Useful Notes / North Korea

"If you wanted to create a totally isolated and hermetic society, northern Korea in the years after the 1953 'armistice' would have been the place to start... Pyongyang was an ashen moonscape. It was Year Zero. Kim Il Sung could create a laboratory, with controlled conditions, where he alone would be the engineer of the human soul."

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, far better known as North Korea, is a workers' paradise in East Asia which controls much of the northern Korean peninsula. It was founded in 1948, something the late Christopher Hitchens noted: "You almost get the feeling that Kim Il-Sung was handed a copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four in Korean that year and asked, 'Do you think we could make this work?' And he thought, 'Well I don't know, but we can sure give it the old college try.'" Indeed, North Korea is probably the closest any society has ever come to realizing a real life Oceania. A highly isolationist and rigidly controlled society, it has reasonable relations with its two powerful northern neighbors, the People's Republic of Chinanote  and Russia; while maintaining unbelievably terrible relations with its southern neighbor, the Republic of Koreanote , as well as with the United States, Japan, and Israelnote ; keeping good relations with Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, and Pakistannote , and bad relations with just about everybody else. It also possesses one of the largest armies in the world, and holds the record for highest military spending as percentage of GDP — so much, that rather than a country with a military, it has been described as a military with a country — but there's no need to worry because the army is so badly equipped. Spending most of a country's GDP on the military doesn't amount to much when there's not much GDP to begin with, after all (which in turn is probably not unrelated to the fact that so much output is swallowed by the military, instead of used to support economic growth).

The planned establishment can be traced as far as 1926, when the then 14 year old Kim Il-Sung formed the Down-With-Imperialism Union as a means of Communist revolt, with himself as de facto leader.

Generally featured in fiction as Acceptable Political Targets and a sort of Captain Ersatz for China, as both happen to be a) East Asian, and b) "communist" (while China itself is a huge market with Culture Police who will shut out anything that can be construed as even remotely unsympathetic towards Beijing). There have been some interesting non-fictional works made about the DPRK, such as propaganda films and documentaries from survivors of the regime.

The second North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il was seen by the West as a real-life Dr. Evil and actually a James Bond fan. (Except Die Another Day, obviously. But then, there are claims by former White House adviser Victor Cha in his book that Kim Jong-il watched the film and was impressed. Knowing him, he would probably have ordered a few hovercraft thinking it would be a good idea.) He died in December 2011, with the announcement coming a couple of days after the fact, having reigned since his father's death in 1994. North Korean state media announced that he will be succeeded by his youngest son, Kim Jong-un. It should be noted that neither Kim Jong-il nor Kim Jong-un were given the title "head of state", that title still belongs to Kim Il-Sung... who died in 1994. They take his title as the "Eternal President" very seriously, continually referring to him in the present tense.

North Korea's national identity is largely shaped by the Korean War. The near-complete domination of the South in the early part of the conflict are lionized as communist internationalism at its finest and the prevailing narrative to this day is that the United States (and to the lesser extent, the UN the US forces were leading) used the early advances as an excuse to fiendishly get involved and take over. The later pushes past the 38th parallel, when US general Douglas MacArthur attempted to push the communists entirely out of the peninsula, served as vindication of this. It is against the law in North Korea to use the term 'north' to describe it as by official stance it is the only Korea and the south is land held by capitalist traitors and US forces. North Korean media portrays southerners as malnourished and suffering in a sort of capitalist wasteland ruled by the Americans rather than one of the most prosperous countries in Asia. To this end North Korea also places an extensive importance preserving traditional Korean culture as the last holdout against the Western imperialists. For example, wives of leading Party members often go outside to do things like shopping in elaborate hanbok.

North Korea adheres to the political doctrine of Juche, or "self-reliance", which is ironic since it is dependent on foreign aid (particularly China's) to prop up its failing economy. Between 1994 and 1998 it suffered a disastrous famine in which around a million citizens died. The regime's propaganda refers to this as the Arduous March. According to defectors, the country's food situation is again deteriorating since the 2012 ascension of Kim Jong-Un. The country's official policy is seen by some as extremely authoritarian, militaristic, nationalistic, xenophobic, and racist. Some observers describe it as the world's last Stalinist dictatorship, but others believe terms such as "hereditary dictatorship" or even "absolute monarchy" are more appropriate because of the strong personality cult organized around the ruling Kim family. Another view, based on researching the country's domestic and international policy documents instead of its propaganda, is that North Korea's politics are actually very similar to those of Imperial Japan — very ironic, considering that Kim Il-sung made a name for himself as a guerrilla fighting against the Japanese in World War II. Although ruled by a nominally communist party, North Korea has removed all references to communism in its constitution. Perhaps they realized communist internationalism is diametrically opposed to the isolationist and xenophobic tenets of Juche, or perhaps they realized the Cold War is effectively dead and thought dropping the "communist" label would get them good PR. Make of it what you will.

Whilst its portrayal as the Card-Carrying Villain of world politics is frequently played for laughs, it may do you good to recall that this country is indeed home to 25 million people who never asked to live in a totalitarian nightmare; that said regime is responsible for the deaths of over a million people and the destitution of many more. So, Rule of Cautious Editing Judgment very much applies.

See this page for the lowdown on some of the people who run (or are believed to run) North Korea.

Works from North Korea:

Other notes about North Korea

The DPRK and its inhabitants in fiction

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     Anime and Manga  

  • The Legend of Koizumi has Kim Jong-Il as one of Koizumi's early opponents. He later returns as a Cyborg.
  • In Full Metal Panic!, the students and teachers at Jindai High end up in North Korea after their airplane is hijacked. The country was changed to USSR in the anime however. Agent Wraith is also from North Korea.



  • In the Dale Brown novel ''Battle Born'', a popular revolution leads to the collapse of Communism.
    • Only the regime wasn't really communist back in Kim Il-Sung's time. He liked to paint himself Marxist, but after his death Kim Jong-Il started to distance the regime from the Communist and Socialist trappings, concentrating instead on radical nationalism and militarism. The DPRK officially dropped all mentions of Communism and Socialism from its propaganda.
  • Kim Jong-Il also features in the Larry Bond novel Red Phoenix.
  • In World War Z the North Koreans just... vanish. As in, one day, the US spy satellites do not pick up any activity in North Korea anymore. The likely explanation is that they retreated to underground bunkers. And no one knows if one of them was infected.
    • In the film, the fate of North Korea is elaborated on: they survived by removing the teeth from the entire population inside of twenty four hours. Fascist dictatorships get things done when they need to.
  • The Orphan Master's Son, a 2012 novel by Adam Johnson.

     Live Action Television  

  • Leonard Hofstadter in The Big Bang Theory briefly "dated" a woman named Joyce Kim, who turned out to be a North Korean spy trying to steal the formula to an experimental rocket fuel he was working on for the government. Fortunately, Sheldon chased her out of the apartment when Leonard didn't give him the required two weeks notice to bring a strange woman in, and she returned to North Korea. In another episode a North Korean Child Prodigy defector named Dennis Kim was briefly employed at CalTech alongside the main characters, acting as The Rival to Sheldon, but he discovered girls and dropped out, becoming a hippy with his girlfriend.
  • How I Met Your Mother has on several occasions mentioned or implied that the Mega Corp. Barney works for has a number of illegal dealings with North Korea. At one point, Barney is chewing out a woman who pretended to be into him just so he'd give her money, saying, "At my job we don't rip people's hearts out for money. My company briefly backed a lab in North Korea that did, but we sold it!"
    • In one episode he's shown having a meeting with four Asian men, one wearing what looks like a KPA uniform, although when he speaks to them in Korean, none of them understand him.
  • 30 Rock had a Story Arc involving Recurring Character Avery Jessup (played by Elizabeth Banks) being held prisoner in North Korea. She was Put on a Bus for about a year. Kim Jong Il was humorously portrayed by Margaret Cho. The Great Politics Mess-Up resulted when the real Kim Jong Il died during the arc. Not wanting to throw away the chance to bring Margaret Cho's performance back, they had Kim Jong Il turn up in America with the explanation that his death had been faked.
  • NCIS: The team tracked down a woman from North Korea who is married to a US marine. Turns out she is out killing other women from North Korea who are trained as infiltrators just like her, and trying to stop a terrorist attack directed by their leader.
  • JAG: Harmon Rabb flies the secret Aurora spy plane in on a reconnaissance mission over North Korea in "The One That Got Away".
  • Due to its anti-war perspective on The Korean War, M*A*S*H is probably the closest thing you'll ever see to a positive portrayal of North Korea in American pop culture. Most of the North Korean characters are soldiers and/or Viet Cong-style guerrillas who are treated with sympathy by the war-hating protagonists. Almost nothing is said about the actual North Korean regime, although "Joe Stalin" is occasionally alluded to be the leader of "the other side".
  • In the Expanded Universe of Babylon 5, North Korea is a technically independent part of China. It's the result of North Korea's last Epic Fail: with most of the world distracted by World War III, the North Koreans finally invaded the South only to have their military crushed by the ROK Armed Forces and what troops the Americans had not moved to other theatres yet and get themselves bombed back to stone age, at which point the Chinese came in force to prevent an invasion (that neither the South nor the Americans were willing to do for fear of escalating the war) and simply never left, transforming the place in a puppet state. By the time of the series, North Korea is theorically an independent member of Earth Alliance (as China brought them in for the ride when they joined), but is effectively ruled by Chinese senators who keep the country in poverty, with the people desperately wishing for reunification with the still independent South Korea.

     Video Games  

  • Featured as the antagonists in a Captain Ersatz of sorts of the PRC in Crysis.
  • The first Mercenaries game is set here, when it gets an even more 'rogue' leader. China, South Korea, Russian criminals, and a UN in all but name show up to finally bring it in line, something.
  • North Korea will later unite with the South in Homefront under its rule and conquers most of East Asia sans China and even invades the western United States by 2027. They're the villains of Homefront, unless you play the Japanese version, wherein Canada is the Big Bad.
  • Kim Jong-Il makes an appearance at the end of Forum Warz, Episode 1, after you cause an explosion at a nuclear power plant by pwning its forum... somehow, remarking that he is impressed with your actions. He shows up again in Episode Two under the handle "KIM_SHADY", commanding you to pwn the Pentagon's forums for him.


  • Spinnerette villain Colonel Glass hails from DPRK. He's... not a very nice person. Best that can be said about him is that he seems quite patriotic, taking offense at an insult to Kim Il-Sung.
  • In Scandinavia and the World, North Korea is the only character whose face cannot be seen. Instead, he is completely wrapped in the North Korean flag, only showing his (angry) eyes. And whenever he and South Korea are in the same comic, he's attacking South Korea (either verbally or physically).

     Web Originals  

     Western Animation  

  • Archer: Archer and Lana are tasked with intercepting North Korean agents looking to purchase weapons-grade uranium in "The Honeymooners".

The North Korean flag
The flag reuses the standard red, white and blue colors of the Korean Empire, but with more prominence placed on the red (as reflected on its central placement), symbolizing the revolution, while the blue side stripes stand for sovereignty, peace and friendship, and the white fimbriations stands for unity; the red star on a white disk symbolizes communism, and later, after North Korea disassociated itself from post-Stalinist USSR, the juche philosophy.

North Korean society is shut down—animation suspended, all dead quiet on the set, endlessly awaiting not action (we hope) or even cameras, but light.