Kim Il-sung
Kim Il-sung was a Korean communist politician who led the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (better known as North Korea) from its founding in 1948 until his death in 1994. He held the posts of Prime Minister from 1948 to 1972 and President
President of North Korea
The President of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was established in the Constitution of North Korea, 1972. Until then, Kim Il-sung, the ruler of North Korea, used the posts Premier and General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea...

 from 1972 to his death. He was also the Chairman and General Secretary
General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea
Prior to 1966 the leader of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea was the Chairman of the Central Committee. Since 1966, the year a party congress reformed the structure of the Party, the Central Committee has elected a leader called the General Secretary.-General Secretary of the...

 of the Workers Party of Korea.

During his tenure as leader of North Korea, he ruled the nation with autocratic
An autocracy is a form of government in which one person is the supreme power within the state. It is derived from the Greek : and , and may be translated as "one who rules by himself". It is distinct from oligarchy and democracy...

 power and established an all-pervasive cult of personality
Cult of personality
A cult of personality arises when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods, to create an idealized and heroic public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. Cults of personality are usually associated with dictatorships...

. From the mid-1960s, he promoted his self-developed Juche
Juche or Chuch'e is a Korean word usually translated as "self-reliance." In the Democratic People's Republic of Korea , "Juche" refers specifically to a political thesis of Kim Il-sung, the Juche Idea, that identifies the Korean masses as the masters of the country's development...

variant of communist national organisation. In the Library of Congress
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the research library of the United States Congress, de facto national library of the United States, and the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. Located in three buildings in Washington, D.C., it is the largest library in the world by shelf space and...

 Country Study on North Korea in 2009, he was described as "one of the most intriguing figures of the twentieth century". He outlived Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

 by four decades, Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung , and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao , was a Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, Marxist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution...

 by two, and remained in power during the terms of office of six South Korean presidents
President of South Korea
The President of the Republic of Korea is, according to the Constitution of the Republic of Korea, chief executive of the government, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and the head of state of the Republic of Korea...

, nine U.S. presidents
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

, and twenty-one Japanese prime ministers
Prime Minister of Japan
The is the head of government of Japan. He is appointed by the Emperor of Japan after being designated by the Diet from among its members, and must enjoy the confidence of the House of Representatives to remain in office...


Following his death in 1994, he was succeeded by his son Kim Jong-il
Kim Jong-il
Kim Jong-il, also written as Kim Jong Il, birth name Yuri Irsenovich Kim born 16 February 1941 or 16 February 1942 , is the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea...

. North Korea officially refers to Kim Il-sung as the "Great Leader" (Suryong in Korean 수령) and he is designated in the constitution as the country's "Eternal President
Eternal President of the Republic
The appellation Eternal President of the Republic was established by a line in the preface to the North Korean constitution, amended on September 5, 1998...

". His birthday is a public holiday in North Korea
Public holidays in North Korea
This is a list of Public holidays in North Korea. See also the Korean calendar for a list of traditional holidays....


Early years

Many of the early records of his life come from his own personal accounts and official North Korean government publications, which often conflict with independent sources. Nevertheless, there is some consensus on at least the basic story of his early life, corroborated by witnesses from the period.

Kim was born to Kim Hyŏng-jik
Kim Hyong-jik
Kim Hyŏng-jik was Korean independence activist and Communist politician. Hyŏng-jik was father of the late North Korean founder Kim Il-sung and the grandfather of the present leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-il.-Biography:...

 and Kang Pan-sŏk, who gave him the name Kim Sŏng-ju, and had two younger brothers, Ch’ŏl-chu and Yŏng-ju. The ancestral seat (pon’gwan
Bon-gwan is the concept of clan in Korea, which is used to distinguish clans that happen to share a same family name . Since Korea has been traditionally a Buddhist country this clan system is cognate with Gotra in Sanskrit texts and shares most features...

) of Kim's family is Chŏnju
Jeonju is a city in South Korea, and the capital of Jeollabuk-do, or North Jeolla Province. It is an important tourist center famous for Korean food, historic buildings, sports activities and innovative festivals.- History :...

, North Chŏlla Province
Jeollabuk-do is a province in the southwest of South Korea. The province was formed in 1896 from the northern half of the former Jeolla province, and remained a province of Korea until the country's division in 1945, then became part of South Korea...

, and, if the legend of the Chŏnju Kim is true, his family is the descendants of King Gyeongsun
Gyeongsun of Silla
Gyeongsun of Silla was the 56th and final ruler of the Korean kingdom of Silla. A sixth-generation descendant of King Munseong, he was the son of Hyojong by Princess Gyea, who was the daughter of King Heongang...

 of Silla
Silla was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, and one of the longest sustained dynasties in...

. What little that is known about the family contends that sometime around the time of the Korean-Japanese war of 1592–98, a direct ancestor moved north. The claim may be understood in light of the fact that the early Chosŏn government’s policy of populating the north resulted in mass resettlement of southern farmers in Phyŏngan and Hamgyŏng regions in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. At any rate, the majority of the Chŏnju Kim today live in North Korea, and extant Chŏnju Kim genealogies provide spotty records.

The exact history of Kim's family is somewhat obscure. The family was neither very poor nor comfortably well-off, but was always a step away from poverty. Kim claims he was raised in a Presbyterian family, that his maternal grandfather was a Protestant minister, that his father had gone to a missionary school and was an elder in the Presbyterian Church, and that his parents were very active in the religious community. According to the official version, Kim’s family participated in anti-Japanese activities and in 1920 they fled to Manchuria
Manchuria is a historical name given to a large geographic region in northeast Asia. Depending on the definition of its extent, Manchuria usually falls entirely within the People's Republic of China, or is sometimes divided between China and Russia. The region is commonly referred to as Northeast...

. The more objective view seems to be that his family settled in Manchuria like many Koreans at the time to escape famine. Nonetheless, Kim’s parents apparently did play a minor role in some activist groups, though whether their cause was missionary, nationalist, or both is unclear.

Kim's father died in 1926, when Kim was fourteen years old. In October 1926, Kim founded the Down-With-Imperialism Union
Down-With-Imperialism Union
The Down-With-Imperialism Union, or DIU, was founded on October 17, 1926 by Kim Il-sung, in Huadian City, Jilin Province, China, in order to fight against Japanese imperialism and promote Marxism–Leninism. It is considered by North Korea to be the roots and foundation of its ruling party, the...

. Kim attended Whasung Military Academy in 1926, but when later finding the academy's training methods outdated, he quit in 1927. From that time, he attended Yuwen Middle School in Jilin
Jilin , is a province of the People's Republic of China located in the northeastern part of the country. Jilin borders North Korea and Russia to the east, Heilongjiang to the north, Liaoning to the south, and Inner Mongolia to the west...

 up to 1930, where he rejected the feudal traditions of older generation Koreans and became interested in Communist ideologies; his formal education ended when he was arrested and jailed for his subversive activities. At seventeen, Kim had become the youngest member of an underground Marxist organization with fewer than twenty members, led by Hŏ So, who belonged to the South Manchurian Communist Youth Association. The police discovered the group three weeks after it was formed in 1929, and jailed Kim for several months.

Communist and guerrilla activities

The Communist Party of Korea
Communist Party of Korea
Communist Party of Korea was a communist party in Korea. It was founded during a secret meeting in Seoul in 1925. The Japanese colonial regime had banned communist parties under the Peace Preservation Law , so the party had to operate in a clandestine manner...

 had been founded in 1925, but had been thrown out of the Comintern
The Communist International, abbreviated as Comintern, also known as the Third International, was an international communist organization initiated in Moscow during March 1919...

 in the early 1930s for being too nationalist. In 1931, Kim had joined the Communist Party of China
Communist Party of China
The Communist Party of China , also known as the Chinese Communist Party , is the founding and ruling political party of the People's Republic of China...

. He joined various anti-Japanese guerrilla groups in northern China, and in 1935 he became a member of the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army
Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army
The Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army was an anti-Japanese guerrilla army in the Northeast part of China after the occupation of Manchuria by Japan in 1931. It was organized by the Manchuria branches of the Chinese Communist Party . However, it lost direct contact with the CCP headquarter in...

, a guerrilla group led by the Communist Party of China
Communist Party of China
The Communist Party of China , also known as the Chinese Communist Party , is the founding and ruling political party of the People's Republic of China...

. Kim was appointed the same year to serve as political commissar for the 3rd detachment of the second division, around 160 soldiers. It was here that Kim met the man who would become his mentor as a Communist, Wei Zhengmin, Kim’s immediate superior officer, who was serving at the time as chairman of the Political Committee of the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army. Wei reported directly to Kang Sheng
Kang Sheng
Kang Sheng , Communist Party of China official, oversaw the work of the People's Republic of China's security and intelligence apparatus at the height of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s. He was a close associate of Mao Zedong and remained at or near the pinnacle of power for decades...

, a high-ranking party member close to Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung , and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao , was a Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, Marxist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution...

 in Yan'an
Yan'an , is a prefecture-level city in the Shanbei region of Shaanxi province in China, administering several counties, including Zhidan County , which served as the Chinese communist capital before the city of Yan'an proper took that role....

, until Wei’s death on 8 March 1941.

Also in 1935 Kim took the name Kim Il-sung, meaning "become the sun." Several sources indicate that the Kim Il-sung name had previously been used by a prominent early leader of the Korean resistance. Soviet propagandist Grigory Mekler, who claims to have prepared Kim to lead North Korea, says that Kim assumed this name while in the Soviet Union in the early 1940s from a former commander who had died.
Additionally, a number of Koreans simply did not believe that Kim, in his 30s at the time of the DPRK's founding, could have done everything that state propaganda claimed. Historian Andrei Lankov
Andrei Lankov
Andrei Nikolaevich Lankov is a Russian scholar of Asia and a specialist in Korean studies. He completed his undergraduate and graduate studies at Leningrad State University in 1986 and 1989, respectively; He also attended Pyongyang's Kim Il-sung University in 1985...

 has stated that the claim Kim Il-Sung
Kim Il-sung
Kim Il-sung was a Korean communist politician who led the Democratic People's Republic of Korea from its founding in 1948 until his death in 1994. He held the posts of Prime Minister from 1948 to 1972 and President from 1972 to his death...

 was somehow switched with the “original” Kim is unlikely to be true. Several witnesses knew Kim before and after his time in the Soviet Union, including his superior, Zhou Baozhong
Zhou Baozhong
Zhou Baozhong was a commander of the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army resisting the pacification of Manchukuo by the Empire of Japan....

, who dismissed the claim of a “second” Kim in his diaries.
Kim was appointed commander of the 6th division in 1937, at the age of 24, controlling a few hundred men in a group that came to be known as “Kim Il Sung’s division.” It was while he was in command of this division that he executed a raid on Poch’onbo, on 4 June. Although Kim’s division only captured a small Japanese-held town just across the Korean border for a few hours, it was nonetheless considered a military success at this time, when the guerrilla units had experienced difficulty in capturing any enemy territory. This accomplishment would grant Kim some measure of fame among Chinese guerrillas, and North Korean biographies would later exploit it as a great victory for Korea. Kim was appointed commander of the 2nd operational region for the 1st Army, but by the end of 1940, he was the only 1st Army leader still alive. Pursued by Japanese troops, Kim and what remained of his army escaped by crossing the Amur River into the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

. Kim was sent to a camp near Khabarovsk
Khabarovsk is the largest city and the administrative center of Khabarovsk Krai, Russia. It is located some from the Chinese border. It is the second largest city in the Russian Far East, after Vladivostok. The city became the administrative center of the Far Eastern Federal District of Russia...

, where the Korean Communist guerrillas were retrained by the Soviets. Kim became a Major
Major is a rank of commissioned officer, with corresponding ranks existing in almost every military in the world.When used unhyphenated, in conjunction with no other indicator of rank, the term refers to the rank just senior to that of an Army captain and just below the rank of lieutenant colonel. ...

 in the Soviet Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

 and served in it until the end of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...


In later years, Kim would heavily embellish his guerrilla feats in order to build up his personality cult. He was portrayed as a boy-conspirator who joined the resistance at 14 and had founded a battle-ready army at 19.

Historian Bruce Cumings
Bruce Cumings
Bruce Cumings is the Gustavus F. and Ann M. Swift Distinguished Service Professor in History at the University of Chicago and the chairperson of the history department...

There are ridiculous myths about this guerrilla resistance in both Koreas today: the North claims that Kim single-handedly defeated the Japanese, and the South claims that Kim is an imposter who stole the name of a revered patriot.

Return to Korea

When the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 declared war on Japan in August 1945, it fully expected a long, drawn-out conflict. However, much to Stalin's surprise, the Red Army churned into Pyongyang with almost no resistance on 15 August. Stalin realized he needed someone to head a new government so he asked Lavrenty Beria to recommend possible candidates. Beria met Kim several times before recommending him to Stalin.

Kim arrived in North Korea on 22 August after 26 years in exile. According to Leonid Vassin, an officer with the Soviet MVD, Kim was essentially "created from zero." For one, his Korean was marginal at best; he'd only had eight years of formal education, all of it in Chinese. He needed considerable coaching to read a speech the MVD prepared for him at a Communist Party congress three days after he arrived. They also systematically destroyed most of the true leaders of the resistance who ended up north of the 38th parallel.

After independence

In September 1945, Kim was installed by the Soviets as head of the Provisional People’s Committee. He was not, at this time, the head of the Communist Party, whose headquarters were in Seoul
Seoul , officially the Seoul Special City, is the capital and largest metropolis of South Korea. A megacity with a population of over 10 million, it is the largest city proper in the OECD developed world...

 in the US-occupied south. During his early years as leader, he assumed a position of influence largely due to the backing of the Korean population which was supportive of his fight against Japanese occupation.

One of Kim’s accomplishments was his establishment of a professional army, the Korean People's Army
Korean People's Army
The Korean People's Army , also known as the Inmin Gun, are the military forces of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Kim Jong-il is the Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army and Chairman of the National Defence Commission...

(KPA) aligned with the Communists, formed from a cadre of guerrillas and former soldiers who had gained combat experience in battles against the Japanese and later Nationalist Chinese troops. From their ranks, using Soviet advisers and equipment, Kim constructed a large army skilled in infiltration tactics and guerrilla warfare. Before the outbreak of the Korean War, Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

 equipped the KPA with modern heavy tanks, trucks, artillery, and small arms. Kim also formed an air force, equipped at first with ex-Soviet propeller-driven fighter and attack aircraft. Later, North Korean pilot candidates were sent to the Soviet Union and China to train in MiG-15
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15
The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 was a jet fighter developed for the USSR by Artem Mikoyan and Mikhail Gurevich. The MiG-15 was one of the first successful swept-wing jet fighters, and it achieved fame in the skies over Korea, where early in the war, it outclassed all straight-winged enemy fighters in...

 jet aircraft at secret bases.

Prime Minister of North Korea

Although original plans called for all-Korean elections sponsored by the United Nations, in May 1948 the South declared statehood as the Republic of Korea
South Korea
The Republic of Korea , , is a sovereign state in East Asia, located on the southern portion of the Korean Peninsula. It is neighbored by the People's Republic of China to the west, Japan to the east, North Korea to the north, and the East China Sea and Republic of China to the south...

, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was proclaimed on 9 September, with Kim as premier. On 12 October, the Soviet Union declared that Kim's regime was the only lawful government on the peninsula. The Communist Party merged with the New People's Party
New People's Party (Korea)
New People's Party was a communist party in Korea. It was formed on 16 February 1946 by Korean Communists who had been exiled in China. New People's Party had more moderate positions in some issues compared with the Communist Party of North Korea, therefore it was rather popular at wide range of...

 to form the Workers Party of North Korea
Workers Party of North Korea
The Workers Party of North Korea was a communist party in North Korea, a predecessor of the current Workers Party of Korea. It was founded at a congress on August 28–30, 1946, by the merger of the North Korea Bureau of the Communist Party of Korea and the New People's Party. Kim Tu-bong, the...

 (of which Kim was vice-chairman). In 1949, the Workers Party of North Korea merged with its southern counterpart
Workers Party of South Korea
The Workers Party of South Korea was a communist party in South Korea from 1946 to 1949. It was founded on November 23, 1946 through the merger of the Communist Party of South Korea, New People's Party of South Korea and a fraction of the People's Party of Korea...

 to become the Workers Party of Korea (WPK) with Kim as party chairman.

By 1949, North Korea was a full-fledged Communist dictatorship. All parties and mass organizations were cajoled into the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland
Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland
The Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland, formed on 22 July 1946, is a North Korean united front led by the Workers' Party of Korea. It was initially called the North Korean Fatherland United Democratic Front...

, ostensibly a popular front
Popular front
A popular front is a broad coalition of different political groupings, often made up of leftists and centrists. Being very broad, they can sometimes include centrist and liberal forces as well as socialist and communist groups...

 but in reality dominated by the Communists. Around this time, Kim built the first of many statues of himself and began calling himself "the Great Leader."

Korean War

Archival material suggests that the North Korean decision to invade South Korea was Kim's own initiative rather than a Soviet one. Evidence suggests that Soviet intelligence, through its espionage sources in the US government and British SIS
Secret Intelligence Service
The Secret Intelligence Service is responsible for supplying the British Government with foreign intelligence. Alongside the internal Security Service , the Government Communications Headquarters and the Defence Intelligence , it operates under the formal direction of the Joint Intelligence...

, had obtained information on the limitations of US atomic bomb stockpiles as well as defense program cuts, leading Stalin to conclude that the Truman
Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman was the 33rd President of the United States . As President Franklin D. Roosevelt's third vice president and the 34th Vice President of the United States , he succeeded to the presidency on April 12, 1945, when President Roosevelt died less than three months after beginning his...

 administration would not intervene in Korea.

The People’s Republic of China acquiesced only reluctantly to the idea of Korean reunification after being told by Kim that Stalin had approved the action. The Chinese did not provide North Korea with direct military support (other than logistics channels) until United Nations troops, largely US forces, had nearly reached the Yalu River
Yalu River
The Yalu River or the Amnok River is a river on the border between North Korea and the People's Republic of China....

 late in 1950. At the outset of the war in June and July, North Korean forces captured Seoul and occupied most of the South, save for a small section of territory in the southeast region of the South which was called the Pusan Perimeter. But in September, the North Koreans were driven back by the US-led counter attack which started with the UN landing in Incheon
The Incheon Metropolitan City is located in northwestern South Korea. The city was home to just 4,700 people when Jemulpo port was built in 1883. Today 2.76 million people live in the city, making it Korea’s third most populous city after Seoul and Busan Metropolitan City...

, followed by a combined South Korean-US-UN offensive from the Pusan Perimeter. North Korean history emphasizes that the United States had previously invaded and occupied the South, allegedly with the intention to push further north and into the Asian continent. Based on these assumptions, it portrays the KPA invasion of the South as a counter-attack. By October, UN forces had retaken Seoul and invaded the North to reunify the country under the South. On 19 October, US and South Korean troops captured P’yŏngyang, forcing Kim and his government to flee north, first to Sinuiju
Sinŭiju is a city in North Korea, neighboring with Dandong City, China via international border and is the capital of North P'yŏngan Province...

 and eventually into China.

On 25 October 1950, after sending various warnings of their intent to intervene if UN forces did not halt their advance, Chinese troops in the thousands crossed the Yalu River and entered the war as allies of the KPA. The UN troops were forced to withdraw and Chinese troops retook P’yŏngyang in December and Seoul in January 1951. In March, UN forces began a new offensive, retaking Seoul and advanced north once again halting at a point just north of the 38th Parallel. After a series of offensives and counter-offensives by both sides, followed by a grueling period of largely static trench warfare which lasted from the summer of 1951 to July 1953, the front was stabilized along what eventually became the permanent "Armistice Line" of 27 July 1953. During the stalemate warfare, North Korea
North Korea
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea , , is a country in East Asia, occupying the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Its capital and largest city is Pyongyang. The Korean Demilitarized Zone serves as the buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea...

 was devastated by US air raids with very few buildings left standing in the capital and elsewhere in the country. By the time of the armistice, upwards of 3.5 million Koreans on both sides had died in the conflict.

During the war, Kim Il-sung was said to have traveled extensively to China and the Soviet Union seeking a way to end the war with his nation and government intact as heavy US and UN aerial bombing of North Korea was reducing his country to one that resembled a wasteland. Chinese and Russian documents from that time reveal that while Kim became increasingly desperate to establish a truce since further fighting to unify Korea under his rule became more remote with the UN and US presence, he also resented the Chinese taking over the majority of the fighting in his country being at the center of the front line, with the Korean Peoples Army being mostly restricted to the coastal flanks of the front.

Prime Minister

Restored as the leader of North Korea, Kim returned to the country after war's end and immediately embarked on a large reconstruction effort for the country devastated by the war. He launched a five-year national economic plan to establish a command economy, with all industry owned by the state and all agriculture collectivised. The nation was founded on egalitarian principles intent on eliminating class differences and the economy was based upon the needs of workers and peasants. The economy was focused on heavy industry and arms production. Both South and North Korea retained huge armed forces to defend the 1953 Demilitarized Zone
Korean Demilitarized Zone
The Korean Demilitarized Zone is a strip of land running across the Korean Peninsula that serves as a buffer zone between North and South Korea. The DMZ cuts the Korean Peninsula roughly in half, crossing the 38th parallel on an angle, with the west end of the DMZ lying south of the parallel and...

, although no foreign troops were permanently stationed in North Korea.

Kim's hold on power was rather shaky. To strengthen it, he claimed that the United States deliberately spread diseases among the North Korean population. While Moscow and Beijing later determined that these charges were false, they continued to help spread this rumour for many years to come. He also conducted North Korea's first large-scale purges in part to scare the people into accepting this false account. Unlike Stalin's Great Purge
Great Purge
The Great Purge was a series of campaigns of political repression and persecution in the Soviet Union orchestrated by Joseph Stalin from 1936 to 1938...

, these took place without even the formalities of a trial. Victims often simply disappeared
Forced disappearance
In international human rights law, a forced disappearance occurs when a person is secretly abducted or imprisoned by a state or political organization or by a third party with the authorization, support, or acquiescence of a state or political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the...

 into the growing network of prison camps.

During the late 1950s, Kim was seen as an orthodox Communist leader, and an enthusiastic satellite of the Soviet Union. His speeches were liberally sprinkled with praises to Stalin. However, he sided with China during the Sino-Soviet split
Sino-Soviet split
In political science, the term Sino–Soviet split denotes the worsening of political and ideologic relations between the People's Republic of China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics during the Cold War...

, opposing the reforms brought by Nikita Khrushchev
Nikita Khrushchev
Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev led the Soviet Union during part of the Cold War. He served as First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964, and as Chairman of the Council of Ministers, or Premier, from 1958 to 1964...

, whom he believed was acting in opposition to Communism. He distanced himself from the Soviet Union, removing mention of his Red Army career from official North Korean history, and began reforming the country to his own radical Stalinist tastes. Kim was seen by many in North Korea, and in some parts elsewhere in the world, as an influential anti-revisionist leader in the communist movement. In 1956, anti-Kim elements encouraged by de-Stalinization in the Soviet Union emerged within the Party to criticize Kim and demand reforms. After a period of vacillation, Kim instituted a purge, executing some who had been found guilty of treason and forcing the rest into exile.

By the 1960s, Kim's relationship with the great Communist powers in the region became difficult. Despite his opposition to de-Stalinization, Kim never severed his relations with the Soviets, since he found the Chinese as unreliable allies due to the unstable state of affairs under Mao, leaving the DPRK somewhere in between the two sides. The Cultural Revolution
Cultural Revolution
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, commonly known as the Cultural Revolution , was a socio-political movement that took place in the People's Republic of China from 1966 through 1976...

 in China, however, prompted Kim to side with the Soviets, the decision reinforced by the neo-Stalinist policies of Leonid Brezhnev
Leonid Brezhnev
Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev  – 10 November 1982) was the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union , presiding over the country from 1964 until his death in 1982. His eighteen-year term as General Secretary was second only to that of Joseph Stalin in...

. This infuriated Mao and the anti-Soviet Red Guards
Red Guards (China)
Red Guards were a mass movement of civilians, mostly students and other young people in the People's Republic of China , who were mobilized by Mao Zedong in 1966 and 1967, during the Cultural Revolution.-Origins:...

. As a result, the PRC immediately denounced Kim's leadership, produced anti-Kim propaganda, and subsequently began reconciliation with the United States.

President of North Korea

At the same time, Kim reinstated relations with most of Eastern Europe's communist countries, primarily Erich Honecker
Erich Honecker
Erich Honecker was a German communist politician who led the German Democratic Republic as General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party from 1971 until 1989, serving as Head of State as well from Willi Stoph's relinquishment of that post in 1976....

's East Germany and Nicolae Ceauşescu
Nicolae Ceausescu
Nicolae Ceaușescu was a Romanian Communist politician. He was General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party from 1965 to 1989, and as such was the country's second and last Communist leader...

's Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

. Ceauşescu, in particular, was heavily influenced by Kim's ideology, and the personality cult that grew around him in Romania was very similar to that of Kim. However, Kim and Albania
Albania , officially known as the Republic of Albania , is a country in Southeastern Europe, in the Balkans region. It is bordered by Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo to the northeast, the Republic of Macedonia to the east and Greece to the south and southeast. It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea...

's Enver Hoxha
Enver Hoxha
Enver Halil Hoxha was a Marxist–Leninist revolutionary andthe leader of Albania from the end of World War II until his death in 1985, as the First Secretary of the Party of Labour of Albania...

 (another independent-minded Stalinist) would remain fierce enemies and relations between North Korea and Albania would remain cold and tense up until Hoxha's death in 1985. At the same time, Kim was establishing an extensive personality cult, and North Koreans began to address him as "Great Leader" (widaehan suryŏng 위대한 수령). Kim developed the policy and ideology of Juche
Juche or Chuch'e is a Korean word usually translated as "self-reliance." In the Democratic People's Republic of Korea , "Juche" refers specifically to a political thesis of Kim Il-sung, the Juche Idea, that identifies the Korean masses as the masters of the country's development...

 (self-reliance 주체 사상) rather than having North Korea become a Soviet satellite state.

In the mid-1960s, Kim became impressed with the efforts of North Vietnam's Hồ Chí Minh
Ho Chi Minh
Hồ Chí Minh , born Nguyễn Sinh Cung and also known as Nguyễn Ái Quốc, was a Vietnamese Marxist-Leninist revolutionary leader who was prime minister and president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam...

 to reunify Vietnam through guerilla warfare and thought something similar might be possible in Korea. Infiltration and subversion efforts were thus greatly stepped up against US forces and the leadership that they supported. These efforts culminated in an attempt to storm the Blue House and assassinate President Park Chung-hee
Park Chung-hee
Park Chung-hee was a Republic of Korea Army general and the leader of South Korea from 1961 to 1979. He seized power in a military coup and ruled until his assassination in 1979. He has been credited with the industrialization of the Republic of Korea through export-led growth...

. North Korean troops thus took a much more aggressive stance toward US forces in and around South Korea, engaging US Army troops in fire-fights along the Demilitarized Zone
Korean Demilitarized Zone
The Korean Demilitarized Zone is a strip of land running across the Korean Peninsula that serves as a buffer zone between North and South Korea. The DMZ cuts the Korean Peninsula roughly in half, crossing the 38th parallel on an angle, with the west end of the DMZ lying south of the parallel and...

. The 1968 capture of the crew of the spy ship USS Pueblo
USS Pueblo (AGER-2)
USS Pueblo is an American ELINT and SIGINT Banner-class technical research ship which was boarded and captured by North Korean forces on January 23, 1968, in what is known as the Pueblo incident or alternatively as the Pueblo crisis or the Pueblo affair. Occurring less than a week after President...

 was a part of this campaign.

A new constitution was proclaimed in December 1972, under which Kim became President of North Korea. In 1980, he had decided that his son Kim Jong-il
Kim Jong-il
Kim Jong-il, also written as Kim Jong Il, birth name Yuri Irsenovich Kim born 16 February 1941 or 16 February 1942 , is the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea...

 would succeed him, and increasingly delegated the running of the government to him. The Kim family was supported by the army, due to Kim Il-sung’s revolutionary record and the support of the veteran defense minister, O Chin-u. At the Sixth Party Congress in October 1980, Kim publicly designated his son as his successor.

Later years

From about this time, however, North Korea encountered increasing economic difficulties. The practical effect of Juche was to cut the country off from virtually all foreign trade to be entirely self reliant. The economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping
Deng Xiaoping
Deng Xiaoping was a Chinese politician, statesman, and diplomat. As leader of the Communist Party of China, Deng was a reformer who led China towards a market economy...

 in China from 1979 onward meant that trade with the moribund economy of North Korea held decreasing interest for China. The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, during 1989–1991, completed North Korea's virtual isolation. These events led to mounting economic difficulties as Kim refused to issue any kind of economic or democratic reforms.

North Korea repeatedly predicted that Korea would be re-united before Kim’s 70th birthday in 1982, and there were fears in the West that Kim would launch a new Korean War. But by this time, the disparity in economic and military power between the North and the South (where the US military presence continues) made such a venture impossible.

As he aged, starting the late 1970s, Kim developed a growth on the right-back of his neck which was a calcium deposit
-Dystrophic calcification:The most common type of calcinosis is dystrophic calcification. This type of calcification can occur as a response to any soft tissue damage, including that involved in implantation of medical devices.-Metastatic calcification:...

. Its close location near his brain and spinal cord made it inoperable. Because of its unappealing nature, North Korean reporters and photographers, from then on, always shot and filmed Kim while standing from his same slight-left angle to hide the growth from official photographs and newsreels, which became an increasingly difficult task as the growth reached the size of a baseball by the late 1980s. This growth is still visible on his embalmed body.

In early 1994, Kim began investing in nuclear power to offset energy shortages brought on by economic problems. This was the first of many "nuclear crises". On 19 May 1994, Kim ordered spent fuel to be unloaded from the already disputed nuclear research facility in Yongbyon. Despite repeated chiding from Western nations, Kim continued to conduct nuclear research and carry on with the uranium enrichment programme. In June 1994, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter
James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr. is an American politician who served as the 39th President of the United States and was the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, the only U.S. President to have received the Prize after leaving office...

 travelled to Pyongyang for talks with Kim. To the astonishment of the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency
International Atomic Energy Agency
The International Atomic Energy Agency is an international organization that seeks to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and to inhibit its use for any military purpose, including nuclear weapons. The IAEA was established as an autonomous organization on 29 July 1957...

, Kim agreed to stop his nuclear research program and seemed to be embarking upon a new opening to the West.


By the early 1990s, North Korea was isolated from the outside world, except for limited trade and contacts with China, Russia, Vietnam and Cuba. Its economy was bankrupt, crippled by huge expenditures on armaments, and the agricultural sector was unable to feed its population. At the same time, the state-run North Korean media continued to praise Kim.

On 8 July 1994, at age 82, Kim Il-sung collapsed from a sudden heart attack. After the heart attack, Kim Jong-il ordered the team of doctors who were constantly at his father's side to leave, and for the country's best doctors to be flown in from Pyongyang. After several hours, the doctors from Pyongyang arrived, and despite their efforts to save him, Kim Il-sung died. After the traditional Confucian Mourning period, his death was declared thirty hours later.

Kim Il-sung's death resulted in nationwide mourning and a ten-day mourning period was declared by Kim Jong-il. His funeral in Pyongyang was attended by hundreds of thousands of people from all over North Korea, many of whom were mourning dramatically (there were reports that many people committed suicide or were killed in the resulting mass mourning crushes), weeping and crying Kim Il-sung's name during the funeral procession. Kim Il-sung's body was placed in a public mausoleum
A mausoleum is an external free-standing building constructed as a monument enclosing the interment space or burial chamber of a deceased person or persons. A monument without the interment is a cenotaph. A mausoleum may be considered a type of tomb or the tomb may be considered to be within the...

 at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace
Kumsusan Memorial Palace
The Kumsusan Memorial Palace, sometimes referred to as the Kim Il-sung Mausoleum, is a building located northeast of downtown Pyongyang, the capital city of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea . The palace is the former official residence and office of North Korea's president and founder,...

, where his preserved and embalmed body lies under a glass coffin for viewing purposes. His head rests on a Korean-style pillow and he is covered by the flag of the Workers Party of Korea. Newsreel videos of the funeral at Pyongyang was broadcast on several networks, and can now be found on various websites.

Family life

Kim Il-sung married twice. His first wife, Kim Jong-suk
Kim Jong-suk
Kim Jong-suk was a Korean independence activist and Communist politician. She was North Korean Great Leader Kim Il-sung's first wife and Kim Jong-il's mother.-Biography:...

, gave birth to two sons and a daughter. Kim Jong-il
Kim Jong-il
Kim Jong-il, also written as Kim Jong Il, birth name Yuri Irsenovich Kim born 16 February 1941 or 16 February 1942 , is the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea...

 is his oldest son. The other son (Kim Man-il, or Shura Kim) of this marriage died in 1947 in a swimming accident and his wife Kim Jong-suk died at the age of 31 while giving birth to a stillborn baby girl. Kim married Kim Sŏng-ae
Kim Song-ae
Kim Sŏng-ae was the second wife of the late North Korean leader, president Kim Il-sung. They became husband and wife in 1952, following the death of Kim Il-sung's first wife in 1949, although due to the Korean War no formal ceremony was held. One source indicates Kim Il Sung had had an affair with...

 in 1952, and it is believed he had three children with her: Kim Yŏng-il (not to be confused with the former Premier of North Korea
Kim Yong-il
Kim Yong-il was the Premier of North Korea from April, 2007 to June 7, 2010. He was elected as Premier by the 5th session of the 11th Supreme People's Assembly in April 2007, replacing Pak Pong-ju...

 of the same name), Kim Kyŏng-il
Kim Kyong-Il
Kim Kyong-Il is a North Korean international football player. He plays for Rimyongsu in the DPR Korea League....

 and Kim Pyong-il
Kim Pyong-il
Kim Pyong-il is the half-brother of the current leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-il, and the son of former leader Kim Il-sung.-Family background and early life:Kim was born to Kim Il-sung and Kim Song-ae, Kim Il-sung's former secretary...

. Kim Pyong-il was prominent in Korean politics until he became ambassador to Hungary
Hungary , officially the Republic of Hungary , is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. The...

. Since 1998 he is ambassador to Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...


Kim was reported to have other illegitimate children, as he was well known for having numerous affairs and secret relationships. They included Kim Hyŏn-nam (born 1972, head of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Workers' Party since 2002).

Kim's name and image

There are over 500 statues of Kim Il-sung in North Korea. The most prominent are at Kim Il-sung University, Kim Il-sung Stadium
Kim Il-sung Stadium
Kim Il-sung Stadium is a large stadium located in Pyongyang, the capital of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. It was originally built as the Kirimri Stadium in 1926 during the Japanese occupation in 1930-1940s...

, Kim Il-sung Square
Kim Il-sung Square
Kim Il-sung Square is a city square in Pyongyang, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and is named after the founding leader of the DPRK, Kim Il-sung. Opened in August 1954, the square is located on the west bank of the Taedong River, directly opposite the Juche Tower on the other side of the...

, Kim Il-sung Bridge and the Immortal Statue of Kim Il-sung. Some statues have been reported to have been destroyed by explosions or damaged with graffiti by North Korean activists. Yeong Saeng ("eternal life") monuments have been erected throughout the country, each dedicated to the departed "Eternal Leader", at which citizens are expected to pay annual tribute on his official birthday or the commemoration of his death. It is also traditional that North Korean newly weds, immediately after their wedding, go to the nearest statue of Kim Il Sung to lay flowers at his feet.

Kim Il-sung's image is prominent in places associated with public transportation, hanging at every North Korean train station and airport. It is also placed prominently at the border crossings between China and North Korea. His portrait is featured on the front of all recent North Korean won
North Korean won
The won is the currency of North Korea . It is subdivided into 100 chon. The won is issued by the Central Bank of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea...

 banknotes. Thousands of gifts to Kim Il-sung from foreign leaders are housed in the International Friendship Exhibition
International Friendship Exhibition
The International Friendship Exhibition is a large museum complex located at Myohyang-san mountain, North Pyongan province, in North Korea. It is a collection of halls that house gifts presented to former leader Kim Il-sung and the current leader Kim Jong-il from various foreign dignitaries...



Kim Il-sung was the author of many works and they are published in books. His works are published by the Workers' Party of Korea Publishing House and among them are "Complete Collection of Kim Il Sung's Works" (김일성전집, currently up to 99 volumes as of October 26, 2011) and "Collection of Kim Il Sung's Selected Works". These include new year speeches, and other speeches delivered on different occasions. Shortly before his death, he also published an autobiography entitled "With the Century" in 8 volumes.

According to official North Korean sources, Kim Il-sung was also the original writer of The Flower Girl
The Flower Girl
The Flower Girl is a North Korean revolutionary genre theatrical performance, supposedly written by Kim Il-Sung himself according to official North Korean sources...

, a revolutionary theatrical opera, which was made into a film adaptation in 1972.

See also

  • Cold War
    Cold War
    The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

  • Kimilsungia
    Kimilsungia is a hybrid cultivar of orchid, Dendrobium 'Kim Il-sung'. Another flower, the Kimjongilia, is named after Kim Il-sung's son, Kim Jong-il. Contrary to popular belief, neither the Kimilsungia or the Kimjongilia are a national flower of North Korea...

  • Song of General Kim Il-sung
    Song of General Kim Il-sung
    "The Song of General Kim Il-sung" is a North Korean marching song composed by Kim Won-gyun in 1946. As a part of an ongoing cult of personality, the song praising Kim Il-sung, North Korea's "Eternal President", who died in 1994, is still widely played in that country.The first two bars of the song...

  • Kim Jong-suk
    Kim Jong-suk
    Kim Jong-suk was a Korean independence activist and Communist politician. She was North Korean Great Leader Kim Il-sung's first wife and Kim Jong-il's mother.-Biography:...

  • Kim Du-bong
  • Stalinism
    Stalinism refers to the ideology that Joseph Stalin conceived and implemented in the Soviet Union, and is generally considered a branch of Marxist–Leninist ideology but considered by some historians to be a significant deviation from this philosophy...

Further reading

  • Blair, Clay, The Forgotten War: America in Korea, Naval Institute Press (2003)
  • Goncharov, Sergei N., Lewis, John W. and Xue Litai, Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao, and the Korean War (1993)
  • Lankov, Andrei N., Crisis in North Korea: The Failure of De-Stalinization, 1956. Honolulu:Hawaii University Press (2004)
  • Mansourov, Aleksandr Y., Stalin, Mao, Kim, and China's Decision to Enter the Korean War, 16 September – 15 October 1950: New Evidence from the Russian Archives, Cold War International History Project Bulletin, Issues 6-7 (Winter 1995/1996)
  • Sudoplatov, Pavel Anatoli, Schecter, Jerrold L., and Schecter, Leona P., Special Tasks: The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness — A Soviet Spymaster, Little Brown, Boston (1994)
  • Suh, Dae-Sook, Kim Il Sung: The North Korean Leader. New York: Columbia University Press (1988)
  • Weathersby, Kathryn, The Soviet Role in the Early Phase of the Korean War, The Journal of American-East Asian Relations 2, no. 4 (Winter 1993)
  • Christian Kracht
    Christian Kracht
    Christian Kracht is a Swiss novelist and journalist.-Early life:Kracht was born in Saanen. His father, Christian Kracht Sr., was chief representative for the Axel Springer publishing company in the 1960s. Kracht attended Schule Schloss Salem in Baden and Lakefield College School in Ontario, Canada...

    , Eva Munz, Lukas Nikol, "The Ministry Of Truth. Kim Jong Ils North Korea", Feral House
    Feral House
    Feral House is a book publisher owned and operated by Adam Parfrey. The publisher itself describes the books it sells as "pure information", and says the topics of the books are "forbidden"....

    , October 2007, 132 pages, 88 color photographs, ISBN 978-932595-27-7
  • NKIDP: Crisis and Confrontation on the Korean Peninsula: 1968-1969, A Critical Oral History

External links


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