Pyongyang, P'yŏngyang or Pyeongyang (US: /ˌpjɒŋˈjæŋ/, UK: /ˌpjʌŋˈjɑːŋ/,[7] Korean: [pʰjʌŋ.jaŋ]), is the capital and largest city of North Korea. Pyongyang is located on the Taedong River about 109 kilometres (68 mi) upstream from its mouth on the Yellow Sea. According to the 2008 population census, it has a population of 3,255,288.[8] Pyongyang is a directly-administered city (직할시; 直轄市; chikhalsi) with equal status to North Korean provinces.


Pyongyang Directly Governed City
  McCune–ReischauerP'yŏngyang Chikhalsi
  Revised RomanizationPyeongyang Jikhalsi
  Official North Korean variantPhyŏngyang Chikhalsi
Clockwise from top left: Pyongyang skyline and the Taedong River; Juche Tower; Arch of Triumph; Tomb of King Tongmyeong; Puhŭng Station in the Pyongyang Metro; Arch of Reunification; and Kumsusan Palace of the Sun
(류경/柳京)  (Korean)
"Capital of Willows"
Location of Pyongyang in North Korea
Location of Pyongyang in North Korea
Pyongyang (Asia)
Coordinates: 39°1′10″N 125°44′17″E
Country North Korea
RegionPyongan Province
  Chairman of Pyongyang People's CommitteeCha Hui-rim[2]
  Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea Pyongyang City CommitteeKim Su-gil[2][3][4]
  Total2,000 km2 (800 sq mi)

Pyongyang is considered the oldest city in Korea.[9] It was the capital of various Korean kingdoms, including Gojoseon, Goguryeo and Goryeo. During the Joseon period, Seoul replaced Pyongyang as the capital of Korea. Much of the city was destroyed during the First Sino-Japanese War, but it was revived under Japanese rule and became an industrial center. Following the establishment of North Korea in 1948, Pyongyang became its de facto capital. The city was again devastated during the Korean War, but was quickly rebuilt after the war with Soviet assistance.

Pyongyang is the political, industrial and transport center of North Korea. It is home to North Korea's major government institutions, as well as the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.


"Pyongyang" in Chosŏn'gŭl (top) and hanja (bottom)
Korean name
Revised RomanizationPyeongyang
lit. "Flat Soil"

The city's other historic names include Kisong, Hwangsong, Rakrang, Sŏgyong, Sodo, Hogyong, Changan, and Heijō[10][11] (during Japanese rule in Korea). There are several variants.[lower-alpha 1] During the early 20th century, Pyongyang came to be known among missionaries as being the "Jerusalem of the East", due to its historical status as a stronghold of Christianity, namely Protestantism, especially during the Pyongyang revival of 1907.[23][24]

After Kim Il-sung's death in 1994, some members of Kim Jong-il's faction proposed changing the name of Pyongyang to "Kim Il-sung City" (Korean: 김일성시; Hanja: 金日成市), but others suggested that North Korea should begin calling Seoul "Kim Il-sung City" instead and grant Pyongyang the moniker "Kim Jong-il City", and in the end neither proposal was implemented.[25]

The Russian transliteration Пхёнья́н was adapted into Polish and Romanian as Phenian, among other variants in the former Eastern bloc, including Hungarian Phenjan, Georgian Pkheniani. In Poland the hyperforeignist pronunciation /ˈfɛɲ.jan/ is more common than the original /ˈpxɛɲ.jan/.


In 1955, archaeologists excavated evidence of prehistoric occupation in a large ancient village in the Pyongyang area, called Kŭmtan-ni, dating to the Jeulmun and Mumun pottery periods.[26] North Koreans associate Pyongyang with the mythological city of "Asadal" (Korean: 아사달; Hanja: 阿斯達), or Wanggeom-seong (Korean: 왕검성; Hanja: 王儉城), the first second millennium BC capital of Gojoseon ("Old Joseon") according to Korean historiographies beginning with the 13th-century Samgungnyusa.

Historians deny this claim because earlier Chinese historiographical works such as the Guanzi, Classic of Mountains and Seas, Records of the Grand Historian, and Records of the Three Kingdoms, mention a much later "Joseon". The connection between the two therefore may have been asserted by North Korea for the use of propaganda. Nevertheless, Pyongyang became a major city in old Joseon.


Korean mythology asserts that Pyongyang was founded in 1122 BC on the site of the capital of the legendary king Dangun.[9] Wanggeom-seong, which was in the location of Pyongyang, became the capital of Gojoseon from 194 to 108 BC. It fell in the Han conquest of Gojoseon in 108 BC. Emperor Wu of Han ordered four commanderies be set up, with Lelang Commandery in the center and its capital established as 樂浪 (Old Chinese: *[r]ˤawk*[r]ˤaŋ,[27] Standard Chinese: pinyin: Lèlàng, Korean: RakRang). Several archaeological findings from the later, Eastern Han (20–220 AD) period in the Pyeongyang area seems to suggest that Han forces later launched brief incursions around these parts.

The area around the city was called Nanglang during the early Three Kingdoms period. As the capital of Nanglang (Korean: 낙랑국; Hanja: 樂浪國),[lower-alpha 2] Pyeongyang remained an important commercial and cultural outpost after the Lelang Commandery was destroyed by an expanding Goguryeo in 313.

Goguryeo moved its capital there in 427. According to Christopher Beckwith, Pyongyang is the Sino-Korean reading of the name they gave it in their language: Piarna, or "level land".[28]

In 668, Pyongyang became the capital of the Protectorate General to Pacify the East established by the Tang dynasty of China. However, by 676, it was taken by Silla, but left on the border between Silla and Balhae. Pyongyang was left abandoned during the Later Silla period, until it was recovered by Wang Geon and decreed as the Western Capital of Goryeo. During the Joseon period, it became the provincial capital of Pyeongan Province.

During the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–98), Pyongyang was captured by the Japanese and held until they were defeated in the Siege of Pyongyang.[9] Later in the 17th century, it became temporarily occupied during the Qing invasion of Joseon until peace arrangements were made between Korea and Qing China. While the invasions made Koreans suspicious of foreigners, the influence of Christianity began to grow after the country opened itself up to foreigners in the 16th century. Pyongyang became the base of Christian expansion in Korea, and by 1880 it had more than 100 churches and more Protestant missionaries than any other Asian city.[9]

In 1890, the city had 40,000 inhabitants.[29] It was the site of the Battle of Pyongyang during the First Sino-Japanese War, which led to the destruction and depopulation of much of the city. It was the provincial capital of South Pyeongan Province beginning in 1896. Under Japanese colonial rule, the city became an industrial center, called Heijō (with the same Chinese characters 平壤 but read as へいじょう) in Japanese.

In July 1931 the city experienced anti-Chinese riots as a result of the Wanpaoshan Incident and the sensationalized media reports about it which appeared in Imperial Japanese and Korean newspapers.[30]

By 1938, Pyongyang had a population of 235,000.[29]

After 1945

On 25 August 1945, the Soviet 25th Army entered Pyongyang and it became the temporary capital of the Provisional People's Committee for North Korea. A People's Committee was already established there, led by veteran Christian nationalist Cho Man-sik.[31] Pyongyang became the de facto capital of North Korea upon its establishment in 1948. At the time, the Pyongyang government aimed to recapture Korea's official capital, Seoul. Pyongyang was again severely damaged in the Korean War, during which it was briefly occupied by South Korean forces from 19 October to 6 December 1950. In 1952, it was the target of the largest aerial raid of the entire war, involving 1,400 UN aircraft.

After the war, the city was quickly rebuilt with assistance from the Soviet Union, and many buildings were built in the style of Stalinist architecture. The plans for the modern city of Pyongyang were first displayed for public viewing in a theatre building. On 27 July 1953 – the day the armistice between North Korea and South Korea was signed – The Pyongyang Review wrote: "While streets were in flames, an exhibition showing the general plan of restoration of Pyongyang was held at the Moranbong Underground Theater", the air raid shelter of the government under Moranbong. "On the way of victory... fireworks which streamed high into the night sky of the capital in a gun salute briefly illuminated the construction plan of the city which would rise soon with a new look".[32]

In 2001, North Korean authorities began a long-term modernisation programme. The Ministry of Capital City Construction Development was included in the Cabinet in that year. In 2006, Kim Jong-il's brother-in-law Jang Song-thaek took charge of the ministry.


Pyongyang is in the west-central part of North Korea; the city lies on a flat plain about 50 kilometres (31 mi) east of the Korea Bay, an arm of the Yellow Sea. The Taedong River flows southwestward through the city toward the Korea Bay. The Pyongyang plain, where the city is situated, is one of the two large plains on the Western coast of the Korean peninsula, the other being the Chaeryong plain. Both have an area of approximately 500 square kilometers.[33]


Pyongyang has a humid continental climate (Köppen climate classification Dwa), featuring hot, humid summers and cold winters. Cold, dry winds can blow from Siberia in winter, making conditions very cold; the low temperature is usually below freezing between November and early March, although the average daytime high is at least a few degrees above freezing in every month except January. The winter is generally much drier than summer, with snow falling for 37 days on average.

The transition from the cold, dry winter to the warm, wet summer occurs rather quickly between April and early May, and there is a similarly abrupt return to winter conditions in late October and November. Summers are generally hot and humid, with the East Asian monsoon taking place from June until August; these are also the hottest months, with average temperatures of 21 to 25 °C (70 to 77 °F), and daytime highs often above 30 °C (86 °F).

Climate data for Pyongyang, 1981–2010 normals, extremes 1961–present
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 10.0
Average high °C (°F) −0.9
Daily mean °C (°F) −6.0
Average low °C (°F) −10.3
Record low °C (°F) −26.5
Average precipitation mm (inches) 11
Average rainy days 2 3 7 9 12 13 19 14 10 9 9 5 146
Average snowy days 8 6 3 0.3 0 0 0 0 0 0.2 3 7 28
Average relative humidity (%) 70 66 63 61 66 72 82 81 77 73 72 71 71
Mean monthly sunshine hours 184 197 231 237 263 229 181 204 222 214 165 165 2,492
Average ultraviolet index 2 3 4 6 7 8 9 9 7 4 2 1 5
Source:[34], Deutscher Wetterdienst (sun, 1961–1990)[35] and Weather Atlas[36]


Major government and other public offices are located in Pyongyang, which is constitutionally designated as the country's capital.[37] The seat of the Workers' Party Central Committee and the Pyongyang People's Committee are located in Haebangsan-dong, Chung-guyok. The Cabinet of North Korea is located in Jongro-dong, Chung-guyok.

Pyongyang is also the seat of all major North Korean security institutions. The largest of them, the Ministry of People's Security, has 130,000 employees working in 12 bureaus. These oversee activities including: police services, security of party officials, classified documents, census, civil registrations, large-scale public construction, traffic control, fire safety, civil defense, public health and customs.[38] Another significant structure based in the city is the State Security Department, whose 30,000 personnel manage intelligence, political prison systems, military industrial security and entry and exit management.[39]

The politics and management of the city is dominated by the Workers' Party of Korea, as they are in the national level. The city is managed by the Pyongyang Party Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea and its chairman is the de facto mayor. The supreme standing state organ is the Pyongyang People's Committee, responsible for everyday events in support of the city. This includes following local Party guidance as channeled through the Pyongyang Party Committee, the distribution of resources prioritised to Pyongyang, and providing support to KWP and internal security agency personnel and families.

Administrative status and divisions

P'yŏngyang is divided into 18 wards (ku- or guyŏk) (the city proper) and 2 counties (kun or gun).[40]

Foreign media reports in 2010 stated that Kangnam-gun, Chunghwa-gun, Sangwŏn-gun, and Sŭngho-guyŏk had been transferred to the administration of neighboring North Hwanghae province.[41] However, Kangnam-gun was returned to Pyongyang in 2011.[42]


Panorama of Pyongyang, as seen from the Juche Tower in April 2012

After being destroyed during the Korean War, Pyongyang was entirely rebuilt according to Kim Il-sung's vision, which was to create a capital that would boost morale in the post-war years.[43] The result was a city with wide, tree-lined boulevards and public buildings with terraced landscaping, mosaics and decorated ceilings.[44] Its Russian-style architecture makes it reminiscent of a Siberian city during winter snowfall, although edifices of traditional Korean design somewhat soften this perception. In summer, it is notable for its rivers, willow trees, flowers and parkland.[44]

The streets are laid out in a north-south, east-west grid, giving the city an orderly appearance.[44] North Korean designers applied the Swedish experience of self-sufficient urban neighbourhoods throughout the entire country, and Pyongyang is no exception. Its inhabitants are mostly divided into administrative units of 5,000 to 6,000 people (dong). These units all have similar sets of amenities including a food store, a barber shop, a tailor, a public bathhouse, a post office, a clinic, a library and others. Many residents occupy high-rise apartment buildings.[45] One of Kim Il-sung's priorities while designing Pyongyang was to limit the population. Authorities maintain a restrictive regime of movement into the city, making it atypical of East Asia as it is silent, uncrowded and spacious.[46]

Structures in Pyongyang are divided into three major architectural categories: monuments, buildings with traditional Korean motifs and high-rises.[47] Some of North Korea's most recognisable landmarks are monuments, like the Juche Tower, the Arch of Triumph and the Mansu Hill Grand Monument. The first of them is a 170-meter granite spire symbolizing the Juche ideology. It was completed in 1982 and contains 25,550 granite blocks, one for each day of Kim Il-sung's life up to that point.[47] The most prominent building on Pyongyang's skyline is Ryugyong Hotel,[47] the seventh highest building in the world terms of floor count, the tallest unoccupied building in the world,[48] and one of the tallest hotels in the world. It has yet to open.[49][50]

Pyongyang has a rapidly evolving skyline, dominated by high-rise apartment buildings. A construction boom began with the Changjon Street Apartment Complex, which was completed in 2012.[51] Construction of the complex began after late leader Kim Jong-il described Changjon Street as "pitiful".[52] Other housing complexes are being upgraded as well, but most are still poorly insulated, and lacking elevators and central heating.[53] An urban renewal program continued under Kim Jong-un's leadership, with the old apartments of the 1970s and '80s replaced by taller high rise buildings and leisure parks like the Kaesong Youth Park, as well as renovations of older buildings.[54] In 2018, the city was described as unrecognizable compared to five years before.[55]


Notable landmarks in the city include:

Pyongyang TV Tower is a minor landmark. Other visitor attractions include the Korea Central Zoo. The Arch of Reunification has a map of a united Korea supported by two concrete Korean women dressed in traditional dress straddling the Reunification Highway, which stretches from Pyongyang to the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).



Pyongyang served as the provincial capital of South Pyongan Province until 1946,[56] and Pyongyang cuisine shares the general culinary tradition of the Pyongan province. The most famous local food is Pyongyang raengmyŏn, or also called mul raengmyŏn or just simply raengmyŏn. Raengmyŏn literally means "cold noodles", while the affix mul refers to water because the dish is served in a cold broth. Raengmyŏn consists of thin and chewy buckwheat noodles in a cold meat-broth with dongchimi (watery kimchi) and topped with a slice of sweet Korean pear.

Pyongyang raengmyŏn was originally eaten in homes built with ondol (traditional underfloor heating) during the cold winter, so it is also called "Pyongyang deoldeori" (shivering in Pyongyang). Pyongyang locals sometimes enjoyed it as a haejangguk, which is any type of food eaten as a hangover-cure, usually a warm soup.[57]

Another representative Pyongyang dish, Taedonggang sungeoguk, translates as "trout soup from the Taedong River". The soup features trout (abundant in the Taedong River) along with black peppercorns and salt.[58] Traditionally, it has been served to guests visiting Pyongyang. Therefore, there is a common saying, "How good was the trout soup?", which is used to greet people returning from Pyongyang. Another local specialty, Pyongyang onban (literally "warm rice of Pyongyang") comprises freshly cooked rice topped with sliced mushrooms, chicken, and a couple of bindaetteok (pancakes made from ground mung beans and vegetables).[57]

Social life

In 2018, there were many high quality restaurants in Pyongyang with Korean and international food, and imported alcoholic beverages.[59] Famous restaurants include Okryu-gwan and Ch'ongryugwan.[60] Some street foods exist in Pyongyang, where vendors operate food stalls.[61] Foreign foods like hamburgers, fries, pizza, and coffee are easily found.[62] There is an active nightlife with late-night restaurants and karaoke.[63]

The city has water parks, amusement parks, skating rinks, health clubs, a shooting range, and a dolphinarium.[64]


Pyongyang has a number of sports clubs, including the April 25 Sports Club and the Pyongyang City Sports Club.[65] The most popular sport in Pyongyang is football.


Pyongyang is North Korea's industrial center.[9] Thanks to the abundance of natural resources like coal, iron and limestone, as well as good land and water transport systems, it was the first industrial city to emerge in North Korea after the Korean War. Light and heavy industries are both present and have developed in parallel. Heavy manufactures include cement, industrial ceramics, munitions and weapons, but mechanical engineering remains the core industry. Light industries in Pyongyang and its vicinity include textiles, footwear and food, among others. Special emphasis is put on the production and supply of fresh produce and subsidiary crops in farms on the city's outskirts. Other crops include rice, sweetcorn and soybeans. Pyongyang aims to achieve self-sufficiency in meat production. High-density facilities raise pigs, chicken and other livestock.[9]

The city still experiences frequent shortages of electricity.[66] To solve this problem, two power stations – Huichon Power Stations 1 and 2 – were built in Chagang Province and supply the city through direct transmission lines. A second phase of the power expansion project was launched in January 2013, consisting of a series of small dams along the Chongchon River. The first two power stations have a maximum generating capacity of 300 megawatts (MW), while the 10 dams to be built under second phase are expected to generate about 120 MW.[66] In addition, the city has several existing or planned thermal power stations. These include Pyongyang TPS with a capacity of 500 MW, East Pyongyang TPS with a capacity of 50 MW, and Kangdong TPS which is under construction.[67]


Pyongyang is home to several large department stores including the Pothonggang Department Store, Pyongyang Department Store No. 1, Pyongyang Department Store No. 2, Kwangbok Department Store, Ragwon Department Store, Pyongyang Station Department Store, and the Pyongyang Children's Department Store.[68]

The city also has Hwanggumbol Shop, a chain of state-owned convenience stores supplying goods at prices cheaper than those in the jangmadang markets. Hwanggumbol Shops are specifically designed to control North Korea's expanding markets by attracting consumers and guaranteeing the circulation of money in government-operated stores.[69]


Pyongyang is also the main transport hub of the country: it has a network of roads, railways and air routes which link it to both foreign and domestic destinations. It is the starting point of inter-regional highways reaching Nampo, Wonsan and Kaesong.[9] Pyongyang railway station serves the main railway lines, including the Pyongui Line and the Pyongbu Line. Regular international rail services to Beijing, the Chinese border city of Dandong and Moscow are also available.

A rail journey to Beijing takes about 25 hours and 25 minutes (K27 from Beijing/K28 from Pyongyang, on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays); a journey to Dandong takes about 6 hours (daily); a journey to Moscow takes six days. The city also connects to the Eurasian Land Bridge via the Trans-Siberian Railway. A high-speed rail link to Wonsan is planned.[70]

The Metro, tram and trolleybus systems are used mainly by commuters as a primary means of urban transportation.[9] Cycle lanes were introduced on main thoroughfares in July 2015.[71] There are relatively few cars in the city. Cars are a symbol of status in the country due to their scarcity as a result of restrictions on import because of international sanctions and domestic regulations.[72] Some roads are also reported to be in poor condition.[73] However, by 2018, Pyongyang had begun to experience traffic jams.[74]

State-owned Air Koryo has scheduled international flights from Pyongyang Sunan International Airport to Beijing (PEK), Shenyang (SHE), Vladivostok (VVO), Shanghai (PVG) and Dandong.[75] The only domestic destinations are Hamhung, Wonsan, Chongjin, Hyesan and Samjiyon. Since 31 March 2008, Air China launched a regular service between Beijing and Pyongyang,[76] although Air China's flights are often canceled due to the lack of passengers.[77]

Education and science

Kim Il-sung University, North Korea's oldest university, was established in 1946.[9] It has seven colleges, 14 faculties and 16 other institutes, graduate schools and university units.[78] These include the primary medical education and health personnel training unit, the medical college; a physics faculty which covers a range of studies including theoretical physics, optical science, geophysics and astrophysics;[79] an atomic energy institute and a human evolution research office which studies human evolution through a Juche point of view. Kim Il-sung University also has its own publishing house, sports club (Ryongnamsan Sports Club),[80] revolutionary museum, nature museum, libraries, a gym, indoor swimming pool and educator apartment houses. Its two main buildings were completed in 1965 (Building 1) and 1972 (Building 2). A third building on campus is planned.[81]

Other higher education establishments include Kim Chaek University of Technology, Pyongyang University of Music and Dance and Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies. Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) is the country's first private university where most of the lecturers are American and courses are carried out in English.[82][83] A science and technology hall is under construction on Ssuk Islet. Its stated purpose is to contribute to the "informatization of educational resources" by centralizing teaching materials, compulsory literature and experimental data for state-level use in a digital format.[84]

Sosong-guyok hosts a 20 MeV cyclotron called MGC-20. The initial project was approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1983 and funded by the IAEA, the United States and the North Korean government. The cyclotron was ordered from the Soviet Union in 1985 and constructed between 1987 and 1990. It is used for student training, production of medical isotopes for nuclear medicine as well as studies in biology, chemistry and physics.[85]


Medical centers include the Red Cross Hospital, the First People's Hospital which is located near Moran Hill and was the first hospital to be built in North Korea after the liberation of Korea in 1945,[86] the Second People's Hospital, Ponghwa Recuperative Center (also known as Bonghwa Clinic or Presidential Clinic) located in Sokam-dong, Potonggang-guyok, 1.5 km (0.93 mi) northwest of Kim Il-sung Square,[87] Pyongyang Medical School Hospital, Namsan Treatment Center which is adjacent[88] Pyongyang's Maternity Hospital, Taesongsan General Hospital,[89] Kim Man-yoo Hospital, Staff Treatment Center and Okryu Children's Hospital.

Twin towns

Pyongyang is twinned with:

See also


  1. These include: Heijō-fu,[12] Heizyō,[13] Heizyō Hu,[14] Hpyeng-yang,[15] P-hjöng-jang,[16] Phyeng-yang,[17] Phyong-yang,[18] Pienyang,[19] Pingyang,[20] Pyengyang,[21] and Pieng-tang.[22]
  2. Nanglang-state is different from Lelang Commandery.



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Further reading

  • Kim Chun-hyŏk (2014). Panorama of Pyongyang (PDF). Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House. ISBN 978-9946-0-1176-9.
  • Kracht, Christian, Eva Munz & Lukas Nikol. The Ministry of Truth: Kim Jong Il's North Korea. Feral House, October 2007. ISBN 978-1-93259527-7.
  • Springer, Chris. Pyongyang: The Hidden History of the North Korean Capital. Saranda Books, 2003. ISBN 963-00-8104-0.
  • Willoughby, Robert. North Korea: The Bradt Travel Guide. Globe Pequot, 2003. ISBN 1-84162-074-2.
  • Dormels, Rainer. North Korea's Cities: Industrial facilities, internal structures and typification. Jimoondang, 2014. ISBN 978-89-6297-167-5

Pyongyang at night

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