Kim Il Sung

Kim Il Sung (kĬm Ĭl sŏŏng), 1912–94, North Korean political leader, chief of state of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (1948–94); originally named Kim Sung Chu. While fighting Japanese occupation forces in the 1930s, he adopted the name Kim Il Sung after a famous Korean guerrilla leader of the early 20th cent. He was trained in Moscow before World War II, and in 1945 he became chairman of the Soviet-sponsored People's Committee of North Korea (later the Korean Workers' party). In 1948, when the People's Republic was established, he became its first premier. Between 1950 and 1953 he led his nation in the Korean War. In 1972 the "Great Leader" relinquished the premiership but retained his position as North Korea's leader by assuming the presidency under a revised constitution. Under his rule, North Korea increased its military forces, embarked on a program of industrialization, and maintained close relations with both China and the Soviet Union.

His son, Kim Jong Il (kĬm jông Ĭl), 1941?–2011, was groomed as his successor. Active in the Korean Workers' party leadership from 1964, Kim Jong Il became secretary of its central committee in 1973. In 1991 he was appointed supreme commander of the armed forces. Upon his father's death, Kim Jong Il took over leadership of the country. He was named secretary of the Communist party in 1997 and consolidated his power with the title of National Defense Commission chairman in 1998. Although Kim established relations with a number of Western nations, easing the North's diplomatic isolation, and hosted meetings with South Korean presidents Kim Dae Jung (2000) and Roh Moo Hyun (2007), he did not reciprocate with a visit to the South, and the North developed nuclear weapons and provoked international crises to win desperately needed food and other aid.

In 2010, due to ill health, the "Dear Leader" moved to secure the succession for his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, 1984?–, whose name is sometimes transliterated Kim Jong Eun. He attended school in Switzerland and Kim Il Sung Military Univ. (2002–7), but was largely unseen in public until 2009, when he was named to the National Defense Commission and appointed chief of the State Security Dept. In 2010 he was promoted to four-star general and shortly afterward named to the Workers' party central committee and became vice chairman of its central military commission. He was named to succeed his father when the latter died in 2011, and officially became first secretary of the party and its central military commission as well as chairman of the National Defense Commission (reconstituted as the State Affairs Commission, 2016) in 2012; later that year he was made a marshal. In 2016 he was named party chairman. He purged and executed a number of high-ranking officials in subsequent years. He also has moved forward aggressively to develop the country's nuclear weapons and missile technologies and encouraged economic growth through the tolerance of limited market-oriented changes.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Kim Il Sung: Selected full-text books and articles

Political Opposition in Post-Confucian Society By Peter R. Moody Praeger Publishers, 1988
Librarian's tip: "The Rise of Kim Il Sung" begins on p. 210
The Koreans: Contemporary Politics and Society By Donald Stone MacDonald; Donald N. Clark Westview Press, 1996 (3rd edition)
Librarian's tip: "The Legacy of Kim Il-Sung" begins on p. 174
The Guerilla Dynasty: Politics and Leadership in North Korea By Adrian Buzo Westview Press, 1999
Librarian's tip: Includes discussion of Kim Il Sung in multiple chapters
The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History By Don Oberdorfer Basic Books, 1997
Librarian's tip: Includes discussion of Kim Il Sung in multiple chapters
Asian Communism: Continuity and Transition By Robert A. Scalapino; Kim Tal-Chung Institute of East Asian Studies, 1988
Who Started Korea? By Wingrove, Paul History Today, Vol. 50, No. 7, July 2000
North Korea after Kim Il Sung By Dae-Sook Suh; Chae-Jin Lee Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998
Communism in Korea By Robert A. Scalapino; Chong-Sik Lee University of CA Press, vol.1, 1972
Librarian's tip: "The Emergence of Kim Il-Sung" begins on p. 202
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