Kim Jong Il (born 1941) was the eldest son of Kim Il-sung, the founder and leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and his heir apparent. After 1985 he began to take part in North Korean state activities and to acquire honorific titles.
Kim Jong Il (or Kim Chong-il) was the eldest son of North Korea's leader, Kim Il-sung, who founded the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in 1948. Kim Il-sung, while still in command, enjoyed his charisma as the "undisputed" leader of Communist North Korea. He had been general secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) since 1946, and in 1980 his son Jong Il was made one of the party secretaries charged with the day-today operation of the Communist Party. Thus, the first Communist state with a father-son hereditary rule and political succession emerged in North Korea, which increasingly resembled ancient Korea's "Hermit Kingdom."
In order to solidify the position of Kim Il-sung, and also to legitimize the father-son political succession, the cult of personality—which was extended beyond Kim Il-sung to encompass his son Jong Il—was promoted. The North Koreans celebrate the birthday anniversaries of their leaders, perhaps a reflection of Confucian cultural legacy. Kim Ilsung's birthday anniversary has been a national holiday since 1972. Since 1976, the period from February 16, Kim Jong Il's birthday, to April 15, his father's birthday, was designated the "Loyalty Festival Period." When Kim Jong Il's place as the political leader was officially proclaimed during the Sixth WPK Congress in 1980, he became the undisputed de facto leader.
Early Years of the Heir
Kim Jong Il was born on February 16, 1941, in the Soviet Union as the first son of Kim Il-sung and his wife, Kim Jong-suk (who later died). Jong Il's childhood name was Yura (a Russian name). His brother, two years his junior, drowned at the age of two. Kim Jong II attended the Mangyongdae Revolutionary School, which was set up to educate the descendants of Kim Il-sung's comrades in arms during the anti-Japanese guerrilla years and to train future political leaders in North Korea. He briefly attended a primary school in Jilin, China, from 1950 to 1952 during the Korean War. He graduated from Namsan middle-high school in Pyongyang in 1958 and then attended the Air Academy in East Germany from 1960 to 1962. He subsequently transferred to Kim Il-sung University, where he graduated in 1963 with a major in political economy.
In 1964 Kim Jong Il began his career in the WPK Secretariat Organization and Guidance Department under the tutelage of his father and his uncle Kim Yong-ju, who was then in charge of the office. He rapidly climbed up the ladder of party hierarchy. In 1970 Kim Jong Il became director of the Culture and Art Department of the WPK Secretariat. In that capacity he was credited with having directed the production of five major operas, including The Flower Selling Maiden and The Song of Paradise.
Preparation for Succession
By 1973 Kim Jong Il organized and directed the Three Revolutions Team Movement as preparation for his quest to succeed his father in political office. The code word of "Party Center" began to appear in order to keep the identity of Kim Jong Il secret, so that his mystique could be enhanced and perpetuated. Kim junior also acquired such honorific titles as "beloved leader," "leading star," and "the sun of Communist future." His portraits appeared in public buildings and schools, together with his father's. He also initiated a series of "on-the-spot guidance" tours, a technique his father had used frequently as a means of control and inspection.
Advancing his claim for legitimacy, Kim Jong Il was credited with having authored a number of "immortal classics." The first was a treatise entitled "On the Juche Idea" in 1982 to mark his father's 70th birthday. (Juche is the application of nationalism and self-reliance to broad revolutionary principles.) Kim Jong Il published two additional treatises: "The Workers' Party of Korea is a Juche-type Revolutionary Party which Inherited the Glorious Tradition of the DIU (Down-with-Imperialism Union)" on October 17, 1982, and "Let Us Advance Under the Banner of Marxism-Leninism and the Juche Idea" on May 3, 1983. DIU, allegedly formed by his father in 1926 at the age of 14, was claimed by Kim Jong Il to have been "a fresh start of the Korean Communist movement and the Korean revolution." By stating that he wrote the second essay on the occasion of the 165th birthday of Karl Marx and the centenary of his death, Kim Jong Il promoted himself to the ranks of Communism's founding fathers. This hidden agenda item is clearly shown in the introductory statement issued by the promoter of his publications, Pyongyang's Foreign Languages Publishing House, which read:
The dear leader Comrade Kim Jong Il is working denying himself sleep and rest to inherit and complete brilliantly the revolutionary cause of Juche started by the great leader Comrade Kim Il-sung. He is the outstanding thinker and theoretician who has fully mastered the great leader's revolutionary ideas; he is the sagacious leader of our Party and people who is possessed of brilliant wisdom, unusual insight and refined art of leadership; and he is the real leader of the people who has unboundedly lofty virtues.
China played a role in helping promote Kim Jong Il's claim for legitimacy. In June of 1983 Kim Jong Il paid an unofficial, ten-day visit to China, which was followed by an invitation for a second official visit in 1985. The Soviet Union reportedly also extended an invitation for an official visit by Kim Jong Il. These invitations were belated gestures by North Korea's allies to recognize the father-son political succession scheme while still officially disavowing a hereditary system in Communist politics.
Although Kim Jong Il's family life is shrouded in mystery, he is believed to have had two children as of the early 1980s. (This information was inadvertently revealed by Kim Il-sung to a visiting dignitary, the chairman of Japan's Socialist Party, when he told the latter that he had two grandchildren.) Kim Jong Il was to have ascended to the North Korean Presidency after the death of his father, Kim Il-sung, on July 8, 1994. This would have marked the first hereditary transfer of power in a Marxist, communist state. Two months after his father's death, Kim Jong Il still had not been announced as the head of state and had not been seen in public. Rumored reasons for this included a struggle for political control and the observance of a mourning period by Kim. As of mid 1997, Kim Jong Il was still waiting to receive the Presidency.
Further Reading on Kim Jong Il
For accounts of Korea's recent political history, 1945-1983, see: Young Whan Kihl, Politics and Policies in Divided Korea: Regimes in Contest (1984); Young Whan Kihl, "North Korea: A Reevaluation," in Current History (April 1982); and Chong-Sik Lee, "Evolution of the Korean Workers' Party and the Rise of Kim Chong-il," in Asian Survey (May 1982). For information regarding the stalled presidency read "A World Without Kim" in Time (July 18, 1994) and "Kim Jong Il: Now It's His Turn" in Time (July 18, 1994), and Pyon Jin Il "Authenticity of Rumors of Kim Jong Il's Downfall," http://www.smn.co.jp/topics/pyon.html , August 5, 1997.