From 1910 until the end of World War II in 1945, Korea was occupied by Japan. With the beginning of the East-West conflict, the country was split into North Korea and South Korea in 1948. In the Korean War (1950–53), the People’s Republic of China supported North Korea against the United Nations (UN) armed forces under the leadership of the USA. Peace negotiations failed. To this day, a heavily fortified armistice line separates the two states.
The leading politician in North Korea was Kim Il Sung (* 1912, † 1994), who became president in 1972. He reacted the country as a “Great Leader” with the help of the Communist Party in a dictatorial manner. The Soviet Union and China supported him. When both countries partially stopped their aid after the end of the East-West conflict, North Korea experienced an economic crisis. Floods and periods of drought from 1993 onwards led to a famine with probably two million deaths. In 1995, North Korea opened up to international aid.
Kim Jong Il (* 1942, † 2011) succeeded his late father in 1994 at the head of the party, state and army. He had long- range nuclear weapons and missiles developed. This provoked foreign policy conflicts, especially with the USA. In 2006, North Korea carried out underground nuclear tests for the first time. The UN imposed punitive measures, which were tightened from 2009 and again from 2016. International negotiations only resulted in a brief relaxation. On the initiative of South Korean President Kim Dae Jung(* 1925, + 2009), however, the first inter-Korean summit took place in Pyongyang in 2000. The understanding between North and South Korea made only slow progress. There were setbacks and military incidents time and again.
Kim Jong Il’s son, Kim Jong Un (* 1984), has been running North Korea since 2011. He initiated some economic reforms with more freedom in agriculture and trade. On the other hand, Kim pushed the nuclear program further. In 2018 he changed his policy: he met twice with US President D. Trump and on the ceasefire line also with the President of South Korea. Disarmament talks followed from October 2019, but these were broken off. The US demanded that North Korea completely and verifiably renounce nuclear weapons. The rejected Kim from.
In Korea, pottery was already produced in the Neolithic stone (6000–2000 BC). Korean culture has always received impulses from China. Thousands of barrows date from the time of the North Korean kingdom of Koguryŏ (37 BC – 668 AD). The wall paintings in some of the burial chambers tell a lot about the life of the nobility at the time. 30 burial sites in North Korea are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Fine handicrafts were also produced in the Koguryŏ empire, including gold jewelry, lacquer bowls and lacquer boxes.
Bronze and iron casting has been known in Korea since pre-Christian times. Metal products were bells that were struck from the outside and sculptures. They are typical of the art of Buddhism in Korea, which flourished particularly during the Koryŏ dynasty (918–1392). Buildings from this time are temple complexes such as Pusŏksa, Seokguram and Haeinsa in today’s South Korea. In 1248, more than 81,000 wood printing plates with Chinese characters were completed in Haeinsa: The so-called Tripitaka Koreana is the oldest and largest collection of Buddhist textbooks. The old town of Kaesong awaits you with a palace, fortifications, city gates, bridges and royal tombs. It was the capital of the Koryŏ Empire.
Large palaces and gardens, such as those in the South Korean capital, Seoul, date from the Choson Empire (1392–1910). King Sejong (1418–50) had a script developed with the name Hangŭl. This made it easier to represent the Korean language. Today, Hangŭl consists of 24 letters, which are written in blocks of syllables with up to 40 phonetic characters. However, the Korean script did not prevail over the Chinese script until the 19th century. Korean-language literature emerged from the 17th century. Adventure stories and short poems made up of three lines of verse, called Sijo, were popular.
An important part of North Korean culture is the veneration for the state founder Kim Il Sung. Children have to learn poems about the “Great Leader”. School trips often go to places where Kim has lived or which he has once visited. In the capital, Pyongyang, there are large monuments dedicated to Kim. However, modern high-rise complexes are also being built. In addition, the state tries to preserve the memory of the old Korean empires, especially the warlike Koguryŏ kings. In the Arirang Festival, Korean traditions and especially the fight against the Japanese occupation are presented in crowd scenes with tens of thousands of participants. Arirang is the name of a well-known Korean folk song.