The capital city of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Pyongyang also is North Korea’s largest city – equal parts seat of government and a living propaganda art project. Much of Pyongyang was destroyed during the Korean War, and the regime’s founder, Kim Il-Sung, used the city’s rebuilding process to establish a working example of his Juche philosophy and to define a new Korea. The city is planned on a grid system on both sides of the Taedong River, with many parks, wide avenues and green spaces. The city is also host to dozens of monuments, murals and art projects glorifying the regime. Most of the residents live in high rises, and the few areas open to foreign visitors are exceptionally manicured, including the locals’ choregraphed interactions with outsiders. In sharp contrast to Seoul, Pyongyang is not a sprawling, busy modern metropolis. The North Korean capital is the country’s largest city, but home to little more than 3 million people out of a total population estimated at over 25 million (the Seoul capital area is home to roughly half of South Korea’s population).
Eerily orderly and organized, especially for an east Asian metropolis, Pyongyang has succeeded Kim Il-Sung’s dream of building a city that accurately reflects the contradictions and controlled existence of life in the North Korean state.