The Kim Dynasty, Put Simply

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By Editor-in-Chief Guinevere Poncia

Recently, eyes across the world have been on North Korea as it develops and demonstrates its nuclear weapons programme. More specifically, much international shock and condemnation has focussed on its Supreme Leader – Kim Jong-un. He is the incumbent premier of the so-called Kim Dynasty that has ruled over the Northern half of the Korean Peninsula since 1948.

Despite reigning for three generations and commanding an ubiquitous cult of personality, very little about the Kim dynasty is known, or confirmed, publicly. Much speculation is made on the basis of state media broadcasts and outside agencies.

Kim Jong-un

Kim Jong-un has been North Korea’s supreme leader, and chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea since December 2011, after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il. He was heralded in a state broadcast as “The Great Successor”. Kim consolidated his position as the supreme commander of the military in July 2012, when he was appointed Marshal of the Korean People’s Army. Hence, he is often referred to in state broadcasts as “The Marshal”. Very little is known of his upbringing, with even the date of his birth not being confirmed.

Called “rocket man” by Donald Trump in a recent speech to the UN, Kim Jong-un has rapidly advanced North Korea’s nuclear programme since becoming Supreme Leader. North Korea has fired several intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) over Japan in a series of tests in recent months, causing international outrage. This included a test of the Hwasong-14 missile on the 4th July. Jong-un replied to Trump’s speech by calling him a “dotard”.

Ri Sol-ju

Jong-un has a wife named Ri Sol-ju (‘his wife, Comrade Ri Sol-ju’), to whom he was married in 2009. He is the first Supreme Leader to appear in public with his wife, who is rumoured to be an ex-singer. Most recently seen at a gala banquet in September celebrating the advancement of North Korean nuclear programme, it is suspected that her recent absence from public life was due to carrying and giving birth to a third child. The genders of all but one of the children, a girl, are unknown.

Kim Jong-nam

Kim Jong-un’s half brother, and the eldest son of Kim Jong-il. Jong-un was assassinated in February 2017 in Kuala Lumpur airport, where he was the victim of VX (“venomous agent X”), a toxic nerve agent typically used in chemical warfare. Two women, who claimed to have thought it was part of a TV prank, administered the agent. Their trials will begin in October.

Until 2001, Jong-nam was considered heir apparent to the Kim dynasty, however after falling out of favour with the family he was exiled in 2003. Since then he has critiqued the regime, and was, the victim of a standing order for his assassination from his half-brother according to South Korean intelligence. South Korea condemned the attack as a “naked example of Kim Jong-un’s reign of terror”.

Kim Han Sol

Kim Jong-nam has one son, Kim Han Sol, who has spent his life both in North Korea, and Macau after his father was expelled. He has studied at the United World College in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sciences Po in France, and reportedly plans to attend Oxford University in the near future. He has in the past expressed criticism of his uncle online, as well as desires for peace between North and South Korea.

Kim Jong-il

Son of Kim Jong Suk and Kim Il-Sung. It is suspected that Jong-il was born Yuri Irsenovich Kim in Soviet Siberia, where his parents were exiled during Japanese occupation of North Korea, not on Mount Paektu, as the North Korean regime has long-insisted.

His regime consolidated the “demigod status” of his father, and build upon the cult of personality he established. However, it was characterised primarily by economic mismanagement, which led to the death of hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of North Koreans in a famine that lasted between 1994 and 1998. Due to his songun, or ‘military first’ policy, the military became North Korea’s political and economic priority during Jong-il’s premiership. Despite this, up until the 1900s North Korea relied heavily on the Soviet Union as an export market and for aid.

Kim Jong-il died of an acute heart attack. South Korea speculated heavily over the circumstances of his death, which was not announced to the nation for 51 hours. His favoured mistress, Song Hye Rim, is the mother of Kim Jong Nam.

Jang Song-thaek

Kim Jong-un’s uncle, and for a short period, the de facto ruler of North Korea whilst the health of his brother in law Kim Jong-il declined. His authority continued into the regime of Kim Jong-un, in which he was considered a close advisor. However, this came to an end in 2013 when he was accused of being “an anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional element” and executed His wife, Jong-un’s aunt and the only daughter of Kong-il, Kim Kyong Hui, was considered instrumental in ensuring her nephew gained power in 2011, but she has since retreated from public life.

Kim Il-Sung

The “eternal president” – Kim Il-Sung is the founder of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and North Korea’s first leader. Originally beginning his rule as a Marxist-Leninist, who liberated the North Korean people from Japanese imperial rule, over the course of his tenure he pioneered the policy of ‘juche’ or ‘self-reliance’, the core of North Korea’s current isolationism. Before becoming leader, he fought as a guerrilla fighter against the Japanese, as well as in the Soviet army in the 1940s. Il-Sung established the cult of personality that continues to underpin the Kim regime – to this day his portrait is still kept in every house in North Korea, cleaned regularly, and placed in a position high enough that no-one else can stand taller. His wife was the exemplary revolutionary and North Korean wife, Kim Jong Suk, who died aged just 29 in 1949.

Sources and Further Reading

Dennis Rodman’s Relationship With Kim Jong-un
Family Tree of the Kim Family
The Kim Dynasty
The Importance of Portraits of the Supreme Leader
Kim Han Sol

Image: Tormod Sandtorv @ Flickr

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