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North Korea: Photos Reveal Life North of the DMZ

North Korea | Mark Edward Harris

The following was reprinted with permission from Los Angeles-based photographer Mark Edward Harris, from his book “North Korea”, a monograph capturing the lives and culture of its citizens.

A traffic officer in uniform. Pyongyang, North Korea | Mark Edward Harris / Getty Images
A traffic officer directing traffic on the streets of the North Korean capital on February 26, 2008 in Pyongyang, North  | Mark Edward Harris / Getty Images

The idea for this book on North Korea and its companion book on South Korea is simple, a look at Korea 60 years after the signing of the armistice that stopped — but did not officially end — the Korean War. Turning the idea into reality was much more complicated, especially north of the DMZ, the 154-mile long and 2.5-mile wide zone that divides the peninsula.

To better understand North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), one must travel back at least two centuries. For it is the history of the Korean Peninsula, not just the land above the mid-20th century division, where an integral part of the bigger picture reveals itself.

The 19th-century Opium Wars in China had an isolating effect on Korea, helping to create what became known as the Hermit Kingdom. While now often used a synonym for the DPRK, this label was originally given to the entire peninsula.

In the 1870s Japan began flexing its military muscle, crisscrossing the East Sea (Sea of Japan) in an attempt to subjugate Korea. These actions culminated in the annexation of the country in 1910. Japanese occupation would last until the end of World War II in 1945, when the United States took control of the southern half of the peninsula and the Soviet Union, having entered the war against Japan only a few weeks earlier, occupied the northern half. These are the seeds that grew into a divided Korea.

In 1948 with the Cold War in full swing, North Korea and South Korea declared independence from each other, each claiming to be the rightful government for the entire peninsula. On June 25, 1950 the Cold War turned hot as Northern troops flooded into the South. By the time an armistice was signed n July 27, 1953, more than a million soldiers and civilians had been killed. At the time, U.S. General Mark Wayne Clark’s headquarters in Tokyo issued a statement addressed to all members of the United Nations Command: “I must tell you as emphatically as I can, that this does not mean immediate or even withdrawal from Korea. The conflict will not be over until the governments concerned have reached firm political settlement.” Six decades later, peace is still not at hand.

North Koreans wave to soldiers during a massive military parade celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of the country's founder Kim Il Sung. Pyongyang, North Korea | Mark Edward Harris
North Koreans wave to soldiers during a massive military parade celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of the country's founder Kim Il Sung. Pyongyang, North Korea  | Mark Edward Harris
The Arirang Mass Games in May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea | Mark Edward Harris
The Arirang Mass Games in May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea | Mark Edward Harris
Golden Lane Bowling Alley. Pyongyang, North Korea | Mark Edward Harris
Golden Lane Bowling Alley. Pyongyang, North Korea | Mark Edward Harris
Children's show in North Korea | Mark Edward Harris
Children's show in North Korea | Mark Edward Harris
The Arirang Mass Games in May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea. | Mark Edward Harris/Getty Images
The Arirang Mass Games in May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea. | Mark Edward Harris/Getty Images
A guide at Secret Camp No. 1 where North Korean history books claim Kim Jong Il was born in near Mt. Baektu, North Korea | Mark Edward Harris/Getty Images
A guide at Secret Camp No. 1 where North Korean history books claim Kim Jong Il was born in near Mt. Baektu, North Korea | Mark Edward Harris/Getty Images
A bus driver and ticket taker stand in front of the historic bus that Kim Il Sung rode on. North Korea | Mark Edward Harris
A bus driver and ticket taker stand in front of the historic bus that Kim Il Sung rode on. North Korea | Mark Edward Harris
English class at a North Korean high school. Pyongsong, North Korea | Mark Edward Harris
English class at a North Korean high school. Pyongsong, North Korea | Mark Edward Harris
Mother and child in front of the Tumangang train station in North Korea | Mark Edward Harris/Getty Images
Mother and child in front of the Tumangang train station in North Korea | Mark Edward Harris/Getty Images
Scene at a nursery school. Kangwon Province, North Korea | Mark Edward Harris
Scene at a nursery school. Kangwon Province, North Korea | Mark Edward Harris
Two children at a communal farm in Kangwon Province, North Korea | Mark Edward Harris
Two children at a communal farm in Kangwon Province, North Korea | Mark Edward Harris

Top Image: Soldiers take photos in front of the bronze statues of Kim Il Sung (left) and Kim Jong Il (right) on Mansu Hill, Pyongyang, North Korea. | Mark Edward Harris / Getty Images

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