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The Democratic People's Republic of Korea makes up the northern part of the Korean Peninsula in East Asia. North Korea is bordered by South Korea, China, and Russia. The border between North and South Korea remains in dispute, with both countries claiming the entire peninsula and some islands off the coast.

North Korea, as it is today, has been in existence only since 1948. Prior to that time, its history was one of kingdoms and colonialism. Additionally, the history of North Korea is the same as that of South Korea, as the separation was created along a boundary negotiated between the United States and the Soviet Union, with no Korean official included.

Its history can be divided into four periods: the Three Kingdoms period, Unification, Japanese colonization, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The Three Kingdoms period lasted from 246 AD to 668 AD. There were people in the region prior to that time, including armies, but they were mostly fragmented and temporary. The Three Kingdoms were the Paekche, Koguryŏ, and Silla, although the Koguryŏ was the one that occupied roughly the area that is now North Korea, while the Paekche occupied the west side of the peninsula and included land in both Koreas, and the Silla was in the area that is now South Korea. Most North Koreans have their roots in the Koguryŏ Kingdom.

For most of the Three Kingdoms period, the Koguryŏ Kingdom dominated the Korean peninsula, but this ended in the 600s, when the Silla Kingdom, with assistance from China, took over Koguryŏ, after which Chinese influences in Korea increased.

By the 920s, the Silla had weakened militarily, and a new Koguryŏ leader came to power, defeating both the Silla and the Paekche. He treated the Silla with respect and was able to unify Korea. During this period, Koguryŏ was changed to Koryŏ, which later became Korea. This period is known as the Unification period. It was during this time that Buddhist and Confucian philosophy took root in North Korea, with Confucianism becoming particularly strong during the Chosŏn dynasty, between 1392 and 1910.

By 1910, the Chosŏn dynasty had weakened, and the Japanese took over, aided by the United States and Britain. Japanese colonialism lasted until the end of World War II. During this period, Japan actively sought to replace the traditional Korean culture, particularly its Confucian influences, with Japanese culture, politics, and education, while the Koreans were treated as second-class citizens.

Japanese occupation was not without resistance. There were petitions for independence and protests. Beginning in the 1930s, guerrilla warfare began. One of the guerrilla soldiers was Kim Il Sung, who would later become the leader of North Korea.

Following World War II, Japan lost control over its external holdings, and negotiations over what to do with the Korean peninsula were between the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1945, the US decided to draw the line between American occupied Korea and Soviet-occupied Korea along the 38th parallel, with the Soviets to the north of the line. Although this was an arbitrary line, it cut the country roughly in half. The Soviets agreed to this. While the Americans made efforts to bring Western principles to South Korea, the USSR allowed the Koreans to control their own fate, and Kim Il Sung became the North Korean leader after being trained in communist policy and leadership in the USSR. By 1948, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was established, and the Soviets ended its supervision in 1950.

At that time, the Korean War began, as North Korea sought to unify the country. The United States intervened on behalf of South Korea, while China provided support to North Korea. After three years and the deaths of more than a million soldiers and civilians, a truce was called. A heavily guarded demilitarized zone still divides the Korean peninsula, and the US has maintained a heavy military presence along the border.

The ideology of the new North Korean government has always been one of self-reliance, which earned the country a nickname as the "hermit kingdom". Today, its closest foreign relationship is with China and, in concert with its philosophy of self-reliance, the North Korean Army is believed to be the fourth largest active military force in the world, with approximately one-third of its population in military service.

The determining factor in the opportunities available to a North Korean citizen is class. Known as songbun, a person's class is decided in part by the government's perception of the person's loyalty to the party, but also by ancestry. Someone with a high songbun is someone who is seen as having been loyal to party ideology, to have worked hard, and committed no crimes. Songbun can be more easily lowered than raised. This concept has its roots in Confucianism.

 

 

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