The Cult of Kim Jong-Il Notes on the “Sun of the 21st Century”The cult of Kim Jong-il was distinct and quite different than that of his father, the founder of theDemocratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim Il-sung. For the casual observer the cult of personality wasdirectly linked to Kim Il-sung but that belies the individual monuments and indoctrination that the peoleof North Korea experience. Despite few independent statues to the son of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-suk,the cult of Kim Jong-il was one seemingly reserved more for the citizens of the country, rather thanprojected outward to the world. Perhaps study of the cult of Kim Jong-il can provide clues to the effortsof the North Korean regime to move into a new era of Kim Jong-un’s leadership.Official portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-ilhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/5222851980/http://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/5222255797/in/photostream/The cult of Kim Il-sung was well established in the mold of Josef Stalin in the post-war period with largeportraits carried in parades and adulation agitated by party regulars. Kim’s reputation as fighting theJapanese was secured and perhaps solidified by the Japanese occupiers who offered rewards for thisleader of the anti-Japanese struggle. Some attribute the cult of personality of Nikolai Ceausescu asimitative of the cult of Kim Il-sung. Aspects of Mao Zedong’s adulation also are reflective in North Koreabut the supernatural aspects of Mao have not been directly attributed to Kim Il-sung.The birth of Kim Jong-il in Siberia in either 1941 or 1942 was remolded into a story of mythicproportions. The son of the great revolutionary was born in the Paektu region at the “secret camp”during the anti-Japanese war. The humble revolutionary origins (a log cabin in the wilderness) of theDear Leader are emphasized as well as his father’s anti-Japanese work. There is a story about therainbow that appeared above Jong-il peak (the mountain behind the secret camp) when he was bornbut like other stories they seem to be for consumption of the less educated people and are not foundoften.Jong-il peak at the Secret Camphttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/6224892550/in/set-72157624775510524The alleged birthplace of Kim Jong-il “The Secret Camp”http://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/6224377735/The Kim family in myth. Notice the Kimjongilia flower on the future Dear Leader.http://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/4914110058/A rare portrait of the family with all of the Kim family including brother “Shura” who drowned.http://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/6192776948/
That prestige of the great revolutionary was passed to the oldest son by Confucian tradition. While it isrumored that dynastic succession was opposed by some in the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK), Kim Jong-il worked for years under his father and murals with both Kims appeared conveying legitimacy to KimJong-il over time.Mural in Sariwon of the Leaders on Mt. Paektuhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/5088196322/Painting of the Kims with Children at the Samjiyon Children’s Palacehttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/4936073531/Photo mural of Kim Jong-il on a display at the Western Sea Barrage near Nampohttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/3957801448/Kim Jong-il Mural at Mount Chilbohttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/6187504002/Kim Jong-il mural at the Mansudae Art Studiohttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/4934981792/Individual murals and sculptures of Kim Jong-il without his father are rare but not unknown. Statues intown squares are reserved for Kim Il-sung and so-called “Immortality towers” have been erected tohonor the Great Leader. Singular murals with the likeness of Kim Jong-il have been seen on militarybases.Adulation for Kim Jong-il can be found in homes and offices where the portraits are on the wall opposingthe entrance at the highest location. Other photos of the leaders with the home owner or at theworkplace are sometimes hung with the portraits.Portaits on an Office Wallhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/6178326108/Portraits at the Admitting Window at the Friendship Hospitalhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/6342029315/Portrait Wall in a home at the Tongbong Cooperativehttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/5128910043/
In addition to portraits visits by the leadership to homes and workplaces are memorialized with plaques.These memorials are generally placed above the door with photographs displayed on the leadershipwall. These plaques can be alone honoring a visit of Kim Jong-il only.A Leadership visit memorial in Sinchonhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/3980803034/Portrait worship in North Korea is similar to the older Shinto tradition of hanging the portrait of theEmperor of Japan in the home. Extraordinary feats of saving the portrait (or sculpture) in the time ofdisaster are also seen in North Korea. These practices were once very common in Imperial Japan.Homeowner at the Homestay village with the memorial to the visit of the Dear Leaderhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/6205755878/SymbolsThe flower Kimjongilia was created in 1988 to honor the birthday of Kim Jong-il. The Kimilsungiawascreated in Indonesia in the 1960s to honor Kim Il-sung.http://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/6232114464/The use of the Kimjongilia as a symbol of the regime surpasses ….. To the casual visitor the photos, floralart and flowers are a reminder of Korean’s general love of flowers but the extent of the use is likenothing else seen since the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China.Massive illuminated Kimjongilia at the Rungrado Stadium in Pyongyanghttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/6236114449/A Home with a floral display of both Kimjongilia and Kimilsungiahttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/6248086350/Koryo Hotel Floral Decorationhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/3964910900/Mass Games Display of Kimjongiliahttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/6200443119/Mass Games with Kimjongilia above, Jong-il peak and the Cabinhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/6200429009/in/set-72157608064979225
Similarly the symbol of the Secret Camp and Mount Jong-il is seen throughout the DPRK. Murals depictthe cabin and peak above in the snow or with Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. In every town, on farms and inevery school these symbols are present.Mass games presentation of the cabin of the birth of Kim Jong-ilhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/4915675467/Museum of the Korean RevolutionMuseum of the Revolution on Mansu Hill. This is behind the Grand Monument of Kim Il-sung.http://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/3980433730/in/set-72157622385648513The cult of Kim is best illustrated through the Museum of the Korean Revolution where Koreans go tolearn of the great works of the Dear Leader. While many rooms of the museum are devoted to the GreatLeader, the rooms devoted to Kim Jong-il reveal how the regime presents their leader.Paying homage to the king or leader is a basic Confucian trait that was embraced in Korean society to anextreme. While China abandoned the cult of personality the DPRK embraced it as an essential part ofmaintaining legitimacy. Soldiers, workers, and young people are taken to revolutionary sites, reenactrevolutionary activities and visit museums dedicated to the regime of Kim Jong-il.The Revolution of Kim Il-sung, Sun of the 21st Century – Note the rays of the sun from the portrait. Thatwas also a common theme during the Cultural Revolution in China.http://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/4280918638/in/set-72157622385648513/Shoes designed by Kim Jong-ilhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/3978933698/in/set-72157622385648513Kim Jong-il the International Leaderhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/3978934756/in/set-72157622385648513/Achievements of Kim Jong-il are presented including the launching of the Kwangmyongsong-2 satellite.http://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/3978070613/Indoctrination of People at the Museum of the Revolutionhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/4280174439/in/set-72157622385648513/A Visit to a Primary School
Another excellent place to understand the cult of Kim Jong-il is a visit to a primary school. A large part ofearly learning is learning the regime’s view of the history of the Kim family. To a great degree this modelof indoctrination is patterned after Imperial Japan’s educational indoctrination as well as older Sovietmethodology. What is striking is the totality of the lessons and the mythological proportions of theevents of the early life of the Dear Leader. Young Kim was a leader among children and had wisdombeyond his years. The extent of the myth building is above most but despite critics stating otherwise,there is not supernatural attributes to Kim Jong-il. Kim Il-sung had many near deity attributes given tohim but these seem to be alliterative and not literal. Language such asKim Jong-il Learning Roomhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/6183086348/A close up of the “Secret Camp” model. These are identical in schools across the DPRK.http://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/6183087298/in/photostream/Lesson Boards for Kim Jong-ilhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/6183085256/in/photostream/More Lesson Boards for Kim Jong-ilhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/6182564011/in/photostream/Gifts from the Dear Leader who holds Boundless Love for the studentshttp://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/6182553915/in/set-72157627628038001ConclusionA similar cult of personality will be attempted for Kim Jong-un but because of his birth and position inthe family it will be interesting to see how his biography is crafted. One thing is sure, just as Kim Jong-ildid not have the same prestige as his father, there is no doubt that Kim Jong-un will have a diminishedprestige, if not a significantly diminished role. One rule of the leadership is look to Korean dynastic rulersof the past for a model as to how leadership issues are handled.I do think that focusing on the leadership and ignoring the Workers Party of Korea (WPK) and the KoreanPeople’s Army (KPA ) is a mistake. The family, party, and military are each powers in the country thatneed to be considered. As Kim Jong-un’s reign begins it will most likely be under the tutelage of his auntKim Kyong-Hui. Her involvement in business and government affairs is well known and is the mostprobable center of power along with her husband.