PRIOR TO THE NATIONAL DIVISION of the Korean Peninsula in 1945, Korea was home to a people with a unitary existence, ethnic and linguistic homogeneity, and a historic bond of exclusionism towards outsiders--a result of its history of invasion, influence, and fighting over its territory by larger and more powerful neighbors. This legacy continues to influence the contemporary Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea).
There are other parallels between Korea's past and presentday North Korea. The traditions of Confucianism and a bureaucracy administered from the top-down and from the center continue to hold sway. Further, just as there was relative stability for more than two millennia on the Korean Peninsula, there has been relative stability in North Korea since Kim Il Sung came to power in 1946. As Confucian doctrine perpetuated the authority of the family system and the importance of education, so too were these elements paramount in Kim Il Sung's North Korea. Politics remain personalistic, and Kim has surrounded himself with a core of revolutionary leaders (now aging), whose loyalty dates back to their days of guerrilla resistance against the Japanese in Manchuria. Kim's chuch'e ideology also has its roots in the self-reliant philosophy of the Hermit Kingdom (as Korea was called by Westerners), and Korea's history of exclusionism also held particular appeal to a people emerging from the period of Japanese colonial domination (1910-45).
North Korea came into being in 1945, in the midst of a prolonged confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. North Korea was, and in some ways remains, a classic Cold War state, driven by the demands of the long-standing conflict with the Republic of Korea (ROK, or South Korea), and the United States and its allies. It emerged in the heyday of Stalinism, which influenced North Korea's decision to give priority to heavy industry in its economic program. North Korea was a state forged in warfare: by a civil struggle fought at the beginning of the regime and by a vicious fratricidal war fought while the system was still in infancy. All these influences combined to produce a hardened leadership that knew how to hold onto power. But North Korea also evolved as a rare synthesis between foreign models and native influences; the political system was deeply rooted in native soil, drawing on Korea's long history of unitary existence on a small peninsula surrounded by greater powers.
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