Since the Korean war that ended in 1953, the going-ons in North Korea have been kept fairly under wraps. The war ended with a treaty officially separating what used to be one country into North and South Korea. South Korea is a republic nation, with most of its population centered in the urban capital of Seoul and the modern South Korean has opportunity and human rights. North Korea, however, is quite different. The country is led by a dictator that limits all contact to and from the outside world. Citizens are raised to believe that their dictator and his family are Gods that will not be questioned and ought to be praised for giving them all that they get (even though what they have is very minimal).
As the newest dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, has assumed power and, more recently, as Donald Trump has begun his presidency in the United States, tension between the two countries has been at an all-time high. Kim Jong Un makes threats of nuclear war on a near-daily basis, and Trump responds to such threats with equally vague threats of his own. Meanwhile, citizens of both countries are waiting to see which city will be blown up first.
As we get to know more about North Korea’s missile program, armies, navy, and war capabilities, we get to know more about the country itself which has been shrouded in mystery for over fifty years. Here are fifteen North Korean secrets we’ve exposed:
15. Hairstyles Are Policed
If you know very little about the country of North Korea, you probably at least know that the government is very controlling of the everyday citizen. Everything in North Korea is standardized and has rules, including the cut of your hair. There are a total of 28 approved hairstyles that are gender specific; meaning, if you’re a man then you have ten potential hairstyles to choose from, and women have eighteen options. And it’s not even like the hairstyles are that different. Basically, if you’re a guy then you’ve got to be kept close shaven and clean cut in bad hairstyles while women have hair that is rarely allowed to grow past their shoulders (but should NEVER be cut above above the ear). Kim is apparently not a fan of the haircuts his dad picked out so one of his duties as dictator has been to switch up the haircuts. Pretty important matters of state, don’t you think?
14. A Meth Problem
If you lived in North Korea, you’d probably be desperate for something that would alter your reality. You’d probably give a leg for something that made you feel like you were somewhere, anywhere else. Something that made you feel better, even if it was just a temporary and ephemeral feeling. Something that makes all your problems slink away to the background. Well, that’s what meth does for everyone in North Korea. They make high quality meth (very pure stuff), and even manage to ship it abroad to other countries. While the regime definitely uses the stuff to make money for their failing government, Korean citizens are quite hooked on the stuff too. Which is always bad for business- ask any drug dealer and they’ll tell you to never take from your own supply! North Korea still makes money in the drug trade, but you can certainly see the effects of the drug ravaging population.
13. Three Generations of Punishment
One does not simply “mess up” in North Korea. If you make a mistake in North Korea, it could cost you your life or worse: it could just cost you humane treatment for yourself and all your descendants. North Korea is very strict and intolerant of anyone who chooses to stray from their incredibly stringent regulations. If you break a rule, you may be sent to a prison labor camp for your crime. If the severity of your crime is deemed extreme enough (which doesn’t take much), your family members could be shipped in with you and you may fall under the policy mandating that three successive generations will pay for your crimes. That means that you could spend your life in prison because of something your grandpa did. It also means that many people are born, live, and die without ever seeing a hint of the world outside of the walls of their labor camps.
12. Odd Execution Techniques
Many North Koreans die for simple reasons of their country not being able to support them: inaccessible healthcare, malnutrition, and lack of clean water are common sources of death. After that, people die in North Korean labor camps everyday due to poor treatment and the consequences of all the heinous acts committed there. But even more horrendous than a prison camp death would be the death faced if you crossed the wrong person in the North Korean government. If reports from the country are true, people have been executed by anti-aircraft weapons, mortars, flame throwers, and animals. Let us give you an example: Kim Jong Un claims that, when his uncle betrayed him, he had him executed by feeding him and his cabinet to dogs, letting them have their way for an hour or more. There is even evidence suggesting that some of these torturous executions are viewed by high level officials as a form of entertainment.
We’ve said it before, we’re saying it again: North Korea is starving. Many other countries and nonprofit organizations do their best to send aid to the country drowning in famine, but most gestures are blocked by the government, claiming that North Korean citizens neither need nor want help from outsiders. But that’s simply not true. Kim Jong Un wanted to try a solution of farming genetically enlarged rabbits but (shocker) it didn’t work out. So how have many North Koreans managed to survive their bleak situations with no aid and no hope on the horizon? Unfortunately, sometimes through cannibalism. Children are often warned not to wander alone, and people fear to eat food from street-side vendors out of concern over what meat is in it. While no one wants to resort to such horrors, it seems to be one of the few ways Koreans can manage to sell enough product in order to buy food for themselves.
10. It’s Year 105 in North Korea
While the rest of the world adheres to the Gregorian calendar, in which it is the year 2017, North Korea has decided that they’re more advanced than that. They’ve switched over to their own calendar, which is rather under the Juche ideology. The Juche calendar starts with the birth of the North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung- the same leader that established the tyrannical and oppressive state of North Korea, effectively brainwashing a nation into submission. This replaced the typical system that the Christian world adheres to, which starts with the birth of Jesus Christ. Mind you, this calendar system didn’t start the day Kim Il-Sung was born- it was implemented in 1997, on the third anniversary of Kim’s death. Thus, in North Korea, it is Juche 105 in North Korea. The calendar also has a number of holidays, including the annual celebration of the birth of Kim Il-Sung, also called the Day of the Sun.
9. The Tanking GDP
North Korea reports that it is thriving and doing better than ever. However, this is all self-reported nonsense and lies that the government would have the world believe- none of it is actually true. To prove just how poorly North Korea is doing, we reference the GDP: the gross domestic product, which is the total value of goods and services provided in a country in one given year. To give you reference, the United States of America had a GDP of $15.52 trillion in 2011. Want to know North Korea’s? $12.38 billion. That’s all! That’s hardly enough to support a nation, let alone weapons research and development, money to fund an army, and money to support the lavish lifestyle of a heartless dictator. Seriously, Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) has over four times that amount in his bank account and you don’t see him trying to run a nation (at least not directly)!
8. Only 3% of The Roads Are Paved
North Korea likes to boast a strong infrastructure that is able to support their great people and bustling industry, but let’s be real. They don’t have a lot of bustling industry to speak of, so we know that’s not important. And the people are all so starving or all trapped in prison camps (both of which we’ll talk more about later) that they don’t really need roads. Hell, transportation by car is so incredibly rare in North Korea, they could have gravel roads everywhere and it would be fine. Most citizens walk or ride bicycles to work. Thus, only 3% of all of North Korea’s roads are paved. You can bet that most of those roads are around the elite capital of Pyongyang and perhaps the other industrious city of Hamgyong. Everywhere else, if you’re living on a farm or far from the busy cities (as many North Koreans do), you’re traveling over dirt or gravel roads.
7. Lack of Electricity
Like we said, North Korea doesn’t have a whole lot of money to spare- certainly not enough money to power a nation around the clock, 365 days a year (pardon us, not a year- a Juche). That explains why most North Koreans never experience electricity in their lives first hand. Even those that do get electricity sometimes only have it for one or two hours a day- hope that’s enough to cook a meal or heat some water or make some medicine. The only people that do have round-the-clock power live in Pyongyang and are the most elite of the nation’s already elite class. Kim Jong Un, for example, has never and will never live a day without electricity. Nor will his key advisers or their families. But almost everyone else in the nation suffers. This map shown from space shows the power map of North Korea almost completely dark (with a brightly illuminated South Korea to the south and China to the north).
6. Human Waste as Fertilizer
The nation hardly has enough food to feed itself- how do you think poor, impoverished farmers manage to feed themselves, let alone their livestock? This is how farms work: you feed your livestock, you keep their excrement, you spread it out across your fields to fertilize your crops, your crops grow, you use some of the crop to feed your livestock. It’s a cycle! But with the famine in North Korea being as severe as it is, people have less and less that they can afford to feed their livestock, therefore less and less waste is being produced to fertilize farms. So… people use their own waste to fertilize their fields. That means people are saving their poop and using it to dole out over their crops, which they will then later eat. It’s not like this has never happened before in the history of the world, or that it’s even that unsanitary… it’s just horrible that people have been degraded to saving their own poop so that they can in turn feed themselves.
5. People Live on $2 a Month
North Korea is poor. Like, crazy poor. Everyone in North Korea is forced into a job, whether they like it or not, but even then they are rarely given a choice in what job they take and they cannot have ambition for a high salary. You do work, you’re paid minimally, you go to sleep. If you behave, maybe that’s all your life will amount to. Jobs in North Korea are painfully monotonous and the prospect of a promotion is practically unheard of. You can’t really start your own business, get a side job, sell real estate, or invest in the stock market either- so no side-hustles allowed. You get what you’ve got and you better be happy with it, even if that amounts to $2 or $3 a month. Some of the country’s poorest people (which is a lot of the population) deal with this reality and don’t realize that they’re being oppressed beyond belief; they are taught to believe that they are lucky to even have this much.
4. Caste System
Why is it that North Koreans don’t have much opportunity at a promotion or of moving up in society? Because all North Koreans have been sorted into a three caste system (with about 50 sub-castes, but we’ll just stick to the basics for now). The status system is called Songbun, and it classifies each person as a caste member not by their character or intelligence but by their ancestry. If the ancestors of a person were loyal to the government, they were classified as the core class (about 25% of the population). These core receive electricity, good housing, and the best job opportunities. The wavering class (about 55%) consists of all the average North Koreans who were neither outright loyalists to the new regime nor resistors. The bottom class, the hostiles (about 20%), consist of descendants of lawyers, Christians, and anyone else who may have ever questioned the regime- and their caste condemns them to sheer poverty. Ironically, the system turned former peasants into bourgeois, and the educated and literate caste into the beggars.
3. Labor Camps
Most people that descended from the literate and the wizened are simply subjected to abject poverty and starvation due to their ‘hostile’ caste. However, those who are very unfortunate, descendants of true rebels and people who tried to work against the government, were sent to labor camps. North Korea is filled with labor camps that are essentially concentration camps of the old Nazi world. Though we’ve all known about these labor camps for a long time, the United States didn’t really seem to care until Otto Warmbier (an Ohioan) was detained by the North Korean government and sent to a labor camp for 15 years in penance for essentially trying to take home a North Korean propaganda poster from his hotel in Pyongyang. The conditions in these camp are horrifying: over populated camps of people forced into hard labor, starving and malnourished, fearful of torture and being killed. It gets even worse, but we’ll go into that later…
2. Torture Prisons
While there is not much evidence of these torture prisons, there is at least one solid account that we know we can believe. Besides, it’s not like we doubt the existence of these places- North Korean elites seem to place remarkably little value on a lesser human life in their country.
If the tales are true, there are prisons within prisons of the harshest labor camps in North Korea. Shin Dong-hyuk told his story of his escape from camp 14, which was fraught with danger. Born inside the walls of the camp, his harshest time was when his mother and brother attempted escape. Shin was taken into a sub-basement of the prison and hung from the ceiling and questioned as he dangled over a vat of burning coals, the skin boiling off his back. He was released back into the normal prison, but only after telling everything he knew about his mother and brother and watching them get executed. If his accounts are true, hundreds of people are tortured in the underground prisons every day.
1. Kids And Intensive Labor
Labor is not exclusive to the adults. No. As you can seen from this image that was taken by a photographer nearly a decade ago, kids, too, are forced to work. Children begin working as soon as they’re capable. The children in this image are carrying water to their homes. As we’ve mentioned already, most of North Korea is without electricity and without potable water connected to their homes. That’s why children and adults alike must undertake the task of fetching for water – concept and task that is so foreign to Westerners’ ears. Photos like this make you appreciate the most basic of necessities that we take for granted.