Hagiography of the Kims & the Childhood of Saints: Kim Il Sung

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).

For more, includ­ing reflec­tions on the state’s attempt to con­struct a new infan­cy nar­ra­tive for Kim Jong Un, head on over to Sino-NK

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.