The North Korean government
describes Comrade Kim Il Sung as a precocious revolutionary and visionary "philosopher-king"
who saved Korea from "imperialist plunderers" and forged a new nation
based on his "juche" -- self-reliance -- ideology.
to historians unaffiliated with the North Korean government, Kim Il Sung was born
on April 15, 1912 near Pyongyang, the eldest of three sons in a lower-middle class
family. Born Kim Sng-ju, Kim grew up steeped in Korea's growing nationalist and
communist resistance movements. His father, who worked as an herb pharmacist,
reportedly started the Korean National Association in 1917 as part of the Korean
resistance movement against the Japanese.
When Kim was seven, the family
moved to eastern Manchuria to escape the Japanese, who occupied Korea at that
time and were brutally cracking down on resistance groups.
As a teenager,
Kim attended Yuwen Middle School in Manchuria, where he learned the Mandarin language
and Chinese culture. In 1926, when Kim was 14, his father died suddenly at the
age of 32. Kim's father left his mark on the boy, instilling in him a strong sense
of Korean nationalism and independence.
Continuing in his father's footsteps,
Kim joined the South Manchurian Communist Youth Association. He was arrested in
1929 for participating in a "subversive" communist student group.
prison time did not dampen Kim's interest in political activism. Shortly after
his release from jail, Kim joined a Chinese guerrilla group known as the Korean
When his mother died in 1932, Kim, along with his two
younger brothers, was left parentless. While little outside information is known
about Kim's siblings, Kim's autobiography states that his brother, Kim Chul Ju,
also a guerrilla fighter, was killed in action against the Japanese soon after
their mother's death and his youngest brother, Kim Young Ju, was tortured to death
by the Japanese.
Kim was not close with his brothers, their deaths appeared to deepen his ties
with Korean guerrilla groups who were receiving training from Chinese communist
forces to fight against the Japanese. During this time, Kim emerged as a prominent
Korean leader with strong connections to the Chinese and Soviet Communist Parties.
the mid-1930s, he renamed himself Kim Il Sung in honor of his uncle, who had disappeared
after taking part in the 1919 independence uprising. He would use his new name
to cultivate his image as Korea's national founder.
During the late 1930s
and early 1940s, Kim trained with Chinese communist revolutionary forces and commandeered
a group of 300 Korean guerrillas (a unit of the Chinese Route Army) to launch
surprise attacks on Japanese outposts near the Manchurian border, according to
North Korean historical accounts.
Kim's daring and successful raids on the
Japanese prompted colonialist authorities to label him a major threat to their
rule and they organized a special counterinsurgency task force to hunt him down.
press accounts from this period suggest Kim belonged to a group of some 40 "red
bandits", rather than 300, who attacked and looted villages. Japanese newspapers
portrayed Kim as a bandit "preying upon poor Korean farmers" as part
of Japan's efforts to undermine the Korean nationalist movement.
reports indicate that both the Soviets and Chinese supplied Kim's brigade with
weapons on a monthly basis, though Kim maintained his unit stole arms and military
supplies from raids on Japanese army posts.
1937, Kim's "bandits" scored a major victory against Japanese forces
stationed in Ponchonbo. North and South Koreans alike now celebrate the battle
at Ponchonbo as a benchmark for Korean liberation from colonial Japan by both
North and South Koreans.
As the Japanese took increasingly brutal measures
to crush these independence fighters, Kim and other guerrillas fled north to the
Soviet Union during 1940 and 1941. Kim and his comrades stayed in Khabarovsk until
Japan's surrender to the Allied Forces in 1945, when Korea was granted independence.
Kim's five-year stay in the Soviet Union, he trained with Soviet and Chinese military
specialists and married Kim Chong-suk, the eldest daughter of a poor farmer from
Manchuria and a "fellow partisan." The couple had two sons, Kim Jong
Il and Kim P'yong Il, and one daughter, Kim Kyong Hui, whose whereabouts are unknown.
Kim P'Yong Il reportedly died in 1944.
When Kim and his family arrived in
Pyongyang in 1945, he became a central player in the post-war Korean government.
Though only 33 years old, Kim possessed extensive knowledge, familiarity, and
experience with powerful Soviet and Chinese leaders from his years training with
the Chinese and Soviet armies. Kim's connections and Marxist ideology helped position
him to advance as North Korea's new post-war leader.
In 1948, newly installed
as the president of the newly created Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Kim
initiated a series of popular communist reforms, such as nationalizing the land
formerly owned by Japanese colonists, creating an eight-hour work day, ordered
the "equality between sexes," and enacted a new election code.
created the North Korean People's Army, giving the best positions to his former
guerrillas from Manchuria. The North Korean People's Army and defense industry
became central to North Korean post-war development as Kim Il Sung sought to reunite
the peninsula and oust the U.S.-backed southern government.
successfully persuaded the Soviets to give substantial financial and military
assistance for defending the North from purported aggression from U.S. troops
stationed in the South.
also repeatedly lobbied Soviet leader Josef Stalin for support in an armed invasion
of South Korea. Stalin apparently warmed to the idea after the United States began
withdrawing troops in the summer of 1949 as part of its post-war scaling back.
in June 1950, Stalin approved the effort and North Korean forces streamed over
the border along the 38th parallel. Early in the fighting, the NKPA overwhelmed
the much smaller and out-gunned South. But the United Nations intervened, authorizing
a U.S.-led force to repel the assault in July 1950.
It appeared Kim's daring
and military bravado had overstepped its bounds as the U.N. force, lead by U.S.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur, forced the NKPA back across the border. It was only with
a massive Chinese military intervention, sparked by the U.S. force's approach
of North Korea's border with China in November 1950, that Kim Il Sung escaped
total defeat. The war dragged on until 1953 with Chinese and Americans forces
conducting the bulk of the fighting until both sides acknowledged the stalemate
and declared an armistice.
After the Korean War, Kim Il Sung made several
official visits to Moscow and Beijing to solicit loans and aid to rebuild his
country that had been devastated by the war.
During this time, Kim also
introduced his "juche" ideology, a communist philosophy incorporating
a national sense of revolutionary independence, communism and self-reliance. The
juche ideology specifically endorsed North Korea's contemporary policies -- an
isolationist foreign policy, a self-sufficient economy and a growing desire to
be self-reliant in its defense.
While Kim's ideology was in line with Soviet
Marxist-Lenin thought, juche also incorporated a neo-Confucianism widely subscribed
to throughout the Korean peninsula.
In the late 1960s, Kim attracted the
disapproval of China's Red Guard, Chairman Mao's militant student vanguard of
the Communist Party. They accused Soviet and North Korean leaders of corrupting
Marxist-Leninist ideology, and China sought to undermine Kim's influence, decrying
him as a "fat revisionist." His Chinese detractors also attacked Kim's
opulent lifestyle, his penchant for designer suits and lavish parties.
revitalized his political base at home by funneling large amounts of Soviet aid
to expand and modernize the North Korean military and promoting his former guerrilla
comrades to choice government positions.
Throughout his reign, Kim Il Sung
ruthlessly purged political opponents from his government and the military, blaming
them for any setbacks or defeats, according to Hwang Jang-yop, Kim's former political
adviser and the highest level official to defect from the country.
continued to create a cult-like following throughout his life -- even North Korean
defectors recalled Kim's charisma, magnanimity and broadmindedness. The self-styled
"Great Leader" came to symbolize and personify the North Korean state.
Like most information from North Korea, reports of the Great Leader's death
are contradictory. North Korean officials told a South Korean reporter he died
of a heart attack while in his office preparing to sign a reunification treaty
in 1994, however other media reports have suggested heat stroke.
1998, Kim's son and successor, Kim Jong Il, named his father "Eternal Leader,"
saying he would retain the position of president for eternity, despite his death.
of Kim Il Sung continues to this day. North Koreans make regular pilgrimages to
the innumerable memorials and statues across the country, including a 65-foot
bronze statue on Mansudae Hill in Pyongyang, known as the Grand Monument.
Koreans commemorate Kim's death each year on July 8, and the Eternal Leader's
glass sarcophagus is considered one of the holiest places in the country.