North Korea

November 25, 2012 9:40 pm

On the northeastern shores of Asia lies a mysterious country that few visitors have seen. North Korea is suspicious of outsiders. People have lived here for thousands of years. But North Korea is a fairly new country. It was created in 1948.
Today, North Korea is home to about 23,000,000 people. That’s about the same population as the state of Texas. The country’s official name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Pyongyang is the capital and largest city.
Facts About North Korea
Official name
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Capital
Pyongyang
Official language
Korean
Population
23,500,000 people
Rank among countries in population
47th
Major cities
Pyongyang, Nampo, Chongjin
Area
46,500 square miles
121,000 square kilometers
Rank among countries in area
97th
Highest point
Mt. Paektu
9,003 feet/2,744 meters
Currency
North Korean won
WHERE IS NORTH KOREA?
North Korea lies on the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. A peninsula is a strip of land that juts out from a mainland into water. The East Sea (Sea of Japan) and the Yellow Sea surround the peninsula. The country of South Korea lies on the southern part of the peninsula. North Korea is a communist country. South Korea is against communism.
A COMMUNIST COUNTRY
In 1948, the United States and the Soviet Union, a communist country, decided to divide the Korean peninsula in two. Each part became a separate country. A communist government took over in North Korea. In a communist country, the government owns all the land and businesses. Everyone works for the government. North Korea is one of the few communist countries still remaining in the world.
North Korea’s first ruler was Kim Il Sung. He helped build North Korea’s Communist Party. This party controls the government and the country’s military. North Korea has more than 1 million people in its army. Although North Korea does not have a large population, it has one of the world’s largest armies.
THE KOREAN WAR
In 1950, North Korea tried to conquer South Korea. The south fought back. The United States helped South Korea. China, a communist country, helped North Korea. The Korean War was very destructive. Millions of Koreans died in the war.
Finally, in 1953, the two sides stopped fighting. But they never signed a peace treaty. To this day, a strip of empty land separates the border between North and South Korea. It’s called the demilitarized zone (DMZ). Nothing but wildlife lives in that strip. Both countries keep troops stationed on either side of the DMZ.
RUGGED LAND
North Korea is filled with rugged mountains and deep valleys. The mountains separate the Korean Peninsula from the Asian mainland. Rivers rush down through the valleys.
The valleys have little flat land, and the soil on the slopes is poor. Floods are common and can be destructive. For these reasons, North Korea’s land has never been easy to farm.
THE PEOPLE OF NORTH KOREA
More than 7,000 years ago, people from the Asian mainland crossed over the mountains to settle in North Korea. Few new settlers arrived after that time. Because of this, North Korea has no large minority groups. Only one language is spoken—Korean. The communist government discourages religion. Many North Koreans practice no religion at all.
North Koreans are well educated. Almost all adults can read. But the government controls the schools and uses them to spread its ideas. Everyone in North Korea must support and obey the government. All books, films, plays, and newspapers in North Korea must present the government’s point of view.
MODERN CITIES
Much of North Korea was destroyed during the Korean War. Afterward, Kim Il Sung ordered his people to rebuild. They did. The country rebuilt Pyongyang with wide avenues, parks, and gardens. Pyongyang is North Korea’s most modern city. Other major cities were also rebuilt.
WHAT DOES NORTH KOREA PRODUCE?
North Korea’s mountains hold a wealth of minerals. North Korea mines coal, iron, gold, silver, copper, and other metals. Because of this mineral wealth, Kim Il Sung decided to build up the nation’s industry. North Korea set up many factories. It does much of its farming by machine.
MANY WEAPONS, NOT ENOUGH FOOD
North Korea builds many weapons. It uses them to equip its huge army. But it also sells weapons to other countries. In fact, weapons are among the few items North Korea sells. North Korea buys very little from other countries of the world. Kim Il Sung wanted to make North Korea self-reliant. He tried to build a country that needed no one.
Did Kim Il Sung succeed? Not really. Today, North Korea builds more weapons than it needs. But the nation has trouble feeding its own people. Famines (food shortages) are common. During a famine in 1996, about 2 million North Koreans starved to death.
NORTH KOREA AFTER KIM IL SUNG
Kim Il Sung died in 1994. His son, Kim Jong Il, took over. Since the 1990s, many people believe North Korea has been trying to build nuclear bombs. No one knows if it has succeeded.
BETTER RELATIONS WITH SOUTH KOREA?
In 2000, Kim Jong Il agreed to meet with the South Korean president. It was the first time that leaders of the two countries had ever met face to face. For a short time, Koreans were allowed to visit family members in the other country. Some air, railroad, and mail links were opened for the first time, too.
A great many issues still divide the people in North and South Korea. But a growing number of Koreans remain hopeful that relations between the two countries will continue to improve.
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