Insight: Kaesong City

Overview

Kaesong city (개성시) is a municipal city with ‘Special’ status. Despite being a small population centre with only around 192,500 inhabitants, the city has major cultural significance as a former capital city during the Goryeo dynasty. The city is a centre of light industry in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and sits only a few miles north of the demilitarised zone which divides the peninsula. The city also holds great economic and political significance as it is the home of the Kaesong Joint-Industrial Complex and a recently opened permanent joint-liaison office between the two Koreas.


View of Kaesong City

History

Kaesong was a hugely important city for the peninsula during the Goryeo dynasty (919 - 1394). Due to this, the city contains many cultural artefacts and buildings dating back hundreds of years to the days where the city was the dynastic capital. Unlike China, there was no major ‘cultural revolution’ where history as purposefully rooted out from society and replaced with a new ideal, therefore the government in Pyongyang has focused effort on maintaining the old city of Kaesong, leading to it’s designation in 2013 as a world heritage site. Many of the ancient Goryeo tombs are present in and around the city, some renovated and open to visit, others totally unopened. One of the most visible ancient sites is the Namdaemun gate, formerly the southern gate of the city wall in Kaesong, listed as one of the ‘National Treasures of the DPR Korea. The city is also a major tourist attraction, with many travel itineraries used by the Korean International Travel Company listing Kaesong as an important location for tourists. The city was also the only major population centre to change hands during the Korean War, originally a southern city between 1945 - 1950.


Old City at Kaesong

Economy

The land the city is built on is well-suited for agriculture, hence the large number of reservoirs surrounding the city. 27% of the area of Kaesong is estimated to be agricultural and this represents a significant part of the economy of the city. Kaesong is also a significant centre for light industry, with many factories specialising in traditional disciplines such as textiles and other handcrafts. The city is also the site of the only joint North-South industrial complex built in the early 2000s, employing over 50,000 DPRK citizens at its peak. The complex was closed in 2016 by Park Geun-hye due to rising tensions, however Moon Jae-in has expressed his wish that the complex be reopened in the near future.


Kaseong Joint Industrial Complex

Conclusion

Kaesong is a long-lived symbol of pan-korean unity. The only city that has resided in both North and South Korea, the ancient capital city of the Korean people and the site of some of the most obvious joint-activities between the two states. The joint industrial complex at Kaesong, and the recently opened joint liaison office, along with the proximity of the city to the Panmunjom peace village, demonstrates how this city has come to represent the idea of ‘One Korea’, hence the extensive investment in maintaining the old city in Kaesong and it’s continued production of traditional goods. Whatever the future holds for the city, it is likely that the old city and it’s ancient tombs and treasures will be maintained for years to come to show, despite the division only a few miles away, Korea was once a single state. A Korean nation.

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