The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (Korean: 조선민주주의인민공화국, Chosŏn Minjujuŭi Inmin Konghwaguk), far better known as North Korea (Korean: 북조선, Pukchosŏn) or simply Korea (Korean: 조선, Chosŏn), 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. It is so isolationist, that while China has built a $350m bridge to increase trade, it ends in a dirt track on the North Korean side - something of a slap in the face to a country that provides 80% of its foreign trade.
Analysts have consistently ranked North Korea as the world's most authoritarian country.
A highly isolationist and rigidly controlled society, it has reasonable relations with its two powerful northern neighbors, the People's Republic of Chinanote and Russianote ; while maintaining unbelievably terrible relations with its southern neighbor, the Republic of Koreanote , as well as with Japannote , the United Statesnote and Israelnote . Despite what most people think, however, outside of these countries (plus a couple of their allies, such as Canada, France, and Saudi Arabia), North Korea still maintains relations with the majority of countries in the world, but its traditional allies remain its old Cold War friends: Cuba, Syria, et al.
North Korea also possesses one of the largest armies in the world and holds the record for highest military spending as a 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, mostly with Cold War era technology. 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 being used to support economic growth). It's more reasonable to be concerned about their nuclear capabilities - not because of a high number of high-quality missiles, but down to Kim-Jong-Un's obvious lack of self-restraint and willingness to pump all his resources into missile-based projects.
North Korea and its rulers also tend to spend large amounts of money on vanity projects to make Pyongyang look impressive then running out of money half-way through. Examples are a massive hotel which is effectively a framework, and many swanky high-rises that look good on the outside but have no running water or electricity, and are populated by gangs of homeless children. They are built at Mallima Speed, a reference to a mythological winged horse that could travel tremendous distances at supernatural speed - exhausting workers and lowering quality. Pyongyang is a city for looking at, not living in, and visiting journalists are given strict tours. In the DMZ you will find Kijŏng-dong, the empty village with a 160m flagpole, built to encourage South Korean defection, wired with electricity despite nobody actually living there.
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 Communist revolt against Japanese colonization, 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 on 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.
Although its a medium population country of about 25 million people sitting on a veritable treasure trove of lucrative natural resources, its economy is in an absolutely horrific state. According to the United Nations, North Korea's nominal GDP in 2017 is $17 billion, meaning the GDP per capita is less than $700 (while South Korea's GDP is $1.5 trillion in a population of 51 million people, or a GDP per capita of $29,000). The unemployment rate hovers at about 25% most years, around 60% of people live in poverty, and its currency is essentially worthless. That being said, some market liberalization began in 2012 and began to pay off by the end of the decade. It's important to note that after the Korean War ended in the 1950s, both North and South Korea were extremely poor, since the war basically wrecked everything, on top of decades of harsh Imperial Japanese rule, and the governments were extremely similar in spite of following different ideologies: authoritarian, corrupt, and self-serving. In fact, the North was in some respects the better of the two Koreas, since it had the head start of being supported by the Eastern Bloc early on, and south-to-north defections were not seen as the lunacy as they are seen today. It's just that South Korea eventually managed to move on thanks to a strong degree of self-improvement culture and not-so-small American funding, while the North is perpetually stuck in the Cold War mindset, something that got worse when Soviet aid petered out after the fall of communism.
It's also an example of how even the worst of situations can have a small silver lining. The 160-mile long, 2.5-mile wide Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea has had basically no human incursion for the past 70+ years, and is now regarded as an incredible nature preserve. Many rare species can be found there, and some can be found only there. If the countries ever re-united, a very high priority has been given to preserving the DMZ as a nature park.
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. Also, keep in mind that North Korea is a real, if very repressive country, not a cartoon totalitarian hellscape where anything can happen, so before you add a particularly lurid detail, read, for example, this.
Despite mutual hatred, amid bouts of violence and tit-for-tat attacks, North and South Korea have tried to patch things up several times. The latest one started in 2018: with the mediation of US President Donald Trump, North and South Korea have been holding talks to normalize relations, with a potential treaty to formally end the Korean War (which never had a peace treaty even though it ended back in 1953) and establish diplomatic missions. There are even rumors of reunification. However, it's unknown what kind of outcome these talks will bear, since the Kim dynasty have not given indication of wanting to give up power. Reunification is also another issue; while it's exciting to imagine a united Korea after 70+ years of division on paper, these countries have been separated for longer than West and East Germany had been and with far more economic and social differences than them.note If and only if the states are reunited, it will certainly be a herculean task and need the international community's assistance to make it work.
Works from North Korea:Animation
- Squirrel and Hedgehog (animated series)
- The Flower Girl (1972 Tearjerker drama)
- Hong Kil Dong (1986 martial arts movie)
- Order No. 027 (1986 action movie)
- Pulgasari (1986 monster movie)
- O Youth! (1994 romantic comedy)
- The Schoolgirl's Diary (2006 drama)
- The Accusation (2014 short story anthology)
- Pyongyang Racer (2012 browser-based video game)
Useful notes about North Korea
- Korean Honorifics
- The Korean War
- Koreans in Japan
- North Koreans with Nodongs
- The Rulers of North Korea
The DPRK and its inhabitants in fiction
- 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.
- Discworld: Having noted that the Discworld canon acquired a Korea-like place as part of the protmanteau of East Asian ethnicities that make up Agatea, fanfic author A.A. Pessimal expanded the Up to Eleven Korean references to encompass a mysterious secretive state called Hubwards Grimchi. This state is harnessing the explosive powers of fermented cabbage to create really big Barking Dogs that can threaten not only the neghbouring regional power of Agatea, but may in time point towards the accepted Disc superpowers of Klatch and Ankh-Morpork. Agencies such as the Guild of Assassins have been approached to suggest solutions.
- It isn't fiction, but Under The Sun is a 2015 Russian documentary filmed in Pyongyang.
- Ditto Crossing the Line, a 2006 British documentary about James Joseph Dresnok, an American soldier who defected to North Korea in the 1960s and was still living there 40 years later.
- Their military personnel feature as the villains of the 2002 James Bond movie Die Another Day, albeit more in a Renegade North Korean way. (The villain's father, a legit North Korean officer, is actually depicted with a great deal of honor and common sense.) Interestingly, high ranking People's Liberation Army officers show up in support of the villain's plan to destroy the minefield in the south with a laser satellite.
- Kim Jong-Il features in Team America: World Police.
- The Interview has talk show host Dave Skylark and his more down-to-earth producer/best friend Dave Rapaport finding themselves going to North Korea for an interview with Kim Jong-Un (who happens to be a fan of their show)...which quickly turns into a CIA-backed mission to assassinate the dictator. Needless to say, the real North Korea was quite upset at this movie. So much so that it formed the Guardians of Peace and infamously leaked the hell out of Sony. This got Sony to cancel the theatrical release...but that didn't stop the movie from being seen on Netflix and YouTube.
- The Red Dawn (2012) remake received a last-minute edit to turn the villains from Chinese to North Koreans. The reason behind the change is that China makes up the second largest box office audience. This elicited much derision at a movie depicting North Korea, a nation so dirt poor that it can't keep the lights on, taking over the United States. The movie ended up bombing, so the decision to change the villain for the sake of money turned out to be for nothing.
- They're the bad guys in Olympus Has Fallen. Perhaps not unintentionally, the Big Bad played the Dragon of the Die Another Day example, and is himself a renegade.
- Direct-to-DVD flick Behind Enemy Lines 2: Axis of Evil is set in North Korea, with U.S. Special Forces trying to disable a nuclear launch site.
- In the Dale Brown novel ''Battle Born'', a popular revolution leads to the collapse of Communism.
- Only the regime wasn't really communist after 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.
- Inspector O series by James Church features an anonymous police investigator of the Pyongyang police crime department.
- Force 5 Recon: Deployment: North Korea by P.W.Storm. Interesting in its portrayal of North Korean commando squad as professionals who just do their job.
- WWIII series by Ian Slater features North Korea as one of the antagonists, beside Soviet Union and China. The North Koreans manage to conquer Seoul early on by rushing thousands of obsolete tanks through the DMZ.
- 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 within twenty four hours. Dictatorships get things done when they need to.
- The Orphan Master's Son, a 2012 novel by Adam Johnson.
- Crash Landing on You is a Korean drama about a feisty South Korean fashion executive who goes paragliding one day, runs into a tornado, and is flung Wizard of Oz style across the DMZ into North Korea. She falls in love with a handsome North Korean border guard while trying to find a way to get out.
- 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.
- 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 had genuinely fallen in love with her husband and "gone native" in America, and was out killing other women from North Korea who are trained as infiltrators just like her, 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".
- The ultimate reason for this, of course, is that MASH was actually intended to be a satire of the Vietnam War, but at the time, criticizing the Vietnam War directly would have been seen as being in bad taste. Using the Korean War as an analogue, however, was fair game.
- 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.
- Episode 13 of SEAL Team's second season takes place on a submarine surveying merchant vessels off the coast of North Korea violating international sanctions. Unfortunately while Bravo Team is being extracted, the submarine suffers a power malfunction and Sonny gets trapped in a torpedo tube that is slowly flooding with water while they are in danger of being discovered by a North Korean submarine.
- Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory has a North Korean anti-ship missile sink a U.S. Navy vessel right before they launch an all-out attack on South Korea. Two missions involve Sam infiltrating a North Korean missile battery to obtain intelligence on the circumstances of the launch, and the mission after takes him to war-torn Seoul, right in the middle of a massive NKA invasion. The missile was remotely launched by the real Big Bad, and North Korea is being manipulated the entire time.
- In the Dragon's Teeth DLC of Battlefield 4, one of the multiplayer maps appropriately titled "Propaganda" is set in the Pyongyang district, with elements of the PLA and the USMC duking it out within the capital.
- 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 with..er, 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.
- Homefront: The Revolution has a North Korea In Name Only, as while the first game was mere Speculative Fiction when it was released, the sequel/reboot dives straight into Alternate History. The new setting is a timeline where the South Korean/US-led coalition won the Korean War (yet Reunification never happened and the North still exists as a separate country), communism was abolished and Kim Il-Sung eventually lost power. Instead, North Korea became a technocracy ruled by the APEX Corporation, who turned the country into a world-leading economic powerhouse by developing 2010's level computers and technology decades early.
- 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.
- The penultimate Elusive Contract in HITMAN: Season One, The Fugitive "Ji-Hu", is allegedly a State Security Department (Bowibu) agent who is linked to a number of disruptive incidents in South Korea, China and Japan, causing all three countries' respective intelligence agencies to place a joint contract on him with the ICA.
- The original Spec Ops and Spec Ops 2: Green Berets both feature several missions throughout North Korea.
- Video game based on the Rogue Warrior book series features levels set in 1980s North Korea. According to the game, each and every single apartment block houses KPA soldiers in combat gear.
- Budget title DMZ: North Korea. It's every bit as bad as it sounds.
- Stay! Stay! Democratic People's Republic of Korea! My First (and only) Trip to North Korea is a parody of the Japanese visual novel Go! Go! Nippon! ~ My First Trip to Japan and puts the player in the shoes of a U.S. Marine who goes to visit his penpals Jeong and Eunji and somehow manages to be unaware that North and South Korea are completely separate countries until his plane lands in Pyongyangnote . And he also is unaware Jeong and Eunji are cute girls thanks to their names. Despite the tongue-in-cheek and humorous nature of the game, it shows a surprising amount of work done in researching North Korean history and society.
- 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).
- Archer: Archer and Lana are tasked with intercepting North Korean agents looking to purchase weapons-grade uranium in "The Honeymooners".
The North Korean flag
- 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.