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North Korea Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

North Korea is an extremely isolated nation. However, we do know a bit about its ethnic diversity. In this lesson, we will talk about ethnicity in North Korea and see what it means to this nation.

North Korea

If you wanted, you could take a vacation to the Korean Peninsula of East Asia. In fact, you should seriously consider it sometime -- I hear it's nice. You can go and enjoy the food and the culture and the sights, but you can't go further north that about the 38th parallel.

Why not? Because north of what is called the demilitarized zone that splits the Korean Peninsula in two is an entirely separate nation, called the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Most of us just call it North Korea. It is an extraordinarily isolated society, so don't expect to get in without an invitation, and frankly, don't expect an invitation. But, even if we probably aren't going to be visiting it any time soon, we can still get to know something about the people who live there.

North Korea
North Korea

Korean Ethnicity

So, who are the North Korean people? North Korea actually boasts one of the most racially homogeneous societies in the world. Of the total population of approximately 25 million people, 99.8 percent are ethnically Korean. Less than one percent of North Koreans are identified as not being Korean.

Now, due to the famous measures taken by the North Korean government to convince its citizens that they are one unified people, you may think that this high degree of racial consistency is staged. Maybe the North Koreans just identify as being ethnically Korean because being different is so frowned upon. Well, it is interesting to note that South Korea claims to have almost the exact same percentage of ethnically Korean population. In fact, even before the Korean Peninsula was divided into two separate nations, the Korean people were extremely proud of having one of the most ethnically homogeneous populations in the world.

Korea is ethnically very homogeneous.
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So, North Korea is actually as ethnically Korean as it claims. But who are the Korean people? Genetic evidence suggests they may have originally descended from Siberian peoples, possibly with some Mongol influence. While their culture would later be highly influenced by China, the Chinese do not actually contribute substantially to the Korean ethnicity.

For centuries, the Korean Peninsula was home to various Korean kingdoms, but perhaps the most substantial was the kingdom of Joseon, sometimes written as Choson. The Joseon people are often seen as the true ancestors of modern-day Koreans. In fact, North Koreans call themselves Joseon-in or Chosunin, which literally means the people of Joseon.

Minority Ethnic Groups

At less than 0.5 percent of the population, North Korean ethnic minority groups are limited, to say the least. North Korea does contain a small population of ethnically Chinese people, as well as a minor population of Japanese people. Neither group can count more than several thousand members. Considering how strictly controlled North Korean society is, and how important racial homogeneity is, racial mixing is not something that is highly encouraged.

In terms of North Korean society, there actually is one other group that is seen as something of an ethnic minority. Koreans whose families left Korea and returned are often treated as no longer being purely ethnically Korean, as ethnic mixing could have occurred with outside groups. As North Korea and South Korea established their borders in the 1950s, each saw a return of former expatriates.

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