Kim il sung

Kim Il-sung (born Kim Sŏng-ju, April 15, 1912 – July 8, 1994), also romanised as Kim Il-Sung, Kim Il sung, or Kim Il Sung, was a dictator in North Korea from it establishment in 1948 until his death in 1994. He was Kim Jong-il's father and caused many human rights violations. Il-sung was generally thought to be worse than his son.

After Il-sung died, he was succeeded by Jong-il, who later died in December 2011 and was succeeded by Kim Jong-un.


Early lifeEdit

Many of the early records of his life come from his own personal accounts and official North Korean government publications, which often conflict with external sources. Nevertheless, there is some consensus on at least the basic story of his early life, corroborated by witnesses from the period.

Il-sung was born to Kim Hyŏng-jik and Kang Pan-sŏk, who gave him the name Kim Sŏng-ju; he had two younger brothers named Ch’ŏl-chu and Yŏng-ju.

The exact history of Il-sung's family is somewhat obscure. According to Il-sung himself, the family was neither very poor nor comfortably well-off, but it was always a step away from poverty. Il-sung claims 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. According to the official version, Il-sung's family participated in anti-Japanese activities and in 1920, they fled to Manchuria. Another view seems to be that his family settled in Manchuria like many Koreans at the time to escape famine. Nonetheless, Il-sung's parents apparently did play a minor role in some activist groups, though whether their cause was missionary, nationalist, or both is unclear.

Communist and guerrilla activitiesEdit

There is much controversy about Il-sung's political career before the founding of North Korea, with some sources claiming he was an imposter. Several sources indicate that the Kim Il-sung name had previously been used by a prominent early leader of the Korean resistance. Grigory Mekler, who claims to have prepared Il-sung to lead North Korea, says that Il-sung assumed this name while in the Soviet Union in the early 1940s from a former commander who had died. According to Leonid Vassin, an officer with the Soviet MVD, Il-sung was essentially "created from zero." For one, his Korean was marginal at best; he'd only had eight years of formal education, all of it in Chinese. He needed considerable coaching to read a speech the MVD prepared for him at a Communist Party congress three days after he arrived. However, historian Andrei Lankov has stated that the claim that the name Kim Il-sung was switched with the name of the "original" Kim is unlikely to be true. Several witnesses knew Il-sung 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. Historian Bruce Cumings argues that the assertion Kim was an imposter parallels the North's propaganda that he singlehandedly defeated the Japanese. The official version of Il-sung's guerrilla life is believed to be heavily embellished as a part of the subsequent personality cult, particularly his portrayal as a boy-conspirator who joined the resistance at 14 and had founded a battle-ready army at 19.

The following details of his career are therefore disputed.

In October 1926, Il-sung founded the Down-With-Imperialism Union. He attended Whasung Military Academy in 1926, but when later finding the academy's training methods outdated, he quit in 1927. From that time, he attended Yuwen Middle School in Jilin up to 1930, where he rejected the feudal traditions of older generation Koreans and became interested in Communist ideologies; his formal education ended when he was arrested and jailed for his subversive activities. At 17, Il-sung 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 was formed in 1929, and jailed Kim for several months.

In 1931, Il-sung joined the Communist Party of China and he also joined various anti-Japanese guerrilla groups in northern China, and in 1935, he became a member of the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army, a guerrilla group led by the Communist Party of China. Il-sung was appointed the same year to serve as political commissar for the 3rd detachment of the second division, around 160 soldiers. It was here that Il-sung met the man who would become his mentor as a Communist, Wei Zhengmin, Il-sung's immediate superior officer, who was serving 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 March 8, 1941.

In 1935, he took the name Kim Il-sung, meaning "become the sun." He 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." It was while he was in command of this division that he executed a raid on Poch'onbo, on June 4. Although Il-sung's division only captured a small Japanese-held town just across the Korean border for a few hours, it was nonetheless considered a military success at this time, when the guerrilla units had experienced difficulty in capturing any enemy territory. This accomplishment would grant Il-sung some measure of fame among Chinese guerrillas, and North Korean biographies would later exploit it as a great victory for Korea. Il-sung 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, Il-sung and what remained of his army escaped by crossing the Amur River into the Soviet Union. He was sent to a camp near Khabarovsk, where the Korean Communist guerrillas were retrained by the Soviets. Il-sung became a Major in the Soviet Red Army and served in it until the end of World War II.

Return to KoreaEdit

When the Soviet Union declared war on Japan in August 1945, it fully expected a long, drawn-out conflict. However, much to Stalin's surprise, the Red Army entered Pyongyang with almost no resistance on August 15. Stalin realized he needed someone to head a new government so he asked Lavrenty Beria to recommend possible candidates. Beria met Il-sung several times before recommending him to Stalin.

Il-sung arrived in Korea on August 22 after 8 years in exile. In September, the Soviets installed Il-sung as head of the Provisional People's Committee. He was not, at this time, the head of the Communist Party, whose headquarters were in Seoul in the US-occupied south. During his early years as leader, he assumed a position of influence largely due to the backing of the Korean population which was supportive of his fight against Japanese occupation.

One of Il-sung's accomplishments was his establishment of a professional army, the Korean People's Army (KPA), aligned with the Communists and formed from a cadre of guerrillas and former soldiers who had gained combat experience in battles against the Japanese and later against Nationalist Chinese troops. From their ranks, using Soviet advisers and equipment, Il-sung constructed a large army skilled in infiltration tactics and in guerrilla warfare. Prior to the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, Joseph Stalin equipped the KPA with modern heavy tanks, trucks, artillery, and small arms. Il-sung also formed an air force, equipped at first with ex-Soviet propeller-driven fighter 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.

Prime Minister of North KoreaEdit

Although original plans called for all-Korean elections sponsored by the United Nations, in May 1948, the South declared statehood as the Republic of Korea, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was proclaimed on September 9, with Il-sung as premier. On October 12, the Soviet Union recognized Il-sung's government as the only lawful government on the peninsula. The Communist Party merged with the New People's Party to form the Workers Party of North Korea (of which Il-sung was vice-chairman). In 1949, the Workers Party of North Korea merged with its southern counterpart to become the Workers Party of Korea (WPK) with Il-sung as party chairman.

By 1949, the communists had consolidated their authority in North Korea. All parties and mass organizations were members of the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland, a popular front but one which the Workers Party predominated. Around this time, the first statues of Il-sung appeared, and he began calling himself "Great Leader."

Korean WarEdit

Archival material suggests that North Korea's decision to invade South Korea was Il-sung'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.

The People's Republic of China acquiesced only reluctantly to the idea of Korean reunification after being told by Il-sung that Stalin had approved the action. The Chinese didn't 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 which was called the Pusan Perimeter. But in September, the North Koreans were driven back by the US-led counterattack which started with the UN landing in Incheon, followed by a combined South Korean-US-UN offensive from the Pusan Perimeter. North Korean history emphasizes that the United States had previously invaded and occupied the South, allegedly with the intention to push further north and into the Asian continent. Based on these assumptions, it portrays the KPA invasion of the South as a counter-attack. By October, UN forces had retaken Seoul and invaded the North to reunify the country under the South. On October 19, US and South Korean troops captured P'yŏngyang, forcing Il-sung and his government to flee north, first to Sinuiju, and eventually into China.

On October 25, 1950, after sending various warnings of their intent to intervene if UN forces did not halt their advance, Chinese troops in the thousands crossed the Yalu River and entered the war as allies of the KPA. There were nevertheless tensions between Il-sung and the Chinese government. Il-sung 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. 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 which lasted from the summer of 1951 to July 1953, the front was stabilized along what eventually became the permanent "Armistice Line" of July 27, 1953. By the time of the armistice, around 2,000,000 Koreans on both sides had died in the conflict.

Chinese and Russian documents from that time reveal that while Il-sung 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. Il-sung 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 Peoples Army being mostly restricted to the coastal flanks of the front.

Leader of North KoreaEdit

Prime MinisterEdit

Il-sung on a 1956 visit to East Germany, chatting with painter Otto Nagel and Prime Minister Otto Grotewohl

Restored as the leader of North Korea, Il-sung returned to the country after war's end and immediately embarked on a large reconstruction effort for the country devastated by the war. He launched a 5-year national economic plan to establish a command economy, with all industry owned by the state and all agriculture collectivized. The nation was founded on egalitarian principles intent on eliminating class differences and the economy was based upon the needs of workers and peasants. 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, although no foreign troops were permanently stationed in North Korea. All Chinese troops that fought alongside the North Korean army during the war were removed from North Korea by 1957.

Il-sung's hold on power was rather shaky. To strengthen it, he claimed that the United States deliberately spread diseases among the North Korean population. While Moscow and Beijing later determined that these charges were false, they continued to help spread this rumor for many years to come. He also conducted North Korea's first large-scale purges in part to scare the people into accepting this false account. Unlike Stalin's Great Purge, these took place without even the formalities of a trial. Victims often simply disappeared into the growing network of prison camps.

During the late 1950s, Il-sung was seen as an orthodox Communist leader, and an enthusiastic satellite of the Soviet Union. His speeches were liberally sprinkled with praises to Stalin. However, he sided with China during the Sino-Soviet split, opposing the reforms brought by Nikita Khrushchev, whom he believed was acting in opposition to Communism. He distanced himself from the Soviet Union, removing mention of his Red Army career from official North Korean history, and began reforming the country to his own radical Stalinist tastes. Il-sung was seen by many in North Korea, and in some parts elsewhere in the world, as an influential anti-revisionist leader in the communist movement. In 1956, anti-Kim elements encouraged by de-Stalinization in the Soviet Union emerged within the Party to criticize Kim and demand reforms. After a period of vacillation, Il-sung instituted a purge, executing some who had been found guilty of treason and forcing the rest into exile.

By the 1960s, Il-sung's relationship with the great Communist powers in the region had become difficult. Despite his opposition to de-Stalinization, Il-sung never severed his relations with the Soviets. He found the Chinese unreliable allies due to the unstable state of affairs under Mao, leaving the DPRK somewhere in between the two sides. The Cultural Revolution in China, however, prompted Il-sung to side with the Soviets, the decision reinforced by the policies of Leonid Brezhnev. This infuriated Mao and the anti-Soviet Red Guards. As a result, the PRC immediately denounced Il-sung's leadership, produced anti-Kim propaganda, and subsequently began reconciliation with the United States.

President of North KoreaEdit

At the same time, Il-sung 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 Il-sung. However, Il-sung and Albania's Enver Hoxha (another independent-minded Stalinist) would remain fierce enemies and relations between North Korea and Albania would remain cold and tense up until Hoxha's death in 1985. At the same time, Il-sung was establishing an extensive personality cult. North Koreans were taught that Il-sung was the "Sun of the Nation" and could do no wrong. Il-sung developed the policy and ideology of Juche (self-reliance 주체 사상) rather than having North Korea become a Soviet satellite state.

In the mid-1960s, Il-sung became impressed with the efforts of North Vietnam's Hồ Chí Minh to reunify Vietnam through guerilla warfare and thought something similar might be possible in Korea. Infiltration and subversion efforts were thus greatly stepped up against US forces and the leadership that they supported. These efforts culminated in an attempt to storm the Blue House and assassinate President Park Chung-hee. 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.

A new constitution was proclaimed in December 1972, under which Il-sung became President of North Korea. In 1980, he had 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 because of Il-sung's revolutionary record and the support of the veteran defense minister, O Chin-u. At the Sixth Party Congress in October 1980, Il-sung publicly designated his son as his successor.

From about this time, however, North Korea encountered increasing economic difficulties. The practical effect of Juche was to cut the country off from virtually all foreign trade to be 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, during 1989–1991, completed North Korea's virtual isolation. These events led to mounting economic difficulties as Kim refused to issue any kind of economic or democratic reforms.

North Korea repeatedly predicted that Korea would be re-united before Il-sung's 70th birthday in 1982, and there were fears in the West that Il-sung would launch a new Korean War. But by this time, the disparity in economic and military power between the North and the South (where the US military presence continues) made such a venture impossible.

As he aged, starting in the late 1970s, Il-sung developed a growth on the right-back of his neck which was a calcium deposit. Its close location near his brain and spinal cord made it inoperable. Because of its unappealing nature, North Korean reporters and photographers, from then on, always shot and filmed Il-sung 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.

To ensure a full succession of leadership to his son and designated successor Jong-il, Il-sung 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 remained as the country's president, general-secretary of its ruling communist Worker's 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, Il-sung began investing in nuclear power to offset energy shortages brought on by economic problems. This was the first of many "nuclear crises". On May 19, 1994, Il-sung ordered spent fuel to be unloaded from the already disputed nuclear research facility in Yongbyon. Despite repeated chiding from Western nations, Il-sung 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 Il-sung. To the astonishment of the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency, Il-sung agreed to stop his nuclear research program and seemed to be embarking upon a new opening to the West.

Personal lifeEdit

Il-sung married twice. His first wife Kim Jong-suk gave birth to two sons and a daughter; Kim Jong-il was his oldest son., and the other son (Kim Man-il {or Shura Kim}) of this marriage died in 1947 in a swimming accident and his wife died at the age of 31 while giving birth to a stillborn baby girl. Il-sung married Kim Sung-ae in 1951, 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. Pyong-il was prominent in Korean politics until he became ambassador to Hungary. Since 1998, he has been ambassador to Poland.

Il-sung was reported to have other illegitimate children, as he was well known for having numerous affairs and secret relationships. They included Kim Hyŏn-nam (born 1972, head of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Workers' Party since 2002).


By the early 1990s, North Korea was isolated from the outside world, except for limited trade and contacts with China, Russia, Vietnam, and Cuba. Its economy was crippled by huge expenditures on armaments, and the agricultural sector was unable to feed its population. At the same time, the state-run North Korean media continued to praise Il-sung.

On July 8, 1994, Il-sung collapsed from a sudden heart attack at the age of 82. After the heart attack, Il-sung's son Kim Jong-il ordered the team of doctors who were constantly at his father's side to leave, and for the country's best doctors to be flown in from Pyongyang. After several hours, the doctors from Pyongyang arrived, and despite their efforts to save him, Il-sung died. After the traditional Confucian Mourning period, his death was declared 30 hours later.

Il-sung's death resulted in nationwide mourning and a 10-day mourning period was declared by Jong-il. His funeral in Pyongyang was attended by hundreds of thousands of people from all over North Korea, many of whom were mourning dramatically. 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 Korean-style 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. He is a mummy, as his body was bathed in special chemicals to prevent his body from rotting.

Cult of personality and legacyEdit

There are over 500 statues of Il-sung in North Korea. The most prominent are at Kim Il-sung University, Kim Il-sung Stadium, Kim Il-sung Square, Kim Il-sung Bridge, and the Immortal Statue of Kim Il-sung. Some statues have been reported to have been destroyed by explosions or damaged with graffiti by North Korean activists. Yeong Saeng ("eternal life") monuments have been erected throughout the country, each dedicated to the departed "Eternal Leader," at which citizens are expected to pay annual tribute on his official birthday or the commemoration of his death. It is also traditional that North Korean newly weds, immediately after their wedding, go to the nearest statue of Il-sung to lay flowers at his feet.

Il-sung's image is prominent in places associated with public transportation, hanging at every North Korean train station and airport. It is also placed prominently at the border crossings between China and North Korea. His portrait is featured on the front of all recent North Korean won banknotes. Thousands of gifts to Il-sung from foreign leaders are housed in the International Friendship Exhibition.

According to R. J. Rummel, an analyst of political killings, Il-sung's regime perpetrated over 1 million democidal killings through concentration camps, forced labor, and executions.


Il-sung was the author of many works which are published by the Workers' Party of Korea Publishing House, such as the 100-volume Complete Collection of Kim Il Sung's Works (김일성전집) and his Selected Works. These include new year speeches, and other speeches delivered on different occasions. Shortly before his death, he also published an autobiography entitled "With the Century" in 8 volumes.

According to official North Korean sources, Il-sung was also the original writer of The Flower Girl, a revolutionary theatrical opera, which was made into a film adaptation in 1972.

Il-sung reputedly held a diploma for an honorary degree from Kensington University.