31 interesting facts about North Korea

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The most interesting facts about North Korea, from “three generations of punishment” to a metro system that doubles as a nuclear bunker.

Interesting facts about North Korea include its architecture
Interesting facts about North Korea include its enormous architecture (Shutterstock)

Fast facts

Official name: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Population: 25,831,360
Area: 120,538 sq km
Capital city: Pyongyang
Major languages: Korean
Major religions: N/A
Time zone: UTC+9 (Pyongyang Time)
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

Interesting facts about North Korea

1. North Korea is located in East Asia, on the Korean Peninsula bordering China, Russia, South Korea, the Sea of Japan, the East China Sea and the Yellow Sea.
– Source: Brittanica

2. North Korea is a dictatorship and single-party state following the official state ideology of “Juche” or “national self-reliance”.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

3. The word “Korea” comes from the Chinese name for Goryeo, which was the Korean dynasty that united the peninsula in the 10th century AD.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

A map of the Korean Peninsula
North Korea is located on the Korean Peninsula (Shutterstock)

4. The Korean Peninsula has been inhabited for at least 400,000 years, possibly as many as 700,000.
– Source: Carter J Eckert. (1991) Korea Old and New: A History. Harvard University Press: Seoul

5. Even though the government doesn’t refer to itself as communist, North Korea remains one of the world’s few communist states. The only others are Vietnam, China, Cuba and Laos.
– Source: History Channel

6. At the start of the 20th century, Japan, China and Russia bid for control over the Korean Peninsula. Japan ultimately took control of the region in 1905 and formally annexed it in 1910.
– Source: History Channel

7. North Korea is led by a supreme leader. Kim Jong-un is the current and third supreme leader in the Kim dynasty. Kim Il-sung established North Korea in 1948 and, upon his death in 1994, was succeeded by his son Kim Jong-il. Kim Jong-il died in 2011 and was succeeded by his son Kim Jong-un.
– Source: BBC News

Kim Jong-un
North Korea is ruled by supreme leader. Kim Jong-un (Shutterstock)

8. In 1945, after the end of World War II, the Japanese occupation of Korea ended with Soviet troops occupying the area north of the 38th parallel, and American troops to the south, creating two separate Korean nations.
– Source: BBC NewsNational Geographic

9. Fought between 1950 and 1953, the Korean War left at least two million dead and North and South Korea permanently divided.
– Source: BBC NewsNational Geographic

10. Although the fighting ended in 1953 when North Korea, China and the USA signed an armistice agreement, South Korea objected to the continued division of Korea and did not agree to the armistice or sign a formal peace treaty. As such, technically the war never ended and is still ongoing.
– Source: National Geographic

11. The 4km-wide, 240km-long buffer called the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separates North Korea from the South known as the ‘biggest military face-off on Earth’ which occasionally sees defections.
– Source: Lonely Planet

Soldiers at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in North Korea
One of the interesting facts about North Korea is the Demilitarized Zone (Shutterstock)

12. Portraits of the supreme leaders are mandatory in public places such as train stations, hospitals, schools and factories, but also in private spaces such as the living rooms of homes. Lapel badges, displaying the image of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, must also be worn by all North Korean citizens.
– Source: Reuters

13. North Korea has the highest literacy rate in the world at 100% for both men and women. However, it worth remembering this is self-reported.
– Source: CIA Wolrd Fact Book

14. North Korea is home to the largest stadium in the world. The Rungrado 1st of May Stadium in Pyongyang has a capacity of 150,000.
– Source: International Olympic Committee

The Rungrado 1st of May Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea
The Rungrado 1st of May Stadium in Pyongyang (Shutterstock)

15. North Korean men and women only have a choice of 15 state-approved haircuts. Ilustrated guides have been spotted in Pyongyang hair salons as have patrol units of the Women’s Union who are employed to stop and interrogating civilians whose dress or haircut does not conform.
– Source: The Telegraph, The Guardian

16. North Korea has a “three generations of punishment” rule where if one person is found guilty of a crime and sent to a prison camp, so too will their family and two subsequent generations born at the camp must remain there for life.
– Source: The Independent

17. North Korea built a fake village. The village of Kijong-dong or ‘Peace Village’ was built in North Korea’s half of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) but in South Korea, it is known as ‘Propaganda Village’. Observations from the South suggest it is in fact derelict and was built to encourage South Koreans to defect to the North.
– Source: Los Angeles Times

The fake village of Kijong-dong
The fake village of Kijong-dong (Shutterstock)

18. In 2015, North Korea created its own time zone called Pyongyang Time. It is named after the North Korean capital and was initially 30 minutes behind South Korea and Japan. However, in 2018 North Korea changed time zone to match the South following an inter-Korean summit.
– Source: BBC News

19. North Korea uses a different calendar from the rest of the world. The Juche calendar was adopted in North Korea in 1997 and begins with the year of Kim Il-sung’s birth in 1912 – or Juche 1 to North Koreans. As such, 2021 in North Korea is actually Juche 110
– Source: The Guardian

20. North Korea has dug several tunnels beneath the DMZ so their army could launch a surprise attack on South Korea. Since 1974, four tunnels have been discovered, one of which, the Third Infiltration Tunnel, is now a tourist attraction on the South Korean side.
– Source: Lonely Planet

A tunnel entrance at the DMZ in North Korea
A tunnel entrance at the DMZ (Shutterstock)

21. One of North Korea’s most popular attractions is the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun where Kim Il-sung’s and Kim Jong-il’s embalmed bodies lie. The bodies are maintained by the so-called “Lenin Lab” in Moscow, which first embalmed and displayed Vladimir Lenin’s body in 1924.
– Source: Reuters, Lonely Planet

22. North Korea’s capital Pyongyang translates as “flat land” in Korean.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

23. A famous North Korean landmark is the Ryugyong Hotel or the ‘Hotel of Doom’. The Ryugyong Hotel is the world’s tallest unoccupied building. Construction stopped in 1992 and the building stood windowless and hollow for 16 years. It has since been clad in metal and glass and fitted with lighting to illuminate it at night but remains unoccupied.
– Source: Guinness World Records, CNN

The Ryugyong Hotel
The Ryugyong Hotel (Shutterstock)

24. North Korea has the only commissioned ship in the US Navy held in captivity. The USS Pueblo was taken captive by North Korea in 1968 after entering North Korean waters. 81 other crew members were also captured but later released. Today, the ship is moored along a Pyongyang river and is a tourist attraction.
– Source: National Public Radio (NPR)

25. In 2016, an American tourist was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour after attempting to steal a propaganda poster from a hotel during an organised tour. Otto Warmbier, who fell into a coma during his sentence, was released after 17 months before dying from his illness in the USA.
– Source: The Guardian

26. The Pyongyang Metro system also doubles as a nuclear bunker in the event of an American invasion. Stations are located deep below ground and commuters can even see blast doors that will close if the city comes under nuclear bombardment.
– Source: Lonely Planet

The Pyongyang Metro system
The Pyongyang Metro system (Shutterstock)

27. North Korea used to use human excrement was used as fertiliser on cops until the state discovered the practice created a risk of spreading intestinal worms which deprived people of valuable nutrients.
– Source: Reuters, News Week

28. It is claimed that the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il shot 11 hole-in-ones on his first attempt at playing golf after opening the Pyongyang golf complex in 1987.
– Source: BBC News

29. North Korea has one of the largest armies in the world with more than one million soldiers and an estimated reserve of five million. Military service is compulsory with a minimum service of of eight years for men and five years for women.
– Source: BBC News, CIA World Fact Book

Interesting facts about North Korea include its military
North Korea has one of the world’s largest armies (Shutterstock)

30. Unsurprisingly, North Korea has the second-worst freedom of press record in the world – only Eritrea is ranked lower.
– Source: Reporters Without Borders

31. The North Korean flag has two horizontal blue stripes, a wide red central stripe with thinner white stripes and a white disk bearing a red star. The red stripe and star represent communism, the blue stands for peace and the white stands for purity, strength, and dignity.
– Source: Britannica

North Korea's flag
North Korea’s flag (Shutterstock)

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