Korean Peninsula A to Z

North Korean leader

Kim Jong-il

Kim Jong-il (1942 ~ 2011)

A young Kim Jong-il and his mother, Kim Jung-sook(middle)

Kim Jong-il was born on February 16, 1942 to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jung-sook in Khabarovsk, Russia. (North Koreans claim that he was born in a military hideout in Mt. Baekdu of Yang-gang Province’s Samjiyon County). Currently the most powerful man in North Korea, he has held office as the General Secretary of the KWP, Chairman of the NDC, Commander-in-chief of the KPA, Head of the Republic, member of the KWP Central Committee and the SPA, Cadre of the KWP Central Committee’s Political Bureau, etc.

Designated as his father’s successor as early as the mid 1970s, he began his apprenticeship by taking office in key positions such as Secretary of the KWP Central Committee and member of the KWP Central Committee’s Political Bureau. In 1990, he became the de facto no.2 man in power by being appointed as the 1st Division Chief of the NDC, while in 1991, he took office as Commander-in-chief of the KPA. The preparatory process for Kim Jong-il’s succession to power was completed when he became the Chairman of the NDC in 1993. He overcame the crisis following Kim Il-sung’s death through the three-year ‘bequest rule’ period initiated in 1994. Upon his taking office in 1997 as the Secretary General of the KWP, the ‘Kim Jong-il Era’ was in full effect. Kim Jong-il is known to have a love for the arts, especially cinema.

He has a lively character and is very eloquent in speech. He has utilized the ‘military first’ slogan to mobilize the military in creating a firm political base. Although Kim Jong-il is noted for having introduced market-based elements into the ailing economy, whether this measure will be a success is uncertain. The lack of capital and infrastructure is combining with the chronic famine problem to bog down the North’s overall economy.

Chronology (1942 ~ 2001)

Chronology (1942 ~ 2001)
1942 Born in Khabarovsk, Russia (North Korea officially claims he was born in a military hideout in Mt. Baekdu, Yang-gang Province)
1949 Death of Kim Jung-sook (Kim Jong-il’s mother)
1950~1952 Chillin School, China (North Korea officially claims that he took refuge in Mt. Jangja, Jagang Province during the Korean War)
1953~1954 Samsuk People’s School and 4th Pyongyang People’s School
1954~1957 1st Primary Middle-school of Pyongyang (Chairman of the Youth Club)
1957~1960 Namsan Advanced Middle-school of Pyongyang (Chairman of the People’s Youth Council)
1960~1964 Department of Political Economy, Economics College of Kim Il-sung University
1961 Joins the KWP
1964 Director of the KWP Central Committee’s Organizational Bureau
1966 Supervising Director of the KWP Central Committee’s Organizational Bureau
1967 Section Leader of the KWP Central Committee’s Arts and Culture Bureau
1970 Vice-Chief of the KWP Central Committee’s Propaganda and Agitation Bureau
1973 Chief of the KWP Central Committee’s Propaganda and Agitation Bureau
1973 Secretary (organizational and propaganda bureau) of the KPW Central Committee
1974 Member of the KPW Central Committee’s Political Bureau (designated as Kim Il-sung’s heir apparent)
1975 Receives ‘Hero of the Republic’ title
1980 Cadre of the KWP Central Committee’s Political Bureau, Secretary of the KWP Central Committee, Member of the KWP Military Committee
1990 1st Division Chief of the NDC
1991 Commander-in-chief of the KPA (19th Full Congress of the 6th KWP Central Committee
1992 Head of State
1993 Elected as Chairman of the NDC (5th Meeting of the 9th SPA)
1997 Elected as General Secretary of the KWP (Joint appointment on Oct. 8 by the KWP Central Committee and Military Committee)
1998 Re-elected as Chairman of the NDC
2000 Re-elected as Chairman of the NDC
Unofficial visit to China (May 29~31)
Summit talks with ROK President Kim Dae-jung (June 13~15)
Summit talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin (July)
Meets U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright (October)
2001 Unofficial visit to China (Jan. 15~20)
2001 On-site inspection of Shineuiju facilities (Jan.21~23)
2001 Visit to Russia (July)

Disagreements on Kim Jong-il’s Birth

There are largely three different versions of the circumstances of Kim Jong-il’s birth. Different versions of the story have become problematic in connection with the justification of his ascension to power. Because the whole of modern Korean history had been revised in North Korea to the end of justifying Kim Il-sung’s one-man rule, and as the ‘Juche’ ideology was elaborated on to imply a ‘lineage’ with the purpose of preparing for Kim Jong-il’s ascension to power, a suitable story concerning his birth had to fit in with the given context. The official North Korea claim is that Kim Jong-il was born in a military hideout in Mt. Baekdu, which has now become a site of pilgrimage for all (especially young) North Koreans.

However, the dominant view is that his actual place of birth was Viatsk - a town 60km away from Khabarovsk, the site of the headquarters of the 88th Special Brigade of the Soviet Far-East Command’s Reconnaissance Bureau. A third story claims that he was born in a Soviet hospital in the Harmataans, a region located 500km south of Viatsk and in the middle of Vladivostok and Bolosilov. The entire debate really arose from the necessity to give Kim Jong-il a ‘heroic’ place of birth amid the extraordinary exploits of his father during the anti-Japanese resistance.

Early Years

Although Kim Jong-il enjoyed affluence since birth as the son and heir to what may rightfully be called a kingdom, he did suffer the tragic loss of his younger brother and his mother in 1948 and 1949. The Korean War forced Kim to move from school to school during his primary education. In 1960, Kim graduated from the Namsan Advanced Middle-school, mostly attended by children of the most powerful figures in North Korea.

As a student in the Namsan School, he accompanied his father to Moscow to visit the 21st Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in January 1959. Kim Jong-il apparently had developed a deep interest in politics by then, as well as aspirations to rise to power in the future. He devoted much of his time to ‘serving’ his father and also enjoyed being briefed by his father’s attendants. According to those who have met him personally (such as former KWP Secretary Hwang Jang-yup), he was a bright and curious child.

The Apprenticeship

Kim Jong-il is appointed as cadre of the Politburo in a 1980 Congress of the KWP Central Committee

Directly following his 1964 graduation from the Department of Political Economy at Kim Il-sung University, Kim Jong-il began gaining political experience by participating in KWP Central Committee projects as a Director of the Organizational Bureau. Promoted every two years, in 1967 he was appointed Section Leader of the Propaganda and Agitation Bureau, of which he was made Vice-Chief in 1969. In 1971, he became Chief of the Arts and Culture Bureau, while in 1973, he was elected both Secretary of Organization and Propaganda and Chief of the Organizational Bureau (September, closed-door meeting of KWP Central Committee). It was around this time that he emerged as Kim Il-sung’s heir apparent.

At the February 1974 8th Full Congress of the 5th KWP Central Committee, he was appointed as a member of the Central Committee’s Political Bureau (Politburo), and oversaw actions to “have the Dear Commander Kim Jong-il succeed the Great Chairman”. After this day, Kim Jong-il was never addressed by his name but as the ‘Center of the Party’. In February 1975, the 10th Full Congress of the 5th KWP Central Committee unanimously conferred upon him the title ‘Dear Commander’. Kim Jong-il’s position as heir apparent had been thus solidified.

In North Korea regime, power stemmed from the Party. In particular, organization and propaganda formed the core of Party activity. Kim Jong-il had prepared for his ascent to power through taking office in sectors dealing with these very tasks as well as working as a member of the Political Bureau, another core of power within the KWP. It can therefore be said that Kim Jong-il’s ascension to power was some two decades in the making.