September 29, 2020

The cult of Kim Jong Suk: the story of a housewife turned divine figure

Rise in stature of Kim Il Sung's wife came in concert with her son's efforts to become successor

Today, on December 24, North Korea officially celebrates the 101st birthday of one of the key figures in the country's historiography, and at the same time the one with the least known biography — Kim Jong Suk, mother of Kim Jong Il. Hailed as one of the “three Commanders of the Paektu mountain,” she has her own personality cult in the North, which includes separate subjects in the school curriculum dedicated to her life.

For many years after 1945, while it was known that she was Kim Il Sung’s wife, her biography was not of any interest to the research community. This is understandable — spouses of heads of states are normally not of direct importance to politics and there are not many people now studying, say, the life of Philip May.