North Korea comprises the fringes of mainland Asia and the northern part of the Korean peninsula with the Yellow Sea in the west and the Sea of Japan in the east. In the north, the Yalu and Tumen rivers form the border with the People’s Republic of China. In the far northeast, North Korea borders on Russia. The demarcation line to South Korea runs around the 38th parallel.
North Korea is part of the Asian mainland with a 600 km long and an average 150 km wide border. The Korean peninsula joins it to the south.
Four fifths of North Korea is mountainous. The Hamgyeong Mountains (up to 2541 m) in the northeast drop steeply to the Sea of Japan. In Changbai Shan on the border with Manchuria, the Paektusan volcano (2750 m) is the highest point in the country. This is also where the country’s two longest rivers, Yalu and Tumen, have their source. Both mark the border with China for long stretches, the Tumen before its confluence with the Sea of Japan also the border with Russia.
The Nangnim Mountains run through almost the entire country from north to south. It is crossed by other mountain ranges that extend to the southwest. The Taedonggang, the third longest river in North Korea, has its source in the Nangnim Mountains. It flows through the capital Pyongyang and flows into the Yellow Sea in a wide funnel near Namp’o. The south-west is occupied by coastal plains and valleys with hills. They form the most important arable farming region in the country. The Taebaek Mountains, the main watershed of the Korean peninsula, run along the east coast. The northern part with the Diamond Mountains (Kŭmgangsan, up to 1638 m) is on North Korean territory.
Climate and vegetation
North Korea has a cool, temperate climate. Winter is long, severe and dry. In January the average temperatures are between –8 ° C in the southwest and –20 ° C in the north. Spring and autumn are relatively dry and mild. In the short, hot summers with temperatures often over 30 ° C, 60–70% of the annual precipitation of 700–1300 mm falls as a result of the humid monsoons. Typhoons also hit in summer and early autumnon North Korea. Again and again there are floods and landslides. This is exacerbated by extreme weather conditions as a result of climate change and soil erosion. It has its main cause in the deforestation of the forest and the use of unsuitable land for agriculture. Of the original forests, mostly spruce, larch, Korean pine and mixed deciduous forests, larger populations have been preserved in mountain regions and in the sparsely populated highlands. The Changbai Mountains are a retreat for many species of birds and large mammals.
Information about the almost exclusively Koreans population is based only on estimates. After the Second World War, around 2 million people fled to the south of the peninsula, mostly during the Korean War. The resulting labor shortage has been one of North Korea’s major problems. Therefore, the policy was aimed at increasing the birth rate. In addition, the minimum age at marriage was set at 30 for men and 27 for women in order to maximize the use of young people’s labor.
The focus of the settlement is on the plains in the west of the country, which are used intensively for agriculture. Between 1950 and 2017, the proportion of the urban population doubled to around 61% (2017). The largest cities are the four million metropolis Pyongyang as well as Hamhŭng, Ch’ŏngjin (Cheongjin), Sinŭiju, Wŏnsan and Namp’o.
The standard of living of the population is very low. Although there is a comprehensive social welfare and health system, part of the population is malnourished as a result of inadequate food supplies. Child mortality is very high.
The biggest cities in North Korea
|Largest cities (last surveyed in 2008)
Freedom to practice one’s religion is guaranteed by the constitution, which also grants freedom to carry out anti-religious propaganda. According to the latest available estimates from aceinland, over two thirds of the population are non-denominational or atheists; 12–17% are attributed to the Cheondogyo religion, a new religion that combines Buddhist and Christian elements, around a sixth of traditional Korean religions with a shamanistic character. Elements of shamanistic popular piety have also flowed into Korean Buddhism, which focuses on the worship of Buddha Maitreya. Buddhists and Christians (mostly Protestants) form very small religious minorities.
The quasi-religious veneration of the “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung is part of the “Juche” doctrine that he founded and that shapes all areas of social life. It considers the Korean people and their culture to be chosen, emphasizes the political and military independence of North Korea and strives for economic autarky.