North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (abbreviated DPRK), is a country in East Asia constituting the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. Pyongyang is the nation’s capital and largest city. To the north and northwest the country is bordered by China and by Russia along the Amnok (known as the Yalu in China) and Tumen rivers; it is bordered to the south by South Korea, with the heavily fortified Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two. Nevertheless, North Korea, like its southern counterpart, claims to be the legitimate government of the entire Korean peninsula.
In 1910, Korea was annexed by the Empire of Japan. After the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II, in 1945, Korea was divided into two zones, with the north occupied by the Soviets and the south by the Americans. Negotiations on reunification failed, and in 1948, separate governments were formed: the socialist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north, and the capitalist Republic of Korea in the south. An invasion initiated by North Korea led to the Korean War (1950–1953). The Korean Armistice Agreement brought about a ceasefire, but no peace treaty was signed.
North Korea officially describes itself as a self-reliant socialist state and formally holds elections. Critics[who?] regard it as a totalitarian dictatorship. Various media outlets have called it Stalinist, particularly noting the elaborate cult of personality around Kim Il-sung and his family. International organizations have assessed that human rights violations in North Korea have no parallel in the contemporary world. The Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), led by a member of the ruling family, holds power in the state and leads the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland of which all political officers are required to be members.
Juche, an ideology of national self-reliance, was introduced into the constitution in 1972. The means of production are owned by the state through state-run enterprises and collectivized farms. Most services such as healthcare, education, housing and food production are subsidized or state-funded. From 1994 to 1998, North Korea suffered a famine that resulted in the deaths of between 240,000 and 420,000 people, and the country continues to struggle with food production. North Korea follows Songun, or “military-first” policy. It is the country with the highest number of military and paramilitary personnel, with a total of 9,495,000 active, reserve, and paramilitary personnel. Its active duty army of 1.21 million is the fourth largest in the world, after China, the United States, and India. It possesses nuclear weapons. North Korea is an atheist state with no official religion and public religion is discouraged. Both North Korea and South Korea became members of the United Nations in 1991.
The name Korea derives from the name Goryeo (also spelled Koryŏ). The name Goryeo itself was first used by the ancient kingdom of Goguryeo (Koguryŏ) in the 5th century as a shortened form of its name. The 10th-century kingdom of Goryeo succeeded Goguryeo, and thus inherited its name, which was pronounced by visiting Persian merchants as “Korea”. The modern spelling of Korea first appeared in the late 17th century in the travel writings of the Dutch East India Company’s Hendrick Hamel.
After the division of the country into North and South Korea, the two sides used different terms to refer to Korea: Chosun or Joseon (조선) in North Korea, and Hanguk (한국) in South Korea. In 1948, North Korea adopted Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (조선민주주의인민공화국/朝鮮民主主義人民共和國 Chosŏn Minjujuŭi Inmin Konghwaguk; About this sound listen) as its new legal name. In the wider world, because the government controlled the northern part of the Korean Peninsula, it is commonly called North Korea to distinguish it from South Korea, which is officially called the Republic of Korea.