Over at Sino-NK, you can now find the concluding installment of my two-part series, exploring the childhood hagiographies of the North Korean leaders. Last time, I considered the early life of Kim Jong Il, the “heaven-sent” boy destined to become a General. In this essay, I trace his father Kim Il Sung’s journey from birth to adolescence, reflecting upon the role of narrative in the construction of state power and social control in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Update (10 February 2015): Interesting feedback to my article from Paul White, a man described by NK News as “the British Voice of Kim Il Sung.” Since 1995, Paul White has worked as a translator and translation polisher for the Foreign Languages Publishing House in Pyongyang, and even recorded the English language voice-overs heard at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, where the embalmed bodies of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il await the attentions of pilgrims, local and international. Not surprisingly, Mr White was unsatisfied with my characterisation of Kim Il Sung’s memoirs as hagiography, heralding them instead as “the most important [historical] document to have come out of Northeast Asia in the last 100 years.” I would be the last to dispute the assertion that these documents are important, yet differ with Mr White on why they are so. To read White’s contribution to the discussion – and he certainly has a unique point-of-view as a key agent of these documents’ construction and international dissemination – head back to Sino-NK, where you can also read my response.
Update (16 February 2015): In honour of the birthday of Kim Jong Il, The Guardian has published an edited version of the essay. It may be read online here.