Quora Question: Is Kim Jong Il Actually Loved in North Korea?

Kim Jong Il
People visit the statues of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at Mansudae in Pyongyang. North Korea's Korean Central News Agency/Reuters

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Answer from Raymond K. Cunningham, Jr., Extensive travel in the Soviet Bloc and multiple trips into North Korea, Degree in Modern Asian politics and Degree in Soviet History.

This was one of the great questions I wanted answered, and I traveled there under Kim Jong-il's era as well as Kim Jong-un. The answer is not so simple because the military did well under Kim Jong-il while other segments of the society did not do so well.

The heir to Kim Il-sung had the mantle of greatness bestowed because he was the son of a great man (Confucian) and had the prestige of the family having come from Kim Jong-suk the great revolutionary (?). I have been to her birthplace in Hoeryong and some of her revolutionary sites. Kim Jong-il's reputation could never have been as great as his father. When they say they love the Great Leader they also may be saying something else.

Most tourists in the old days did not see much in the way of single monuments to Kim Jong-il. I can recall two - one on a Orang military base with KJI and a Songun slogan and another at Mount Chilbo.

Most of the depictions during the years of KJI were of the father and son. Mansudae Art studio was a favorite of KJI so there is a mural dedicated to him there.

That is what you saw - but it runs deeper that this in the area of indoctrination. The elementary schools had a Kim Il-sung room and a Kim Jong-il room. In my first visit to an elementary school we saw the KIS room but were steered away from the KJI room. I specifically asked the teacher to take me there and she opened it for us.

The depictions on the wall are of the stories (really parables) , his alleged birthplace etc.

The Museum of the Revolution is an indoctrination center that specialized in KJI's image building with the "inventions" of KJI (parka, shoes etc).

Room after room lauding the Dear Leader with photos of "on the spot guidance" and his achievements were featured in a nearly 2 hour visit.

Today you have similar reputation building with immortality mosaics in every large town and many small ones.

Back to the point, did they love him? The military did (Songun politics) but others not so much because they know it was better under his father than under the son. There is a subtle difference here. People in Korea are not stupid nor do they suffer from a lack of perspective as I hear so often expressed. You have to get to know people there and gain some measure of trust. From some I get the sense that he was the Great Leader's son and had his greatness but if you gave everyone a ballot Kim Il-sung would be the favorite.

Fast forward to today. The love of Kim Jong-un, his style and relaxed manner, is catching on. I went to a makeshift indoctrination center in Chongjin last year and saw a really different tone.

I also sense something else not present under KJI - optimism. They like KJU for another reason - he is not his father.

They do not hate KJI but they know that it was under his rule that the Arduous March occurred and I also note that people are more open talking about the famine now and how hard they worked to save people during the struggle.

Asia is a land of subtleties and sometimes we in the west do not get the depth of the thought or discussion. "What do you think about the struggles of the past?" They will say, "Things are much better now."

Do you understand what they are saying? When KJI was ill and an air of uncertainty was over Pyongyang friends told me of their worries about the future and the uncertainty. Now they are doing better. There is more food, more construction, and a more relaxed country. They attribute this to Marshal Kim Jong-un, so in a sense they are telling you what they think. The answer is not a simple love-hate, but one of reverence for a family. KJI was a prince who lost his way but loyalty to leadership, Korea and your family are basic and to denigrate an aspect of leadership, specifically KJI, would be antithetical to a North Korean.

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