What is new and what is old in North Korea? As was pointed out in a particularly astute recent article in the Washington Post, especially during this transition, Kim Il Sung (1912-1994) forms the ultimate baseline for determining North Korean culture in its many forms, and for measuring its evolution.
As B.R. Myers points out in The Cleanest Race, the technical historical accuracy of Kim Il Sung’s writings and stories about him is slightly pointless: as a North Korean, one is simply supposed to believe everything. It is “the Text,” according to Myers. But when one dips into the various streams of that text, one finds that there are certain degrees of importance – the Leader’s official 42-volume Works clearly have more power in defining Party orthodoxy than, say, the thousands of little story episodes and anecdotes manufactured about the Leader and his family well after his death.
In other words, an anecdote “discovered” and published in KCNA in 2009 about a 1959 pit stop on the Tumen where Kim Il Sung protects North Korea’s fish and fowl from Chinese pollution is a marginally interesting anecdote that indicates how Kim Il Sung, pliable in death, has his uses for a regime which is seeking to use metaphor and manufactured precedent to assure the population that the Chinese are not going to take over everything.
On the other hand, even the document of Kim Il Sung’s speech on the one tiny village square on the Korean side of the Tumen River which he managed to occupy with his guerilla forces for a few hours in 1937, while almost certainly manufactured, can only be falsified to a small degree beyond its appearance in Volume 1 of the Leader’s Works.
All it takes is a quick peek at the Rodong Sinmun to understand the power of the orthodoxy, the weight which is given to the official utterances of the Kims in their sanctioned publications. Today in Pyongyang, the watchword is “creativity” to describe Kim Jong Il. The legends will proliferate, but when it comes to acceptable ranges of solutions and the manner in which they are discussed in the future among DPRK elites inside their own country, the selection of documents which end up in the Works is of critical importance.
Compiling a canon since the moment of its arrival in Wonsan on a Soviet warship in October 1945, the Kimist regime of the Korean Workers’ Party takes its documents rather seriously, in its own way.
This website will be featuring some periodical blasts from the Kim Jong Il canon, as well as the official biography of his mother and the Mary Magdalena of the DPRK, Kim Jong Suk, a biography which did not include an anecdote discovered not long after a certain 150-day speed labor campaign about how she once worked all day carrying rocks with her son.
Instead, today, in true Confucian style, we celebrate the patriarch.
The quotes that follow, usually stripped of their context in the hectoring pedagogical style that Kim Il Sung perfected, illustrate the complex ways in which legacy might work or be interpreted in the DPRK. Like real Maoism in the PRC today, there may be a layer of subversion embedded in the old man’s words, but there are also great, immense, and never-to-be-underestimated bulwarks of conservatism behind which the orthodox men who once felt Kim Il Sung’s motherly embrace, and who now curate his legacy, might again take shelter behind.
While we here at SinoNK are eager to get to the twenty-seventh volume of the Works, and the Chairman’s advice in 1972 about why men at age 28 are ideal leaders, the quotes in the attached pdf. are all from Volume 1: Quotations from Chairman Kim Il Sung.
Tags: Anecdotes from North Korea, BR Myers, KCNA, Kim Il Sung Works, Kim Il Sungism, Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-suk, Kimism, Little Blue Book TM, North Korean orthodoxy, orthodoxy in the DPRK, Volume 1 of Kim Il Sung's Selected Works