25 Strange Facts About North Korea

25 Strange Facts About North Korea

North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is a country in East Asia. It constitutes the northern half of the Korean Peninsula and shares borders with China and Russia to the north, at the Yalu and Tumen rivers, and South Korea to the south at the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

Capital: Pyongyang
Supreme leader: Kim Jong-un
Population: 25.78 million (2020) World Bank
Currency: North Korean won
Premier: Kim Tok-hun
Government: Dictatorship, Juche, Socialist state, One-party state

1. The founder of North Korea, first president Kim Il Sung, created the country’s policy of juche or “self-reliance,” which has essentially cut off North Korea economically and diplomatically from the rest of the world even in times of great need such as famines.

2. Kim Jong Il, son of the country’s founder, has been said by state media to have managed amazing feats: He scored a perfect 300 the first time he went bowling and sank 11 holes-in-one the first time he played golf.

3. Between 150,000 and 200,000 North Koreans live in prison camps surrounded by electrified fencing, according to South Korean government estimates and Human Rights Watch. The worst camps are for those who commit political crimes, and offenders can have their entire extended family imprisoned with them. As many as 40% of camp prisoners die from malnutrition while doing mining, logging and agricultural work with rudimentary tools in harsh conditions, according to a 2011 Amnesty International report.

4. Only military and government officials can own motor vehicles.

5. North Koreans must abide by one of 28 approved haircuts. Unmarried women must have short hair, but married woman have many more options. The hair of young men should be less than 2 inches long, older men can go as long as 2¾ , according to a Taiwanese website WantChinaTimes.

6. All legal televisions are tuned to state-controlled domestic programming. The Internet does not exist other than a closed domestic network. Cellular 3G access is allowed to foreigner visitors. Few North Koreans know anything about world events apart from how they are described by North Korean propaganda.

7. North Korea’s missile program was first developed with help from the then-Soviet Union in the 1970s. Its Taepodong-2 missile has an estimated range of more than 4,100 miles but has yet to be test-fired. Other medium-range missiles are capable of being fired over Japan.

8. The border between North Korea and South Korea is one of the most militarized in the world, according to the State Department. Pyongyang has about 1.2 million military personnel compared with 680,000 troops in South Korea, where 28,000 U.S. troops are also stationed. Nearly 6 million North Koreans are reservists in the worker/peasant guard, compulsory to the age of 60.

9. The World Food Programme estimates that 6 million of North Korea’s 25 million people are in need of food aid and one-third of children are chronically malnourished or stunted. Analysis of escapees from North Korea shows that those born after the Korean War in the late 1950s were on average about 2 inches shorter than South Koreans. Most North Koreans subsist on corn and kimchi, a pickled cabbage.

10. In 1978, North Korean agents kidnapped South Korean film director Shin Sang Ok and his wife, actress Choe Eun Hui, to create a film industry in North Korea. The couple escaped to the West eight years later, after having made dozens of films.

11. The elder brother to current leader Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Nam, was passed over to become the heir apparent leader after being arrested in Tokyo in 2001 for traveling to Disneyland on a forged passport.

12. As many as 2 million people died as a result of famine in the 1990s caused by erratic government farming policies and flooding, according to the United Nations. Asia Press reported that a recent return of famine in the farming provinces of North and South Hwanghae has forced some to resort to cannibalism.

13. North Korea spent about one third of its national income on the military, according to a 2011 report from the South Korean government.

14. Annual GDP per capita is about $1,800, which ranks 197th in the world, according to the CIA World Factbook. The GDP is 18 times higher in South Korea.

15. Electric power largely shuts down at night, and the homes that have electricity often receive only a few hours per day.

16. Schoolchildren provide their own desks and chairs, and money to pay for heat. Some students are forced to produce goods for the government. Some parents keep their children home by bribing teachers to keep quiet.

17. North Korea’s regime gets much of its income by exporting to Japan and elsewhere counterfeit pharmaceuticals, such as Viagra, narcotics such as methamphetamine, counterfeit cigarettes and fake $100 U.S. bills, and by selling small arms and missile parts to terror groups and rogue nations.

18. Nearly all property belongs to the state. A modern independent judicial system does not exist. Religious freedom does not exist.

19. Foreign investment in North Korea reached $1.4 billion in 2010, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. European and Chinese companies have opened casinos for tourists and invested in mines for copper, nickel, zinc, iron and gold. Mineral reserves are estimated to be worth $6 trillion, says South Korean state mining company Korea Resources.

20. North Korea has a network of informants who monitor and report to the authorities fellow citizens they suspect of criminal or subversive behavior. Unauthorized access to non-state radio or TV broadcasts is severely punished.

21. North Korea and South Korea used to be a single country. The countries were divided after the end of World War Two. The Soviets took hold of the North, while the United States got the South. The Soviets were ruling under a communist system, while the US was against it. This meant that the two sides were divided. On September 9, 1947, the country was formally divided into South Korea and North Korea. Their rivalry led to a war outbreak in 1950 where North Koreans invaded the South. It lasted for three years and then the DMZ was established. Technically, both countries are still at war since there was no peace treaty formally signed.

22. North Korea’s leaders were from the same family. North Korea has been under the leadership and ruling of the same family since 1948. Their first Supreme leader was Kim Il-Sung. He was in charge until his passing in 1994. After his death, power was passed on to Kim Jong-Il. He was the son of the late supreme leader, and he was in control for 17 years. You can find the 20-meter statues of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il at the Grand Monument on Mansu Hill in Pyongyang.

23. North Korea is the world’s only country ruled by a dead man. North Korea has a very unique form of ruling. Necrocracy is a government that still follows the rules of a former and dead leader. How is North Korea able to do this? This is because Kim Il-sung was declared as the Eternal Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). This just means that all the incumbent leaders of the country will only bear the Supreme Leader title, but the Eternal leader will always and forever be Kim Il-Sung. The Supreme Leader will be the chairman of the Worker’s  Party and the Army’s Supreme Commander. However, he will not hold the country’s presidential status.

24. North Korea’s economy is strictly coordinated by its government. Currently, North Korea continues to adhere to its centralized command economy. With a GDP of $28.5 billion, North Korea ranks 115th in the world. Their economy is a standard component as that of a communist country, even though their constitution states that they are no longer under a communist system. This means that their economy is coordinated and centrally planned by the government.

25. Military service is mandatory for men and women in North Korea. While there are also countries that have rules of obligatory military service, it’s not as lengthy as North Korea’s. Before the recent changes, males aged 18 and up must serve 13 years in the military. It was only after 2003 that the term was reduced to only 10 years.

Women got in the loop of mandatory military service, too. In 2015, the government released a memo that after North Korean women graduate high school, they must enter the military until they’re 23. No exceptions whatsoever for this ruling. With that, they have at least 6 million paramilitary personnel and 1 million active militaries on duty.


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