From a few kilometers away, the North Korean village of Kijong-dong might seem like yet another typical settlement, where people go about their everyday lives. In practice though, it couldn't be furthest from the truth, as the Peace Village, as it is sometimes called, is an empty settlement, erected by the hermit kingdom as a measure of propaganda to lure South Koreans into defecting to the supposedly prosperous North.
At first glance, Kijong-dong might seem like a typical village, but as it turns out, this place is anything but usual. Following the Korean War during the early 1950’s, both sides agreed upon a 250 kilometer long and 4-kilometer-wide buffer zone between the two countries, better known as the demilitarized zone or simply the DMZ. As part of their mutual agreement, each and every village across the narrow sliver of land would be dismantled, excluding one village that each country was allowed to hold on.
While South Korea decided to keep Daeseong-dong (the Freedom Village), North Korea opted to build a brand-new village from scratch, naming it Kijong-dong, or the Peace Village. According to the North Korean regime at that time, Kijong-dong was home to a pair of schools, kindergarten, child care center, hospital and most importantly, more than 200 residents.
However, it soon turned out that the town is in fact empty of people, with the only sign of life being a few caretakers who occasionally clean the streets. Even the tens of residential buildings across town were suspected to be a mere shell, with neither floors nor interior walls. Despite its apparent population zero, the town is well-lit every night as if it was a normal place.
Kijong-dong’s lack of inhabitants had only one explanation, the village was constructed as part of North Korea’s relentless psychological warfare. For many years, the reclusive nation hoped that by portraying a first world veneer, South Koreans would defect in masses and relocate to the communist country.
While the project’s goals expectedly never came into fruition, it had some hilariously unintended consequences. Up until recently, the village-based loudspeakers incessantly broadcasted North Korean propaganda, including patriotic songs and anti-imperialism messages. The South Koreans on the other side of the border retaliated with a string of K-Pop songs. Another war of ego erupted when South Korea installed a 98.4-meter-tall flagpole within their portion of the DMZ. The North Korean answer was swift and strong as they erected a 160-meter-tall flagpole, which was the world’s tallest flagpole upon completion (now it is merely the fifth).
North Korea’s Potemkin village is completely restricted with no visitors allowed. Nonetheless, if you wish to see this oddity firsthand, some travel companies in Seoul offer a daytrip to the DMZ and its surroundings, including a visit to an observatory, from where one can have a glimpse from afar of Kijong-dong and its ridiculously massive flagpole.
photography by: Don Sutherland/ Wikimedia Commons
photography by: Isaac Crumm/ Wikimedia Commons
photography by: Mike Connolly/ Wikimedia Commons
photography by: Jpatokal/ Wikimedia Commons
photography by: Mark D/ Flickr
photography by: Doug Sun Beams/ Flickr