JuliaMellor

The Other Kim’s: The Unknowns of the Kim Jong Il Dynasty

In Let's Get Political on January 9, 2012 at 1:14 am

One would have to be living under a rather over-sized rock to have escaped the news of Kim Jong Il’s recent passing.  The international news media has been awash with the unsettling footage of wailing and hysteria at the foot of his image, not to mention whatever we can find on his successor Kim Jong Un.  It’s compelling stuff.  No other country on Earth can provoke as much intrigue and mystery, and the more we learn the more more our jaws drop with disbelief.  All eyes are on the Korea’s, and world headlines show a range of concern, skepticism and of course doom and gloom.  But it’s business as usual here in the South, and for better or worse, the northern neighbors are down on the list of newsworthy items.

I wondered for some time what kind of post would be appropriate to mark this historical event. Maybe a profile on Kim Jong Un, or perhaps cover the ridiculousness that was the state funeral.  Instead I have decided to educate myself on the other personalities in the Kim Dynasty.  And, as expected, I was delightfully entertained as I bobbed and weaved through rumor and disputed fact.  So in the spirit of lists and best-of’s I present my own who’s who of the North Korean first family.  Of course, get your grains of  salt out and at the ready, as for all we know the following could be completely false.   I hope not.

                                Kim Kyung Hui

Information about the Kim family beyond Kim Il Sung (Kim Jong Il’s late father) is limited and largely unverified, so we shall begin with Kim Jong Il’s siblings.  Kim Kyung Hui is Kim Jong Il’s only full sister.  She was born in 1946, and was reportedly in  Jong Il’s inner circle of trust, holding high position in the Worker’s Party.  She’s small in stature and doesn’t have much in the way of a smile, but here’s why I like her.  She owns the first ever hamburger franchise in Pyongyang.  In a bizarre off-the-books venture which has its profits routed through banks in China, Kim Kyung Hui is vending out good old fashioned burgers to those who can afford them.  Samtaesung (a name referencing the three generals) sells burgers and North Korean beer, but not actually calling them hamburgers due to their association with evil American culture.  They are called ‘minced meat and bread’, and are reportedly wildly popular.  One customer was  quoted as saying  “The third time you eat a hamburger, you really get to appreciate it. By the time you’ve had your fifth, you’re already addicted to the taste.” (full article here).  You can buy your ‘non-american’ burger with two American dollars, which will go straight into the pockets of Kim Jong Il’s entrepreneurial sister.

                                    Jang Sung Taek

This is the guy everyone is talking about as the man to watch.  He’s Kim Kyung Hui’s husband, and he is said to be the man behind the wheel and he has been for some time.  It’s been suggested he has been the defacto leadership while Kim Jong Il struggled with health problems, and he seems happy to do the heavy lifting out of the limelight.  Also born in 1946, he was at one time thought to be groomed for the top job, but in 2004 the North declared that not to be the case.  Recently promoted to four star general, he has appeared on state television in his military uniform for the first time, suggesting he’s a big wig in the army now.  He and his wife did have a daughter, Jang Kun Sung, who like so many other members of the family, lived in Paris and attended an international school.  In 2006 she refused an order to return to Pyongyang and she subsequently commit suicide after her parents disapproval of her boyfriend.

            Kim Jong Chul

Moving on to the offspring of Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Chul is the middle son and the only full brother to Kim Jong Un.  He too was rumored to be in the running to be Kim Jong Il’s successor, but it became apparent that his personality traits weren’t in line with the Hermit Kingdom’s needs.  He has been described as being too feminine and unmanly, a former chef describing him as “No good because he is like a little girl.’   He has even been accused of having a hormone imbalance, which is not exactly fearless leader material.  Kim Jong Chul also attended an international school in Switzerland and is known to enjoy playing guitar.  On February 14th 2011 he was spotted spending obscene amounts of money on a woman at an Eric Clapton concert in Singapore.  If there’s one thing to be said about the Kim dynasty, they sure do like to be entertained.  And incidentally, he’s a dead ringer for Kim Jong Un.

                             Kim Jong Nam

Speaking of being entertained, Kim Jong Nam is probably the highest profile son of the late Kim Jong Il.  In 2001, Kim Jong Nam was caught entering Japan on a forged Dominican Republic  passport with a name that can be translated as ‘Fat Bear’,  in order to visit Disneyland.  He was also very much in the running to be the next leader, until his embarrassing mistake made him into an international joke.  Since that time Kim Jong Nam and his family have been living in seclusion in Macau, and whether or not he is disappointed his younger brother got the job and not him remains to be seen.  The Tokyo Disneyland incident is not one that will be forgotten soon.

                     Kim Han Sol

Lastly we finish with the youngest member of the Kim dynasty, Kim Han Sol.  He is the son of Kim Jong Nam, and the most open and accessible of all the family members.  Studying at the University of Bosnia Herzegovina, Kim Jong Nam is an active member on social networking sites such as twitter and facebook, even posting videos on Youtube and speaking out against the state of his nation.  He seems like the most in-touch of all the members of his family, and in time I’m sure that will not bode well for him.

So Kim Jong Un wins out for the big job for reasons both obvious and hidden.  There’s still so much we don’t know and may never know.  But getting to know the other players in the Kim dynasty might help create a bigger picture of the reclusive regime.

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