Jong-il in 2000
Leader of North Korea
February 1941 (1941-02-16)
Vyatskoye, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union (Soviet
16 February 1942 (1942-02-16)
Baekdu Mountain, Japanese Korea (North
(also written as Kim Jong Il; born 16 February
1941) is the de facto leader of the Democratic
People's Republic of Korea (North Korea); the
official leader of the country is still his
long-deceased father Kim Il-sung, the founder of the
state. He is the Chairman of the National Defense
Commission, General Secretary of the Workers' Party of
Korea, the ruling party since 1948, and the Supreme
Commander of the Korean People's Army, the fourth
largest standing army in the world. In April 2009, North
Korea's constitution was amended and now implicitly
refers to him as the "Supreme Leader".
He is also referred to as the "Dear Leader",
"our Father", "the General"
and "Generalissimo". His son Kim
Jong-un was promoted to a senior position in the ruling
Worker's Party and is heir apparent.
show that Kim Jong-il was born in the village of
Vyatskoye, near Khabarovsk, in 1941,where his father,
Kim Il-sung, commanded the 1st Battalion of the Soviet
88th Brigade, made up of Chinese and Korean exiles. Kim
Jong-il's mother, Kim Jong-suk, was Kim Il-sung's first
wife. During his youth in the Soviet Union, Kim Jong-il
was known as Yuri Irsenovich Kim (Юрий
Ким), taking his patronymic
from his father's Russified name, Ir-sen.
official biography states that he was born in a secret
military camp on Baekdu Mountain in Japanese Korea on 16
February 1942. Official biographers claim that his birth
at Baekdu Mountain was foretold by a swallow, and
heralded by the appearance of a double rainbow over the
mountain and a new star in the heavens.
In 1945, Kim was
three or four years old (depending on his birth year)
when World War II ended and Korea regained independence
from Japan. His father returned to Pyongyang that
September, and in late November Kim returned to Korea
via a Soviet ship, landing at Sonbong (선봉군,
also Unggi). The family moved into a former Japanese
officer's mansion in Pyongyang, with a garden and pool.
Kim Jong-il's brother, "Shura" Kim (the first
Kim Jong-il, but known by his Russian nickname), drowned
there in 1948. Unconfirmed reports suggest that 5 year
old Kim Jong-il might have caused the accident. In 1949,
his mother died in childbirth. Unconfirmed reports
suggest that his mother might have been shot and left to
bleed to death.
According to his
official biography, Kim completed the course of general
education between September 1950 and August 1960. He
attended Primary School No. 4 and Middle School No. 1 (Namsan
Higher Middle School) in Pyongyang. This is contested by
foreign academics, who believe he is more likely to have
received his early education in the People's Republic of
China as a precaution to ensure his safety during the
schooling, Kim was involved in politics. He was active
in the Children's Union and the Democratic Youth League
(DYL), taking part in study groups of Marxist political
theory and other literature. In September 1957 he became
vice-chairman of his middle school's DYL branch. He
pursued a programme of anti-factionalism and attempted
to encourage greater ideological education among his
classmates. He organized academic competitions and
seminars, as well as helping to arrange field trips.
During his youth
Kim's interests included music, agriculture and
automotive repair. At school he repaired trucks and
electric motors in a practice workshop, and he often
visited factories and farms with his classmates.
Kim Jong-il began
studying at Kim Il-sung University in September 1960,
majoring in Marxist political economy. His minor
subjects included philosophy and military science. While
at university, he also undertook production training at
Pyongyang Textile Machinery Factory, as a road-working
apprentice and as a worker building TV broadcasting
Kim joined the
Workers' Party of Korea in July 1961. He began
accompanying his father in "tours of field
guidance", which consisted of visits to factories,
farms and workplaces around the country.
graduated from Kim Il-sung University in April 1964.
Kim is also said
to have received English language education at the
University of Malta in the early 1970s, on his
infrequent holidays in Malta as guest of Prime Minister
The elder Kim had
meanwhile remarried and had another son, Kim Pyong-il
(named after Kim Jong-il's drowned brother). Since 1988,
Kim Pyong-il has served in a series of North Korean
embassies in Europe and is currently the North Korean
ambassador to Poland. Foreign commentators suspect that
Kim Pyong-il was sent to these distant posts by his
father in order to avoid a power struggle between his
political career (1964–1979)
in 1964, Kim Jong-il began his ascension through the
ranks of the ruling Korean Workers' Party (KWP). His
entrance to politics was met by the tensions within the
global communist movement caused by the Sino-Soviet
split. Still following Marxism-Leninism as their core
ideology, the KWP had launched an offensive against
elements within the party deemed revisionist. Dubbed
"anti-Party revisionists", senior cadre had
spread feudal Confucian ideas, attempted to water down
the party's revolutionary line and ignored orders from
General Secretary Kim Il-sung.
Shortly after his
graduation, Kim was appointed instructor and section
chief to the Party Central Committee. His first
activities were undertaking parts of the WPK offensive.
He agitated amongst officials to ensure party activities
did not deviate from the ideological line set by Kim
Il-sung, and worked to reveal anti-Party revisionists.
He also put in place measures to ensure the Party's
ideological system was rigidly enforced among the
country's media, writers and artists.
During the late
1960s, Kim wrote a number of discourses on economics. He
rallied against moves to make material incentive the
primary force behind economic development, and toured
the country giving guidance on technical restructuring
occurring within industry at the time.
1967–1969, Kim turned his attention to the military.
He believed bureaucrats within the Korean People's Army
(KPA) were oppressing the Army's political organizations
and distorting state orders. Kim decided these elements
posed a threat to the WPK's control of the military. At
the Fourth Plenary Meeting of the Fourth Party Committee
of the KPA, he exposed certain officers believed to be
responsible, who were subsequently expelled.
During his early
years in the Party Central Committee, Kim also oversaw
activities of the Propaganda and Agitation Department,
in which he worked to revolutionize the Korean fine
arts. Artists were encouraged to create works new in
content and form, produced by new systems and methods,
and abandoning old traditions in the Korean arts.
Kim's theory was
that film combined a number of artistic forms, and
therefore the development of Korean cinema would in turn
develop other artistic spheres. This began with film
adaptations for Kim Il-sung's works written during World
War II, beginning with Five Guerrilla Brothers in
1967. In the early 1970s, operatic adaptations of Kim
Il-sung's works began.
Kim was appointed
vice-director of the Party Central Committee (PCC) in
September 1970, and became an elected member of the PCC
in October 1972. In 1973 he was made party secretary in
charge of organization affairs, and simultaneously,
propaganda and agitation affairs. This was the chief
position in the party, and it enabled Kim to become an
authoritative interpreter of his father's ideas, giving
him immense power.
During the early
1970s, Kim worked to eliminate bureaucracy and encourage
political activity amongst the people by Party
officials. This included a policy forcing bureaucrats to
work among workers at the next subordinate level for 20
days per month.
In February 1974,
Kim Jong-il was elected to the Political Committee of
the PCC. By this time he had acquired the nicknames of
"dear leader" and "intelligent
leader", according to his official biography.
That same year,
Kim launched the Three-revolution Team Movement.
Described as "a new method of guiding the
revolution", the movement introduced teams which
travelled around the country providing political,
scientific and technical training through short courses.
The expertise gained was continually developed through
mass meetings in which knowledge could be shared.
Kim also led the
shock-brigade movement of scientists and technicians —
a similar initiative for new scientific research.During
the late 1970s, Kim was involved in economic planning,
including several campaigns to rapidly develop certain
sectors of the economy.[ked
on initiatives to build mass political movements within
the military, including the Three Revolution Red Flag
Movement, Red Flag Company Movement and the Red Flag
Vanguard Company Movement.
He was also active
in efforts to build a campaign for the reunification of
Korea. This included assisting in the formation of the
International Liaison Committee for the Independent and
Peaceful Reunification of Korea in 1977, attending talks
between political parties and groups within the DPRK,
and taking part in high-level negotiations between the
DPRK and Republic of Korea.
member and party secretary (1980–1994)
By the time of the
Sixth Party Congress in October 1980, Kim Jong-il's
control of the Party operation was complete. He was
given senior posts in the Politburo, the Military
Commission and the party Secretariat. When he was made a
member of the Seventh Supreme People's Assembly in
February 1982, international observers deemed him the
heir apparent of North Korea.
At this time Kim
assumed the title "Dear Leader" (친애한
chinaehan jidoja) the government began building a
personality cult around him patterned after that of his
father, the "Great Leader". Kim Jong-il was
regularly hailed by the media as the "fearless
leader" and "the great successor to the
revolutionary cause". He emerged as the most
powerful figure behind his father in North Korea.
On 24 December
1991, Kim was also named supreme commander of the North
Korean armed forces. Since the Army is the real
foundation of power in North Korea, this was a vital
step. Defense Minister Oh Jin-wu, one of Kim Il-sung's
most loyal subordinates, engineered Kim Jong-il's
acceptance by the Army as the next leader of North
Korea, despite his lack of military service. The only
other possible leadership candidate, Prime Minister Kim
Il (no relation), was removed from his posts in 1976. In
1992, Kim Il-sung publicly stated that his son was in
charge of all internal affairs in the Democratic
In 1992, radio
broadcasts started referring to him as the "Dear
Father", instead of the "Dear Leader",
suggesting a promotion. His 50th birthday in February
was the occasion for massive celebrations, exceeded only
by those for the 80th birthday of Kim Il Sung himself on
defector Hwang Jang-yop, the North Korean system became
even more centralized and autocratic under Kim Jong-il
than it had been under his father. Although Kim Il-sung
required his ministers to be loyal to him, he
nonetheless sought their advice in decision-making. In
contrast, Kim Jong-il demands absolute obedience and
agreement with no advice or compromise, and he views any
deviation from his thinking as a sign of disloyalty.
According to Hwang, Kim Jong-il personally directs even
minor details of state affairs, such as the size of
houses for party secretaries and the delivery of gifts
to his subordinates.
By the 1980s,
North Korea began to experience severe economic
stagnation. Kim Il-sung's policy of juche
(self-reliance) cut the country off from almost all
external trade, even with its traditional partners, the
Soviet Union and China.
accused Kim of ordering the 1983 bombing in Rangoon,
Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar), which killed 17 visiting
South Korean officials, including four cabinet members,
and another in 1987 which killed all 115 on board Korean
Air Flight 858. A North Korean agent, Kim Hyon Hui,
confessed to planting a bomb in the case of the second,
saying the operation was ordered by Kim Jong-il
In 1992, Kim Jong-il's
voice was broadcast within North Korea for the only
time. During a military parade for the KPA's 60th year
anniversary in Pyongyang's then Central Square (Kim
Il-sung Square at present), in which Kim Il-sung
attended, he approached the microphone at the grandstand
and simply said "Glory to the heroic soldiers of
the Korean People's Army!" Everyone in the audience
clapped and the parade participants at the square
grounds (which included veteran soldiers and officers of
the KPA) shouted "ten thousand years" three
times after that.
of North Korea
On 8 July 1994,
Kim Il-sung died, at the age of 82 from a heart attack.
However, it took three years for Kim Jong-il to
consolidate his power. He officially took the titles of
General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea and
chairman of the National Defense Commission on 8 October
1997. In 1998, his Defense Commission chairmanship was
declared to be "the highest post of the
state", so Kim may be regarded as North Korea's
head of state from that date. Also in 1998, the Supreme
People's Assembly wrote the president's post out of the
constitution in memory of Kim Il-Sung, who was
designated the country's "Eternal President".
It can be argued, though, that he became the country's
leader when he became leader of the Workers' Party; in
most Communist countries the party leader is the most
powerful person in the country.
Officially, Kim is
part of a triumvirate heading the executive branch of
the North Korean government along with Premier Choe
Yong-rim and parliament chairman Kim Yong-nam (no
relations). Each nominally has powers equivalent to a
third of a president's powers in most other presidential
systems. Kim Jong-il is commander of the armed forces,
Choe Yong-rim heads the government and Kim Yong-nam
handles foreign relations. In practice, however, Kim
Jong-il exercises absolute control over the government
and the country.
Although Kim is
not required to stand for popular election to his key
offices, he is unanimously elected to the Supreme
People's Assembly every five years, representing a
military constituency, due to his concurrent capacities
as KPA Supreme Commander and Chairman of the DPRK NDC.
In 1998, South
Korean President Kim Dae-jung implemented the
"Sunshine Policy" to improve North-South
relations and to allow South Korean companies to start
projects in the North. Kim Jong-il announced plans to
import and develop new technologies to develop North
Korea's fledgling software industry. As a result of the
new policy, the Kaesong Industrial Park was constructed
in 2003 just north of the de-militarized zone, with the
planned participation of 250 South Korean companies,
employing 100,000 North Koreans, by 2007. However, by
March 2007, the Park contained only 21 companies —
employing 12,000 North Korean workers. As of May 2010
the park employs over 40,000 North Korean workers.
In 1994, North
Korea and the United States signed an Agreed Framework
which was designed to freeze and eventually dismantle
the North's nuclear weapons program in exchange for aid
in producing two power-generating nuclear reactors. In
2002, Kim Jong-il's government admitted to having
produced nuclear weapons since the 1994 agreement. Kim's
regime argued the secret production was necessary for
security purposes — citing the presence of United
States-owned nuclear weapons in South Korea and the new
tensions with the US under President George W. Bush.
9 October 2006, North Korea's Korean Central News Agency
announced that it had successfully conducted an
underground nuclear test.
health and waning power rumors
In an August 2008
issue of the Japanese newsweekly Shukan Gendai, Waseda
University professor Toshimitsu Shigemura, an authority
on the Korean Peninsula, claimed that Kim Jong-il died
of diabetes in late 2003 and had been replaced in public
appearances by one or more stand-ins previously employed
to protect him from assassination attempts. In a
subsequent best-selling book, The True Character of
Kim Jong-il, Shigemura cited apparently un-named
people close to Kim's family along with Japanese and
South Korean intelligence sources, claiming they
confirmed Kim's diabetes took a turn for the worse early
in 2000 and from then until his supposed death three and
a half years later he was using a wheelchair. Shigemura
moreover claimed a voiceprint analysis of Kim speaking
in 2004 did not match a known earlier recording. It was
also noted that Kim Jong-il did not appear in public for
the Olympic torch relay in Pyongyang on 28 April 2008.
The question had reportedly "baffled foreign
intelligence agencies for years."
On 9 September
2008, various sources reported that after he did not
show up that day for a military parade celebrating North
Korea's 60th anniversary, US intelligence agencies
believed Kim might be "gravely ill" after
having suffered a stroke. He had last been seen in
public a month earlier. A former CIA official said
earlier reports of a health crisis were likely to be
accurate. North Korean media remained silent on the
issue. An Associated Press report said analysts believed
Kim had been supporting moderates in the foreign
ministry, while North Korea's powerful military was
against so-called "Six-Party" negotiations
with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United
States aimed towards ridding North Korea of nuclear
weapons. Some US officials noted that soon after rumours
about Kim's health were publicized a month before, North
Korea had taken a "tougher line in nuclear
negotiations." In late August North Korea's
official news agency reported the government would
"consider soon a step to restore the nuclear
facilities in Yongbyon to their original state as
strongly requested by its relevant institutions."
Analysts said this meant "the military may have
taken the upper hand and that Kim might no longer be
wielding absolute authority."
Kim's three sons
and his son-in-law, along with O Kuk-ryol, an army
general, have been noted as possible successors, but the
North Korean government has been wholly silent on this
matter. South Korean media have suggested Kim is
grooming his son Kim Jong-chul, while defectors and
Western media have suggested the possibility of his
youngest known son Kim Jong-un who is described to be
"just like his father", has the exact same
political views and his explosive tempers, but Kim Yong
Hyun, a political expert at the Institute for North
Korean Studies at Seoul's Dongguk University, has said,
"Even the North Korean establishment would not
advocate a continuation of the family dynasty at this
point." Kim's eldest son Kim Jong-nam was earlier
believed to be the designated heir but he appears to
have fallen out of favor after being arrested at Narita
International Airport near Tokyo in 2001 while traveling
on a forged passport.
On 2 June 2009, it
was reported that Kim Jong Il's youngest son, Jong Un,
was to be North Korea's next leader. Like his father and
grandfather, he has also been given an official
sobriquet, The Brilliant Comrade. It has been reported
that Kim Jong Il is expected to officially designate the
son as his successor in 2012. However, there are reports
that if leadership passes to one of the sons, Kim Jong
Il's brother-in-law, Chang Sung-taek, could attempt to
take power from him.
as DPRK leader
On 9 April 2009,
Kim was re-elected as chairman of the DPRK National
Defence Commission, and made an appearance at the
Supreme People's Assembly. This was the first time Kim
was seen in public since August 2008. He was unanimously
re-elected and given a standing ovation.
visits to China
Kim was reported
to have visited the People's Republic of China in May
2010. He entered the country by his personal train on 3
May, and stayed in a hotel in Dalian. Kim travelled to
China again in August 2010, this time with his son,
fueling speculation that he is ready to hand over power
to son Kim Jong-un.
Kim Jong-il is the
centre of an elaborate personality cult inherited from
his father and founder of the DPRK, Kim Il-sung.
Defectors have been quoted as saying that North Korean
schools deify both father and son. He is often the
centre of attention throughout ordinary life in the DPRK.
His birthday is one of the most important public
holidays in the country. On his 60th birthday (based on
his official date of birth), mass celebrations occurred
throughout the country on the occasion of his Hwangap.
Many North Koreans believe that he has the
"magical" ability to "control the
weather" based on his mood.
One point of view
is that Kim Jong Il's cult of personality is solely out
of respect for Kim Il-sung or out of fear of punishment
for failure to pay homage. Media and government sources
from outside of North Korea generally support this view,
while North Korean government sources say that it is
genuine hero worship. The song "No Motherland
Without You", sung by the KPA State Merited Choir,
was created especially for Kim in 1992 and is one of the
most popular tunes in the country.
There is no
official information available about Kim Jong-il's
marital history, but he is believed to have been
officially married once and to have had three mistresses.
He has four known children:
- Kim Sul-Song
- Kim Jong-nam
- Kim Jong-chul
- Kim Jong-un
Kim's first wife,
Kim Young-sook, was the daughter of a high-ranking
military official. His father Kim Il-Sung handpicked her
to marry his son. The two have been estranged for some
years. Kim has a daughter from this marriage, Kim Sul-song