15 Crazy Facts About North Korea

15 Crazy Facts About North Korea

Image Courtesy: Telegraph.co.uk

The history of North Korea tells an isolationist story. We hear about the defectors and the harsh mistreatment done to them over the news all the time. However, there is more to this country than meets the TV media eye. Despite being extremely secretive, North Korea suffers from a lot of criticism about the way it is governed. The dictator’s regime and the violation of basic human rights are just some of the reasons for this. Here are 15 facts about North Korea that will definitely come as a surprise.

1.  The year in North Korea is 106, not 2017. The North Korean calendar is based on Kim Il-Sung’s birth year, 1912.

Kim Il-sung
Image credit: wikimedia

The North Korean calendar is named after the Juche ideology and is called the “Juche Calendar.” Although it borrows elements from the Korean era calendar and the Gregorian era calendar, it is unique as it begins with the birth of the Kim Il-sung. Therefore, the birth year of this North Korean leader, 1912, is referred to as “Juche Year 1” in North Korea. There are no Juche years before this year, and the years before 1912 are referred to as the years in the Christian calendar.(source)

2. North Korea once kidnapped a famous South Korean film director to create Fantasy films for the North Korean Government. Kim Jong-Il was a lifelong admirer of Godzilla and together, they made a North Korean version of it called “Pulgasari”.

In 1978, Shin Sang-ok and his wife, Choi Eun-hee were abducted. After three years in prison, the couple were instructed to create fantasy films for the North Korean government to gain global recognition. Kim Jong-Il was a big fan of films. In fact, before becoming a dictator, he was a director. He made several movies with the common theme of glorifying Kim Il-Sung and pride for the nation. By the early, 1970s he was frustrated with his films and they seemed lifeless to him. Thus, he wanted fresh creators to help him with his film ideas. In search for a better vision, he kidnapped Shin and Choi. They made dozens of films for Kim Jong-Il and one of them was “Pulgasari”. This movie was about a farmer’s uprising in Korea and a little girl’s sacrifice to help the farmers. The movie was heavily influenced by Godzilla. Fortunately, Kim loved the movie as he saw it as an an outright critique of capitalism. However, the couple escaped to the West eight years later from Vienna.(1,2)

3. Making sarcastic comments about Kim Jong-un and his regime is forbidden in North Korea. Even indirect criticism of the authoritarian government has been banned.

Kim Jong-un
Image source: flickr.com

Kim Jong-un and his ideology have been criticized by all. He has been called an isolationist, and many North Koreans have also started saying things. His dictatorship is subject to many North Korean sayings such as: “A fool who cannot see the outside world.” Sarcasm, or even indirect criticism of Kim Jong-un or his regime, has been banned by the government.(source)

4. The drug methedrine is so common in North Korea that suited elites in Pyongyang restaurants offer each other a “nose” after dinner. 

Meth in North Korea
Image source: wikimedia.org

After the famine of the 1990s in North Korea, several drugs found their way into North Korean labs. However, one of them skyrocketed in popularity so much that they were served in restaurants. This drug was methamphetamine or crystal meth. Its domestic use increased heavily. Elites took it as something exciting to do after dinner. The middle classes took it as a cure for back pain and colds, and the poor took it to make them forget their empty stomachs. Moreover, exchanging drugs to see whose is more potent is a common practice. In fact, it is as common as exchanging cigarettes in the West.(source)

5. North Korea has its own operating system called “Red Star OS,” they also have their own intranet network know as “Kwangmyong” which limits users from accessing foreign content or information.

Red star OS
Image source: flickr.com

Red Star OS is a North Korean Linux-based operating system. It has a modified version of Mozilla Firefox which is called “Naenara.” It is used to for browsing the North Korean intranet known as “Kwangmyong.” As the global internet is banned in North Korea, the local intranet lets North Koreans browse limited websites that are controlled by the government.(source)

6. There are only four television channels in North Korea, and all of them are controlled by the government.

TV in North Korea
Image source: flickr.com

There are only four television channels in North Korea, namely Korean Central Television, Mansudae Television, Ryongnamsan Television, and Sports Television. These channels only showcase sports, educational material, and advertisements on weekends. All four of these channels are controlled by the government.(source)

7. North Koreans love foreign movies and TV shows so much that they risk their lives to watch them via USB sticks smuggled in from China.

Smuggled USBs by defectors
Image source: flickr.com, wikipedia.org

The numbers of defectors who flee to South Korea in order to escape the Kim Jong-Un regime have recently increased dramatically. Also, others risk their lives to smuggle foreign movies into North Korea as foreign content is banned in North Korea. USB drives containing foreign content are circulated among North Koreans who have no access to the internet. In fact, the officials who are supposed to be catching these defectors are found watching these foreign movies and TV shows themselves.(source)

8. Men and women have been given an illustrated guide of 30 government-approved hairstyles deemed acceptable in North Korea. However, Kim Jong-un is exempted from this rule.

Hairstyles for women
Image source: dailymail.co.uk

Men have 15 options of hairstyles that have different back and side short cuts with varying lengths on top. If anyone is seen sporting a crop-top is subject to glares. Women have 15 options of short, mid-length, and long hairstyles to choose from. However, North Koreans are not allowed to dye their hair at all. Moreover, Kim Jong-Un has a distinctive haircut which is different from any other North Korean’s.(source)

9. In North Korea, the personality cult surrounding Kim ll-sung and Kim Jong-il is extremely glorified. In 2012, a 14-year-old North Korean school girl drowned while attempting to rescue portraits of the two from a flood.

Personality cult
Image source: wikimedia.org

The supreme leaders of North Korea Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il have had their regime glorified. Many people in North Korea believe that Kim Il-sung created the world. Most songs, literature, art, and sculptures glorify these two leaders in a way comparable to God. Moreover, many landmarks are named after the two leaders. Many people mourn and pay their respects to the bronze statues of the two leaders even today. Some have gone so far as dying such as in the case of a schoolgirl rescuing portraits of the two leaders.(source)

10. North Korea has a policy of mandatory voting to elect its legislature, but each ballot has only one candidate on it.

Elections in North Korea
Image credit: Reuters/KCNA via

Elections in North Korea for the Supreme People’s Assembly are held every five years. Only one candidate appears on the ballot box. This practice has attracted a lot of criticism as it is an unofficial political census. The turnout is almost 100% in favor of the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland. Although the people can vote against the candidate by crossing out the name of the candidate with a red pen in a secret ballot, it is extremely risky to do so. Sometimes voters who wish to vote against the candidate must do so in front of electoral officials.(source)

11. Jeans have been banned in North Korea for years because they are considered a symbol of U.S. imperialism.

Jeans banned in NK
Image source:gossipkatta.in , wikimedia.org

There have been many restrictions on clothing that a citizen may wear including hairstyles, length of skirts, and piercings, but blue jeans are the newest addition to these restrictions. Moreover, North Koreans are encouraged to wear traditional North Korean clothes. Kim Jong-un believes that Western culture has penetrated North Korea widely, and this crackdown will continue until Western influence is driven from North Korea.(source)

12. North Korea produces so little electricity that it’s almost completely dark at night.

North Korea at night
Image source: flickr.com

There is complete darkness in North Korea, except for one bright spot which is Pyongyang, the capital and principal city. A study showed that the per capita electricity consumption fell from its peak in 1990 of 1247 kilowatt hours to a low of 712 kilowatt hours in 2000. It has slowly risen since to 819 kilowatt hours in 2008, a level that is still below that of 1970. So yes, you could definitely say that electricity is scarce.(source)

13. There are around 30,000 kilometers of roads in North Korea, and surprisingly only 7.5% of roads are paved.

Roads in North Korea
Image source: wikimedia.org

As of 2006, out of the 25,554 kilometers of roads in North Korea, only 724 km of them were paved. The road quality is not good at all. In fact, the drivers usually swerve and change lanes to avoid potholes. Moreover, sections under repair may not be properly marked, so oncoming traffic should always be expected even on a divided motorway.(source)

14. One of North Korea’s largest exports is giant statues of foreign dictators.

Statues of dictators
Image source: wikimedia.org

Although North Korea doesn’t have many goods that can be exported, one thing it is famous for is giant statues of foreign dictators. The Mansudae Art Studio in North Korea is famous for creating giant bronze statues of foreign dictators and liberators. Moreover, this export is very successful in Africa. In fact, this studio also makes the huge statues, murals and banners you see being dutifully applauded at military processions.(source)

15. Visiting Kim Jong-il’s body is the biggest tourist attraction in North Korea.

Kim Jong Il's Body
Image source: nydailynews.com

The preserved body of the communist leader Kim Jong-il is situated in Pyongyang, North Korea. Western tourists are now allowed to bring their phones into North Korea so there are no private photos of the body, but they tell us they have found the leader’s body to be well preserved, embalmed, and actually a great tribute to the leader.(source)

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