Just the Facts

Five Facts on North Korean Leadership

By No Labels
June 5, 2018 | Blog

Since the mid-20th Century, North Korea has been led by the Kim Dynasty—Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and Kim Jong-un—whose intense privacy, brutal governing tactics, human rights abuses, and open hostility towards the West have made them pariahs in the international community. The Kim family is inscrutable even to many close observers. Here are five facts on the history of North Korean leadership:

Prior to the separation of North and South Korea following World War II, the Korean Peninsula was governed by various dynasties for centuries 

The first recognizable political state on the peninsula—the Gojoseon kingdom—was founded in 2333 BC. As legend has it, the kingdom was founded by Dangun Wanggeom, who claimed to be the offspring of the god, Hwanung, and a female bear that had transformed into a woman. Over the ensuing millennia, the peninsula was governed by numerous dynasties until it was unified for the first time under the Unified Silla Kingdom from 668 to 935 AD. The last monarch of Korea was Emperor Sunjong of the Joseon dynasty, who ruled from 1907 to 1910, when the Japanese forced him to abdicate his throne.

Japanese colonization of Korea lasted for 35 years

Japan colonized Korea from 1910 to 1945, ruling through the military and attempting to eradicate any resistance by destroying historical books on culture and stealing artifacts and royal archives. A national protest expressing dissent toward Japanese imperialism took place on March 1, 1919, a date that is still celebrated as a South Korean holiday. Although Japanese rule gave way to the rapid development of Korean commerce, cinema, and industry—making Korea the most industrialized nation in Asia, behind only Japan by 1945—it is still a source of intense anger among the Korean people.

As a sign of respect, all North Korean citizens are required to wear a pin depicting Kim Il-sung, the first Supreme Leader of North Korea, and keep a portrait of him displayed in their homes

Born Kim Song-Ju on April 15, 1912, Kim Il-sung became the first leader of North Korea (formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or DPRK) after its founding in 1948. In his early life, Kim Il-sung fought against the Japanese occupation, as well as Soviet forces in World War II. During these years, he took the name “Kim Il-sung” in honor of a famous guerilla fighter. Even after his death, “The Great Leader”, as he is often called, remains revered by North Koreans.

Kim Jong-il’s succession of his father was the first time power was transferred from father to son in a Communist regime

Kim Jong-il assumed total control of North Korea in July 1994, following the death of his father, Kim Il-sung. Kim Jong-il’s official state biography asserts that he was born on Korea’s most sacred mountain, Mt. Baekdu, where a new star was formed that illuminated the sky upon the occasion of his birth. He was referred to by the North Korean people as the “Fearless Leader” and ruled the country until his death in December 2011.

Kim Jong-un, the current leader of North Korea, was educated in Switzerland as a young child, before returning to North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, to attend Kim Il-sung Military University

Little is known about Kim Jong-un’s early life. He assumed power in December 2011, following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il. His mother, Ko Young-hee, was an opera singer and is said to have promoted Kim Jong-un to be his father’s successor. Since assuming office, Kim Jong-un has taken part in historic meetings with other heads of state, most notably South Korean President Moon Jae-in.  This April, Kim became the first North Korean leader to enter South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

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