Kim Il-sung

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Kim Il-sung
Kim Il-sung in 1950.jpg
Kim Il-sung's official portrait in 1950
President of North Korea
In office
28 December 1972 8 July 1994
Vice President
Preceded byOffice established  [a]
Succeeded byOffice abolished  [b] (Powers as head of state transferred to Kim Jong-il )
1st Premier of North Korea
In office
9 September 1948 28 December 1972
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded by Kim Il
General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea
In office
30 June 1949 8 July 1994
Titled as Chairman until 11 October 1966
Preceded by Kim Tu-bong
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Title next held by Kim Jong-il
Supreme Commander
of the Korean People's Army
In office
5 July 1950 24 December 1991
Preceded byPosition created
Succeeded by Kim Jong-il
Personal details
Kim Sŏng-ju

(1912-04-15)15 April 1912
Died8 July 1994(1994-07-08) (aged 82)
Cause of death Myocardial infarction
Resting place
Political party Workers' Party of Korea
Other political
Workers' Party of North Korea (1946–1949)
Communist Party of China (1931–1946)
Relatives Kim Yong-ju (young brother)
ResidencePyongyang, North Korea
Signature Kim Il Sung Signature.svg
Military service
Branch/serviceFlag of the Chinese Communist Party (Pre-1996).svg Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army
Red Army flag.svg Red Army
Flag of the Korean People's Army Ground Force.svg  Korean People's Army Ground Force
Years of service
  • 1941–1945
  • 1948–1994
Rank Generalissimo rank insignia (North Korea).svg Taewonsu (대원수, roughly translated as Grand Marshal or Generalissimo)
CommandsAll  (Supreme Commander)

Leaders of the
Democratic People's Republic of Korea

Kim Il-sung or Kim Il Sung
Kim Il sung.svg
"Kim Il-sung" in hancha (top) and Chosŏn'gŭl (bottom) scripts.
Revised Romanization Kim Il(-)seong
McCune–Reischauer Kim Ilsŏng
Birth name
Revised Romanization Kim Seong(-)ju
McCune–Reischauer Kim Sŏngchu

Kim Il-sung (officially transcribed Kim Il Sung; English pronunciation: /ˈkɪmˈɪlˈsʌŋ, -ˈsʊŋ/ ; [3] Chosŏn'gŭl : 김일성; Korean pronunciation:  [kimils͈ʌŋ] ; born Kim Sŏng-ju (김성주); 15 April 1912 – 8 July 1994) was the first leader of North Korea which he ruled from the country's establishment in 1948 until his death in 1994. He held the posts of Premier from 1948 to 1972 and President from 1972 to 1994. He was also the leader of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) from 1949 to 1994 (titled as Chairman from 1949 to 1966 and as General Secretary after 1966). Coming to power after the end of Japanese rule in 1945, he authorized the invasion of South Korea in 1950, triggering an intervention in defense of South Korea by the United Nations led by the United States. Following the military stalemate in the Korean War, a ceasefire was signed on 27 July 1953. He was the second longest-serving non-royal head of state/government in the 20th century, in office for more than 48 years.

Transcription in the linguistic sense is the systematic representation of language in written form. The source can either be utterances or preexisting text in another writing system.

Hangul Native alphabet of the Korean language

The Korean alphabet, known as Hangul, has been used to write the Korean language since its creation in the 15th century by King Sejong the Great. It may also be written as Hangeul following the standard Romanization.

Death and state funeral of Kim Il-sung

Kim Il-sung died on the afternoon of 8 July 1994 at age 82. North Korea's government did not report the death for more than 34 hours after it occurred. An official mourning period was declared from 8–17 July, during which the national flag was flown at half mast throughout the country, and all forms of amusement and dancing were prohibited.


Under his leadership, North Korea became a communist state with a publicly owned and planned economy. It had close political and economic relations with the Soviet Union. By the 1960s, North Korea enjoyed a standard of living higher than the South, which was fraught with political instability and economic crises. [4] [5] [6] The situation reversed in the mid-1970s, as a newly stable South Korea became an economic powerhouse fueled by Japanese and American investment, military aid and internal economic development while North Korea stagnated. [7] Differences emerged between North Korea and the Soviet Union, central among them Kim Il-sung's philosophy of Juche , which focused on Korean nationalism and self-reliance. Despite this, the country received funds, subsidies and aid from the USSR (and the Eastern Bloc) until the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. The resulting loss of economic aid adversely affected the North's economy, causing widespread famine in 1994. During this period, North Korea also remained critical of the United States defense force's presence in the region, which it considered imperialism, having seized the American ship USS Pueblo (AGER-2) in 1968. He outlived Joseph Stalin by four decades and Mao Zedong by almost two and remained in power during the terms of office of six South Korean Presidents, ten U.S. Presidents and the rule of British monarchs George VI and later his daughter Elizabeth II. Known as the Great Leader (Suryong), he was the focus of a personality cult which dominated domestic politics in North Korea.

Communist state State that aims to achieve socialism and then communism

A Communist state is a state that is administered and governed by a single party, guided by Marxist–Leninist philosophy.

Economy of North Korea National economy

The economy of North Korea is a centrally planned system, where the role of market allocation schemes is limited, though increasing. As of 2015 North Korea continues its basic adherence to a centrally planned command economy. There has been some economic liberalization, particularly after Kim Jong-un assumed the leadership in 2012, but reports conflict over particular legislation and enactment.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

At the 6th WPK Congress in 1980, his oldest son Kim Jong-il was elected as a Presidium member and chosen as his heir apparent to the supreme leadership. Kim Il-sung's birthday is a public holiday in North Korea called the "Day of the Sun". In 1998, Kim Il-sung was declared "eternal President of the Republic". During his rule, North Korea was widely characterized as a totalitarian state with widespread human rights abuses, including mass executions and prison camps. [8] [9]

6th Congress of the Workers Party of Korea

The 6th Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) was held in the February 8 House of Culture in Pyongyang, North Korea, from 10–14 October 1980. The congress is the highest organ of the party, and is stipulated to be held every four years. 3,062 delegates represented the party's membership; 117 foreign delegates attended the congress, without the right to speak. The congress saw the reappointment of Kim Il-sung as WPK General Secretary and the Presidium of the Politburo established as the highest organ of the party between congresses.

Kim Jong-il General Secretary of the Workers Party of Korea

Kim Jong-il was the second leader of North Korea. He ruled from the death of his father Kim Il-sung, the first leader of North Korea, in 1994 until his own death in 2011. He was an unelected dictator and was often accused of human rights violations.

Presidium of the Politburo of the Workers Party of Korea Leadership committee of North Koreas ruling party

The Presidium of the Political Bureau of the Workers' Party of Korea, or simply the Presidium, is a committee consisting of the top leadership of the Workers' Party of Korea. Historically it has been composed of one to five members, and currently has five members. Its officially mandated purpose is to conduct policy discussions and make decisions on major issues when the Politburo, a larger decision-making body, is not in session. While the Presidium in theory reports into the Politburo, which in turn reports into the larger Central Committee, in practice the Presidium acts as the most powerful decision-making body in North Korea, and its decisions de facto have the force of law. Its role is roughly analogous to that of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China.

Early life

Controversy about origins

Controversy surrounds Kim's life before the founding of North Korea, with some labeling him an impostor. Several sources indicate that the name "Kim Il-sung" had previously been used by a prominent early leader of the Korean resistance, Kim Kyung-cheon. [10] :44 The Soviet officer Grigory Mekler, who worked with Kim during the Soviet occupation, said that Kim assumed this name from a former commander who had died. [11] However, historian Andrei Lankov has argued that this is unlikely to be true. Several witnesses knew Kim before and after his time in the Soviet Union, including his superior, Zhou Baozhong, who dismissed the claim of a "second" Kim in his diaries. [12] :55 Historian Bruce Cumings pointed out that Japanese officers from the Kwantung Army have attested to his fame as a resistance figure. [13] :160–161 Historians generally accept the view that, while Kim's exploits were exaggerated by the personality cult which was built around him, he was a significant guerrilla leader. [14] [15] [16]

Kim Kyung-cheon Korean independence activist

Kim Kyung-chon was a Korean independence activist and military leader. Several sources believe North Korean leader Kim Il-sung stole his identity after his death. In 1888, he was born in a rich, Yangban-traditioned family in South Hamgyong Province, Pukchong County, as the fifth son of his father Kim Ding-Hyung. His original name was Kim Ung-chon. In 1909 he married You Jong. He later entered the Imperial Japanese Army Academy and graduated in 1911, attaing the rank of cavalry lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Army. In June 1919 he fled to Manchuria along with Chi Chong-chon to join the Korean independence movement, working as a trainer but after only six months he communicated with some Korean activists and moved to Vladivostok to fight under Kim Kyu, who was renowned for victory over a Japanese battalion. His main operation after arriving in Vladivostok was fighting off Japanese-supported Chinese militias. In this period he chose Kim Kyung-cheon as a pseudonym. During the Russian Civil War, his troops managed to impress Red Army commanders with good discipline. In January 1923 he attended the conference of Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai and decided to create a communist Korean regime which would be based in the Soviet Union. However, the Comintern denied the "republic's" legitimacy as an independent entity, leading Ji to leave the Soviet Union while Kim remained. During the Great Purge, Kim was arrested for protesting against Joseph Stalin's Korean Dislocation policy and eventually died in a Soviet prison. He and Ji Cheong-cheon and Shin Dong-cheon were called "3 cheons of South Manchuria" (南满三天). He was also referred to as 擎天金将軍 by Koreans in Manchuria.

Andrei Lankov 20th and 21st-century Russian academic

Andrei Nikolaevich Lankov is a Russian scholar of Asia and a specialist in Korean studies and Director of Korea Risk Group, the parent company of NK News and NK Pro.

Zhou Baozhong Chinese General

Zhou Baozhong was a commander of the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army resisting the pacification of Manchukuo by the Empire of Japan.

Family background

Around the time the song Star of Korea was being spread, my comrades changed my name and began to call me Han Byol ... meaning "One Star". It was Pyon Tae U and other public-minded people in Wujiazi and such young communists as Choe Il Chon who proposed to change my name into Kim Il Sung. Thus I was called by three names, Song Ju, Han Byol and Il Sung. ... I did not like to be called by another name. Still less did I tolerate the people extolling me by comparing me to a star or the sun; it did not befit me, [as a] young man. But my comrades would not listen to me, no matter how sternly I rebuked them for it or argued against it.... It was in the spring of 1931 when I spent some three weeks in prison, having been arrested by the warlords in Guyushu, that the name Kim Il Sung appeared in the press for the first time. Until that time most of my acquaintances had called me by my real name, Song Ju. It was in later years when I started the armed struggle in east Manchuria that I was called by one name, Kim Il Sung, by my comrades. These comrades upheld me as their leader, even giving me a new name and singing a song about me. Thus they expressed their innermost feelings.

—Kim Il-sung, With the Century [17] :110–111

He was born to Kim Hyŏng-jik and Kang Pan-sŏk, who gave him the name Kim Sŏng-ju; Kim also had two younger brothers, Ch’ŏl-chu (or Kim Chul-ju) and Kim Yŏng-ju. [18] [ better source needed ]:15

Kim Hyong-jik father of Kim Il-sung

Kim Hyŏng-jik was a Korean independence activist. He was the father of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung, grandfather of Kim Jong-il, and great-grandfather of the current leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un.

Kang Pan-sok Korean activist

Kang Pan-sŏk was the mother of North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, grandmother of the late leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-il, and great-grandmother of the current leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un. She was a Korean independence activist and communist politician. April 21 is a day of memorial for her in North Korea, when a wreath-laying ceremony is held at Chilgol Revolutionary Site, in what was Chilgol-ri, a town once in Pyongang Province and today part of Pyongyang.

Kim Yong-ju North Korean politician and Kim Il-sungs younger brother

Kim Yong-ju is a North Korean politician and the younger brother of Kim Il-sung, who ruled North Korea from 1948 to 1994. Under his brother's rule, Kim Yong-ju held key posts in the Workers' Party of Korea during the 1960s and early 1970s, but he fell out of favor in 1974 following a power struggle with Kim Jong-il. Since 1998, he has held the ceremonial position of Honorary Vice President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, North Korea's parliament.

Kim's family is said to have originated from Jeonju, North Jeolla Province. His great-grandfather, Kim Ung-u, settled in Mangyong-dae in 1860. Kim is reported to have been born in the small village of Mangyungbong (then called Namni) near Pyongyang on 15 April 1912. [19] [18] :12

Jeonju Specific city in Honam, South Korea

Jeonju is the 16th largest city in South Korea and the capital of North Jeolla Province. It is both urban and rural due to the closeness of Wanju County which almost entirely surrounds Jeonju. The name Jeonju literally means "Perfect Region". It is an important tourist center famous for Korean food, historic buildings, sports activities, and innovative festivals.

North Jeolla Province Province in Honam, South Korea

North Jeolla Province or 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. The provincial capital is Jeonju, which was the capital of all of Jeolla before 1896.

Mangyongdae-guyok district of Pyongyang

Man'gyŏngdae-guyŏk or Man'gyŏngdae District (Chosŏn'gŭl: 만경대구역) is one of the 19 guyŏk (wards) that constitute P'yŏngyang, North Korea. It began as a village, Man'gyŏngdae-ri, South P'yŏngan Province and became a district of P'yŏngyang in September 1959. The area is surrounded by several hills, the highest one named Man'gyŏng Hill because one can enjoy a bird's-eye view of the surrounding scenic landscape, and the village at its foot is called Man'gyŏngdae. Man'gyŏngdae was the birthplace of North Korean leader Kim Il-sung.

According to Kim, his family was not very poor, but was always a step away from poverty. Kim said that 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. [20] [21] [22] According to the official version, Kim’s family participated in anti-Japanese activities and in 1920 they fled to Manchuria. Like most Korean families, they resented the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula, which began on 29 August 1910. [18] :12 Another view seems to be that his family settled in Manchuria, as many Koreans had at the time to escape famine. Nonetheless, Kim's parents, especially Kim's mother Kang Ban Suk, played a role in the anti-Japanese struggle that was sweeping the peninsula. [18] :16 Their exact involvement—whether their cause was missionary, nationalist, or both—is unclear nevertheless. [12] :53 Still, Japanese repression of opposition was brutal, resulting in the arrest and detention of more than 52,000 Korean citizens in 1912 alone. [18] :13 This repression forced many Korean families to flee Korea and settle in Manchuria.

Communist and guerrilla activities

In October 1926 Kim founded the Down-with-Imperialism Union. [23] Kim attended Whasung Military Academy in 1926, but finding the academy's training methods outdated, he quit in 1927. From that time, he attended Yuwen Middle School in China's Jilin province up to 1930, [24] where he rejected the feudal traditions of older-generation Koreans and became interested in Communist ideologies; his formal education ended when the police arrested and jailed him 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 formed in 1929, and jailed Kim for several months. [12] :52 [25]

In 1931 Kim joined the Communist Party of China—the Communist Party of Korea had been founded in 1925, but had been thrown out of the Comintern in the early 1930s for being too nationalist. He joined various anti-Japanese guerrilla groups in northern China. Feelings against the Japanese ran high in Manchuria, but as of May 1930 the Japanese had not yet occupied Manchuria. On 30 May 1930 a spontaneous violent uprising in eastern Manchuria arose in which peasants attacked some local villages in the name of resisting "Japanese aggression." [26] The authorities easily suppressed this unplanned, reckless and unfocused uprising. Because of the attack, the Japanese began to plan an occupation of Manchuria. [27] In a speech before a meeting of Young Communist League delegates on 20 May 1931 in Yenchi County in Manchuria, Kim warned the delegates against such unplanned uprisings as the 30 May 1930 uprising in eastern Manchuria. [28]

Four months later, on 18 September 1931, the "Mukden Incident" occurred, in which a relatively weak dynamite explosive charge went off near a Japanese railroad in the town of Mukden in Manchuria. Although no damage occurred, the Japanese used the incident as an excuse to send armed forces into Manchuria and to appoint a puppet government. [29] In 1935, Kim became a member of the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army, a guerrilla group led by the Communist Party of China. Kim was appointed[ by whom? ] the same year to serve as political commissar for the 3rd detachment of the second division, consisting of around 160 soldiers. [12] :53 Here Kim met the man who would become his mentor as a Communist, Wei Zhengmin, Kim's immediate superior officer, who served at the time as chairman of the Political Committee of the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army. Wei reported directly to Kang Sheng, a high-ranking party member close to Mao Zedong in Yan'an, until Wei's death on 8 March 1941. [30]

In 1935 Kim took the name Kim Il-sung, meaning "Kim become the sun". [31] :30 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". While commanding this division he executed a raid on Poch’onbo, on 4 June 1937. Although Kim's division only captured the small Japanese-held town just within the Korean border for a few hours, it was nonetheless considered[ by whom? ] 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. For their part the Japanese regarded Kim as one of the most effective and popular Korean guerrilla leaders. [13] :160–161 [32] He appeared on Japanese wanted lists as the "Tiger". [33] The Japanese "Maeda Unit" was sent to hunt him in February 1940. [33] Later in 1940, the Japanese kidnapped a woman named Kim Hye-sun, believed to have been Kim Il Sung's first wife. After using her as a hostage to try to convince the Korean guerrillas to surrender, but to no avail, she was killed. 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. [12] :53–54 Kim was sent to a camp at Vyatskoye near Khabarovsk, where the Soviets retrained the Korean Communist guerrillas. Kim became a Major in the Soviet Red Army and served in it until the end of World War II in 1945.

Return to Korea

Kim Il-sung (centre) and Kim Tu-bong (second from right) at the joint meeting of the New People's Party and the Workers' Party of North Korea in Pyongyang, 28 August 1946. 28.08.1946 Labour Party North Korea.jpg
Kim Il-sung (centre) and Kim Tu-bong (second from right) at the joint meeting of the New People's Party and the Workers' Party of North Korea in Pyongyang, 28 August 1946.

The Soviet Union declared war on Japan on 8 August 1945, and the Red Army entered Pyongyang on 24 August 1945. Stalin had instructed Lavrentiy Beria to recommend a Communist leader for the Soviet-occupied territories and Beria met Kim several times before recommending him to Stalin. [19] [34] [35]

Kim arrived in the Korean port of Wonsan on 19 September 1945 after 26 years in exile. [31] :51 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 only had eight years of formal education, all of it in Chinese. He needed considerable coaching to read a speech (which the MVD prepared for him) at a Communist Party congress three days after he arrived. [10] :50

In December 1945, the Soviets installed Kim as chairman of the North Korean branch of the Korean Communist Party. [31] :56 Originally, the Soviets preferred Cho Man-sik to lead a popular front government, but Cho refused to support a UN-backed trusteeship and clashed with Kim. [36] General Terentii Shtykov who led the Soviet occupation of northern Korea, supported Kim over Pak Hon-yong to lead the Provisional People's Committee for North Korea on 8 February 1946. [37] As chairman of the committee, Kim was "the top Korean administrative leader in the North," though he was still de facto subordinate to General Shtykov until the Chinese intervention in the Korean War. [35] [31] :56 [37]

To solidify his control, Kim established the Korean People's Army (KPA), aligned with the Communist Party, and he recruited a cadre of guerrillas and former soldiers who had gained combat experience in battles against the Japanese and later against Nationalist Chinese troops. [38] Using Soviet advisers and equipment, Kim constructed a large army skilled in infiltration tactics and guerrilla warfare. Prior to Kim's invasion of the South in 1950, which triggered the Korean War, Joseph Stalin equipped the KPA with modern, Soviet-built medium tanks, trucks, artillery, and small arms. Kim also formed an air force, equipped at first with Soviet-built propeller-driven fighters and attack aircraft. Later, North Korean pilot candidates were sent to the Soviet Union and China to train in MiG-15 jet aircraft at secret bases. [39]

Leader of North Korea

Early years

Despite United Nations plans to conduct all-Korean elections, the Soviets held elections of their own in their zone on 25 August 1948 for a Supreme People's Assembly. Voters were presented with a single list from the Communist-dominated Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea was proclaimed on 9 September 1948, with Kim as the Soviet-designated premier. On 15 August 1948, the south had declared statehood as the Republic of Korea. The Communist Party was nominally led by Kim Tu-bong, though from the outset Kim Il-sung held the real power.

On 12 October, the Soviet Union recognized Kim's government as the sovereign government of the entire peninsula, including the south. [40] The Communist Party merged with the New People's Party of Korea to form the Workers' Party of North Korea, with Kim as vice-chairman. In 1949, the Workers' Party of North Korea merged with its southern counterpart to become the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) with Kim as party chairman. [41] By 1949, Kim and the communists had consolidated their rule in North Korea. [10] :53 Around this time, Kim began promoting an intense personality cult. The first of many statues of him appeared, and he began calling himself "Great Leader". [10] :53

In February 1946 Kim Il-sung decided to introduce a number of reforms. Over 50% of the arable land was redistributed, an 8-hour work day was proclaimed and all heavy industry was to be nationalized. [42] There were improvements in the health of the population after he nationalized healthcare and made it available to all citizens. [43]

Korean War

Archival material suggests [44] [45] [46] that North Korea's decision to invade South Korea was Kim's initiative, not a Soviet one. Evidence suggests that Soviet intelligence, through its espionage sources in the US government and British SIS, had obtained information on the limitations of US atomic bomb stockpiles as well as defense program cuts, leading Stalin to conclude that the Truman administration would not intervene in Korea. [47]

China acquiesced only reluctantly to the idea of Korean reunification after being told by Kim that Stalin had approved the action. [44] [45] [46] 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 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 that was called the Pusan Perimeter. But in September, the North Koreans were driven back by the US-led counterattack that started with the UN landing in Incheon, followed by a combined South Korean-US-UN offensive from the Pusan Perimeter. 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 and eventually into Kanggye. [48] [49]

On 25 October 1950, after sending various warnings of their intent to intervene if UN forces did not halt their advance, [50] :23 Chinese troops in the thousands crossed the Yalu River and entered the war as allies of the KPA. There were nevertheless tensions between Kim and the Chinese government. Kim had been warned of the likelihood of an amphibious landing at Incheon, which was ignored. There was also a sense that the North Koreans had paid little in war compared to the Chinese who had fought for their country for decades against foes with better technology. [50] :335–336 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 that 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. Over 2.5 million people died during the Korean war. [51]

Chinese and Russian documents from that time reveal that Kim became increasingly desperate to establish a truce, since the likelihood that further fighting would successfully unify Korea under his rule became more remote with the UN and US presence. Kim also resented the Chinese taking over the majority of the fighting in his country, with Chinese forces stationed at the center of the front line, and the Korean People's Army being mostly restricted to the coastal flanks of the front. [52]

Consolidating power

Kim on a 1956 visit to East Germany, chatting with painter Otto Nagel and Prime Minister Otto Grotewohl Bundesarchiv Bild 183-38870-0003, Berlin, Otto Nagel, Otto Grotewohl, Kim Ir Sen.jpg
Kim on a 1956 visit to East Germany, chatting with painter Otto Nagel and Prime Minister Otto Grotewohl

With the end of the Korean War, despite the failure to unify Korea under his rule, Kim il-sung proclaimed the war a victory in the sense that he had remained in power in the north. However, the three-year war left North Korea devastated, and Kim immediately embarked on a large reconstruction effort. 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 economy was focused on heavy industry and arms production. Both South and North Korea retained huge armed forces to defend the 1953 Demilitarized Zone, and US forces remained in the South.

In the ensuing years, Kim established himself as an independent leader of international communism. In 1956, he joined Mao in the "anti-revisionist" camp, which did not accept Nikita Khrushchev's program of de-Stalinization, yet he did not become a Maoist himself. At the same time, he consolidated his power over the Korean communist movement. Rival leaders were eliminated. Pak Hon-yong, leader of the Korean Communist Party, was purged and executed in 1955. Choe Chang-ik appears to have been purged as well. [53] [54] The 1955 Juche speech, which stressed Korean independence, debuted in the context of Kim's power struggle against leaders such as Pak, who had Soviet backing. This was little noticed at the time until state media started talking about it in 1963. [55] [56]

During the 1956 August Faction Incident, Kim Il-sung successfully resisted efforts by the Soviet Union and China to depose him in favor of Soviet Koreans or the pro-Chinese Yanan faction. [57] [58] The last Chinese troops withdrew from the country in October 1958, which is the consensus as the latest date when North Korea became effectively independent, though some scholars believe that the 1956 August incident demonstrated North Korea's independence. [57] [58]

Later rule

Kim greets visiting Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu in Pyongyang, 1971. CeausescuKim1971.jpg
Kim greets visiting Romanian President Nicolae Ceaușescu in Pyongyang, 1971.

Despite his opposition to de-Stalinization, Kim never officially severed relations with the Soviet Union, and he did not take part in the Sino-Soviet Split. After Khrushchev was replaced by Leonid Brezhnev in 1964, Kim's relations with the Soviet Union became closer. At the same time, Kim was increasingly alienated by Mao's unstable style of leadership, especially during the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s. Kim in turn was denounced by Mao's Red Guards. [59] At the same time, Kim reinstated relations with most of Eastern Europe's communist countries, primarily Erich Honecker's East Germany and Nicolae Ceauşescu's Romania. 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. [60]

However, Albania's Enver Hoxha (another independent-minded Communist leader) was a fierce enemy of the country and Kim Il sung, writing in June 1977 that "genuine Marxist-Leninists" will understand that the "ideology is guiding the Korean Workers' Party and the Communist Party of revisionist" and adding later that month that "in Pyongyang, I believe that even Tito will be astonished at the proportions of the cult of his host [Kim Il Sung], which has reached a level unheard of anywhere else, either in past or present times, let alone in a country which calls itself socialist. [61] [62] He further claimed that "the leadership of the Communist Party of China has betrayed [the working people]. In Korea, too, we can say that the leadership of the Korean Workers' Party is wallowing in the same waters" and claimed that Kim Il Sung was begging for aid from other countries, especially among the Eastern Bloc and non-aligned countries like Yugoslavia. As a result, relations between North Korea and Albania would remain cold and tense right up until Hoxha's death in 1985. Although a resolute anti-communist, Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko was also heavily influenced by Kim's style of rule. [63] At the same time, Kim was establishing an extensive personality cult. North Koreans were taught that Kim was the "Sun of the Nation" and could do no wrong. Kim developed the policy and ideology of Juche in opposition to the idea of North Korea as a satellite state of China or the Soviet Union.

In the 1960s, Kim became impressed with the efforts of North Vietnamese Leader Ho Chi Minh to reunify Vietnam through guerilla warfare and thought something similar might be possible in Korea. [64] :30–31 Infiltration and subversion efforts were thus greatly stepped up against US forces and the leadership in South Korea. [64] :32–33 These efforts culminated in an attempt to storm the Blue House and assassinate President Park Chung-hee. [64] :32 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. The 1968 capture of the crew of the spy ship USS Pueblo was a part of this campaign. [64] :33

A new constitution was proclaimed in December 1972, which created an executive presidency. Kim gave up the premiership and was elected president. On 14 April 1975, North Korea discontinued most formal use of its traditional units and adopted the metric system. [65] In 1980, he decided that his son Kim Jong-il 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. In 1986, a rumor spread that Kim had been assassinated, making the concern for Jong-il's ability to succeed his father actual. Kim dispelled the rumors, however, by making a series of public appearances. It has been argued, however, that the incident helped establish the order of succession—the first patrifilial in a Communist state—which eventually would occur upon Kim Il-Sung's death in 1994. [66]

From about this time, North Korea encountered increasing economic difficulties. The practical effect of Juche was to cut the country off from virtually all foreign trade in order to make it entirely self-reliant. The economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping 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, from 1989–1992, completed North Korea's virtual isolation. These events led to mounting economic difficulties because Kim refused to issue any economic or political reforms. [67]

Kim Il Sung's calcium deposit tumor is noticeable on the back of his head in this rare newsreel still image during a diplomatic meeting between him and Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong in Beijing, 1970. KimIlSungCalciumDeposit1970.png
Kim Il Sung's calcium deposit tumor is noticeable on the back of his head in this rare newsreel still image during a diplomatic meeting between him and Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong in Beijing, 1970.

As he aged, starting in the 1970s, Kim developed a calcium deposit growth on the right side of the back of his neck. Its close proximity to his brain and spinal cord made it inoperable. Because of its unappealing nature, North Korean reporters and photographers, from then on, always 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. [1] :xii

Kim Il-sung's 80th birthday ceremony with international guests, April 1992. 80th Anniversary Kim Il-Sung.jpg
Kim Il-sung's 80th birthday ceremony with international guests, April 1992.

To ensure a full succession of leadership to his son and designated successor Kim Jong-il, Kim turned over his chairmanship of North Korea's National Defense Commission—the body mainly responsible for control of the armed forces as well as the supreme commandership of the country's now million-man strong military force, the Korean People's Army—to his son in 1991 and 1993. So far, the elder Kim—even though he is dead—has remained the country's president, the general-secretary of its ruling Workers' Party of Korea, and the chairman of the Party's Central Military Commission, the party's organization that has supreme supervision and authority over military matters.

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 program. In June 1994, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter travelled to Pyongyang for talks with Kim. To the astonishment of the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kim agreed to halt his nuclear research program and seemed to be embarking upon a new opening to the West. [68]

Personal life

Kim's first wife, Kim Jong Suk, and son, Kim Jong-il Kim Jong-suk and Kim Jong-il.jpg
Kim's first wife, Kim Jŏng Suk, and son, Kim Jong-il

Kim Il-sung married twice. His first wife, Kim Jong-suk (1919–1949), gave birth to two sons before her death in childbirth during the delivery of a stillborn girl. Kim Jong-il was his oldest son. The other son (Kim Man-il, or Shura Kim) of this marriage died in 1947 in a swimming accident. Kim married Kim Sung-ae 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 of the same name), Kim Kyŏng-il and Kim Pyong-il. Kim Pyong-il was prominent in Korean politics until he became ambassador to Hungary. Since 2015 Kim Pyong-il has been ambassador to the Czech Republic. Kim was reported to have other children with women he was not married to. [69] They included Kim Hyŏn-nam (born 1972, head of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Workers' Party since 2002). [70]

On his death in 1994, his eldest son Kim Jong-il succeeded him as supreme leader of North Korea.


An official portrait of Kim Il-sung, issued after his death. Kim Il Sung Portrait-2.jpg
An official portrait of Kim Il-sung, issued after his death.

On 8 July 1994, Kim Il-sung collapsed from a sudden heart attack at the age of 82. After the heart attack, Kim Jong-il ordered the team of doctors who were constantly at his father's side to leave, and arranged for the country's best doctors to be flown in from Pyongyang. After several hours, the doctors from Pyongyang arrived, but despite their efforts to save him, Kim Il-sung died. After the traditional Confucian Mourning period, his death was declared thirty hours later. [71]

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 who were flown into the city from all over North Korea. Kim Il-sung's body was placed in a public mausoleum at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where his preserved and embalmed body lies under a glass coffin for viewing purposes. His head rests on a traditional Korean pillow and he is covered by the flag of the Workers' Party of Korea. Newsreel video of the funeral at Pyongyang was broadcast on several networks, and can now be found on various websites. [72]


A mural of Kim Il-sung giving a speech in Pyongyang Pyongyang Mural.jpg
A mural of Kim Il-sung giving a speech in Pyongyang
The Mansudae Grand Monuments, depicting large bronze statues of Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il. Mansudae Grand Monument 08.JPG
The Mansudae Grand Monuments, depicting large bronze statues of Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il.

There are over 500 statues of Kim Il-sung in North Korea, similar to the many statues and monuments put up by Eastern Bloc leaders to themselves. [73] The most prominent are at Kim Il-sung University, Kim Il-sung Stadium, Mansudae Hill, Kim Il-sung Bridge and the Immortal Statue of Kim Il-sung. Some statues have reportedly been destroyed by explosions or damaged with graffiti by North Korean dissidents. [10] :201 [74] Yŏng Saeng ("eternal life") monuments have been erected throughout the country, each dedicated to the departed "Eternal Leader". [75]

Kim Il-sung's image, especially his posthumous portrait released in 1994, is prominent in places associated with public transportation, which hangs at every North Korean train station and airport. [73] It is also placed prominently at the border crossings between China and North Korea.[ citation needed ] Thousands of gifts to Kim Il-sung from foreign leaders are housed in the International Friendship Exhibition. [76]

Kim Il-sung's birthday, "Day of the Sun", is celebrated every year as a public holiday in North Korea. [77] The associated April Spring Friendship Art Festival gathers hundreds of artists from all over the world. [78]

According to North Korean sources, Kim Il-sung had received 230 foreign orders, medals and titles from 70 countries since the 1940s until, and after, his death. [79] They include: The Soviet Order of the Red Banner and Order of Lenin (twice), [80] [81] Order of the Republic of Indonesia (first class), the Bulgarian Order of Georgi Dimitrov (twice), the Togolese Order of Mono (Grand Cross), the Order of the Yugoslav Star (Great Star), the Cuban Order of José Martí (twice), the East German Order of Karl Marx (twice), Order of the Republic of Malta, the Burkinabe Order of the Gold Star of Nahouri, Order of the Grand Star of Honour of Socialist Ethiopia, the Nicaraguan Augusto Cesar Sandino Order  [ es ], the Vietnamese Gold Star Order, [81] the Czechoslovak Order of Klement Gottwald, [82] the Royal Order of Cambodia (Grand Cross), [83] the Malagasy Grand National Cross (first class), [84] the Mongolian Order of Sukhbaatar, [85] and the Romanian orders of Order of Victory of Socialism  [ nl ] and Order of the Star of the Romanian Socialist Republic (first class with band). [81] [86]


Kim Il-sung was the author of many works. According to North Korean sources these amount to approximately 10,800 speeches, reports, books, treatises and others. [87] Some, such as the 100-volume Complete Collection of Kim Il Sung's Works (김일성전집), are published by the Workers' Party of Korea Publishing House. [88] Shortly before his death, he published an eight volume autobiography With the Century . [36] :26

According to official North Korean sources, Kim Il-sung was the original writer of many plays and operas. [89] One of these, The Flower Girl , a revolutionary theatrical opera, was adapted into a locally produced feature film in 1972. [90] [91] [17] :178

See also

Related Research Articles

History of North Korea Wikimedia history article

The history of North Korea began at the end of World War II in 1945. The surrender of Japan led to the division of Korea at the 38th parallel, with the Soviet Union occupying the north, and the United States occupying the south. The Soviet Union and the United States failed to agree on a way to unify the country, and in 1948 they established two separate governments – the Communist-aligned Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Western-aligned Republic of Korea – each claiming to be the legitimate government of all of Korea.

Politics of North Korea politics of North Korea

The politics of North Korea takes place within the framework of the official state philosophy, Juche, a concept created by Hwang Jang-yop and later attributed to Kim Il-sung. The Juche theory is the belief that through self-reliance and a strong independent state, true socialism can be achieved.

<i>Juche</i> Political thesis formed by Kim Il-sung

Juche is the official state ideology of North Korea, described by the government as "Kim Il-sung's original, brilliant and revolutionary contribution to national and international thought". It postulates that "man is the master of his destiny", that the Korean masses are to act as the "masters of the revolution and construction" and that by becoming self-reliant and strong a nation can achieve true socialism.

Kim Il-sung University first university built in North Korea

Kim Il-sung University, founded on 1 October 1946, is the first university built in North Korea. It is located on a 15-hectare campus in Pyongyang, the nation's capital. Along with the main academic buildings, the campus contains 10 separate offices, 50 laboratories, libraries, museums, a printing press, an R&D centre, dormitories and a hospital. There is a sizeable computer lab, but it has only limited internet access. The university is named in honour of Kim Il-sung, the founder and first leader of North Korea. Courses in both the department of social sciences and the department of natural sciences take five years to complete.

Kim Jong-suk Korean communist activist

Kim Jong-suk was a Korean anti-Japanese guerrilla, a Communist activist, North Korean leader Kim Il-sung’s second wife, former leader Kim Jong-il’s mother, and current leader Kim Jong-un's grandmother.

Choe Yong-gon (army commander) North Korean military person and politician

Choe Yong-gon was the Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army from 1948 to 1950, North Korean defence minister from 1948 to 1957, and the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of North Korea from 1957 to 1972.

Constitution of North Korea Constitution

The Socialist Constitution of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is the constitution of North Korea. It states that the country is socialist and lays out the framework of the national government and the functions of the ruling state party, the Workers' Party of Korea in relation to the Cabinet and Supreme People's Assembly. The constitution is divided into 166 articles, split between three sections.

<i>Songun</i> official ideology in North Korea

Songun is the "military first" policy of North Korea, prioritizing the Korean People's Army in the affairs of state and allocation of resources. "Military first" as a principle guides political and economic life in North Korea, with "military-first politics" dominating the political system; "a line of military-first economic construction" acting as an economic system; and "military-first ideology" serving as the guiding ideology.

Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea

The Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is the highest post in command of the Korean People's Army (KPA), the armed forces of North Korea, and is in charge of one of the largest standing armed forces in the world with around 1.8 million active duty military personnel and military reserves. Constitutionally, the position is attached to the office of Chairman of the State Affairs Commission. According to the constitution of North Korea: "The Chairman of the State Affairs Commission is the supreme commander of the whole armed forces of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and commands and directs all the armed forces of the State."

Communism in Korea

The Communist movement in Korea emerged as a political movement in the early 20th century. Although the movement had a minor role in pre-war politics, the division between the communist North Korea and the anti-communist South Korea came to dominate Korean political life in the post-World War II era. North Korea, officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, continues to be a Juche socialist state under the rule of the Workers' Party of Korea. In South Korea, communism remains illegal through the National Security Law. Due to end of economic aid from Soviet Union after its dissolution in 1991 and impractical ideological application of Stalinist policies in North Korea over years of economic slowdown in 1980s and receding during 1990s, North Korea replaced Communism with Juche ideology in its 1992 and 1998 constitutional revisions for the personality cult of Kim's family dictatorship and opening of North Korean market economy reform, though it still retains a command economy with complete state control of industry and agriculture with collectivized farms and state-funded education and healthcare.

Kim Il-sung Square square in Pyongyang, North Korea

Kim Il-sung Square is a large city square in the Central District of Pyongyang, North Korea, and is named after the country's founding leader, Kim Il-sung. The square was constructed in 1954 according to a master plan for reconstructing the capital after the destruction of the Korean War. It was opened in August 1954. The square is located on the foot of the Namsan Hill, west bank of the Taedong River, directly opposite the Juche Tower on the other side of the river. It is the 37th largest square in the world, having an area of about 75,000 square meters which can accommodate a rally of more than 100,000 people. The square has a great cultural significance, as it is a common gathering place for rallies, dances and military parades and is often featured in media concerning North Korea.

Workers Party of Korea North Korea’s ruling political party

The Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) is the founding and ruling political party of North Korea. It is the largest party represented in the Supreme People's Assembly and coexists de jure with two other legal parties making up the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland. However, these minor parties are completely subservient to the WPK, and must accept the WPK's "leading role" as a condition of their existence.

Korean revolutionary opera

Korean revolutionary opera is a tradition of revolutionary opera in North Korea based on that of China during the Cultural Revolution. It is characterized by a highly melodramatic style and reoccurring themes of Korean nationalism and glorification of Juche, the Kim dynasty, and the working people, as well as a focus on socialist realist themes. Composers of North Korean revolutionary opera are employed by the North Korean government and the fundamental principles of North Korean revolutionary opera were dictated by Kim Jong-Il in his speech On the Art of Opera.

North Korean cult of personality North Koreas cult of personality

The North Korean cult of personality surrounding its ruling family, the Kim family, has existed in North Korea for decades and can be found in many examples of North Korean culture. Although not acknowledged by the North Korean government, many defectors and Western visitors state there are often stiff penalties for those who criticize or do not show "proper" respect for the regime. The personality cult began soon after Kim Il-sung took power in 1948, and was greatly expanded after his death in 1994.

Kim dynasty (North Korea) Brutal dictator family in North Korea

The Kim dynasty, referred to in North Korea as the Mount Paektu Bloodline, is a three-generation lineage of North Korean leadership descended from the country's first leader, Kim Il-sung. In 1948, Kim came to rule the North after the end of Japanese rule in 1945 split the region. He began the Korean War in 1950 in an attempt to reunify the Korean Peninsula. In the 1980s, Kim developed a cult of personality closely tied to their state philosophy of Juche, which was later passed on to his two successors: his son Kim Jong-il and grandson Kim Jong-un.

The History of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) encompasses the period from 1949 onwards.

<i>With the Century</i> book by Kim Il-sung

Reminiscences: With the Century is the autobiography of Kim Il-sung, founder and president of North Korea. The memoirs, written in 1992 and published in eight volumes, retell Kim's life story through his childhood to the time of Korean resistance. Initially, a total of 30 volumes were planned but Kim Il-sung died in 1994 after just six volumes; the seventh and eight volumes were published posthumously. The work reveals early influences of religious and literary ideas on Kim's thinking. An important part of North Korean literature, With the Century is held as a valuable if somewhat unreliable insight into the nation's modern history under late colonial Korea. The book is considered one of a few North Korean primary sources widely available in the West and as notable research material for North Korean studies.

Battle of Pochonbo conflict

The Battle of Pochonbo was an event which occurred in northern Korea on 4 June 1937, when Korean and Chinese guerrillas commanded by Kim Il-sung attacked and defeated a Japanese detachement during the anti-Japanese armed struggle in Korea. The battle holds an important place in North Korean narratives of history.

<i>On the Juche Idea</i> book by Kim Jong-il

On the Juche Idea: Treatise Sent to the National Seminar on the Juche Idea Held to Mark the 70th Birthday of the Great Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung, 31 March 1982 is a treatise attributed to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on the North Korean Juche ideology. It is considered the most authoritative work on Juche.

Propaganda and Agitation Department Department of the Workers Party of Korea

The Propaganda and Agitation Department, officially the Publicity and Information Department, is a department of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) tasked with coordinating the creation and dissemination of propaganda in North Korea. It is the highest propaganda organization in the country.


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Further reading

Political offices
New title Premier of North Korea
Succeeded by
Kim Il
Preceded by
Choi Yong-kun
as President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly
President of North Korea
(Eternal President since 5 September 1998)

Succeeded by
Yang Hyong-sop
as Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Supreme People's Assembly
New title Chairman of the National Defence Commission
Succeeded by
Kim Jong-il
Party political offices
New title Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea
Himself as General Secretary
Chairman of the WPK Organization Bureau
Succeeded by
Pak Yong-bin
Chairman of the WPK Central Military Commission
Title next held by
Kim Jong-il
General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea
Military offices
Preceded by
Choi Yong-kun
Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army
Succeeded by
Kim Jong-il