The purpose of this review is to introduce you to the key people you should be familiar with prior to visiting North Korea. You will certainly be well aware of them before you leave unless you close your eyes and plug your ears for the duration of your trip! Should you read my other reviews you will encounter reference to, and more details on, these people with, perhaps, monotonous regularity. Welcome to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea!
North Korea and the Kim family dynasty are inextricably linked. North Korea today is essentially the Kim family and the Kim family is North Korea.
Apart from infrequent reference to a few early kings the history of North Korea will appear as if it commenced around the beginning of the 20th century and the only people you will hear about within the DPRK will be Kim Il-sung, his first wife, Kim Jong-suk, and his descendants. When I say descendants I mean his son Kim Jong-il and his grandson and current leader (though not supreme leader – in the sense of President) Kim Jong-un. While Kim Il-sung died in 1994 he still holds the title and position of Eternal President of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Inquiries, to guides, as to the siblings/off-spring of the leaders are answered in one of two ways – either you will be told that such information is secret or it is not known. This may appear odd but the only people of importance in North Korea are the leaders – essentially, why would you be interested in anyone else? Guides will appear perplexed. The leaders are gods, great military men, song-writers, composers, writers of opera’s and general purveyors of advice and wisdom on absolutely everything. In the sense that absolutely everything bad and wicked in North Korea is directly attributed to the United States everything good and wholesome is attributable to one or more of the three Kims.
The peoples’ (those whom I had contact with and saw) respect for, and allegiance to, the leaders will probably end up being my most enduring memory of my trip to North Korea. While in North Korea you will be expected to show respect for the leaders and you will be well briefed on this topic long before you get to North Korea. There are a number of rules applicable to visitors to North Korea and number one of these is that you will respect the leaders, past and present. This means among other things:
• You will not speak in derogatory terms about the leaders – you are permitted to discuss politics and have your views – don’t cross the line and offend
• You will bow (bending at the waist with your hands by your side) and present flowers before statues, mosaics, and other representations of the leaders as appropriate – your guides will direct you in this regard and I will refer to it in other reviews
• You will, when permitted to take photos, of statues of /monuments to the leaders ensure that you take in the full figure – no pictures of parts of figures. If you are in the picture you will stand respectfully in front of the statues – no “v” signs, outstretched arms in imitation of Kim Il Sung, no “picking” of the leaders noses, etc
• In the event that you obtain a newspaper (including the weekly English language Pyongyang Times) it is almost certain that one or more of the leaders will be depicted on the front page and throughout the paper. You will not scrunch up such pictures, use them to wrap your shopping, etc and you will not fold the newspaper such that a crease is embedded on a leader’s face.
While the above may seem rather draconian and indeed ridiculous to some readers, in North Korea it is seen simply a matter of showing respect for the beliefs and customs of the people. You are not being asked to convert but rather show respect in the same way as you would remove your shoes before entering temples, etc in other countries.
You will be clearly advised of these and a number of other requirements by your tour company before you sign up to go to North Korea. Literature from the tour company I used was very explicit and clear – if you feel unable to comply with the rules then they simply but clearly ask that you do not go to North Korea. That’s fair.
I have somewhat digressed from the Kim’s.
There are five Kim’s that you need to be aware of as depicted in my pictures attached. You will see statues, images and other depictions of Kim Il-sung (main picture ) and Kim Jong-il everywhere.
They are typically displayed together, with much fewer depictions of Kim Jong-suk.
Apart from news articles and similar you will not come across depictions of the current leader, Kim Jong-un. Such depictions are forbidden.
The final Kim that you need to be aware of is Kimchi, which you will encounter twice a day, at lunch and at dinner.
The leaders of North Korea since 1948 have been:
Kim Il-sung – 1912 – 1994 (leader 1948 – 1994)
Kim Jong-il – 1942 – 2011 (leader 1994 – 2011)
Kim Jong-un – 1983 – (leader 2012 – )
Dates given, especially birth-dates, are open to debate.
I have referred to the various Kims as leaders – in reality they each have, and continue to have, a multiplicity of titles. For ease of reference within the DPRK the Kims are often referred to as:
Kim Il-sung – President
Kim Jong-il – General
Kim Jong-un – Marshal
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries providing general and background information on The Rambling Wombat’s trip to, and travelling in, North Korea which I recommend you read in a particular order. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Watch TV – in North Korea. If necessary, go to my North Korea introduction entry – And now for something completely different – to start this loop at the beginning.