Kim Jong-il

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Kim Jong-il
Kim Jong il Portrait.jpg
General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea
In office
8 October 1997 – 17 December 2011
Eternal General Secretary since 11 April 2012
Preceded by Kim Il-sung
Succeeded by Kim Jong-un (as First Secretary)
Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea
In office
8 October 1997 – 17 December 2011
Deputy Kim Jong-un
Ri Yong-ho
Preceded by Kim Il-sung
Succeeded by Kim Jong-un
Chairman of the National Defence Commission
In office
9 April 1993 – 17 December 2011
Supreme leader since 9 April 2009
Eternal Chairman since 13 April 2012
Preceded by Kim Il-sung
Succeeded by Kim Jong-un
Deputy to the
7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th Supreme People's Assembly
In office
5 April 1982 – 17 December 2011
Constituency 575th (1990-1998), 666th (1998-2003), 649th (2003-2009), 333rd (2009-2011)
Head of the Organization and Guidance Department of the Workers' Party of Korea
In office
February 1974 – 17 December 2011
Leader Kim Il-sung
Preceded by Kim Yong-ju
Succeeded by Unknown
Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army
In office
24 December 1991 – 17 December 2011
Preceded by Kim Il-sung
Succeeded by Kim Jong-un
Personal details
Born Yuri Irsenovich Kim
(1941-02-16)16 February 1941
Vyatskoye, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union (Soviet records)
(1942-02-16)16 February 1942
Baekdu Mountain, Japanese Korea (North Korean biography)[a]
Died 17 December 2011(2011-12-17) (aged 69–70)
Pyongyang, Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Resting place Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, Pyongyang, Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Political party Workers' Party of Korea
Spouse(s) Kim Young-sook (1974–2011)
Domestic partner Song Hye-rim (1968–2002)
Ko Yong-hui (1977–2004)
Kim Ok (2004–11)
Children Kim Sul-song
Kim Jong-nam
Kim Jong-chul
Kim Jong-un
Kim Yo-jong[1]
Alma mater Mangyongdae Revolutionary School
Kim Il-sung University
Military service
Allegiance  DPR Korea
Service/branch Korean People's Army
Years of service 1991–2011
Rank Generalissimo rank insignia (North Korea).svg Taewonsu (대원수, roughly translated as Grand Marshal or Generalissimo)
Commands Supreme Commander
^ North Korean biographies, which claim his birth date as 16 February 1942, are generally not considered to be factually reliable. See below.
Kim Jong-il
Revised Romanization Gim Jeongil
McCune–Reischauer Kim Chŏngil

Kim Jong-il (Korean pronunciation: [ɡ̊imd͜zɔŋil]; 16 February 1941/1942 – 17 December 2011) was the supreme leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), commonly referred to as North Korea, from 1994 to 2011. By the early 1980s Kim had become the heir apparent for the leadership of the country and assumed important posts in the party and army organs. He succeeded his father and founder of the DPRK, Kim Il-sung, following the elder Kim's death in 1994. Kim Jong-il was the General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), Chairman of the National Defence Commission (NDC) of North Korea, and the Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army (KPA), the fourth-largest standing army in the world. Kim's leadership is thought to have been even more dictatorial than his father's.

During Kim's regime the country suffered from famine, partially due to economic mismanagement, and had a poor human rights record. Kim involved his country in state terrorism and strengthened the role of the military by his Songun, or "military-first", politics. Kim's rule also saw tentative economic reforms, including the opening of the Kaesong Industrial Park in 2003.

In April 2009, North Korea's constitution was amended to officially refer to him (and his later successors) as the "supreme leader of the DPRK".[2] The most common colloquial title given to him during his reign was "The Dear Leader" to distinguish him from his father Kim Il-sung, "The Great Leader". Following Kim's failure to appear at important public events in 2008, foreign observers assumed that Kim had either fallen seriously ill or died. On 19 December 2011, the North Korean government announced that he had died two days earlier,[3] whereupon his third son, Kim Jong-un, was promoted to a senior position in the ruling WPK and succeeded him.[4] After his death, he was designated as the "Eternal General Secretary" of the WPK and the "Eternal Chairman of the National Defence Commission", in keeping with the tradition of establishing eternal posts for the dead members of the Kim dynasty.

Early life


Soviet records show that Kim was born Yuri Irsenovich Kim[5] in the village of Vyatskoye, near Khabarovsk, in 1941,[6] 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. Inside his family, he was nicknamed Yura, while his younger brother Kim Man-il (born Alexander Irsenovich Kim) was nicknamed Shura.

However, Kim Jong-il's official biography states he was born in a secret military camp on Paektu Mountain (Chosŏn'gŭl백두산밀영고향집) in Japanese-occupied Korea on 16 February 1942.[7] According to one comrade of Kim's mother, Lee Min, word of Kim's birth first reached an army camp in Vyatskoye via radio and that both Kim and his mother did not return there until the following year.[8][9]

In 1945, Kim was four years old 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. The family moved into a former Japanese officer's mansion in Pyongyang, with a garden and pool. Kim Jong-il's brother drowned there in 1948.[10]

Reports indicate that his mother died in childbirth in 1949.[11]


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.[12] 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 Korean War.[13]

Throughout his schooling, Kim was involved in politics. He was active in the Children's Union and the Democratic Youth League of North Korea (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 (the chairman had to be a teacher). He pursued a programme of anti-factionalism and attempted to encourage greater ideological education among his classmates.[14]

Kim is also said to have received English language education at the University of Malta in the early 1970s,[15] on his infrequent holidays in Malta as guest of Prime Minister Dom Mintoff.[16]

The elder Kim had meanwhile remarried and had another son, Kim Pyong-il. Since 1988, Kim Pyong-il has served in a series of North Korean embassies in Europe and was 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 two sons.[17]

The 6th Party Congress and heir apparent (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. According to his official biography, the WPK Central Committee had already anointed him successor to Kim Il-sung in February 1974. 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. Prior to 1980, he had no public profile and was referred to only as the "Party Centre".[18]

At this time Kim assumed the title "Dear Leader" (Chosŏn'gŭl친애하는 지도자; MRch'inaehanŭn jidoja)[19] 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 Korean People's Army. Since the Army is the real foundation of power in North Korea, this was a vital step. Defence 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 People's Republic.

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 15 April that same year.

According to defector Hwang Jang-yop, the North Korean government system became even more centralized and autocratic during the 1980s and 1990s under Kim Jong-il than it had been under his father. In one example explained by Hwang, although Kim Il-sung required his ministers to be loyal to him, he nonetheless and frequently sought their advice during decision-making. In contrast, Kim Jong-il demanded absolute obedience and agreement from his ministers and party officials with no advice or compromise, and he viewed any slight deviation from his thinking as a sign of disloyalty. According to Hwang, Kim Jong-il personally directed even minor details of state affairs, such as the size of houses for party secretaries and the delivery of gifts to his subordinates.[20]

Idealized portrait of Kim Jong-il

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.

South Korea accused Kim of ordering the 1983 bombing in Rangoon, Burma 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.[21] 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 personally.[22]

In 1992, Kim Jong-il made his first public speech during a military parade for the KPA's anniversary and said:[23] "Glory to the officers and soldiers of the heroic Korean People's Army!"[24]

He was named Chairman of the National Defence Commission on 9 April 1993,[25] making him day-to-day commander of the armed forces.

Ruler of North Korea

North Koreans bowing to the statues of Kim Jong-il and his father, Kim Il-sung, at the Mansu Hill Grand Monument

On 8 July 1994, Kim il-sung died at the age of 82 from a heart attack. Although Kim Jong-il had been his father's designated successor as early as 1974 and was the undisputed heir apparent since 1991, it took him more than three years to consolidate his power.

He officially took over his father's old post as General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea on 8 October 1997. In 1998, he was reelected as chairman of the National Defence Commission, and a constitutional amendment declared that post to be "the highest post of the state"; most sources outside North Korea reckoned Kim 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 and designated Kim Il-sung as the country's "Eternal President" in order to honor his memory forever. It can be argued, though, that Kim Jong-il became the country's undisputed 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 was 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 relation). Each nominally held powers equivalent to a third of a president's powers in most other presidential systems. Kim Jong-il commanded the armed forces, Choe Yong-rim headed the government and handled domestic affairs and Kim Yong-nam handled foreign relations. In practice, however, Kim Jong-il exercised absolute control over the government and the country. Although not required to stand for popular election to his key offices, he was unanimously elected to the Supreme People's Assembly every five years, representing a military constituency, due to his concurrent capacities as supreme commander of the KPA and chairman of the NDC.[26]

Economic policies

The state-controlled economy of North Korea struggled throughout the 1990s, primarily due to mismanagement. In addition, North Korea experienced severe floods in the mid-1990s, exacerbated by poor land management.[27][28][29] This, compounded with the fact that only 18% of North Korea is arable land[30] and the country's inability to import the goods necessary to sustain industry,[31] led to a severe famine and left North Korea economically devastated. Faced with a country in decay, Kim adopted a "Military-First" policy to strengthen the country and reinforce the regime.[32] On the national scale, a North Korean spokesman has claimed that this has resulted in a positive growth rate for the country since 1996, with the implementation of "landmark socialist-type market economic practices" in 2002 keeping the North afloat despite a continued dependency on foreign aid for food.[33]

In the wake of the devastation of the 1990s, the government began formally approving some activity of small-scale bartering and trade. As observed by Daniel Sneider, associate director for research at the Stanford University Asia-Pacific Research Center, this flirtation with capitalism was "fairly limited, but — especially compared to the past — there are now remarkable markets that create the semblance of a free market system."[34] Disagreements may arise from this statement, though, since the term "free market" simply describes exchange between two entities, while capitalism refers to private ownership of the means of production.

In 2002, Kim Jong-il declared that "money should be capable of measuring the worth of all commodities."[35] These gestures toward economic reform mirror similar actions taken by China's Deng Xiaoping in the late 1980s and early 90s. During a rare visit in 2006, Kim expressed admiration for China's rapid economic progress.[36]

Foreign relations

Kim Jong-il talking with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their 2001 meeting in Moscow.

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.[37] However, by March 2007, the Park contained only 21 companies — employing 12,000 North Korean workers.[38]

Kim Ok, Kim Jong-il's personal secretary, with U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen, 2000

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.[39] 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 United States under President George W. Bush.[40] On 9 October 2006, North Korea's Korean Central News Agency announced that it had successfully conducted an underground nuclear test.

Cult of personality

A North Korean voting booth containing portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il under the national flag. Below the portraits is the ballot box.

Kim Jong-il was the focus of an elaborate personality cult inherited from his father and founder of the DPRK, Kim Il-sung. Kim Jong-il was often the centre of attention throughout ordinary life in the DPRK. On his 60th birthday (based on his official date of birth), mass celebrations occurred throughout the country on the occasion of his Hwangab.[41] In 2010, the North Korean media reported that Kim's distinctive clothing had set worldwide fashion trends.[42]

The prevailing point of view is that the people's adherence to Kim Jong-il's cult of personality was solely out of respect for Kim Il-sung or out of fear of punishment for failure to pay homage.[43] Media and government sources from outside of North Korea generally support this view,[44][45][46][47][48] while North Korean government sources aver it was a genuine hero worship.[49] The song "No Motherland Without You", sung by the KPA State Merited Choir, was created especially for Kim in 1992 and is frequently broadcast on the radio and from loudspeakers on the streets of Pyongyang.[50]

Human rights record

According to a 2004 Human Rights Watch report, the North Korean government under Kim was "among the world's most repressive governments", having up to 200,000 political prisoners according to U.S. and South Korean officials,[51] and no freedom of the press or religion, political opposition or equal education:[52] "Virtually every aspect of political, social, and economic life is controlled by the government."

Kim's government was accused of "crimes against humanity" for its alleged culpability in creating and prolonging the 1990s famine.[28][53][54]

Health and rumors of waning power

2008 reports

In an August 2008 issue of the Japanese newsweekly Shūkan Gendai, Waseda University professor Toshimitsu Shigemura, an authority on the Korean Peninsula,[55] 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.[56] In a subsequent best-selling book, The True Character of Kim Jong-il, Shigemura cited apparently unnamed 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."[57]

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, United States intelligence agencies believed Kim might be "gravely ill" after having suffered a stroke. He had last been seen in public a month earlier.[58]

A former CIA official said earlier reports of a health crisis were likely 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 United States 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 Nyongbyon 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." By 10 September, there were conflicting reports. Unidentified South Korean government officials said Kim had undergone surgery after suffering a minor stroke and had apparently "intended to attend 9 September event in the afternoon but decided not to because of the aftermath of the surgery." High-ranking North Korean official Kim Yong-nam said, "While we wanted to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the country with general secretary Kim Jong-Il, we celebrated on our own." Song Il-Ho, North Korea's ambassador said, "We see such reports as not only worthless, but rather as a conspiracy plot." Seoul's Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that "the South Korean embassy in Beijing had received an intelligence report that Kim collapsed on 22 August."[59] The New York Times reported on 9 September that Kim was "very ill and most likely suffered a stroke a few weeks ago, but United States intelligence authorities do not think his death is imminent."[60] The BBC noted that the North Korean government denied these reports, stating that Kim's health problems were "not serious enough to threaten his life",[61][62] although they did confirm that he had suffered a stroke on 15 August.[63]

Kim Jong-il at a meeting during his visit with Dmitry Medvedev in 2011

Japan's Kyodo News agency reported on 14 September, that "Kim collapsed on 14 August due to stroke or a cerebral hemorrhage, and that Beijing dispatched five military doctors at the request of Pyongyang. Kim will require a long period of rest and rehabilitation before he fully recovers and has complete command of his limbs again, as with typical stroke victims." Japan's Mainichi Shimbun claimed Kim had occasionally lost consciousness since April.[64] Japan's Tokyo Shimbun on 15 September, added that Kim was staying at the Bongwha State Guest House. He was apparently conscious "but he needs some time to recuperate from the recent stroke, with some parts of his hands and feet paralyzed". It cited Chinese sources which claimed that one cause for the stroke could have been stress brought about by the United States delay to remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.[65]

On 19 October, North Korea reportedly ordered its diplomats to stay near their embassies to await "an important message", according to Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun, setting off renewed speculation about the health of the ailing leader.

By 29 October 2008, reports stated Kim suffered a serious setback and had been taken back to hospital.[66] The New York Times reported that Taro Aso, on 28 October 2008, stated in a parliamentary session that Kim had been hospitalized: "His condition is not so good. However, I don't think he is totally incapable of making decisions." Aso further said a French neurosurgeon was aboard a plane for Beijing, en route to North Korea. Further, Kim Sung-ho, director of South Korea's National Intelligence Service, told lawmakers in a closed parliamentary session in Seoul that "Kim appeared to be recovering quickly enough to start performing his daily duties."[67] The Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported "a serious problem" with Kim's health. Japan's Fuji Television network reported that Kim's eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, traveled to Paris to hire a neurosurgeon for his father, and showed footage where the surgeon boarded flight CA121 bound for Pyongyang from Beijing on 24 October. The French weekly Le Point identified him as Francois-Xavier Roux, neurosurgery director of Paris' Sainte-Anne Hospital, but Roux himself stated he was in Beijing for several days and not North Korea.[68] On 19 December 2011 Roux confirmed that Kim suffered a debilitating stroke in 2008 and was treated by himself and other French doctors at Pyongyang's Red Cross Hospital. Roux said Kim suffered few lasting effects.[69]

On 5 November 2008, the North's Korean Central News Agency published 2 photos showing Kim posing with dozens of Korean People's Army (KPA) soldiers on a visit to military Unit 2200 and sub-unit of Unit 534. Shown with his usual bouffant hairstyle, with his trademark sunglasses and a white winter parka, Kim stood in front of trees with autumn foliage and a red-and-white banner.[70][71][72][73] The Times questioned the authenticity of at least one of these photos.[74]

In November 2008, Japan's TBS TV network reported that Kim had suffered a second stroke in October, which "affected the movement of his left arm and leg and also his ability to speak."[75][76] However, South Korea's intelligence agency rejected this report.[76]

In response to the rumors regarding Kim's health and supposed loss of power, in April 2009, North Korea released a video showing Kim visiting factories and other places around the country between November and December 2008.[77] In 2010, documents released by WikiLeaks purportedly attested that Kim suffered from epilepsy.[78]

According to The Daily Telegraph, Kim was a chain-smoker.[79]

Portraits of Kim Jong-il and his father in the Grand People's Study House in Pyongyang.


Kim's three sons and his brother-in-law, along with O Kuk-ryol, an army general, had been noted as possible successors, but the North Korean government had for a time been wholly silent on this matter.[80]

Kim Yong Hyun, a political expert at the Institute for North Korean Studies at Seoul's Dongguk University, said in 2007, "Even the North Korean establishment would not advocate a continuation of the family dynasty at this point."[81] 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 where he was caught attempting to enter Japan on a fake passport to visit Tokyo Disneyland.[82]

On 2 June 2009, it was reported that Kim Jong-il's youngest son, Kim Jong-un, was to be North Korea's next leader.[83] Like his father and grandfather, he has also been given an official sobriquet, The Brilliant Comrade.[84] Prior to his death, it had been reported that Kim Jong-il was expected to officially designate the son as his successor in 2012.

Re-election as leader

On 9 April 2009, Kim was re-elected as chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission,[85] 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.[86]

On 28 September 2010, Kim was re-elected as General secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea.

2010 and 2011 foreign visits

Kim reportedly visited the People's Republic of China in May 2010. He entered the country via his personal train on 3 May, and stayed in a hotel in Dalian.[87] In May 2010, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell told South Korean officials that Kim had only three years to live.[88] Kim travelled to China again in August 2010, this time with his son, fueling speculation that he is ready to hand over power to his son, Kim Jong-un.[89]

He returned to China again in May 2011, marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance between China and the DPRK.[90] In late August 2011, he traveled by train to the Russian Far East to meet with President Dmitry Medvedev for unspecified talks.[91]

Late 2011

There were speculations that the visit of Kim Jong-il abroad in 2010 and 2011 were a sign of his improving health, and a possible slowdown in succession might follow. After the visit to Russia, Kim Jong-il appeared in a military parade in Pyongyang on 9 September, accompanied by Kim Jong-un.[92]

Personal life


Kim Jong-il and his father Kim Il-sung

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.[93] He had three known sons: Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-chul, Kim Jong-un. His two known daughters are Kim Sul-song and Kim Yo-jong.[1][94]

Kim's first mistress, Song Hye-rim, was a star of North Korean films. She was already married to another man and with a child when they met;[95] Kim is reported to have forced her husband to divorce her. This relationship, started in 1970, was not officially recognized. They had one son, Kim Jong-nam (born 1971) who is Kim Jong-il's eldest son. Kim kept both the relationship and the child a secret (even from his father Kim Il-sung) until Kim ascended to power in 1994.[95][96] However, after years of estrangement, Song is believed to have died in Moscow in the Central Clinical Hospital in 2002.[97]

Kim's official wife, Kim Young-sook, was the daughter of a high-ranking military official. His father Kim Il-Sung handpicked her to marry his son.[93] The two were estranged for some years before Kim's death. Kim had a daughter from this marriage, Kim Sul-song (born 1974).[94]

His second mistress, Ko Yong-hui, was a Japanese-born ethnic Korean and a dancer. She had taken over the role of First Lady until her death — reportedly of cancer — in 2004. They had two sons, Kim Jong-chul, in 1981, and Kim Jong-un (also "Jong Woon" or "Jong Woong"), in 1983.[96][98] They also had a daughter, Kim Yo-jong, who was about 23 years old in 2012.[1][99]

After Ko's death, Kim lived with Kim Ok, his third mistress, who had served as his personal secretary since the 1980s. She "virtually acts as North Korea's first lady" and frequently accompanied Kim on his visits to military bases and in meetings with visiting foreign dignitaries. She traveled with Kim Jong-il on a secretive trip to China in January 2006, where she was received by Chinese officials as Kim's wife.[100]

According to Michael Breen, author of the book "Kim Jong Il: North Korea's Dear Leader," the women intimately linked to Kim never acquired any power or influence of consequence. As he explains, their roles were limited to that of romance and domesticity.[101]

He had a younger sister, Kim Kyong-hui.[102]


Kim Jong-il in 2000

Like his father, Kim had a fear of flying[103] and always traveled by private armored train for state visits to Russia and China.[104] The BBC reported that Konstantin Pulikovsky, a Russian emissary who traveled with Kim across Russia by train, told reporters that Kim had live lobsters air-lifted to the train every day.[105]

Kim was said to be a huge film fan, owning a collection of more than 20,000 video tapes and DVDs.[106][107] His reported favourite movie franchises included James Bond, Friday the 13th, Rambo, Godzilla and Hong Kong action cinema,[108][109] with Sean Connery and Elizabeth Taylor his favourite male and female actors.[108][110] He authored On the Art of the Cinema. In 1978, on Kim's orders, South Korean film director Shin Sang-ok and his actress wife Choi Eun-hee were kidnapped in order to build a North Korean film industry.[111] In 2006 he was involved in the production of the Juche-based movie The Schoolgirl's Diary, which depicted the life of a young girl whose parents are scientists, with a KCNA news report stating that Kim "improved its script and guided its production".[112] The first Western film to be publicly screened in North Korea was Bend It Like Beckham, watched in edited form by 12,000 people at the 2004 Pyongyang Film Festival.[108]

In a 2011 news story, The Sun reported "Kim Jong-il was obsessed with Elvis Presley. His mansion was crammed with his idol's records and his collection of 20,000 Hollywood movies included Presley's titles — along with Rambo and Godzilla. He even copied the King's Vegas-era look of giant shades, jumpsuits and bouffant hairstyle. It was reported in 2003 that Kim Jong-il had a huge porn film collection."[113]

Although Kim enjoyed many foreign forms of entertainment, according to former bodyguard Lee Young Kuk, he refused to consume any food or drink not produced in North Korea, with the exception of wine from France.[114] His former chef Kenji Fujimoto, however, has stated that Kim sometimes sent him around the world to purchase a variety of foreign delicacies.[115]

Kim reportedly enjoyed basketball. Former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright ended her summit with Kim by presenting him with a basketball signed by NBA legend Michael Jordan.[116] His official biography also claims that Kim composed six operas and enjoys staging elaborate musicals.[117] Kim referred to himself as an Internet expert.[118]

Kim Jong-il and his father Kim Il-sung

United States Special Envoy for the Korean Peace Talks, Charles Kartman, who was involved in the 2000 Madeleine Albright summit with Kim, characterised Kim as a reasonable man in negotiations, to the point, but with a sense of humor and personally attentive to the people he was hosting.[119] However, psychological evaluations conclude that Kim Jong-il's antisocial features, such as his fearlessness in the face of sanctions and punishment, served to make negotiations extraordinarily difficult.[120]

The field of psychology has long been fascinated with the personality assessment of dictators, a notion that resulted in an extensive personality evaluation of Kim Jong-il. The report, compiled by Frederick L. Coolidge and Daniel L. Segal (with the assistance of a South Korean psychiatrist considered an expert on Kim Jong-il's behavior), concluded that the "big six" group of personality disorders shared by dictators Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Saddam Hussein (sadistic, paranoid, antisocial, narcissistic, schizoid and schizotypal) were also shared by Kim Jong-il — coinciding primarily with the profile of Saddam Hussein.[120]

Kim Jong-il in 2010

The evaluation found Kim Jong-il appeared to pride himself on North Korea's independence, despite the extreme hardships it appears to place on the North Korean people — an attribute appearing to emanate from his antisocial personality pattern.[120] This notion also encourages other cognitive issues, such as self-deception, as subsidiary components to Kim Jong-il's personality.

Defectors claimed that Kim had 17 different palaces and residences all over North Korea, including a private resort near Baekdu Mountain, a seaside lodge in the city of Wonsan, and Ryongsong Residence, a palace complex northeast of Pyongyang surrounded with multiple fence lines, bunkers and anti-aircraft batteries.[121]


According to the Sunday Telegraph, Kim had US$4 billion on deposit in European banks in case he ever needed to flee North Korea. The Sunday Telegraph reported that most of the money was in banks in Luxembourg.[122]


It was reported that Kim Jong-il had died of a suspected heart attack on 17 December 2011 at 8:30 a.m. while traveling by train to an area outside Pyongyang.[3][123] It was reported in December 2012, however, that he had died "in a fit of rage" over construction faults at a crucial power plant project at Huichon in Jagang Province.[124] He was succeeded by his youngest son Kim Jong-un, who was hailed by the Korean Central News Agency as the "Great Successor".[125][126][127][128] According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), during his death a fierce snowstorm paused and the sky glowed red above the sacred Mount Paektu. The ice on a famous lake also cracked so loud that it seemed to shake the Heavens and the Earth.[129]

Kim Jong-il's funeral took place on 28 December in Pyongyang, with a mourning period lasting until the following day. South Korea's military was immediately put on alert after the announcement and its National Security Council convened for an emergency meeting, out of concern that political jockeying in North Korea could destabilise the region. Asian stock markets fell soon after the announcement, due to similar concerns.[3]

On 12 January 2012, North Korea called Kim Jong-il the "eternal leader" and announced that his body will be preserved and displayed at Pyongyang's Kumsusan Memorial Palace. Officials will also install statues, portraits, and "towers to his immortality" across the country.[130][131] His birthday of 16 February has been declared "the greatest auspicious holiday of the nation", and has been named the Day of the Shining Star.[132]

In February 2012, on what would have been his 71st birthday, Kim Jong-il was posthumously made Dae Wonsu (usually translated as Generalissimo, literally Grand Marshal), the nation's top military rank. He had been named Wonsu (Marshal) in 1992 when North Korean founder Kim Il-sung was promoted to Dae Wonsu.[133] Also in February 2012, the North Korean government created the Order of Kim Jong-il in his honor and awarded it to 132 individuals for services in building a "thriving socialist nation" and for increasing defense capabilities.[134]

Official titles

Equestrian statues of younger versions of Kim Jong-il (right) and Kim Il-sung, Pyongyang
  • Party Center of the WPK and Member, Central Committee of the WPK (1970s)
  • Dear Leader (Chinaehaneun Jidoja) (late 1970s–1994)
  • Member, Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of the DPRK
  • Secretary, Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (1974–1997)
  • Presidium Member of the Politburo, WPK Central Committee (1980–2011)
  • Supreme Commander, Korean People's Army (25 December 1991 – 17 December 2011)
  • Marshal of the DPRK (1993–2011)
  • Chairman, National Defence Commission of North Korea (1993–2011)
  • Great Leader (Widehan Ryongdoja) (July 1994 – December 2011)
  • General Secretary, Workers' Party of Korea (October 1997 – December 2011)
  • Chairman, Central Military Commission (DPRK) (October 1997 – December 2011)
  • Eternal Leader (posthumous) (January 2012  – present)
  • Generalissimo of the DPRK (posthumous) (January 2012  – present)
  • Eternal General Secretary, Worker's Party of Korea (posthumous) (11 April 2012  – present)
  • Eternal Chairman of the National Defence Commission (posthumous) (13 April 2012  – present)

Published works

See also


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Further reading

  • Becker, Jasper (2006). Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea. USA: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-530891-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • History of Revolutionary Activities of Chairman Kim Jong Il (PDF). Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House. 2015. ISBN 978-9946-0-1309-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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External links

Party political offices
Preceded by
Kim Yong-ju
Head of the Organization and Guidance Department
Succeeded by
Unknown, vacant
Title last held by
Kim Il-sung
General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea
(Eternal general secretary since 11 April 2012)

Succeeded by
Kim Jong-un
as First Secretary
Chairman of the WPK Central Military Commission
Succeeded by
Kim Jong-un
Political offices
Preceded by
First Vice Chairman of the National Defence Commission
Succeeded by
O Chin-u
Preceded by
Kim Il-sung
Chairman of the National Defence Commission
(Eternal chairman since 13 April 2012)

Succeeded by
Kim Jong-un
as First chairman
Military offices
Preceded by
Kim Il-sung
Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army
Succeeded by
Kim Jong-un