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
However, in July 1948, North Korea took final steps to
establish a separate state. The Fifth Session of the North Korean People’s
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 People’s 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
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
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.