The Cult of Personality built up around Kim Jong Il — like it was for his father, Kim Il Sung — was grandiose, extensive, pervasive and enduring. Propaganda writers at the Academy of Social Science heralded Kim Jong Il as the "the greatest of great men produced by heaven," and touted him as the world's greatest leader, thinker, scientist, politician, guerilla leader, and songwriter. Kim Jong Il was said to have had supernatural powers. Uniformed schoolchildren even today praise him with a song that goes: "Without you, we don't exist."

Among the many names accorded Kim Jong-il were Guiding Star of the 21st Century, Glorious General Who Descended from Heaven, Shining Star of Paektu Mountain, Sun of the Communist Future, and Bright Sun of the 21st Century. On special occasions he was called the Highest Incarnation of Revolutionary Comradely Love, or Ever-Victorious Iron-Willed Commander. On his 63rd birthday in February 2005. Rodong Shinmun, the official paper of the Korean Workers' party, trumpeted him as “An illustrious commander, endowed with outstanding commandership art and matchless courage and pluck.”

The accolades used to describe Kim Jong Il — “the morning star” and “central brain” — are notch down from those used to describe his father. Still has been credited with composing the six greatest operas known to mankind, and being "a great maker of witty remarks" which "have equipped the people with the most scientific and revolutionary outlook." In addition to flying fighters jets he “accomplished a feat unmatched in the annals of professional golf”: shooting 11 holes-in-one on the first round he ever played.

During parades soldiers chant “May Kim Jong Il live 10,000 years.” Children receive gifts on his birthday. Rocks on cliffs are carved with slogans that praise him and his family. Some have credited him with altering time and space. Hwang Jang-yop, the high ranking official who scripted the personality cult propaganda and later defected to South Korea, said, the Dear Leader's "self admiration has gone so far that he realy believes he is a genius."

According to an article “on a Web site run by North Korea”: 1) Kim surprised a group of North Korean officials attending a meeting in 2002 by recalling all their phone numbers “with lightning speed.” 2) On a day Kim visited a cemetery, he looked around at the tombs and he remembered the achievements, characteristics, tastes and bereaved family members for hundreds of the dead by a quick glance at the names on tombstones. [Source: Chelsea Peretti, Huffington Post]

Personality Cult Taken to the Level of Deification in North Korea

Robert Marquand wrote in the Christian Science Monitor: “North Koreans are taught to worship Kim Jong Il as a god. In a manner unique among nations, the North exerts extraordinary control through deification — a cult ideology of complete subservience — that goes beyond the "Stalinist" label often used to describe” North Korea. “While outsiders can see film clips of huge festivals honoring Mr. Kim, the extraordinary degree of cult worship is not well known, nor that programs promoting the ideology of Kim are growing, according to refugees, diplomats, and others who have visited the Hermit Kingdom. [Source: Robert Marquand, Christian Science Monitor, January 3, 2007]

“Kim-worship in the North is a vivid — and inescapable — spectacle to behold, say visitors. Thousands of giant "towers of eternality" to Kim scatter the landscape... Kim's media calls him variously the "Guardian Deity of the Planet," and "Lodestar of the 21st Century." In 2002, Korean mass dances known as Arirang, featured 100,000 flag wavers (and was described in state media as the "greatest event of humankind.") Many loyal Koreans bow twice daily to Kim pictures that sit alone on the most prominent wall of their homes.

“Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of the Korean cult project is its recent veering toward race and ethnic solidarity, say Kim watchers. His main appeal to his people today, a push that rarely gets attention outside the North, is to the racial superiority of a people whose isolation and stubborn xenophobia supposedly makes their bloodlines purer. Brian Myers, a North Korean expert at Dongseo University in Busan, South Korea, notes that festivals of 100,000 flag wavers is not a Stalinist exercise, but a celebration of "ethnic homogeneity." Since the 1990s Kim has more fervently claimed lineage to the first ancient rulers of Korea, a move intended to place him in a position of historical, if not divine, destiny as leader of the peninsula.”

Personality Cult Eats Up 40 Percent of North Korea’s Budget

Robert Marquand wrote in the Christian Science Monitor in 2007: “Government spending on Kim-family deification — now nearly 40 percent of the visible budget — is the only category in the North's budget to increase, according to a new white paper by the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy in Seoul. It is rising even as defense, welfare, and bureaucracy spending has decreased. The increase pays for ideology schools, some 30,000 Kim monuments, gymnastic festivals, films and books, billboards and murals, 40,000 "research institutes," historical sites, rock carvings, circus theaters, training programs, and other worship events. [Source: Robert Marquand, Christian Science Monitor, January 3, 2007]

“In 1990, ideology was 19 percent of North Korea's budget; by 2004 it doubled to at least 38.5 percent of state spending, according to the white paper. This extra financing may come from recent budget offsets caused by the shutting down of older state funding categories, says Alexander Mansourov of the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu.

“Like a computer software firm updating program versions, the North is steadily updating its ideology to make it relevant. This practice of mass control by in-your-face ideology has been laughed off in much of the world, including China. But North Korea is increasing its ideological cult worship. The scope of the current project outdoes even the cult of personality during Mao's Cultural Revolution, according to a 2005 doctoral dissertation by Lee Jong Heon at Chung-Ang University in Seoul. Mr. Lee visited North Korea several times for his research.

“After the Oct. 9 nuclear test, for example, banners sprang up over North Korea stating "We are a country with a nuclear deterrent." Kim's test feeds a national pride that is part of the propaganda drilled into Koreans from birth: that Kim alone can fend off the U.S. and Japanese enemies. A U.S. diplomat in Asia says such pride may prohibit Kim from giving up his nuclear program in the current "six party talks" — and those talks stalled again in late December in Beijing.

“"The cult of personality campaign is more extensive today than in 1985," says former South Korean foreign minister Han Sung Joo, who visited Pyongyang this past October, and in 1985. "Unlike the Stalin and Mao personality cults, there is a deification and a religious emotional element in the North. The twinned photos of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are everywhere. Every speech says Kim Il Sung is still alive. I think if I stayed another two weeks, I might even see Kim Il Sung. The country worships someone who is deceased, as if he is alive."

Reasons for Personality Cult Under Kim Jong Il

Robert Marquand wrote in the Christian Science Monitor: It has long been axiomatic that the main danger to the Kim regime is internal unrest. That is, Koreans will discover the freedoms, glitter, and diversity of the modern outside world, and stop believing the story of idolatry they are awash in. "It isn't quite realized [in the West] how much a threat the penetration of ideas means. They [Kim's regime] see it as a social problem that could bring down the state," says Myers. [Source: Robert Marquand, Christian Science Monitor, January 3, 2007]

“Since the poverty and famine of the late 1990s, everything from CDs and videos, South Korean radio, and cellphone signals from China, new styles and products, and new commercial habits have seeped in, mostly across the Chinese border, in a way that might be called "soft globalization." Such flows feed a new underground system of private business, information, bribery, and trade that exists outside the strict party-state discipline and rules.

“Yet rather than accept such penetration as an inexorable threat, Kim is putting up a serious fight to slow and counter it — by increasing his program of cult-worship. Kim Jong Il has upgraded his deification strategies to strengthen the family cult system. Western reports often detail Korea's unique "juche ideology" — a theology of Kim worship, repeated hourly and daily, reminding Koreans they are insolubly bound to the Kim family and must erase foreign influence from their minds.

“Yet juche is a subcategory of a far more encompassing umbrella of deification known as woo sang hwa, or idol worship. In North Korea, woo sang hwa contains all the aspects of cult worship. Kim broke away from orthodox communism, for example, in a program called "our style socialism." While Marxism-Leninism demands fealty to "nation," "party," and "serving the people," Kim's "our style [Korean] socialism" does no such thing. It makes "family loyalty," with Kim at the head, the supreme good — a major deflection from communism.

“During the late 1990s famine, a "Red Banner" campaign for unconditional loyalty and harder toil began. Then came "Kangsong Taeguk" in the late 1990s — a project to push economic and military ideology. This project culminated in the 1998 Taepodong-1 rocket launches, which thrilled North Koreans, frightened Japan, and started a whole new military mindset in Tokyo. The North uses "ideology rather than physical control," Lee says, whenever possible. The current variation of the program is called "military first."

US$100 Million Spent Kim Jong-il Personality Cult After His Death

In December 2012, a year after Kim Jong Il’s death, the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reports that North Korea was facing serious financial difficulties after spending US$100 million building a personality cult around the deceased leader. North Korean authorities spent US$10 million on a 23-metre statue of Kim in Pyongyang in April, the South Korean newspaper said on its website. Seven similar statues costing a total of US$50 million were built around the country after Kim’s death, according to the Telegraph. [Source: Today Online, December 5, 2012; Chosun Ilbo, August 26, 2012]

North Korea also spent US$25 million inscribing his name on 3,200 'Towers of Eternal Life', at crossroads around the country. Towers of Eternal Life are found at all major crossroads in North Korea. The one in Pyongyang's Kumsong Street stands 92.5 meters tall. On all of them the slogan "Our great leader Kim Il-sung is eternally with us" was changed to "Our great leader Kim Il-sung and dear leader Kim Jong-il are eternally with us."

A Unification Ministry official said the regime spent more than US$1 million embalming Kim Jong-il's body because it had to fly in embalmers from Russia and import a special glass casket. Regular maintenance — the body needs to be retrieved every two weeks to apply antiseptic — is expected to cost US$2.5 million a year. Kim Jong-un ordered massive renovation work on the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun where the bodies of the older two Kims lie in state. A new marble floor was laid and grass was planted in the square in front of the palace, which cost US$4.5 million, according to the source. North Korea has reportedly spent another US$500,000 on new badges with the faces of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, and is creating mosaic murals portraying the first two leaders throughout the country.

The money spent of all of this would have been enough buy the impoverished country 300,000 tons of maize, enough to feed the entire population of North Korea for almost two months. North Koreans working overseas are being asked to donate US$150 each to pay for the memorials. The country is also borrowing money at rates as high as 40 per cent from Russian and Asian banks and European loan sharks, the Chosun Ilbo says. "If it doesn't have the money, the regime should stop building statues," a North Korean defector told the paper "Instead it's resorting to extortion."

This in turn begs the question: Should the state be spending millions on monuments when people are struggling and in some cases starving? "That is nonsense that is nonsense absolute nonsense. Don't believe that," a North Korean passer-bb said. "There are of course hard times that fall upon a country and people starve but that has no relationship to the state and the Dear Leader's rule - also the state has been hit by economic sanctions as well." [Source: One News, New Zealand, November 25, 2007]

Kim Jong-il Images, Exaltations and Kimjongilia Begonias

Isaac Stone Fish wrote in Foreign Policy: Kim Jong Il’s “picture hangs next to that of his father in office buildings and restaurants throughout Pyongyang, placed so that he seems to be glaring down benevolently at you. His pudgy body beckons from paintings and pictures across Pyongyang. On a flight to North Korea in September, the flight attendant handed me an English-language magazine that showed a picture of Kim Jong Il casting his vote in a ballot box, a perfect shadow Photoshopped under his feet. [Source: Isaac Stone Fish, Foreign Policy, December 19, 2011]

A concert I reported on opened with a woman exalting Kim with a trembling voice. "See these flats?" my guide said from the bus window later on in the tour, pointing to apartment buildings rising out of the concrete emptiness that is Pyongyang. "Kim Jong Il gave these to his people." She spoke about how he would take time from his busy schedule to tirelessly travel around the country, providing on-the-spot guidance and solving problems. But he wasn’t everywhere. Shin Dong Hyuk was born in a North Korean concentration camp and said he "had no idea" who Kim Jong Il was until he escaped 22 years later. He says inmates never saw his picture.

As an explanation for all this, Alexandre Y. Mansourov of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies wrote in a 2007 analysis.“The Dear Leader [Kim Jong-Il] inherited an unprecedented cult of personality from the Great Leader [Kim Il-sung]...The cult of the ‘Father of all Koreans,’ the ‘Sun of the Nation,’ and the ‘Human God’ combines the images of neo-Confucian familism, especially the virtue of filial piety and ancestor worship, psychological chords of quasi-supernatural matriarchal shamanism, buttressed by the elements of Japanese emperor worship and overtones of evangelical Protestant Christianity, dressed in Stalinist garb and charismatic anti-colonial nationalism.”

The "Kimjongilia” is a kind of crimson begonia initially bred by Japanese horticulturists and named after Kim. They are prominently displayed and images of them on signs and banners are often raised instead of images of Kim Jong Il himself. Kimjongilia are tended in family gardens. Above Mt. Paektu — Kim Jong Il’s reputed birthplace — there have been reports of clouds shaped like kimjongilia. Stamps have been issued showing Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il in a field of Kimjongilias.

Kim Jong-il Has More than 1,200 Titles

The Eternal Sun, the Guardian Deity of the Planet, the Sun of the 21st Century, the Sun of Socialism, and the Ever-Victorious General are just a few of many titles and phrases used to refer to Kim Jong-Il. The North's state-run Korean Central Broadcasting Station says a total of 1,200 titles and phrases have been created and used to refer to Kim. "Prominent leaders from 160 nation across the world have used at least 1,200 tiles to honor our Great General (Kim Jong-Il)," it said. [Source: World Tribune, December 1, 2003

The references include Lode Star of the 21st Century, Peerless Leader, Beloved Leader, Great Leader, Dear Leader, Great Suryong (chieftain), the Sun of Revolution, the Sun of Life, the Sun of Juche (self-reliance, the ruling idea of the country), and the Fatherly Leader of all Koreans, among others. North Korea's official media began to use particular titles and phrases to refer to Kim in 1974, when his father and national founder, Kim Il-Sung, chose him as his successor. Pyongyang's newspapers had described the junior Kim as "Party Center" after he began his political career in the country's ruling Workers' Party. This was the beginning of a concerted effort to create a personality cult for the junior Kim.

Some of the 1,200 official titles bestowed upon or used to refer to Kim Jong-Il:

Dear Leader
Peerless Leader
Great Suryong (chieftain)
Fatherly Leader of all Koreans
Leader with Extraordinary Personality
The Sun of Socialism
The Sun of Revolution
The Sun of Juche (self-reliance)
The Sun of Life
The Eternal Sun
The Sun of the 21st Century
The Ever-Victorious General
Lode Star of the 21st Century
World's Greatest Writer
Greatest Musical Genius
Supreme Commander at the Forefront of the Struggle Against Imperialism and the United States
Man with Encyclopaedic Knowledge
World's Best Ideal Leader with Versatile Talents
Power Incarnate with Endless Creativity
Master of the Computer Who Surprised the World
Present-Day God
Heaven-Sent Hero
Guardian Deity of the Planet
Eternal Bosom of Hot Love
[Source: Jon Hershkovitz, The Scotsman, February 17, 2007]

Kim Jong Il’s Little Red Book for the Media

"The Great Teacher of Journalists", a 170-page book with gold letters published in 1983, is Kim Jong Il’s guide advising media workers to raise their game to level of revolutionary heroism. The work begins with the words: "BRILLIANT GUIDANCE". In the guide Kim offers a wide-ranging and often rambling discourse on the role of the media. [Source: Yahoo! Asia News, January 24, 2003]

Cameramen are told: "In fixing the place of the camera, the cameramen's first consideration should be how to take the dear leader's best picture." For editors: "It is advisable that the newspapers carry articles in which they unfailingly hold the president in high esteem, adore him and praise him as the great revolutionary leader."

On three picture books he ordered to capture the essence of North Korea’s coal mines and collective farms he said: "Such a bold decision would have been inconceivable for any other people (sic) than the dear leader who is peerlessly audacious and endowed with an unequalled ability to push forward the revolution...The three picture books... owed their publication precisely to the peerless audacity, brilliant intelligence and tireless guidance of the dear leader rather than individual cameramen or editorial staff members."

One the Dear Leader’s personal involvement in the media: "It was four o'clock in the morning ... Everybody in the capital was sleeping in peace. However a bright light was beaming through the windows of the dear leader's office...Having put all people to sleep in the cradle of happiness, he was reading the first proof of an editorial submitted by the Rodong Sinmum, at this early hour of the day...He scrutinized every line, underlining and correcting sentences, words and phrases."

The preface to the book says that Kim is "always among journalists and teaches them every detailed problem arising in their activities". An expert on North Korean affairs at the Korean Institute of National Unification in Seoul said Kim had ordered countless publications that glorified himself in a bid to elevate himself to near God-like status. "Like most communist leaders, such as Mao (Zedong) and (Joseph) Stalin and Kim Il-Sung, he has a lot of publications," the expert, who did not want to be named, said. "In countries like that, the leaders cover every aspect of people's lives, even fishing and farming. "They talk about everything. There is no other theory, no other argument... people see them as absolute rulers."

Kim Jong-il: Interent Expert and Writer of 300 Books a Year

In 2007, during summit talks with South Korea's president, Kim Jong Il called himself an "Internet expert". The North Korean leader made the remark after South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun asked that South Korean companies operating at an industrial park in the North Korean city of Kaesong be allowed to use the Internet, Yonhap news agency reported. "I'm an Internet expert too. It's all right to wire the industrial zone only, but there are many problems if other regions of the North are wired," Kim told Roh, according to Yonhap. "If that problem is addressed, there is no reason not to open" the Internet, Kim said. [Source: Associated Press, October 5, 2007]

“Kim reportedly asked former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for her e-mail address when she visited Pyongyang in 2000. A North Korean general cracked a joke about President Bush during high-level military talks with the South earlier this year, saying he read it on the Internet. The North's leader is also a big fan of South Korean movies and TV dramas, and Roh gave him a bookcase of South Korean DVDs as a gift.”

The People's Study House, North Korea's national library, has two huge reading rooms dedicated to the works of Kim Jong-il. The guides theresay Kim Jong Il wrote 1,500 books during his five years at university — which works out to almost one book every day.

Kim Jong-il, Sportsman Extraordinaire

Jeré Longman wrote in the New York Times: “In the political world, Kim Jong-il of North Korea was a despot and nuclear antagonist. In the sporting world, he might have been the only guy ever to wear platform shoes, a bouffant hairdo and “Dear Leader” embroidered on his bowling shirt. In his first match at Pyongyang Lanes, Kim bowled a perfect 300, according to state-run news media, which did not say whether the bumpers were raised. But that is nothing compared with the five holes in one and 38 under par that Kim reportedly shot in his maiden round of golf. No word on whether the course included a windmill, lion’s head and pop-up gopher. [Source: Jeré Longman, New York Times, December 20, 2011

“Of course, in a closed, isolated nation like North Korea, it is difficult to separate the milk of fact from the crème of fiction. Some accounts had Kim shooting 11 aces, not merely five. “The thing about Kim is, he was a humble man, so I could see how he pulled it back and wouldn’t brag too much,” said William K. Wolfrum, a humorist who has blogged frequently about golf. “That’s the equivalent of Kate Moss winning the Coney Island hot dog eating contest. What’s irritating is Western propaganda says it’s untrue. I consider it true till proven false. What really flummoxed the golf world was that he did it dressing very drab.”

Brandel Chamblee, a commentator on the Golf Channel and former professional golfer, said, “Imagine the schedule he kept. Eight to 11 — enrich uranium. One to four — destroy the world. Four to seven — play golf, shoot 11 holes-in-one and call it a night. I don’t remember him popping up at the Masters. He should have tried to get his tour card.”

“It is clear that Kim’s cult of personality influenced sport as well as politics in North Korea. When Jong Song-ok, a North Korean runner, won the women’s marathon at the 1999 world track and field championships in Seville, Spain, she told reporters, “I imagined in my mind the image of our leader, and this inspired me.” Kim was reported to be a huge basketball fan. Rick Santorum, the Republican presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania senator, once said that North Korea posed less of a security threat than Iran because Kim “doesn’t want to die; he wants to watch N.B.A. basketball.”

Song of General Kim Jong il

“Song of General Kim Jong il” goes:
Mt. Paektu reaches across
To shape our beautiful land.
Cheers resound all over the land,
Hailing our dear General.
He's the leader of the people,
Carrying forward the Sun's cause.
Long live, long live, General Kim Jong Il.
[Source: Words: Sin Un Ho, Music: Sol Myong Su,, Foreign Languages Publishing House of the DPR Korea]

All blossoms on this earth
Tell of his love, broad and warm.
Blue East and West Seas sing
His exploits in their song.
He is the artist of great joy,
Glorifying the garden of Juche.
Long live, long live, General Kim Jong Il.

Socialist cause he defends
With iron will and courage.
He raises national honour
Far and wide throughout the world.
He is the champion of justice,
Standing for independence.
Long live, long live, General Kim Jong Il.

Birthplace of Kim Jong Il

Mt. Paektu — on the North-Korea-China border — is said to be the birthplace of Kim Jong Il. There are statues and portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. Visitors to Paekdu mountain are also shown revolutionary slogans carved in trees, which are offer as "proof" that Kim Il Sung lead his revolutionary movement against the Japanese from here. Kim Jong Il’s birthplace at Mangyongdae is a place of pilgrimage. "He is my father, also our father," guides there tell visitors as they point out water jugs from which Kim had drunk and mats on which he had slept.

According to North Korean propaganda the birth of Kim Jong Il was foretold by a swallow who said "a prodigious general destined to rule the world will be born on February 16, 1941." On that day a new shining star and a pair of rainbows appeared above the log cabin on Mount Paektu where Kim Jong Il was born. There were even reports of a flying white horse. As a young boy, Kim was suckled by a she wolf and tutored by centaurs.

A huge fireworks display is held at Mt. Paektu. Kimjongilia, a flower bred by Japanese horticulturists and named after Kim, are prominently displayed. Above Mt. Paektu there have been reports of clouds shaped like kimjongilia. People pay homage to Kim at his birthplace; brides and grooms even visit on their wedding day.

“Anne Penketh wrote in The Independent: “The North Korean Foreign Minister's office contains a mural showing the modest log cabin where... Kim Jong Il, is said to have been born. Another mural on the landing outside has the same scene in winter, depicting the cabin surrounded by a high mountain and fir trees in the simple colours of painting by numbers. According to the legend, a star appeared over the mountain at the moment of Kim Jong Il's birth. All that is missing is the three kings and their camels. [Source: Anne Penketh, The Independent, September 17, 2004]

Kim Jong Il’s Birthday

It is widely believed that Kim Jong Il was one year older than was claimed. He celebrated his 40th birthday twice in 1981 so that there was a clear 30 year age difference between him and his father. [Source: Korea Herald]

Kim Jong Il’s birthday is celebrated with a huge extravaganza with parades, mass games, gymnastic performances with thousands of school children, spectacular group dances, placard-picture making, and huge displays in Pyongyang stadium. Thousands of people dance and bring flowers to Pyongyang. Pyongyang's wide boulevards were festooned with flags and banners. The ruling Workers' Party and the military throw a huge banquet

On Kim Jong Il’s birthday young children often receive gift bags of cookies and sweets and stand in front a picture of the dear leader and offer their thanks. One mother told the New York Times, “It is great that children get these gifts. That way, they learn who the dear leader is and that he is their king.”

A huge celebration was held in 2002 to mark Kim Jong Il’s 60th birthday. Goose-stepping soldiers waved North Korean flags and pledged “ardent worship to him.” Children danced in formation to martial music under images of gunfire and Kim Jong Il in a military uniform. Men in suits and women in hanbos (traditional Korean gowns) danced waltzes and stepped under arches of roses emblazoned with words of congratulations. Sports events and public presentations of the greatness of Kim Jong Il were also held.

During Kim Jong Ils’ birthday thousands danced in the streets and enjoy song and dance numbers such as “My Happiness is in the Bosom of the Respected General.” North Korea's official media has said flowers come into bloom when he appears and rainbows fill the sky on his birthday. Over the years the "Wonders of the February holiday" — Kim Jong Il’s birthday — have included sunrises so brilliant that frost exploded with the sound of firecrackers, rainbows appeared and frozen lakes thawed with such a noise that it caused mountains to shake. [Source: Jon Hershkovitz, The Scotsman, February 17, 2007]

In 2003, the Workers party newspaper, Rodong Shimbun, reported the appearance of glorious rainbow clouds over General Peak and Leadership Peak in the same mountain range as Mount Paektu before Mr Kim's 61st birthday. "It seems it is the magic of heaven that on the birthday of the great leader, this phenomenon appears," it said. North Korean television reported the discovery of a rare albino raccoon dog which, it said, signified momentous times ahead for the country and its leader. Even at the demilitarised zone where the North's army faces its enemies, officers said their main concern was celebrating Dear Leader’s birthday. Soldiers sang “General Kim Jong-il, Please Don't Travel the Snowy Road,” which implores their leader not to work too hard. Children at orphanages and hospitals were given extra food, and prisoners inside "re-education camps" received additional rations. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, February 15, 2003]

Kim Jong Il, Playing Down His Personality Cult?

In 2004, diplomats in Pyongyang reported that portraits of Kim Jong Il were being removed some public places and visitors to the North said fewer people wearing lapel badges bearing Kim's image. "Kim Jong-il is known to be a little bit skeptical in private about the personality cult. He doesn't buy into all the adulation," Michael Breen, author of a biography of Kim, told Reuters. "But what's prompted it? Who knows?" Some people contacted in the North say there was no change. [Source: Martin Nesirky, Reuters, November 19, 2004]

Anthony Faiola and Sachiko Sakamaki wrote in the Washington Post: “A series of recent events in North Korea has provoked speculation among specialists who monitor the isolated country that the communist nation is reducing the level of official reverence given its leader, Kim Jong Il. Analysts have noted that North Korea's tightly controlled news media have altered dispatches while some official portraits of Kim have been removed from public display. The evidence is inconclusive, but analysts described a possible shift away from the cult of personality in which Kim rules the nation as a divine figure. [Source: Anthony Faiola and Sachiko Sakamaki, Washington Post, November 19, 2004]

“North Korea's state media broke with the rigid codes it employs in referring to Kim, dropping the highest honorific title — great leader — from a report on his visit to a military base. Although the term was picked up in later broadcasts, it marked the first such omission in coverage of an official Kim event since he inherited the title a decade ago from his deceased father, North Korea's founder, Kim Il Sung, according to Tokyo-based Radiopress Inc., which monitors North Korea's state-run media.

“This followed conflicting reports that North Korean officials had begun taking down some of Kim's portraits, ubiquitous in public places, while those of his father remained. Sweden's ambassador to North Korea, Paul Beijer, confirmed in a telephone interview from Pyongyang that several portraits had been removed from rooms at the People's Palace of Culture in the North Korean capital in September. A North Korean Foreign Ministry official said such reports were a "groundless fabrication," Reuters reported.

“There was no evidence, however, to suggest that the removal of his portraits, hung in almost every building and home in North Korea, had become more widespread. But Beijer said the removal of images at the site of elaborate North Korean cultural celebrations appeared to coincide with the recent pattern of introducing Kim in speeches with fewer of his more than 2,000 honorific titles. Analysts said that it was unlikely the changes signal an upheaval in the North Korean power structure and that they would almost certainly have been made on Kim's own orders.

“Analysts said Kim may be attempting to portray himself as a more serious political leader to the outside world, where his demigod-like status at home has earned him a reputation as one of the world's more bizarre rulers. He may also be succumbing to pressure on several fronts to overhaul North Korea's secretive form of leadership.

“Two other diplomatic sources reached in Pyongyang on Thursday said that Kim's portraits remained as visible as ever in the city. One of the sources said their removal from the Palace of Culture may be temporary, perhaps to allow for repair or cleaning, or to make room for a new portrait of Kim for North Korea's 60th anniversary next year.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: Daily NK, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, The Telegraph, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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