The History Of North Korea

Beginnings of North Korea

Already in the 3rd millennium BC, the area of today’s North and South Korea was inhabited by Tungus tribes, which belonged to the Mongolian peoples and probably came from northeastern Asia. Legends tell of the kingdom of Choson, which is said to have existed as early as the 3rd millennium, but for which there is evidence only from the 4th century BC. In the 2nd century BC, much of today’s North and South Korea became part of the Chinese Empire. Only in the south of the Korean peninsula did a number of independent small states remain.

North Korea history timeline
North Korea history timeline

As the power of the Han Dynasty ruling China declined at the beginning of the Christian era, three empires emerged on Korean territory: the Koguryo Empire in the north, the Paekche Empire in the middle of the peninsula, and the Silla Empire in the south. In the highly developed empires, among other things, the Chinese sign script was used, Buddhism and Confucianism became the dominant religious directions over the next centuries.

In the 7th century AD, under the domination of the Silla Empire, the three empires were united into one empire that encompassed the entire Korean peninsula and was under the sovereignty of China, but was practically independent. After throne disputes and peasant uprisings, the empire disintegrated around 900 again into the three individual empires. Koguryo in the north was renamed Koryo in 918 and subjugated the other constituent states. The new empire under the Wang Dynasty was recognized as independent by China in 939. Buddhism became the state religion.

The History of North Korea Timeline

How long has North Korea been a country? In 1231, the Kingdom of Koryo and the entire Korean Peninsula were occupied by Mongols (who then continued their triumphal march to northern and southern China). From 1280, Koryo was part of the Chinese Empire, which was led by the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty. Buddhism was banned and replaced by Confucianism.

After the decline of the Yuan Dynasty (1368), the Ming Dynasty (until 1644) followed in China, which had a strong influence on Korea. In 1392, general Yi Sungye succeeded in overthrowing the last ruler of the Wang Dynasty in Korea and founding the Yi Dynasty as King Yi Taejo. Founded in 1096, the city of Hanyang (now Seoul) became the capital of the new Korean Empire.

History of North Korea and South Korea: At the end of the 16th century, the Korean Empire, which had meanwhile roughly reached the extent of today’s North and South Korea, was able to successfully defend itself against the attempt of a Japanese invasion (1592-98). In 1627, Korea was subjugated by the Manchu people, who also ruled China from 1644 as the Qing Dynasty (also: Manchu Dynasty).

The Ruling Yi Dynasty in Korea became tributary to the Manchu Dynasty. In order to minimize the influence of foreign powers as much as possible, the Korean rulers tried from this point on to completely seal off their own country from the outside world. Despite this demarcation, however, Western influences increasingly came into the country in the form of missionaries who carried the Christian faith with them.

Japanese supremacy

Korea’s isolation ended with the Kanghwado Treaty of 1876, in which Japan forced the country to open some ports to Japanese ships. The country had to conclude similar treaties with the USA (1882), Great Britain (1883) and the German Empire (1884). Increasingly, the power of the royal family in Korea decayed and the country was shaken by internal crises. The 1st Sino-Japanese War (1894/95), which was about supremacy in Korea, was won by Japan. Officially, the Korean kingdom remained independent, but de facto it was controlled by Japan.

In order to escape the influence of the emerging Japan, the Korean leadership established contacts with Tsarist Russia, but after Russia was defeated in the Russo-Japanese War (1904/05), the country officially became a Japanese protectorate.

A History of North Korea
A History of North Korea

In 1910, Japan declared Korea a Japanese colony (General Government) under the name Chôsen. In the following years, the industrialization of the country was driven forward in large steps, as well as the modernization of agriculture and the development of mineral resources: Korea served the resource-poor Japan as a supplier of valuable raw materials, but the Korean population did not benefit from the economic development. The Japanese occupiers suppressed the culture and traditions of the population until the prohibition of the Korean language (1939).

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Uprisings against the occupiers, such as .B 1919, led to temporary liberalization, which was not permanent. In Shanghai, a government in exile (“Shanghai Group”) was formed in 1919 under the leadership of Syngman Rhee. From 1934, communist partisan groups led by Kim Il Sung (“Irkutsk Group”) tried to bring the north of the country under their control.

Korean War

A Brief Korean War: Since both North and South saw themselves as the only legal representation of Korea and did not recognize the respective other state, a political conflict was virtually predetermined. This culminated in a violent attack on South Korea in 1950, when North Korean troops crossed the border and wanted to spread the claim to all of Korea. The Korean War began. Since the United Nations and the United States pledged military support and advanced with the South Korean army to the Chinese border, they provoked China to enter the war.

History of North Korea and USA: The development of trench warfare finally prompted the USA and China to reach an armistice agreement on 27 July 1953. Since then, the so-called demarcation line has existed between North and South Korea, which was previously also referred to as the 38th parallel.

After Japan’s defeat in World War II, the Japanese occupation ended in 1945. According to the agreements of the victorious powers, Korea was initially divided along the 38th parallel, Soviet troops occupied the southern part of the country for the northern American troops. The UN decided on free elections for all of Korea with the aim of reunification, but the outbreak of the Cold War between the two superpowers USA and Soviet Union prevented this. In the north of Korea, the Soviet occupying power established a government in cooperation with the Communist Party.

When elections to the National Assembly were held in the American-occupied South of Korea, the government in the North boycotted them and called on communist groups in South Korea to resist. In August 1948, the new South Korean President Syngman Rhee proclaimed the Republic of Korea, only a month later the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was proclaimed in the northern part. Kim Il Sung, leader of the Communist Party of Workers of Korea (PdAK), became the first prime minister of North Korea.

The American troops left the south of Korea shortly after the proclamation of the republic. In June 1950, North Korean troops began to advance into the south of the country with the aim of forcing reunification. The Korean War broke out. Within a few days, Seoul was captured and the South Korean army defeated. With the help of US-led UN troops, South Korea managed to push North Korean troops back behind the demarcation line and now in turn penetrate North Korean territory.

In October 1950, UN troops captured the northern capital of Pyongyang. As a result, China, which had previously warned the UN against crossing the demarcation line, intervened in the conflict and sent troops. In June 1951, the first armistice negotiations began, but it was not until July 1953 that an agreement was signed in which a four-kilometer-wide demilitarized zone along the 38th parallel was decided. Around 2.5 million people had lost their lives in the turmoil of war.

North Korea Independent State

The Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China were instrumental in rebuilding North Korea and transforming it into a communist state. Measures included nationalization and expansion of heavy industry created by Japan and collectivization of agriculture. North Korea was highly economically dependent on the Eastern Bloc countries, but the leadership tried to remain politically independent. When the relationship between the Soviet Union and China deteriorated in the 60s, Kim Il Sung tried to maintain good relations with both states.

A new constitution in December 1972 led to a further expansion of the position of power of Kim Il Sung, who was now president, party chairman, chairman of the People’s Committee, the National Defense Commission and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces in one person. At the beginning of the 90s, both Korean states were admitted to the UN. At the same time, the heads of state of both parts of the country signed a non-aggression pact.

The collapse of the Eastern Bloc led to a severe economic crisis in North Korea due to the loss of its most important trading partners. In 1994, Kim Il Sung, who had led the country’s political fortunes since the birth of North Korea, died. His son Kim Jong Il took over his political offices. In the mid-90s, the economically devastated country tried to establish trade relations with the USA. Secret reunification negotiations with South Korea had already failed repeatedly at this time.

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In May 1995, the North Korean leadership allowed food supplies from South Korea for the first time in order to dampen the famine of its own population. Flood disasters had repeatedly led to crop failures. In May 1997, the entire North Korean population was threatened with famine, which could only be absorbed by international food supplies. Aid agencies accused North Korea’s political leadership of spending millions on armaments instead of improving the food situation of its own people.

North Korea History Timeline

In the second half of the 1990s, tensions between the two parts of Korea intensified again: political and military threats from North Korea led South Korea to fear an attack. The North Korean leadership had officially maintained Kim Il Sung’s so-called Juche principle, which provided for the reunification of North and South Korea to maintain its own governments and different social systems. Conflicts between North and South Korean troops repeatedly occurred over the next few years, while at the same time attempts were made again and again at new negotiations at the international level on a future reunification of both parts of the country.

What is the history of North Korea
What is the history of North Korea

In June 2000, South Korean leader Kim Dae Jung made a historic visit to the North Korean capital Pyongyang. Both heads of state agreed on a future course of reconciliation and an opening of land, sea and air routes. In mid-2001, the North Korean leadership again took a harder line: Kim Jong Il broke off diplomatic talks with the South Korean leadership and also refrained from his announced visit to Seoul.

It was not until April 2002 that the government representatives of South and North Korea met again. However, the leadership of the People’s Republic fell back into the former enemy rhetoric after the imminent change of power in South Korea at the end of 2007 showed a tougher stance towards North Korea. Compare also South Korea, history.

Relations between North and South Korea deteriorated again in 2010. A South Korean corvette was sunk southwest of Baengnyeong Island by a torpedo from a North Korean submarine in March 2010. North Korea rejected the accusations; South Korea imposed a trade freeze and a transit ban on ships from North Korea from May. The situation remained tense and in November 2010 the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong was shelled by North Korea.

After the North Korean government admitted to working on the development of nuclear weapons in October 2002, a crisis arose between North Korea and the United States. In October 2006, North Korea, which claims to have had several operational nuclear bombs and corresponding delivery systems since 2005, conducted an underground nuclear weapons test for the first time. This led to sharp criticism worldwide, the UN Security Council imposed economic sanctions on North Korea. In September 2005.

The “Joint Declaration” was signed in Beijing by the participants in the Six-Party Talks (in addition to North and South Korea, as well as China, the USA, Russia and Japan): among other things, North Korea declared the abandonment of its ongoing nuclear programs and the return to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, while the other parties declared the normalization of their relations with and economic support for North Korea. In February 2007, in the final declaration of the six-party talks in Beijing, the North Korean government agreed to implement the “Joint Declaration” immediately.

The first step was the decommissioning of the nuclear reactor in Nyongbyon, 100 km north of Pyongyang. After that, however, North Korea curtailed its cooperation efforts. After the leadership in Pyongyang finally allowed the US to inspect North Korea’s nuclear facilities in the future, the US accepted this on behalf of the Group of Six. In October 2008, Washington removed North Korea from the list of states considered promoters of terrorism (“Axis of Evil”); nevertheless, many sanctions against North Korea remained in force.

Despite international protests, North Korea launched a launch vehicle with a communications satellite in April 2009, and further nuclear weapons tests were conducted in May. After renewed tests with short-range missiles in July, the UN Security Council imposed further sanctions on North Korea. Subsequently, Prime Minister Kim Yong-nam declared the talks between the six parties to have failed.
North Korea continues to conduct missile launches and nuclear weapons tests. After the transfer of power to Kim Jong-un in April 2012, there were initially new hopes, but another atomic bomb test in February 2013 destroyed them.

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North Korea responded to renewed UN sanctions by terminating the 1991 non-aggression pact with South Korea and declared a state of war in March 2013. However, the situation soon eased again. In February 2014, for the first time in three years, a high-level contact between North and South Korea took place.

During World War II, Japan had formed a military alliance with Germany and spread its influence of power over Asia. After both states capitulated in 1945, the political situation in Korea changed and was overshadowed by the formation of the bipolar world order. The US and the Soviet Union remained as great powers in a world marked by competition and incompatible political systems. Thus, they divided Korea into two occupation zones:

The Soviet Union took over the northern part and proclaimed the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on September 9, 1948. The aim was to build a communist form of government that would serve as a counterweight to the political leeway of the USA.1.

Reign of Kim II-sung

Since the 1950s, the Labour Party has been the leading political organization in North Korea. The chairman of the Central Committee, Kim II-sung, was thus appointed as the first North Korean head of government. Following the Soviet model, he was guided by Stalin’s personality cult, through which he was able to eliminate opposition politicians and gradually expand his power. In addition to South Korean press censorship, the “Führer” created so-called re-education camps for suspected political opponents. With an economic upswing, the country was initially economically superior to the South Koreans.

The change of government in the Soviet Union and the de-Stalinization by Khrushchev ushered in a political change. China and North Korea distanced themselves from the Soviet thaw policy. In particular, Khrushchev’s admissions in the Cuban Missile Crisis were vehemently questioned.3. Through this alienation, the Soviet Union stopped financial aid and thus burdened the North Korean economy. After North Korea adopted a new constitution in 1972, Kim II-sung was declared president. In the same year, even both Korea states pledged to achieve peaceful reunification.

However, this short relaxation phase remained without significant success in the following years.

After the collapse of the USSR

After Kim II-sung died in 1994, a three-year mourning period was announced. He was awarded the title of “Eternal President” in 1998. His son Kim Jong-Il took over the position of General Secretary of the “Party of Labour”. The dissolution of the Soviet Union was not without consequences for North Korea. The collapse of the Eastern Bloc almost brought foreign trade to a standstill, paralyzed the economy and led to great famine. Kim Jong-Il nevertheless continued the status quo, fearing that liberal reforms could overturn his own political system.4. In 2000, the sunshine policy of South Korean President Kim Dae-jung led to a joint phase of détente.

Relationships and travel opportunities could thus be improved. With the seizure of power by Lee Myung-bak in South Korea, the somewhat more peaceful relationship was broken again. Incidentally, North Korea has increasingly provoked the US since the turn of the millennium with its nuclear weapons program. Nuclear weapons tests have been punished with sanctions by the United Nations.

Kim Jong-Un’s Seizure of power

the history of north Korea
The history of North Korea

After Kim Jong-Il’s death in December 2011, his son Kim Jong-Un succeeded him as the new head of state of North Korea. This seizure of power changed the relationship with South Korea. With a constitutional amendment in April 2012, North Korea officially declared itself a nuclear power and conducted several nuclear weapons tests in the spring of 2013. Kim Jong-Un renounced the 1953 armistice agreement and threatened South Korea and the US with a pre-emptive nuclear strike5. Since then, U.S. troops with missile defense stations have been militarily stationed in surrounding areas.

History of North Korea Nuclear Weapons

In February 2005, North Korea claimed to possess nuclear weapons. However, the weapons are only intended to defend against US aggression.

In the fall of 2005, after negotiations in the six-party talks with South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the United States, the regime agreed to discontinue its nuclear weapons program.

Despite this commitment, North Korea announced a nuclear weapons test in 2006. According to North Korean sources, it was carried out on October 9. Seismologists confirm exceptional readings on the Korean Peninsula on this day. However, some intelligence agencies assume that the tremors were triggered by a conventional explosive device.


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