Kim Jong Suk is one of the most highly revered figures in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. During Kim Il Sung's tenure as Supreme Leader of the country, a cult of personality was built around the leader and his family. Recently it has been referred to as the Paektu bloodline and encompasses Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un along with particular members of their extended family still considered loyal to the party and leadership. Kim Jong Il, the son (and later successor) of President Kim Il Sung made his political debut relatively early, gaining important party and political positions at the 1980 Worker's Party Congress. Now holding senior positions in the Presidium, Central Military Commission and the Party Secretariat, it became clear that he would hold the position of Supreme Leader upon the occasion of the elder Kim's death. This posed a problem at the time since the communist world had yet to witness a dynastic handover of power. The Soviet Union had already witnessed the downfall of Stalin's personality cult and by 1980 had witnessed the ascension of Khrushchev and Brezhnev respectively. The idea of a ruling family seemed at odds with Marxist-Leninist ideology which, at the time, still held a significant role in the DPRK's constitution. Even the Maoist ideology in neighbouring China did not seem to support such a move with Mao being succeeded by Hua Guofeng in 1976. It became clear to the central leadership that Kim Jong Il would need to be made to look legitimate in the eyes of the people in preparation for his rise to power. Over the coming years, he appeared alongside his father during field guidance activities and it was during this time that his mother, Kim Jong Suk, began to come to prominence, eventually becoming one of the most revered figures in the country.
The life of Kim Jong Suk
24th of December 1917, Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province. Kim Jong Suk was born under Japanese rule in the far north of the Korean peninsula. Most reports suggest she travelled to Manchuria in search of her father only to find he had died. Her mother died soon after and most sources agree she joined the anti-Japanese guerrilla force around age 18 or 19 as a member of the kitchen staff. After being briefly held captive by the Japanese forces after attempting to steal food, she rejoined the guerrilla forces. According to the official biography of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Suk saved his life during an ambush of their group, standing in front of the future President as the two of them "annihilated" the enemy with their revolvers. This event meant she was seen as a revolutionary figure who embodied all the communist values and was suitable to marry Kim Il Sung. The pair married most likely in the USSR in 1941 and later gave birth to Kim Jong Il, the future successor. Kim Jong Suk lived to see the formation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, however died only a year later at the age of 31, serving only one year as the first lady. There is not a widely accepted cause of death and the reason for her demise was not mentioned in her official biography.
Kim Jong Suk became an integral figure in the Kim Il Sung-Kim Jong Il cult of personality after the death of the President and the rise of his son. The creation of the so-called 'Three Generals' placed equal importance on Kim Jong Suk, touting her as a 'revolutionary immortal' alongside the President Kim Il Sung and the General Secretary or Dear Leader Kim Jong Il. Her official biography dramatised some of the events of her anti-Japanese guerrilla work, suggesting her mother was killed by Japanese soldiers describing her as a fearless revolutionary always by Kim Il Sung's side. The creation of a 20th century communist power couple provided Kim Jong Il with the legitimacy he needed to consolidate his power. The personality cult grew around the family and extended to Kim Jong Il's son and successor Kim Jong Un. By the time he took power in 2011, it was not even considered usual that the handover was dynastic since the idea of a central ruling family, the Paektu bloodline, had been so firmly established into the consciousness of the nation. In fact, for the purposes of the government, Jong Suk living a short life was potentially better than her living a long one. The official government reason for her death the hardships she endured whilst fighting for her country, this allowed her to become a martyr and easily be brought into the cult of personality. The benefit of her death in 1949, for propaganda purposes, is highlighted by the relative lack of coverage of Kim Il Sung's most long-lived wife, Kim Song Ae who died in 2014. Had Kim Jong Suk lived into old age, she would perhaps not have been so easily deified in later years.