for the nuclear test in January and the rocket launch in February. [2]

In 2019, a UN panel accused South Korea of violating sanctions by not notifying the Security Council about its deliveries of petroleum products for use at inter-Korean joint liaison office. [28] Also in the Annex of the Updated Guidance on Addressing North Korea’s Illicit Shipping Practices, issued by the United States Treasury, a ship of South Korea was listed as that believed to have engaged in ship-to-ship transfers with North Korean tankers. [29]

Taiwan Edit

In 2017 Taiwan also banned trade with North Korea to comply with the United Nations resolutions, despite not being a member of the UN. North Korea is Taiwan's 174th largest trading partner and imported US$1.2 million and exported US$36,575 in goods from January to July 2017. [30] A year later, former High Court judge Chiang Kuo-hua and his son, Chiang Heng had allegedly evaded North Korean sanctions by chartering a ship to transport four anthracite coals from Vietnam that summer. Both of them and two other PRC nationals were accused of assisting terrorists and forging documents. [31]

United States Edit

From 1950 to 2008, trade between the United States and North Korea was restricted under the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917. After 2008, some restrictions related to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act stayed in effect. In February 2016, the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016 (H.R. 757Pub.L. 114–122 (text) (pdf)) was passed which: [2]

  • requires the President to sanction entities found to have contributed to North Korea's weapons of mass destruction program, arms trade, human rights abuses, or other illegal activities. [2]
  • imposes mandatory sanctions on entities involved in North Korea's mineral or metal trade, which comprises a large part of North Korea's foreign exports. [2]
  • requires the United States Treasury to determine whether North Korea should be listed as a "primary money laundering concern," which would trigger tough new financial restrictions. [2]
  • imposes new sanctions authorities related to North Korean human rights and cybersecurity abuse.

In July 2017, after the death of tourist Otto Warmbier, the United States government banned US citizens from visiting North Korea without special validation starting 1 September 2017. [32]

On 21 September 2017, President Donald Trump issued Executive Order 13810 allowing the United States to cut from its financial system or freeze assets of any companies, businesses, organizations, and individuals trading in goods, services, or technology with North Korea. Aircraft or ships entering North Korea are banned from entering the United States for 180 days. The same restriction applies to ships which conduct ship-to-ship transfers with North Korean ships. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated that "Foreign financial institutions are now on notice that going forward they can choose to do business with the United States or North Korea, but not both." A statement from the White House said "Foreign financial institutions must choose between doing business with the United States or facilitating trade with North Korea or its designated supporters." [34] [4] On 25 September 2017, the US Treasury barred the entry of North Korean nationals to the United States. [35]

Following the abduction of a South Korean fishing vessel, additional sanctions were ordered by the Treasury on 26 October 2017, following a culmination of "flagrant" rights abuses including executions, torture, and forced labour. Seven individuals and three North Korean entities were affected by the sanctions. [36]

On 11 July 2018, during a summit in Brussels, NATO leaders called for continued pressure and ongoing sanctions enforcement on North Korea. The group of 29 countries, including the United States, signed a declaration which called on members to maintain pressure on North Korea though also welcomed recent diplomatic progress in the region. [37]

On 13 November 2018, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe reaffirmed the need to keep sanctions on North Korea to achieve its denuclearization. [38] On 20 December 2018, it was reported that the United States plans to review its ban on US travel to North Korea. [39]

U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed sanctions against North Korea imposed by China and Russia. [40]

According to the United Nations Panel of Experts in April 2019, North Korea had developed a number of techniques and a complex web of organizations to enable it to evade the sanctions. The techniques included falsification of documents and covert ship-to-ship transfers of cargo at sea. [41]

In May 2019, the United States announced it had seized a North Korean cargo vessel for carrying a coal shipment in defiance of sanctions. The Justice Department said the 17,061-tonne Wise Honest is one of the North's largest cargo ships and she was first detained by Indonesia in April 2018 but she was now in the possession of the United States. [42]

U.S. President Donald Trump accused China and Russia of violating sanctions against North Korea. [43] [44]

A report by the United Nations Panel of Experts stated that North Korea was covertly trading in arms and minerals despite sanctions against this. [45]

The academic John Delury has described the sanctions as futile and counterproductive. He has argued that they are unenforceable and unlikely to stop North Korea's nuclear weapons program. [46]

On the other hand, Sung-Yoon Lee, Professor in Korean Studies at the Fletcher School, and Joshua Stanton advocate continued tightening of sanctions and targeting Pyongyang's systemic vulnerabilities, such as blocking the regime's "offshore hard currency reserves and income with financial sanctions, including secondary sanctions against its foreign enablers. This would significantly diminish, if not altogether deny, Kim the means to pay his military, security forces and elites that repress the North Korean public." [47] [48]

It is estimated by Kim B. Park of WHO panel that sanctions in 2018 resulted around 4000 preventable deaths due to delays in exemptions for programs by NGO's and the UN agencies that have humanitarian programs in North Korea. [49]

The agricultural impact is highlighted in a report jointly made by the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization. The report outlines the negative effects on irrigation and yield in food production due to restrictions in machinery, spare parts, fuels and fertilizers. [50] [51]

The Red Box: Misunderstandings and Stereotypes about North Koreans

For North Korean refugees, resettling in a new society comes with many challenges. One of these challenges is overcoming the stereotypes about North Korea and the North Korean people.

In the latest episode of The Red Box, our North Korean friends and 2019 LiNK Advocacy Fellows talk about the struggle of of facing stereotypes after resettling in South Korea.

Watch as Jeongyol, Joy, Dasom, and Ilhyeok answer your questions in The Red Box Series!

Read the transcript of this episode below!

All: Welcome to the Red Box!

Are there any misunderstandings about the North Korean people that make you feel uncomfortable?

Ilhyeok: Misunderstandings?

Joy: When I first came to South Korea, was working part-time at a convenience store. I was still very young and had a very heavy North Korean accent.

In South Korea, when a customer enters the part-time employees don't really greet them. But I used to greet the customers standing and say "Welcome!" so people would ask me where I'm from.

Iɽ tell them that I'm from North Korea. Theyɽ say "oh really?" After they get their stuff and put them on the counter, theyɽ asked me if I ever had jjajangmyun or pork in North Korea? Theyɽ ask me these types of questions. Some people ask because they don't know but sometimes they ask questions that insinuate that we were all so poor in North Korea. Not everyone in North Korea is like that. There's people who live well too

Jeongyol: If someone asked me that, I’d tell them I might've lived a wealthier life there [in North Korea].

Joy: So those types of questions made me feel a little uncomfortable.

Jeongyol: A lot of people think like that.

Dasom: People think that all North Koreans are poor, ignorant, and uneducated. People have told me that even though I must have starved and lived poorly in North Korea, I don't look the part.

Maybe some people did or didn't have enough food to eat. There are poor people and there are rich people too. Every country is the same — it’s the same in South Korea too. There are rich, poor, and homeless people in South Korea too. I don't think it's right to judge someone like that. It made me feel very uncomfortable

Jeongyol: When I was in high school, there was a soccer match between North Korea and South Korea. But all of a sudden they asked me which team I'm cheering for. So I was startled by the question.

Should I say I'm cheering for North Korea or South Korea? What's my identity?

Even though I'm living in South Korea as a South Korean citizen, they didn't recognize the fact that I'm also South Korean. That we were the same people.

So at the time I answered, "I'm not cheering for either team. I don't care who wins. I’m just watching the game for fun.” It went over smoothly but afterward I kept thinking about it. But now that I think about it…It wasn't my choice to be born in North Korea.

Dasom: Right

Jeongyol: I could've been born in the U.S. but somehow I was born in North Korea.

Anyone could've been born in North Korea.

It's not anyone's fault. So from that moment on, I became confident. I am just who I am.

Ilhyeok: I have this older friend from China. During holidays like in January, heɽ always ask me if I am visiting my hometown. Whenever he asks me that question, I want to be able to tell him that I'm am going [home] but I can't because I can't go back so I just don’t answer him. When he asked me if I'm going home, I just wished that I could return home one day.

It's heartbreaking not being able to go home.

During Chuseok and New Year's Day, those two holidays are when I miss home the most.

Joy: One uncomfortable question for me was when I was in school or met people was when they asked me why there's no riot or uprising in North Korea. Sometimes people ask because they really don't know but sometimes they insinuate that we're cowards.

And with that viewpoint, they ask why we won't revolt against the government. I try to explain but they still insist and say, ”But you guys still should have done something.” That makes me a little sad.

In North Korea, there's a system of monitoring each other. So if one person says something bad, theyɽ get reported right away and taken.

Jeongyol: In South Korea there were a lot of civil riots so they ask why we didn't do anything in North Korea.

Joy: But it's a very different situation.

Jeongyol: The system doesn't allow it.

What also made me uncomfortable was if I did something wrong, people would blame it because I'm North Korean.

They say things like, “It's because she's North Korean.” That made me upset. Other people say bad things and make mistakes too. But because of one mistake they say all North Koreans are like that and that I wouldn't know things or be able to do things because I'm from North Korea.

I hated hearing that so I wouldn't tell anyone that I was from North Korea.

The US and North Korea: a brief history

A planned summit between the United States and North Korea has been cancelled after US President Donald Trump withdrew.

In a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Trump said: “Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it would be inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting.”

The decision came after North Korea threatened to pull out of what would have been the first meeting between a serving US president and North Korean leader, following what were seen as confrontational remarks by US officials.

Despite the tensions, North Korea responded to Trump's decision in conciliatory terms:

"We would like to make known to the US side once again that we have the intent to sit with the US side to solve problem(s) regardless of ways at any time,” said Kim Kye Gwan, a senior Foreign Ministry official.

To those who lived and grew up during the Cold War era, the current tensions between North Korea and the US are a reminder that the conflicts of around 70 and more years ago have left legacies and enmities that have not yet gone away – and which still pose a real threat to world peace.

To begin to understand this complex relationship, you have to look back to the Korean War of 1950-1953 – a bloody conflict in which up to 3 million Koreans died, most of them in the north. About 58,000 US soldiers also lost their lives, as did 1 million Chinese and about 1,000 British troops.

The roots of conflict

Korea was liberated from 35 years of fractious and often harsh Japanese rule when the Second World War ended in 1945. While many Koreans wanted a self-governing state, much of the country’s prosperity had been built on the input of its old imperial rulers and by the time Japanese rule had ended Korea was the second-most industrialized nation in the region, after Japan.

But both the opportunities presented by the country’s industrial strength and its location on the borders of China and Japan – with whom the US wanted to build trade relationships after the war – and Russia’s desire to increase its “sphere of influence” meant that the hopes of a single, self-governed nation were not to be realized.

Late 1940s and early 1950s America, spooked by fears of communism, sought to contain what it saw as the threat of global communism, and this division led to Korea being split into two along the 38th parallel.

Effectively, North Korea became a Soviet-supported communist regime led by Kim Il-sung, grandfather of current ruler Kim Jong-un, while South Korea became a US-backed attempt at democracy under Syngman Rhee.

The road to a Cold War

Tensions were never far from the surface and various factions sought to unify the country. A widely accepted version of the story says that on June 25 1950, armed with Soviet weapons, North Korea crossed the 38th parallel border in an attempt to take over the whole territory.

However, it is probable that the eventual outbreak was the result of a gradual escalation of hostilities by both sides over time.

In 1950, with the Soviets boycotting the UN Security Council over a decision to exclude China from membership, Harry Truman, the US president, was able to secure a resolution to use force against North Korea and the war began.

In many ways this was the official start of the Cold War, in which the US and Russia used others to engage in conflicts because of fears that a direct war between the two sides would escalate to all-out nuclear war.

While both sides had the upper hand in the Korean dispute at various times – and it eventually dragged China in on the North’s side and the British and other UN member states on the South’s – the dispute ended in stalemate in July 1953.

The conflict was bloody, with the US carpet bombing its opponent’s cities and civilians with more than 635,000 tons of explosives, including 32,557 tons of napalm. By comparison, in the Second World War, it had used 503,000 tons in the South Pacific over a much larger area.

As well as setting the template for later Cold War tensions such as the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and the Vietnam War of 1965-73, the Korean War left a visible divide between the two halves of Korea in the Demilitarized Zone, a heavily fenced and land-mined 4 kilometre separation strip guarded on both sides.

Following the armistice, the Republic of Korea, known as South Korea, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea, were created. Both were officially admitted into the UN General Assembly in 1991.

But the conflict left feelings of anger and hatred on both sides as many families were forcibly separated, some never to be reunited, while in the North the blanket bombings of the Korean War and the imperialist Japanese rule are still sources of rancour.

As Robert E Kelly, a professor of political science at South Korea’s Pusan National University, told CNN: “The bombing is treated as the American original sin in the (North Korean) propaganda and it certainly was savage.

“It’s become a political tool to justify the permanent emergency state. Japanese colonization is used the same.”

Many North Koreans still view the US bombings as war crimes.

And the tensions remain

While the US, Japan and their allies helped to rebuild South Korea, the North turned to Russia, China and the nations in the Communist sphere of influence, which between them supplied almost 880 million roubles as well as manpower and technological input.

The result, according to historian Charles K Armstrong, was that: “In the late 1950s North Korea’s growth rate of total industrial output (averaging 39% between 1953 and 1960) was probably the highest in the world.”

But tensions, which even today run broadly on the lines established in the Cold War, have always kept the US and North Korea at loggerheads.

For the US, these have mostly been fueled by the North’s nuclear ambitions and its development of missile technology, both of which are alleged to have provided it with exports to states such as Iran and Syria.

However, these tensions have cooled recently, with talks between North and South and the planned - although now cancelled - talks with the US.

  • 1985: The North joined the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, barring it from producing nuclear weapons, partly after coercion by Russia.
  • 1993: The International Atomic Energy Agency accused the North of violating the treaty. The North fired a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan.
  • 1994: The North and the US sign the Agreed Framework and Pyongyang agreed to freeze its nuclear programme. This collapsed by the end of 2002.
  • 1996: Severe famine in the North leads to an estimated 3 million deaths. The US provided food aid, most of it through non-government organizations.
  • 1996: The North refuses to stick to the 1953 Korean War armistice and sends troops into the Demilitarized Zone.
  • 1998: The North fires a ballistic rocket over Japan and into the Pacific, far beyond its weapons previously known capabilities.
  • 2002: North and South wage a naval battle in the Yellow Sea.
  • 2006: The North fires seven missiles and conducts its first underground nuclear weapons tests, As a result, the UN imposes economic sanctions.
  • 2010: The North reportedly shows an eminent US scientist a secret uranium-enrichment facility.
  • 2012: North Korea claims to have missiles that can reach the US after South Korea and the US agree to extend the range of the South’s missiles.
  • 2013: The UN agrees fresh sanctions after a third nuclear test.
  • 2016-17: North Korea continues a series of long-range missile tests.
  • Early 2018: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump exchange threats about their countries' nuclear capabilities.
  • March 2018: Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump announce plans to meet.
  • March 2018: Kim Jong-un recommits to denuclearisation during talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing.
  • April 2018: Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in hold talks.
  • May 2018: The scheduled meeting between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump is cancelled by the US president.

While George W Bush described North Korea as part of an “axis of evil”, his successor, Barack Obama, kept up an attempt at dialogue mixed with sanctions.

Donald Trump, the current US president, has been critical of past efforts to engage with the regime and had taken a far less tolerant attitude to both North Korea and its ruler in the mainstream media and on Twitter.

Missile tests, some of which flew over Japan, a key US ally and a major global economy, were viewed as a deliberate provocation of the US, as were claims it now has missiles that can hit mainland America.

However, 2018 has seen a thawing of relations. North and South Korea athletes marched under a single flag during the Winter Olympics, while Kim Jong-un conducted his first foreign visit since assuming power. His visit to China included a reaffirmed commitment to denuclearisation.

His visit to the south and meeting with President Moon Jae-in was viewed as another significant step, as both parties made commitments to peace on the peninsula.

And despite the cancelled meeting between the North and the US, Kim Jong-un has said he's still willing to meet "at any time."

High school curriculum and distribution of hours for each subject per week

DivisionSubject1st grade2nd grade3rd grade
Political ThoughtRevolutionary History of Our Supreme Leader Kim Il-Sung32-
Revolutionary History of Our Great Leader Kim Jong-Il-24
Revolutionary History of the Anti-Japanese Heroine, Mother Kim Jong-Suk-1/2-
Revolutionary History of Our Dear Leader Kim Jong-Un111
Current Government Policy1 Week (20)1 Week1 Week
Socialist Morality and law111
Language and HumanitiesPsychology and Logic--1 Week
Korean Literature323
Chinese Characters111
Math and Natural SciencesMath55/44
TechnologyInformation Technology211
Basic Technology2 weeks3 weeks3 weeks
Industrial (Agricultural) Foundation--4
Misc.Physical Education111
MilitaryBasic Military Operations-1 week (48)1 week (48)

It is clear that the objective of North Korea’s education system is only to propel “revolutionary ideals”—revolution not in the orthodox sense—rather, defined as “ideals that support the country and the Kim dynasty. The contents of the education include Juche ideology, labor party policies as well as the refinement of the revolutionary traditions, communist beliefs, and more. The goal of its science and technology education is the advancement of North Korean technology. Physical education serves to have its citizens physically fit for labor and military duty.

If one juxtaposes North Korean legislation and legal theory with the reality, it is clear that the goals of North Korean education is not even close to including universal values such as peace, tolerance, equality, dignity, and humanity. North Korean education is no different from raising slaves.

Into the System

Similar to the education curricula of other nations, the North Korean education curriculum includes the country’s native language (Korean), mathematics, foreign language, and science. However, much emphasis is put on the importance of a curriculum centered around political thought, putting it above all other subjects in priority. This political science education is further subdivided into topics of socialist morality and the revolutionary histories and deeds of Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Sook, Kim Jong-Il, and Kim Jong-Un, which carry enormous weight within the overall education curriculum.

This political curriculum puts significance in the idea that the Kim family was a group of revolutionaries whom all citizens should seek to take after. This is evident in the forewords in the North Korean textbooks. For example, in the foreword of the textbook for the subject named “Revolutionary History of the Supreme Leader Kim Il-Sung”, one of the subjects taken in the 1st year of high school, it is written that the most important objective in becoming a Juche revolutionary is to learn about Kim Il-Sung’s greatness and revolutionary history, and “to study hard in order to emerge as a revolutionary warrior grounded in loyalty towards the party and the leadership.”[2]

The distortion of history, along with idolization, is part of the indoctrination education system designed to maintain the single-party dictatorship of North Korea. The government legitimizes the regime through its distortion of history, idolization of its leaders, and accentuation of the claim that North Korea is a great nation. History is distorted in various ways, including the changing of contemporary Korean history the manipulation of the truth about Kim Il-Sung’s anti-Japanese war efforts glorifying the Kim family history as well as the intentional misinterpretation of world history. One notable example of historical distortion is the curricula about the Korean War itself:

“On June 25 th , 1950, the American invaders began its attack against the northern part of the Republic by instigating the South Korean puppet government led by Rhee Syngman.”[3]

Chinese involvement in the war beginning in October of 1950 is never mentioned anywhere, despite the fact that Kim Il-Sung focused on rebuilding the military and the government while relying solely on Chinese forces for the counterattack. All the credit for fighting the southern forces is attributed to Kim Il-Sung’s leadership and the North Korean military.

Furthermore, the Kim family is falsely deified by the education with outlandish claims. “Kim Il-Sung is often described as a partisan general who defeated a million Japanese soldiers. Stories say that he made grenades with pine cones and bullets with sand. My elementary textbook said that he used teleportation when he annihilated the Japanese. I couldn’t help but believe it because I grew up learning about it my entire life… I was quite confused when I learned the truth in elementary school. It took me a couple of years to come to accept the truth,” said defected Soo-Min Hwang. Ji-Yeon Kim, a former teacher who formerly taught revolutionary history said, “I just taught them the subject systematically because it was on the tests… We had no choice because of the established system… It was just being drilled into the students.”

North Korea is one of the world’s most isolated countries and flagrant abuser of human rights. Its citizens are victims of mass media surveillance and monitoring, and are devoid of freedom of speech and association. Yet, not coincidentally, they idolize the Kim family, maintaining the regime for the next heir.

The reason for this irony stem from North Korea’s education system. The North Korean government indoctrinates their citizens with loyalty through idolization in the school curriculum. The school curriculum justifies Kim Jong-Un’s dictatorship and Songun Politics that neglects human rights of North Koreans via historical distortion, and focuses to strengthen violence and hatred through hatred education. The North Korean education system completely ignores international laws that the government has ratified, which is severely disruptive to the intellectual development of the students.

During the height of the Arab Spring, the South Korean government dropped propaganda leaflets in impoverished areas of North Korea containing information of the democracy uprisings in various Middle Eastern countries. It was thought that perhaps this could foment an uprising in North Korea. After all, North Korea shares many of the same characteristics as Egypt, Libya, Syria, and various other nations who participated in the Arab Spring. Ruled by authoritarian leaders who amassed massive amounts of wealth mass poverty and economic malaise amongst the general population a few wealthy, politically connected elite suppression of dissent human rights abuses conducted by administrations.Yet none of these nations were quite as isolated as North Korea, nor did they have such a large-scale system of indoctrination, brainwashing, propaganda, deification of leader, and distortion or history that North Korea maintains through its education system.

For this very reason, North Korea cannot have a “Korea Spring.” Nowhere in the world has there ever existed a system of ideological manipulation in such magnitude as the education system in North Korea. “I feel such pity for children in the system. They can’t see the world but learn to live like that unconsciously,” said defector Yeon-ri Kim.

It is the education system which renders the people of North Korea blind and voiceless, unable to speak up against their oppressive leader. The rest of the world can’t just be waiting, expecting the Kim regime to be toppled by a revolution. As long as the international community allows for North Korea to continue its education system the way it is, the established cycle of tyranny and suppression will continue.

Jinny Ha-kyung Kim is a student in Princeton, NJ and intern at PSCORE Korea. She has published articles in several magazines, including The Diplomat.

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