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Offering a concise overview of Pyongyangs history and development, the Historical Dictionary of Pyongyang presents a comprehensive historical survey of the city in the form of an alphabetical list of keywords and names, with accompanying definitions. Both well-researched and authoritative, the volume draws upon a wide range of modern sources, and contains an introductory essay about the city, a chronology, a list of acronyms and abbreviations, and an array of photographs.
The city of Pyongyang is famous around the world as the capital city of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), which was run by Kim Il Sung from 1945 until his death in 1994 and by his son Kim Jong Il until his death in 2011. Although it is possible for most Westerners to visit the city, including US citizens, who had previously faced restrictions, it attracts relatively few tourists in spite of its interesting history and truly magnificent buildings and monuments; although it has long been open to Chinese businessmen and tourists.
There is clear archaeological evidence of settlement going back to prehistoric times. The word pyongyang in Korean is a reference to a flat plain irrigated with a large river, which is ideal for agriculture, and therefore also habitation. There was probably a settlement there well before the first mention of it, some 2,200 years ago. Pyongyang used to be known as the ‘capital of willows’, but with wars and destruction, there are few old willow trees left.
Pyongyang grew in importance during the Koguryo (Goguryeo) dynasty, which made it their capital in 427 AD. However, it was captured by the southern kingdom of Silla in 676, and the focus of Korean government moved south. These events are important in the modern historiography of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), which celebrates Koguryo because it was a kingdom dominated from northern Korea, and although it was sacked in the 660s, the new Koryo kingdom proclaimed Pyongyang as one of its capitals in 918 – and this kingdom is also celebrated in the DPRK.
GENERAL SHERMAN. This US ship arrived at Pyongyang in August 1866, sailing up the Taedong River to reach the Turu Islet on 22 August. Five days later it reached Mangyongdae on the outskirts of Pyongyang. The aim was to force the Koreans to trade with the United States in the same way that Commodore Matthew Perry had sailed into Japan in 1853 and ‘opened’ it for US traders. Chartered by the British trading firm Meadows and Company in Tientsin (Tianjin), China, the ship's owner was W. B. Preston who brought Robert Jermain Thomas, a Protestant missionary, to serve as an interpreter, and another Briton, George Hogarth. The crew included Captain Page, Chief Mate Wilson, 13 Chinese and three Malay sailors. The cargo included cotton, tin and glass.
On 27 August a guard boat which had been sent by the Pyongyang authorities to keep an eye on them was attacked and the Americans captured the officer Yi (or Ri) Hyon Ik, who was the deputy governor of Pyongyang.
Negotiations started for the release of the officer and other Koreans taken prisoner. Preston apparently said that he would leave only if he could enter Pyongyang and also be given 1,000 sok of rice, as well as gold, silver and ginseng.
However as the General Sherman reached Mangyongdae, large crowds of Koreans appeared on the shore. There were rumours that the Americans had come to rob the ancient tombs there.
DEMOGRAPHY. There are many problems with the population statistics for Pyongyang, as the were not collected effectively until very recently. Consequently, the size of the city's population change over time cannot be assessed properly. The French annual directories, published by Didot-Bottin, give the population of the city as 35,000 from at least 1909 until 1938, with the 1909 edition noting that the population of the city included 150 Japanese, 60 Chinese, 26 Americans and Britons, and 1 French citizen. Japanese records give the number of people in Pyongyang in 1912 as being 41,167. Clearly, during the Japanese occupation, the number of the people in the city swelled massively. The population of the city in 1938 was more likely to be 235,000, as estimated in some histories of Korea at that time. The population is said to have been 653,000 in 1962, rising to 1.3 million by 1978.
In spite of copious information on other countries, the annual British Whitaker's Almanack, does not give the population of Pyongyang until its 1981 edition, in which it states that the population was 1.5 million, retaining this figure through its 1994 edition. The editions from 1996-99 cite the population as 2 million, and the editions from 2001 to 2007 give that the population as a very precise 2,741,260. In 2008, the population was stated to be 3,255,388.
WANGXIAN CASTLE. This was the ancient fort, which was located in what is now the Rangrang district of Pyongyang. It was excavated by Japanese archaeologists and many artefacts were found showing an advanced civilisation. Many historians have identified the castle with the capital city of Lelang (Rangrang), which operated in the region from 108 BC to 313 AD. As Lelang acknowledged the supremacy of China, and many of the objects there are of Chinese design, the importance of Lelang in the history of Pyongyang has steadily been downplayed, as it shows foreign influences in Korean civilisation at such an early date. Much of the site has been built over by apartment blocks.
WEATHER. The climate in Pyongyang is known as a ‘humid continental climate’ and is relatively similar to that in New York City, with four main seasons, a relatively warm summer, and a very cold winter. In the spring, the temperature rises to an average of between 5 °C and 17 °C, with it reaching up to 29 °C in the summer, but falling back to between 6.7 °C and 18.2 °C in October, and going as low as −10.7 °C in January. People in the winter notice a high wind chill factor, although the scenery is particularly beautiful during this period. Generally, foreign tour parties are not allowed into the country in winter because of the intense cold.
SHENANDOAH, USS. This US ironclad warship, under Commander John C. Febinger, manned by a crew of 230, was sent to Pyongyang in 1868 to try to get confirmation over what happened to the General Sherman two years earlier, and also to seek compensation. The screw sloop USS Wachusett, under Commander Robert W. Shufeldt, had heard unofficially what had happened, and this had led to the Shenandoah being sent. Its crew included many marines, and it had nine large guns.
This time Kim Ung U, the great-grandfather of Kim Il Sung, had raised a large force of volunteers in Pyongyang, and they were ready for the Shenandoah, which fired upon by the soldiers and volunteers who were maintaining the Tongjin battery. After remaining in the Taedong River for 20 days, during which Shufeldt heard that the men on the General Sherman had been responsible for their own fate, the Shenandoah pulled back. The vessel, which had seen action during the American Civil War, was decommissioned in 1867.
SHUFELDT, ROBERT WILSON (1822–1895). A US Navy officer, he was the commander of the screw sloop USS Wachusett which went to Pyongyang after the sinking of the General Sherman in 1866 to ascertain what had happened to that vessel. He had been born on 21 February 1822 in Red Hook, New York, and joined the US Navy as a midshipman in 1839.
BAIRD, WILLIAM MARTYN (1862–1931). An American Presbyterian missionary, he was born on 16 June 1862 in Clark County, Indiana, the son of John Martyn Baird and his wife Navy Agnes (née Faris). Educated at Hanover University, gaining a BA from there in 1885, and later a doctorate in 1903, from the McCormick Theological Seminary, on 18 December 1890 he married Annie Adams and the two, in 1891, went to Korea for missionary work.
Baird was originally at Busan (Pusan) and then moved to Pyongyang where, in 1897, he founded a school that became the basis of Soongsil University. He wanted to model it on Park College, Missouri and welcomed George S. McCune and Helen McAfee McCune onto the staff – Park College having been established by John Armstrong McAfee. He was then joined by Arthur Becker – Becker's oldest daughter later marrying the son of the McCunes. He remained president of the school when it became the Soongsil Academy, and then the Union Christian College, until his death on 28 November 1931 in Pyongyang. A leader in the adoption of the Nevius method of missionary work, he always saw local church self-improvement as being central to the role of missionaries. He was also involved in translating the Bible into Korean. His first wife died on 9 June 1916 and his second wife was Rose Mary Fetterolf, whom he married in 1899. He died from typhoid fever.