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The Evolution of North Korea's Coat of Arms

[Fyodor Tertitskiy Column]
2014-09-23 07:45 | Fyodor Tertitskiy, MA, University of North Korean Studies

Among the national symbols, namely the flag and coat of arms, the latter is usually considered the least important. Some countries--notable examples being the United States and Japan – do not even have one. That, however, was not the case in the socialist bloc. In North Korea, too, it is present on various documents and rank insignia of the highest-ranking officers, it is engraved on walls of buildings of important state institutions, and it is displayed on national holidays in order to fill residents with a sense of patriotism.

The history of the North Korean coat of arms may be of interest to the readers. When Korea gained its independence from Japan, it did not have a coat of arms – only a flag and national anthem, both of which are still employed in South Korea as national symbols. As for the north, the first picture resembling the North Korean coat of arms appeared in Chongro, the predecessor of the Rodong Sinmun , on January 1st, 1946. Pictured below, this image, placed directly above of the first speech of Kim Il Sung, features the Korean peninsula surrounded by ribbons. The design is very similar to the contemporary Soviet coat of arms.

This image never appeared again; instead, a depiction of the Korean peninsula without ribbons was used at public events, together with the traditional flag. The message was obvious: we, the North and the South, are one country.

However, in July 1948, North Korea took final steps to establish a separate state. The Fifth Session of the North Korean Peoples Assembly adopted the Constitution project, which was largely edited by the Soviets, the new flag, and the new coat of arms.

The new coat of arms survived for only two months. When the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea was proclaimed on September 9th, 1948, the new coat of arms was adopted. The furnace was replaced by a hydroelectric plant, or rather, the only hydroelectric plant. Supung hydroelectric plant, erected by the Japanese on the Manchurian border, was featured to symbolize the colonial industry.

It remains unknown who ordered the change and why; however, the responsible party was almost certainly with the Soviets. It is very unlikely the Kim Il Sung, or any of his partisan unit comrades, who spent most of their times fighting the Japanese army, would enshrine the plant constructed by their oppressors as part of a national symbol. On the other hand, the Soviet authorities took a great deal of interest in the plant, and the hydroelectric generator was the only piece of industrial machinery that the Soviet Union took from Korea as a trophy.

The final alteration of the coat of arms took place in 1993, when the image of a mountain was replaced by the holy mountain of the revolution, Baekdu Mountain. This mountain was described as a holy place, because the DPRK asserts that Kim Jong Il was born there, while in reality he was born in a village of Vyatskoye in the USSR.

However, the Supung plant still appears. And, since the plant is located between China and North Korea, ironically, the DPRK coat of arms still displays a part of Chinese land and a plant constructed by the Japanese.


Modern North Korea asserts that it was Kim Il Sung who founded the country, totally denying any Soviet influence. Of course, the national symbols, according to the DPRK, were created by him as well. The picture below depicts Kim in the process of finalizing the design of the flag and emblem.

Looking at the small picture on the left side of the image, below the two miniature flags, one can see the coat of arms in use from July to September of 1948. This clearly shows that the artist of the picture had access to the historical records of the late 1940s. The saddest part of the story is that if he did, he would have known how far from the truth the image he created to be, yet he chose to proceed with it anyway.

* Views expressed in Guest Columns do not necessarily reflect those of Daily NK.