When the Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) was established in 1953 two villages were permitted within the zone – one on the North side and one on the South side (Taesong-dong).
Tourists are not permitted to visit either village.
The village in the North’s half of the DMZ is Kijong-dong and was built in the early-mid 1950s. According to the North Korean Government the village is home to 200 families who operate a collective farm. It is fully equipped with kindergartens, childcare centre, schools and a hospital.
Southern/US sources contend that no-one lives in the village and it exists purely for propaganda purposes, built to entice the defection of soldiers from South Korea. These sources contend that the buildings are room-less concrete shells, the windows are glassless, electric lights (unheard of anywhere else in rural North Korea in the 1950s) operate on a timer and the only people there are maintenance teams who occasionally sweep the streets to give the illusion that the village is occupied. It is further argued that the very orientation of the village is proof of the propaganda nature of the village with the bright blue roofs and white sides of the buildings orientated such that the best view of the village is that from the border.
Given the level of lies, deceit and propaganda generated by both sides it is impossible to know which story is true.
My image above was taken from the Joint Security Area with a 20 times zoom lens but does not, alas, provide conclusive evidence of habitation or lack there-off. Other pictures I have seen of the village are as inconclusive as mine.
While I cannot draw a conclusion on whether the village is real or a fake I can make three observations based on my visit to the DMZ.
(i) Unlike the southern side of the DMZ which is, in the main, not farmed, land on the northern side of the DMZ is intensively farmed. My picture alongside shows farming land just to the east of the village with the village itself unseen but just across the horizon. The people who work this land clearly live somewhere – why not in Kijong-dong? As authorities deem it safe enough to have farmers working in the DMZ they would have no qualms about them living there in government provided housing. The granting of free/very low cost government accommodation to workers elsewhere in North Korea is common practice.
(ii) In addition to claiming that this village is a fake, for a long time the US and South Korea claimed that the large grey building – Panmumgak Hall – in the Joint Security Area, less than 50m back from the border was not a building but rather a facade only. As I was in this building I can debunk that view – it is a real three dimensional building. Extrapolating from this, Kijong-dong village may indeed be real too!
(iii) Why does the South/US not publish pictures taken with zoom lenses, etc not available to the average tourist? That said, I imagine any such pictures would be derided as fakes by the North and as such may have answered my own question.
Whether the village buildings are real or fake one thing was certainly for real until 2004. From circa 1953 to 2004 large speakers were mounted on many structures and blasted propaganda for up to 20 hours a day into South Korea. In the beginning the North’s broadcasts were aimed at enticing defections by relaying the virtues of living in the North. Later, when this was seen to be having little or no tangible impact, broadcasts switched to anti-Western propaganda speeches, Communist operas, and North Korean military songs. The South responded by broadcasting popular music and lectures on freedom and democracy.
Perhaps it was the Communist operatic broadcasts that shattered the glass in the buildings and caused the inhabitants to flee!
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on my visit to Panmunjom (DMZ), North Korea. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Mine is bigger than yours – The Flagpole War! – or to start this loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – If war resumes leave the area as soon as possible!