No Motherland Without Him? – The Statues of Kim Jong-il

August 10th, 2012

Statues of any national leader are usually only built many years after their death and symbolize a specific period in a nation’s history. The statue of Lincoln in Washington or Churchill outside Westminster are typical examples of this. However, in North Korea, statues of the leaders have taken on a different purpose and meaning. They have become everyday reminders of the eternal rule of the Kim family, the eternal President and his son forever standing over the people, forced to worship before them.

During his lifetime Kim Jong-il decreed that no statues of his likeness were to be built. In a Associated Press report from February this Kim Jong-il told officials in 1999 that he wasn’t ready to accept such adulation according to excerpts from a speech published just after his death.

“I cannot have my statue set up on the excuse of my 60th birthday when I have still many important tasks to do, like those of economic construction, improving people’s standard of living and reunifying our country,” 

While there are hundreds of statues of Kim Il-Sung, one can see very few of the recently deceased Kim Jong-il and this article seeks to list and describe these statues and put them in some sort of classification.

Seated Statue at the International Friendship Exhibition at Myohyangsan

On a standard tourist trail to North Korea, a statue of Kim Jong-il is can be seen in the International Friendship Exhibition. Kim is seated in a relaxed pose on a Korean style armchair lit by a glow from the wall behind. This seated style is a common pose and bears a strong resemblance to the seated statue of his father housed in the Grand People’s Study House in Pyongyang.

Kim Jong-il Statue at Myohyangsan

Gold Statue at the National Security Agency in Pyongyang

A statue which most likely predates this one is situated at National Security Agency office building at the foot of Mt. Amee in Daesung district, Pyongyang- It was erected on Kim Jong-il’s 46th birthday in 1988 and is has been made using gold instead of bronze. The NSA functions as a bureau which deals with information-related work domestically, it controls border and acts as the de facto protector of the Kim regime.  There is no photo available of this statue. Below is a gold statue of Kim Ii-Sung from the Pyongyang Metro Station ‘Yonggwang’, illustrating a possible interpretation of the Kim Jong-il style at the NSA.

Bronze Statue at Revolutionary History Museum of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces in Pyongyang

This  bronze is in the typical Kim style, hair swept back and left arm bent in a crook. Daily NK carries a report which states that;

Open Radio managed to obtain a copy of the May 11th, 2010 “Chosun People’s Army,” the North Korean military’s own publication. That day, the publication ran a banner headline, “The greatest privilege and highest honor of the Mt Baekdu revolutionary army.” Kim Jung-Kak emphasized in his speech at the ceremony that the statue of Kim Jong Il is the first dressed in military attire, claiming, “It is the luckiest and most honorable thing in the world for the Chosun People’s Army to have this, the first statue of its highest commander dressed in military uniform.”

However, as you can see from the photograph below, the photo printed in the newspaper shows Kim in his familiar suit and not in military attire. Kim is pictured with one arm bent in a crook. There is no  contradiction between the report and the photo.  Kim stands between his father (Kim Il Sung) and his mother, Kim Jong-suk, all of them with arms crooked.

Bronze Statue at the Exhibition House of the Military Hardware of the Korean People’s Army in Pyongyang

This is arguably the most recently unveiled statue of Kim Jong-il. The April 21st edition of the Pyongyang Times contains an article on the opening of the Exhibition House of the Military Hardware of the Korean People’s Army. One picture shows a double life-size bronze statue of Kim Jong-il. He is seen grasping an enormous firearm with his left hand. Such a brash display of firepower in North Korean statues is unusual as the iconography of weapons is most commonly employed in a singular context. He is broad smiled with his hair swept back standing in front of a stylised flag.

Statue at Kim Jong-Il Political Military University in Pyongyang

The Political Military University, a finishing school for young military cadres  situated in the northern part of Pyongyang. According to a Daily NK report from 2012:

“Open Radio quoted a defector as saying, “I’ve seen a Kim Jong-il statue at the Kim Jong Il Political Military University in Pyongyang. However, most people do not know about it.” Again it is unlikely that a photo of this statue will ever surface.

Bronze Statue at the Mansudae Grand Monument in Pyongyang

This statue of Kim Jong-il at the Mansudae Grand Monument stands side by side with the one dedicated to his father. It is by far the largest statue of Kim Jong-il in existence and most it will likely stay this way. In identical form to his father, the younger Kim is cast in bronze with his left arm bent in a crook and wearing round-rimmed glasses. He is broad-smiled with his chest puffed outward, holding a distant gaze over Pyongyang. He wears his signature style suit with a short pea-coloured coat.

Previously, the Kim il-Sung statue had stood in direct alignment with the Workers Foundation Monument. With the addition of Kim Jong Il the mid-point between the statues now serves as the alignment for the Workers Foundation Monument.

On the stone base of the statue there is an inscription which is absent from the adjacent base. The inscription bears the date of the unveiling of the statue on Juche 100 April 15th 2012. The original monument having been unveiled on the occasion of his father’s birthday some forty years earlier.

Bronze Statues of Kim il-Sung and Kim Jong-il riding on horses at the Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang

The equine statue of Kim Jong-il was unveiled in February 2012 outside the Mansudae Art Studio where it was also produced. It stands besides a similar statue of his father. Both figures sit powerfully on their mounts, grasping the reins of the horse. Both are suited and wear outer coats similar to the style of the Mansudae Grand Monument. On the horse rug under the saddle is embossed a pattern of the Kimilsungia blossom, a motif of the imperial ideology of the Kim family. Neither figure sports glasses while Kim Il-Sung holds binoculars, a symbol of the eternal gaze of the dear leader over the Korean people.

Future Developments

The two most recent and monumental statues of Kim Jong-il have accompanied already existing statues of his father. Entering into speculation of how the Central Propaganda Department directs the propagation of Kim Jong-il in the future I believe that the most substantial monuments of Kim il-Sung will receive the company of those dedicated to his son. The most plausible candidate, if not almost certain, is a statue at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace which will also house his embalmed body. It will surely match the white marble statue of his father already in situ.

In the official photographic biography of Kim Jong-il (which I purchased in Pyongyang in May), complete with extensive photos of his funeral, holds the publication date of December 2011. Supposing this date is accurate it must have been published between December 28th to 31st, in any event the book was ready to be published very soon after Kim Jong Il’s death. Kim  had possibly  authorized and approved the book before his death. Perhaps Kim also approved the locations and styles of his posthumous statues.

The statues of the Kim Jong-il will undoubtedly increase in the near future and they not depart radically from the current compositions. It is unlikely that Kim Jong-un will favour statues of his father on the scale to those of Kim Il-Sung. However, the recent pronouncements citing the ‘Last Instructions Kim Jong-il’ may provide a very convenient platform for a future mass veneration of his persona.

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About the Author

Stephen Browne