In history the Northern Regions of North Korea have emerged quite separately from the more well known and more prosperous regions in the central and southern regions of Korea. Not only do various mountainous barriers provide a natural barrier for contacts between the extreme northern regions of the Korean peninsula, and for instance the region around Pyongyang more to the south and west, a strong regionalist focus within Korean Culture and its Elite power circles reinforced this effect. As a result of the close proximity to the original Manchu territories, now part of the Peoples Republic of China, and the easing of terrain in the northern direction there have always been close connections with the nomadic cultures of north east Asia. At times this natural connection resulted in invasion and domination by foreign peoples. Some came by land, others by sea.
As a result of geography and location, the people of these regions have spent centuries being invaded by other peoples, whereas, again due to the structural regionalism under the two most important Korean Monarchies (Dynasties), at the same time being of low priority to the Korean power-brokers who managed the well populated and more fertile central and southern regions.
In early history the region of current day North Hamgyong was conquered by various tribal states like the Sushen, Upru, Yemaek, Okjeo, and Buyeo before it eventually became part of Goguryeo, today recognized as the first true "Korean" State.
A January 2008 report by the NGO "relief organization for North Korean Refugees" quotes eye witness accounts that state: "There is a big market in Musan. You can get anything there that you would find at a market in China. The only item made in North Korea is salt; everything else is made in China. The prices are too high for the average person to buy anything, so there are more people selling than buying. With no rationing system and no guarantees by the state of even a minimal standard of living, everyone is just trying to make a living by selling things.". A second person says "She said that since January 2008, the price of manufactured goods in Musan market has risen by 20 to 30 percent. As of January, the price per kilogram of rice was 1,500 won, for corn 500 won, for soybeans 1,000 won, and for wheat 1,300 won. So although there are goods in the market, there are very few people able to buy them".
In September of 2008 the relief organization for North Korean Refugees reported about how visiting passes for local North Koreans to visit the regions across the border within China were no longer given out. As a result it reports, this had the effect of encouraging a large number of North Koreans who had acquired such Visa's (permits) to stay in Jilin Province of China indefinitely. Still later, a larger number of repatriated and punished refugees could be observed. As the web-site of this relief organization states; "According to one of our staff members in Musan, North Hamgyong Province, North Korea, the number of defectors repatriated from China in June has risen to 500 or 600. The authorities in Musan have begun applying new sentencing standards based on how long each defector had stayed in China. For example, a defector who stayed in China for one year will receive a one-year sentence. Likewise, a two-year stay gets a two-year sentence. The unfortunate defectors who stayed longer in China, such as ten years, face extreme jail time. Anyone receiving a longer sentence is unlikely ever to get out alive".
In addition the web-site describes how a crackdown on illicit and legal cross-border traffic started before the opening of the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Specifically it says "On July 1 (2008), the custom house at the border was closed and goods no longer came from China. In addition, the authorities started to strictly limit business hours in Musan markets to only two hours from 6:00pm to 8:00pm. People who have been barely making a living at the markets lost their last resort for survival. They are all moaning and saying, “We’ve long said that only wolves and foxes can survive in North Korea, but now even the foxes are dying.”". Several more woes and miseries for the locals are described, most notably: "For three days from July 8 to July 10, no markets were allowed to open because of the national mourning ceremony of the death of Kim Ill-Sung. This was a hard blow to people who are leading a hand-to-mouth existence by doing business at markets.".
This Historic Map from the year 1905 AD gives a detailed overview of the Manchurian Regions in the triangle between the South Manchurian Railway (along which situated the Chinese cities of Harbin, Changchun, etc) and the Russian port of Vladivostok.
For reference included in this Map are the main cities of the region marked in Colors to clarify the different nationalities and territories. Rivers, Mountains and other geographic features are marked where possible. Click through for more information on each location.
Adjacent Map of Manchuria created in the year 1905 AD clearly shows that in that year the town of Musan already existed. Furthermore it shows a string of villages lying upstream along the Songchonsu River, which flows towards the town to join the Tumen border river as a tributary.
In 1935 AD the Musan (Iron) Mine was built by Japan’s Mitsubishi Mining Company.
As far as historians in the outside world know, not much after the establishment of the Korean Workers Party and the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea in 1948, the uninviting and remote northern
regions of the North Korean state became the destination of prisoners and political exiles. In many ways it still is a separate part of North Korea, a territory literally "Foreign" to the majority of citizens living further to the south.
At some time during the 1970's, North Korea started growing opium poppies in the mountains of Hamgyong Province and Yanggang Province. After initial success, it is said that the North Koreans then began producing opium at collective farms in Hoeryong, Musan, and Onsong.
In the early 1990's the Nation of North Korea was struck by a prolonged famine which took years to relieve (partially), mainly due to international food and other humanitarian aid. As millions went into malnutrition and even outright starvation across the nation, the town of Musan was not spared. As, Sung-chul Kim a local woman, turned refugee and now turned aid worker relates in her writing named "Dreams of My Hometown" published online by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea many people died from disease (among which tuberculosis which is reportedly endemic throughout North Korea) and starvation. Some managed to survive on the raisings of their small plots of land and whatever else they could scrape together in nearby woods and on hillsides. Others managed to make their way to neighboring Jilin Province of China (P.R.C.) to seek and find a job, sending hard needed cash back home to family members. After enduring for a long time, social chaos was imminent. People started stealing and lived to survive in any way they could. In 2001, Sung-chul Kim made it into China herself, only to be arrested and repatriated some months thereafter. No more information about Musan is related in the further tragic story, but there is an in depth eye witness account of what happens to North Korean citizens after they are repatriated from China back into North Korea. The Full Story by Sung-chul Kim can be read online following this link to "Dreams of my Hometown".
In 1995, North Korea allegedly harvested 40 metric tons from a 4-square-mile area, qualifying
the nation as a major drug-producing country under the terms and conditions of the Foreign Assistance
Act of 1961 (in the United States of America). It is rumored that the field lay in Musan County or otherwise in bordering Yonsa County.
According to Human Rights Watch Archives, On 7th February, 1998 Former Musan county Jucho-gu Women's Union Leader Cha Young Hee was arrested by Musan county Security Agency officer Ko Young Il for engaging in church activities and releasing Bibles on 7th February, 1998. Cha was transferred through the North Hamgyong Province Musan county Military Security Agency to the Provincial State Security Agency and later transferred once more after interrogation to an unidentified prison. Cha died two years and nine months later in November 2000; it is presumed that torture and other atrocities during that time were the cause of her death.
A North Korean testifying before the U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs said Kim Jong-
iL ordered each collective farm in the DPRK to grow approximately 25 acres of poppies beginning at some time in the year 1998. According to a later published report "North Korea: Government-Sponsored
Drug Trafficking", written by Lieutenant Commander Cindy A. Hurst, U.S. Naval Reserve for the 35th issue of MILITARY REVIEW Published September-October 2005 says;" According to South
Korea’s National intelligence Service (MIS), North Korea operates a narcotics-processing factory inside a pharmaceutical facility operated by the people’s Armed Forces Department in North Hamgyong
Province. The factory reportedly produced 1 ton each of heroin and opium per month (in 2005).
The drug factory, alegedly established in 1993 at the specific instruction of (late Korean Leader "General") Kim Il-Sung, reportedly processes opium into heroin before it is distributed by companies and diplomatic economic departments.
In 2002 several South Korean intelligence reports echoed by Yonhap News Agency revealed that an Uranium Mine was (supposedly) operating at Musan.
In June of 2002 State run KNCA News Agency of North Korea boasted a statement saying that the cultivation of potato's had been greatly enhanced. Although the main mention was of Taehongdan county in Ryanggang Province, the statement went on to say that potato's had also been sown in Musan, Yonsa, Jangjin and Pujon counties and rural villages in the highlands of Jagang and south Phyongan provinces.
Around mid-June 2003, a powerful terrorist bombing took place in front of the State Security Department [SSD] building in Musan County, a North Korean border city in North Hamgyong Province, leaving dozens of people killed or wounded. According to an official at the border garrison in Musan County, powerful explosives carried by a Musan County middle school student went off when he tried to go into the entrance of the SSD building, killing not only himself, but also wounding dozens of others, including passers-by, who were around the building.
In the aftermath, the authorities, looking for a possible suspect or foreign agent, border security was drastically tightened and locals checked painstakingly for travel documents and accommodation facilities. No person or group of persons responsible was identified, or at least not publically. No other information has come to light out about this incident since.
On February 24 of 2009 the North Korean Korean Central News Agency released a statement which read: "Kim Jong Il, top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), called for efforts to develop the Musan Mine in North Hamgyong Province into a world-class iron ore producer".
In 2010 a South Korean Documentary named "Musanilgi" (The Journal of Musan), written and directed by Jung-bum Park, comes out. The story purports to reveal the life of a
Photos of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il taken during a visit to the Musan Iron Mine in North Hamgyong Province, pesumably in February of 2009 released by KCNA.
hopeless, alone, estranged and incapable of fitting in with the helpful but peculiar people at church. Like the stray dog he looks after, Jeon Seungchul is a misfit in South Korea's capitalist society. The film however relates more of life in South Korea than anything in or near Musan.
A November 2010 Report issued by Reliefweb.org speaks of famine in North Hamgyong Province and in Musan. The report makes mention how the shortage of food across the region has made Central Authorities in North Korea worried about "troubles" with the population. For this reason the report cites how the collection of rise for military purposes has been halted in Musan and North Hamgyong, much to
North Korean citizen of Musan, who eventually managed to flee across the border into China's Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, make it to South Korea and tell his story. The plot is about Jeon Seungchul's who after finding his way out of trouble in North Korea lands in new and unexpected troubles in China and mostly, South Korea (ROK). Soon he is jobless,
YouTube Video: THE JOURNALS OF MUSAN Trailer
the relief of its inhabitants. The report goes on to quote a farmer of Musan, who confesses to not daring to object to the military grain tax on matters of principle as well as a fresh dosage of fear. Social pressures, conducted through the offices of the State, are enormous in Musan.
In July of 2011 Peter Foster a reporter for the British Newspaper Daily Telegraph reported on famine gripping North Korea, According to him, the North Korean refugees he spoke to among things made note of the dire food situation in Musan. According to an eye witness account related by a refugee to the journalist, an old man died of starvation right on the main station of Musan while waiting for the train. The body supposedly lay there among the waiting passengers for some time.
In December 2011, before the official announcement of the death of Kim Jong-Il, it was reported that the borders were closed and that troops were deployed on the streets of the border town of Musan.
On January 17 of 2012 The Daily North Korean reports that in Musan, North Hamgyong Province, barbed wire fences are going up to prevent smuggling. Previously, there had been fences up in the rural parts of Musan County, but now, the barbed wire extends to the area facing the core of the city. The next day it is reported from Musan that prices in the illegal market are rising.
On February 17 of 2013 a five-member family from Musan, North Hamgyong Province suddenly disappeared. "Although the entire border nearby was shut down and searched, nobody was able to find them", according to a group known as "Good Friends". No explanation for the disappearance could be given.
On April 28th of 2012 The Voice of Korea and North Korean TV published an item about citizens of Musan who's house had been destroyed by a fire. The TV footage shown revealed the carnage of homes utterly devastated and nearly leveled, apparently by a fire. Subsequently, brandnew houses were shown which were to serve as a replacement for those lost. The deeds for the new houses as well as a large stock of selected household appliances (Flat screen TV's, fans and microwave ovens) were handed out to the assembled citizenry and military personnel in a grand ceremony which seems to have been held near, adjacent or even inside the dilapidated sports stadium near the north end of town. Notable were the large number of men dressed in brown military uniforms, revealing the large number of military men stationed at the important Musan Mining Town. At any rate, the number of military people among the population of North Korea in general is very high.
On January 7 of 2013 Radio Free Asia's Korean edition reported that assignments of North Korean border guards stationed along the border with China had started to be more frequently rotated. According to the Report the assignments had been changed already twice (although the language makes it unclear in which time period), whereas they normally
changed only once a year. The reporter speculated on how this may be a measure to combat corruption among border guards, who are often implicated in the ongoing illicit trade across the border and the aid to refugees in crossing the border, presumably in return for payments. Apparently the guards had been changed more frequently since the country’s leader Kim Jong Un took power after his father and predecessor Kim Jong Il’s death in December 2011. Various South Korean government sources and news agencies report a nearly 50% drop in North Koreans arriving in South Korea for asylum.
An April 2013 News article New Focus International under the title; "North Koreans must sell to Live" included an image taken of a section of Musan where it was alleged an illegal market, a "jangmadang" (which translates as marketplace) was ongoing. The photo was taken from the distance of Nanping, situated in China just across the river.
NightWatch reported that on 14 April a mural of "Dear Leader" Kim Il-Sung and "General" Kim Jong-il near Musan city rail station collapsed from high winds.
North Korean national security authorities have investigated the collapse and are blaming saboteurs from defector families. Local sources in Jilin Province across the border insist that several have been relocated to a remote area. The rest are under surveillance and subject to interrogation. According to "NightWatch" authorities are using the mural collapse repression as an object lesson for dissidents.
Schematic Map of the Tang Dynasty (618 AD - 907 AD) Empire at its High Point during the 7Th Century AD. This ChineseMap, produced in 1948 AD clearly shows Tibet as a separate Territory, which is in a Tributary Relation to the Tang Empire (after 641 AD). This relation had been reversed in 763 AD & afterwards only briefly reoccurred. Meanwhile in the East, Tang China attempts to gain foothold in Korea. It briefly does so manipulating the competing Korean Kingdoms. However, soon after the Tang are driven back by the emerging tribal neighbors of the Koreans, the Yurchen, after which from ashes of the old arises a new independent Korean Kingdom.
At other times the locality was exposed to Japanese Pirates, whereas during the rise of the Mongolian Empire established by Genghis Khan and mainly his grandson Kubilai, the Koreans came under threat from the Mongolian steppes. While most of the Nations of the Eurasian Continent fell to the Mongolian onslaught, Korea
too became enslaved. However, perhaps due to its small size and its important gateway function at the time Korea was much regarded as a tributary State and the Koreans were left to Govern their own territories much to their own will (as was the case with the Tibetans). It was under the rule of the great Kubilai Khan, of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 AD - 1368 AD) that the Mongolians had established over neighboring China, that a great joint Chinese and Korean fleet set sail to Japan bent on invasion. Famously, the Japanese invasion plans faltered, much as they did in Indonesia and current day Vietnam. Having reached the highpoint of their powerful but shortlived Empire, after the Mongolians retreated the Koreans could pick up where they left off, continuing their monarchy.
Although the Ming of China also sent large armies into north Asia, they were much too busy re-establishing a Chinese Nation and fighting their northern neighbors the Mongolians to be able to dominate Korea. Therefor, generally speaking relations between China and Korea were good. However, as the Era of the Chinese Ming Dynasty progressed, the Han Chinese were slowly driven back along the coastline, losing Liaoning to the Manchu before the eventual fall of the Ming and their Capital in 1644 AD.
In advertently, the tide was turned again after the rise of the Manchu Tribes over North East Asia and after the establishment of a Manchu Government of occupation over all of China named the Qing Dynasty (1644 AD - 1911 AD), the regions felt the pinch of returning Chinese armies. This time around it was a mix of Manchu Tribes and Chinese settlers and traders who were interested in the Korean territories. Expanding from their agricultural bases in what today is the Liaoning coastal area (east of the so called "Palisade Great Wall of China"), Chinese farmers again marched northward, as Manchu Armies claimed most of the northern half of the Korean Peninsula, including Pyongyang, while also invading and claiming large parts of the wild territories even further north. Eventually, the Manchu, leading Chinese armies, conquered much of the wilderness of what today's is Heilongjiang Province of China (P.R.C.), Siberia and the Maritime Province of the Russian Federation (Primorsky Krai). Although for most of the time the Manchu Qing respected the borders of the Korean Kingdom, it did so only after the Koreans had been subdued and had ritually kowtowed to the Manchu Throne. In this way, in Beijing, Korea was regarded as a Province of sorts of the Manchu Empire (not of China!), although the Koreans surely did not feel this way at all.
The entire Northern Region of North Korea remained under the control of the Manchu Qing Dynasty living in Beijing until their defeat by the Japanese at the end of the 19th Century. After the Japanese take-over, a chaotic century of competing Russian, Japanese and Chinese interests and manipulations followed.
As a result this longstanding history, it can be said that a tradition has been established in which the northern territories of the Korean peninsula have come to be identified with images of a "wild west", an unenviable place, cold and frigid, poverty stricken and inhabited by people of low social stature and civilization. On top of this, the region has been traditionally seen as a place of imposed exile or criminal flight, which later turned into being the Gulags of Korea.
In return it seems that the local population holds an inborn hostility against centralized powers Governing them out of a far away Capital. People of North Hamgyong Province often seem to feel under-appreciated, ignored and, in ways, even rejected by the central government.
Important to know for anyone involved in the study of Musan and its wider regions is that during the first Korean Kingdom named Chosŏn (Gojoseon ; Korean: 고조선)( Legend 2333 B.C. / Estimated 800 B.C - 108 B.C.) the local population was already moving from the bronze age into the iron age. Around the end of the second millennium BC the Korean civilization was able to mass produce iron, which enabled their Kingdom to blossom and gain much in military strength. Although the location of Musan is estimated to have been situated just beyond the northern borders of Chosŏn, the metalurgists of Chosŏn clearly had access to high grade iron ore and had the skills to produce good quality iron from which they produced weapons, tools, harnesses and other iron items.
Clearly this provides a historical hint that even at this early stage of civilization in this region, the local population had knowledge of the massive iron deposits found near Musan (the largest in Asia as we know today). Iron relics found in archeological excavations surrounding Musan almost prove that the iron must have originated from Musan. Among the known archeological finds is a so far unique pig-iron axe estimated to have been created in first half of the first millennium BC. This object was excavated at what is today known as the Pomuigusok site, situated in Musan County not very far from the current day Iron Mine. Most likely, the Iron that helped advance the Korean civilization was derived from Musan and the raw iron ore was spread from Musan through the nation as well as surrounding regions. It was the advanced Chosŏn people who had the best skills in order to make iron objects for warfare and agriculture. Other known iron relics of the Choson Era of early Korean history are a steel axe estimated to have been made in the latter half of the first millennium BC found at the Ronam-ri site in Sijung County of Yanggang Province some ways to the south of Musan and a collection of iron pieces and slags unearthed at the so called "dwelling site No. 2" in the Koyon-ri site in Hwangju County in North Hwanghae Province due south of Pyongyang.
There are no additional specifics available on the early history of Musan. For general information on the history of both North and South Korea, please refer to: "Time-Line history of the Koreas".