Chests Full of Brass: A DPRK Political History in Orders, Medals, Prizes, and Titles

By | January 08, 2016 | No Comments

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Soldiers visit a monument (top) and people head to the polls on election day (bottom), both occasions replete with medals and awards. | Images: Uriminzokkiri

Anyone paying attention to North Korean news media sooner or later views images showing some of the country’s medals, honors, and awards. Medals even reveal some of the discontinuities and contradictions of DPRK society in the controversial Russian documentary, “Under the Sun.” However, the cornucopia of decorations on show is confusing and incomprehensible in its apparent specificity; at gatherings of soldiers or amidst the pomp and spectacle of an election day, it is as if there might be more medals than people. 

Fortunately, over the last decade collectors1)So far three books have been published. David L. Cabral. Orders and Decorations of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (San Ramon: Orders and Medals Society of America Monograph Series No. 8, 2nd Edition, 2000); William A. Boik, Orders, Decorations and Medals of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (Springfield: DBM Press, 2008); and Warren Sessler and Paul D. McDaniel Jr. Military and Civil Awards of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) (Nevada: Incorporated, 2009). Although at times providing only fragmentary information, the author found the North Korea section of the Soviet Military Awards Page Forum most useful. Unfortunately, only the last book was available in South Korea for consultation. have shed light on this aspect of North Korea’s heavily militarized society. Unearthing an enormous volume of primary evidence, from award documents to serial numbering — not to speak of the decorations themselves — this serious work not only provides insights into the administrative workings of the North Korean state, legal system and the leadership cult surrounding the Kims; it also offers a route into understanding North Korean history itself. A new piece by Martin Weiser offers Sino-NK readers a tentative introduction to how this system allows for the tracing of general trends. — Christopher Green, Co-editor

Chests Full of Brass: A DPRK Political History in Orders, Medals, Prizes, and Titles

by Martin Weiser

A broad look at when decorations were created and how/when they were awarded allows for surprisingly detailed insights into North Korean history. It reveals the gradual progress of Kim Il-sung’s consolidation of power, the transition to Kim Jong-il, and the eventual establishment of dual emphasis on both former leaders under Kim Jong-un. Following a short period of nation-building during which many of the major decorations were established, several waves of changes followed which expanded the system into new sectors, showing how shifts in the agenda led the state to give out additional rewards in fields of importance at the time. From the late 1970s onward, a range of new decorations were established that suggest a fundamental change in how decorations were used by the state, specifically rewarding foreigners as well as persons abiding by domestic law. The last decade, meanwhile, has seen new decorations aimed primarily at participants in large-scale construction projects.

The Early Years: War to War | On October 12, just six weeks after the North Korean state was founded, so was its first decoration. The Order of the National Flag (국기훈장), to be awarded in three classes, was the new state’s highest order. Awardees were guaranteed a fixed annual salary in case of disability as well as upon retirement, and could use public transportation free of charge. In a good number of cases, North Koreans received this order several times over and in more than one class.2)It is unknown whether every additional order increased the annual salary benefit. Four days later, the Korea Liberation Medal was established.3)While no Korean reference to this medal appears available, Sessler and McDaniel give it as the ‘Korea Liberation Commemoration Medal.’ But awarding documents in Russian only feature “For the Liberation of Korea” [за освобождение кореи] as title. This medal appears to initially have gone to a number of Soviet soldiers, and was even awarded with Russian language documents for a spell. Neither the benefits of reception nor the regulations governing the award are known, which makes it hard to assess its true meaning. However, award documents suggest that about a thousand were given out in the first two months, and that almost 10,000 had been awarded by spring 1949. In June that year, North Korea also established two medals for the general populace: one for military merit (공군) and one for workers’ distinguished service (공로).

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The Order of the National Flag, Soldier’s Honor, and Yi Sun Sin illustrated in stamps issued in 1950 and 1951. | Image: Naenara

While the creation of its first honorific title, the Hero of the People’s Republic (조선인민공화국영웅) on June 30, 1950, appears unrelated to the start of  the Korean War, subsequent orders show a clear connection to the need to reward a rapidly rising number of battling soldiers and casualties. Within the first two weeks of July, the orders of Soldier’s Honor (전사의 영예훈장), Freedom and Independence (자유독립훈장) and Yi Sun Sin (리순신훈장) were created, each in two classes. All three also appear to have been displayed on stamps in 1950 and 1951, although the North Korean website Naenara features only two of these in its online collection.4)“Stamps,” Naenara. North Korean award documents, after initially featuring only the Order of the National Flag and the state emblem as background, began to feature all three orders in early 1952.5)Sessler and McDaniel, 185. With these three orders, North Korea also created another military title, Guard (근위), for which no enacting date is available except a first award on July 26.6)“On Awarding the Title of ‘Guard’ to the 105th Seoul Tank Unit, 3rd Seoul Division, and the 18th Battalion” [서울 제105 땅크사단 서울제3사단 및 제18련대에 근위칭호를 수여함에 관하여], Decree of Supreme People’s Assembly, July 26, 1950, Korea Central Yearbook [조선중앙년감] 1951-1952, 86. Two other military awards, the Guard Badge (근위흉장) and Guard Military Flag (근위군기) were established shortly thereafter, on August 16. No further information on associated benefits or the numbers that were awarded has been found. Likely as a reward for the military turnaround of the day, Kim Il-sung was awarded the highest existing order — the Order of the National Flag, 1st class — on February 6, 1951, after Chinese intervention had forced UN troops down from the Chinese border to the 38th parallel.7)Haebang Ilbo, February 16, 1951.

While the Order of Yi Sun Sin was given to personnel in the navy and is assumed to have been discontinued sometime after the War8)This order is said to have been abolished at some point. Only twenty orders of the 2nd class were allegedly awarded during the Korean War. But a photograph of an award with the serial number 113 was provided by Sessler and McDaniel suggesting that it was awarded for several years after the Korean War., the difference between award criteria for the other two orders is unclear, except that the Order of Soldier’s Honor was awarded to “unit leaders“ and “People’s Army commanders,” while the second went to “Korean People’s Army soldiers, non-commissioned officers, Level 3 officers, and guerrilla fighters.“9)Sessler and McDaniel, 174 and 191. A look at the nationalities of the awardees during the Korean War, however, makes it very clear that the orders were awarded differently: the Order of Freedom and Independence was given mostly to Chinese fighters (60%), but they constituted less than ten percent for the other order. For the Military Merit Medal, 43% of the awardees were Chinese.

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Table 1: Awardees during the Korean War10)Numbers are taken from Sessler and McDaniel who appear to have found them during a visit to North Korea in the 1990s.

The large number of Chinese volunteers who participated in the second half of the Korean War might explain this difference, as by this time more Chinese unit leaders and commanders would have been fighting at the front. Another possible explanation can be found in the different benefits awarded. While according to the enacting decrees the Order of Freedom and Independence was awarded with an Order of the National Flag of the same class, the Order of Soldier’s Honor came together with a lower Order of the National Flag but a larger benefits package, including promotion to a higher military rank, increased wage under conditions of disability, and free education for the recipient’s children up to and including college. The latter benefits were directly aimed at North Korean citizens, as they would have been of limited use to any foreigner not living in North Korea. This might have been one reason why the authorities largely refrained from awarding it to Chinese soldiers.

Five month later, the titles “Hero of Labor” (로력영웅) and “Order of Labor” (로력훈장) were created, with the first largely mirroring the Soviet Hero of Socialist Labor. Originally, the Order of Labor featured a picture of a worker and a farmer, but this was soon changed to a hammer and sickle on a five-pointed star. Although both decorations — the later Order of Labor and the gold medal coming with the title Hero of Labor — display the same symbols,  according to current practice in North Korea they are given independently of each other. For some reason, the Hero of Labor was enacted with the prefix “Korea” (조선; Chosun), while the Hero of the Republic was instead preceded by “Korean People’s Republic.”11)Korean Yearbook [조선중앙년감], 1951-1952, 88. Apparently, North Korea simply copied the existing Soviet decorations, not only using the same symbols but also the same titles as one of the Soviet titles – one of which included the whole name of the state — Soviet Union — and the other only the foreshortening, “Soviet.” It seems plausible that the Hero of Labor and the Order of Labor were supposed to be established like the other awards in summer 1950. But with the beginning of the Korean War it was only once the stalemate around the 38th parallel had set in that the North Korean government paid attention to less critical state affairs once again.

North Korean stamp commemorating a national conference for citizens awarded hero titles featuring the gold medals of both titles (left) and Soviet medals for both titles (right). | Image: Naenara (left) and Wikipedia (right)

North Korean stamp commemorating a national conference for citizens awarded hero titles featuring the gold medals of both titles, and their Soviet equivalents. | Image: Naenara (L) and Wikipedia (R)

Making and Breaking: Peaces and Purges |Underlining the importance of the arts to state propaganda, in June 1952 three titles, People’s Actor, Merited Actor, and Merited Artist were introduced. By December 31, North Korea finally established an official list of military titles, awarding Kim Il-sung the highest military rank of Marshal (원수) a month later, on February 7. In January 1953, a prize for the arts was established to praise the 5th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army (조선인민군창건5주년기념문학상).

Once the Korean armistice was signed, Kim Il-sung, as well as Peng Dehuai as commander of Chinese forces, were awarded the title of Hero of the Republic.12)Korean Yearbook [조선중앙년감], 1953, 105. Surprisingly, Kim Il-sung had not received this earlier, even though others North Korean fighters like Paek Sa-sun were already double heroes by early 1952. Nor did he receive the title of Labor Hero then or in the following years, despite it being the highest civil title.13)Ibid., 98. This might have been a reflection of the still unconsolidated position of Kim Il-sung, despite being both premier and supreme commander of the KPA. A few weeks later a medal to commemorate the Korean War was also created, but came to be awarded less frequently than other decorations during the Korean War.

The subsequent four years of North Korea’s award system were considerably less eventful. For some reason, the original title of Hero only referred to the Korean People’s Republic, lacking “Democratic” as in the official name of the DPRK; however, this was corrected in 1954,14)Korean Yearbook [조선중앙년감], 1954-1955, Volume One, 60. and except for the creation of a prize for the 10th anniversary of the youth union in 1956, nothing further appears to have changed. For some unknown reason, this award was created by the second paragraph of a Cabinet resolution in January 1956 regarding the youth union’s 10th anniversary, but the actual governmental regulations for the prize were only adopted a full year later.15)Sessler and McDaniel, 68.

This delay in the prize regulation may or may not have been related to rising tensions in the leadership of the Workers’ Party that eventually resulted in a failed attempt to unseat Kim in August 1956. That Kim Il-sung was awarded the title of Labor Hero on September 7, 1958, however, seems to have been a direct result of the successful purge of his opponents.16)Korean Yearbook [조선중앙년감], 1959, 348. While Kim Il-sung had been awarded the highest national order that existed during the Korean War in early 1951, now he eventually also was awarded the highest title available.17)The 2010 Dictionary of the Korean Language  is very explicit on this point: While the title Hero was said to be given for merits, the Labor Hero was described as the highest honorific title. Needless to say, the same dictionary described all Kim Il Sung decorations as being the highest in their categories. Dictionary of the Korean Language [조선말사전] (평양: 과학백과사전출판사, 2010). The next day, North Korea added to its decorations the People’s Prize for the arts and sciences, and over the next four years also a prize for children (1961), one for literature (1962), and one for the sciences (1963). Apparently, the short period of stability and growth prior to the militarization of North Korea’s society as of late 1962 inspired a list of new decorations. The North also largely expanded its system of civil titles during that period. While the title Merited Miner was the only one brought in (in July 1957), from late 1960 to September 1962 several others followed: Merited Athlete, Merited Railroad Worker, Chollima Working Group for agricultural cooperatives, Merited Doctor, Merited Pharmacist, a title for producers of grain, People’s Artist, Merited Fisherman, as well as three titles related to logging and transporting wood.

For the period between 1964 and 1967 change once more came to a halt, with basically no new decorations added. Only a title for salt makers and one for geological prospecting were created, both in February 1964. The following creation of the title People’s Athlete on October 8, 1966, was apparently a direct response to the North Korean football team’s surprise appearance in the quarterfinals of the World Cup in July that year — the first Asian team to achieve the feat. A look at two decrees adopted the same day, one conferring three titles of People’s Athlete and one the title Merited Athlete and other decorations, reveals the direct connection to the success of the team. Although Sin Keum-dan (신금단), who had been featured in North Korean press since 1961 for her world records in track and field, was awarded the title as well, the remaining two People’s Athlete titles went to Pak Doo-ik (박두익) and Shin Yung-kyoo (신영규), respectively a midfielder who scored once and a defender during the 1966 World Cup. Another decree conferred sixteen titles of Merited Athlete to almost all players that went to the World Cup and additional orders to several others including the coach and Pak Seung-jin (박승진).18)For a list of all North Korean players, their positions and their matches see the archived webpage of FIFA on the 1966 World Cup. Pak Seung-jin was awarded the Order of Labor with this decree and in the 2002 documentary film “The Game of their Lives” he appears in a military uniform with the rank of captain and another fourteen ribbons for decorations at his chest. Interestingly, Kang Chol-hwan claims to have met him in the ill-famed Yodok prison camp. Pak allegedly stayed there for several years due to charges of aiding espionage for sending a letter when he was abroad.19)Kang Chol-hwan, “World Cup Hero I met in the Prison Camp of Death [죽음의 수용소에서 만난 월드컵 영웅 – 강철환],” North Korean Defector Association [탈북자동지회], November 17, 2004. Even if true, this does not seem to have hurt his later career.

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Picture of Pak Seung-jin in army uniform, presumably taken in 2000 or 2001. | Image: Choson Sinbo/Korean American National Coordinating Council

The Chollima Era: Honoring Professionals | It was only by early 1968 that more significant changes returned again. While two orders were issued to commemorate the founding of the Korean People’s Army and the state, a medal was issued to those who were in some form involved in fighting the Korean War or supported war efforts in other functions. In May 1968, the Chollima Honor Prize was created by the cabinet and its regulations directly referred to the central role of Kim Il-sung and proclaimed that this prize was to be given on April 15 — Kim Il-sung’s birthday.20)Sessler and McDaniel provide pictures identified by others at the Chollima Badge. A photo of one badge they provide reveals that at the back the word “cabinet” was exchanged for “badge” (휘장) — likely once the 1972 constitution abolished the cabinet (내각) in favor of the state council (정무원). Sessler and McDaniel, 79. Although the leadership cult around Kim Il-sung had taken shape long before, the content of this regulation appears to be a direct result of the purge of the so-called Kapsan faction in 1967 and the  “monolithic leadership system” officially propagandized by the North ever since. No prior regulations are available that have a similar focus on Kim Il-sung.

After a brief break in 1969, North Korea’s system of honorific titles witnessed further expansion, with more than twenty titles brought in between 1970 and 1973, including for professions like journalism, electrician, and tractor driving. The most significant change, however, was the introduction of three Kim Il-sung prizes for children, youth and adults, as well as the Order of Kim Il-sung in 1972. Needless to say, North Korea considers these the highest decorations after the title Hero of Labor. The Order of Kim Il-sung also appears to be the most rarely awarded decoration, despite at times being awarded to dozens of people, thus underlining its symbolic value.21)The numbering of the Order of Kim Il Sung in available award documents implies that it was, in fact, awarded only rarely compared to other orders underlining its high symbolic value. As many in the higher leadership have been awarded the order several times, this would make the actual number of people having received this decoration a rather small circle of possibly less than one thousand. We can assume that around the same time the practice of issuing watches with the signature of Kim Il-sung began as well. A look at the exact dates when those decorations were established shows that the youth prize was already established by early January, while the Kim Il-sung children prize was created in early March followed two weeks later by the order and the general prize. The 2012 decree on the change of the picture of Kim Il-sung in all for decorations revealed that the appearance of both the children and the youth prize had been changed in 1974. But no examples could be found where the initial version of the prizes had been changed.22)See SPA Standing Committee Decree No. 2477 of June 20, 2012, available at Uriminzokkiri.

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Images of the Order of Kim Il-sung, the Kim Il-sung Prize, and the Youth and Children Prizes published with the enacting decrees in 1972. | Images: Rodong Sinmun

No information has been found on when exactly the original round shape of the Order of Kim Il-sung was changed to its current form of a five-pointed star. Photographs in the book by Sessler and McDaniel show that, according to the serial number, 600 of those round shaped orders were awarded, with a photograph of Paek Hak-rim also featuring him with two round orders.23)Sessler and McDaniel, 20-22. Both facts suggest that the shape was changed only after the mid-1980s or early 1990s: Paek was awarded his last known order of Kim Il-sung in 1982 and available information suggests that until  then less than 400 of those orders were handed out. Interestingly, those Kim Il-sung orders awarded to Kim Jong-il and displayed in his mausoleum are all in the revised five-point star shape, implying that all older versions had been withdrawn and exchanged.

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Display of Orders of Kim Il-sung awarded to Kim Jong-il and displayed at his Mausoleum. All feature the revised star shape, which appears to have been revised in the 1990s. | Image: Youtube/Stimme Koreas

Following the establishment of these decorations,  Kim Il-sung also was awarded his second Hero title on April 15, 1972 — his sixtieth birthday. His deceased wife Kim Jong-suk, who later was idolized by the state just like Kim Il-sung, received the same title posthumously on September 21 the same year — one day before the anniversary of her death.24)Ibid., 43. North Korean media claims Kim Jong-il was offered the first Order of Kim Il-sung in 1972 but declined, eventually accepting it in only April 1979.25)Rodong Sinmun, 27 May 2004. Instead, Kim Jong-il accepted the Kim Il-sung Prize awarded to him in February the following year. Next to those new decorations directly linked to Kim Il-sung, in late 1973 North Korea also created a prize for new technical innovations (새기술혁신의 봉화상), orders for service in the military and the mining industry, as well as a medal for merits in agriculture (농업공로메달).

1970s Energy Crisis: Three Revolutionary Replies | After these years of change, once again fewer changes were made between 1974 and 1976, with only three new titles for professions and a commemorative order for the North Korea-affiliated Association of Koreans in Japan created in 1975. During this period, North Korea suffered from severe economic problems resulting from the 1973 oil crisis and collapsing export revenues, which eventually forced it to default on its international debts. The North Korean state reacted to these economic problems with a 70-day campaign titled the Three Revolutions Team Movement (3대혁명소조운동).26)James Hoare, “Three Revolutions Team Movement,“ Modern Korean History Portal, Woodrow Wilson Center. As it was led and implemented by Kim Jong-il, the success of this movement begun in late 1974 likely led to him being awarded his first title of Hero in February 1975. Further economic problems led to a second campaign, the Three Revolutions Red Flag Movement (3대혁명붉은기), which began in December 1975. A sharp drop in hydropower production due to little rainfall in 1975 led to this being extended until late 1976,27)Memorandum, Branch Office of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Trade in Pyongyang to the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Trade 9 August 1976, MOL, XIX-J-1-j Korea, 1976, 82. doboz, 5, 00170/7/1976. Obtained and translated for NKIDP by Balazs Szalontai. since it required additional mobilization of citizens. These successive economic problems might explain the lack of development in North Korean decorations around that time. Titles created for weather forecasters and workers in the forestry sector in 1976 and 1977 are also telling of the agenda of the government back then. Rewarding participants in the movement, North Korea also created a badge for the Three Revolutions Red Flag Movement in September 1977.

The domestic situation appears to have normalized around 1978, which also can be seen from the new decorations of the era.  Titles now were given to suppliers in the movie industry (영화보급원) (1978), those responsible for work security and scheduling (로동정량원, 로동안전원) and statisticians (1979), teachers, pharmacists, and doctors (1980). With regards to other awards, North Korea only issued a commemorative order for the founding of the state in 1978. As mentioned before, the consolidation of Kim Jong-il’s position by the late 1970s led to him receiving the Order of Kim Il-sung in 1979 and once he was officially acknowledged as successor and presented as such to the people, he was awarded his second title of hero and a further order of Kim Il-sung in 1982. Kim Il-sung received his third hero title the same year as well. Interestingly, neither at that point nor in the future was Kim Jong-il made a Labor Hero, despite this title being officially the highest one available to civilians – implying that little political value was attached to the decoration.

From the 1980s, North Korea did not officially publish decrees on the establishment of new titles, which makes it hard to trace their development. But available decrees on awarded titles suggests that their number rose considerably. A similar development can also be seen for the other decorations from 1982. Following the Patriotic Prize Medal and the June 4 Literature Prize28)“History of Revolutionary Activities of Chairman Kim Jong Il“ (Pyongyang: Foreign Language Publishing House, 2015), n. pag in 1982, several medals and orders were created commemorating the anniversary of historical events like the foundation of the state (1983) or the end of the Korean War (1992). Additional orders were established for service in the marine industry (1986) and rail transport (1988) joining those from the 1970s for military service and the mining industry. Earlier badges on the Three Revolutions Movement were joined by an official order (1986).

Welcome to the World: Encouraging Exchange | In 1985, North Korea also established an Order of Friendship awarded to foreigners who engaged in economic and technical exchange with or “promoted international aid” to North Korea. This hints at greater interest of North Korea in international exchanges. The creation of this order is also in line with Kim Jong-il proclaiming the same year that North Korea was seeking to strengthen its tourism industry29)“Answers to Questions by the Head of State of Democratic Cambodia” [민주주의캄보쟈 주석이 제기한 질문에 대한 대답], in Selected Works of Kim Jong Il [김정일 선집], 8 (Pyongyang: Korean Workers’ Party Publishing, 1998), 231. and North Korea’s holding of international events, including the Pyongyang Film Festival. New economic legislation on joint ventures but also changes in the penal system from the mid-1980s suggest that this order was, in fact, part of a large-scale policy change. The appearance of titles for “exemplary law abidance” (모범준법) given to districts and individuals in the 1980s underlines the direct linkage between government agenda and the decoration system.

Shortly before the 81st birthday of Kim Il-sung in 1993, the International Kim Il-sung Prize was created as well — officially awarded not by North Korea but by an international committee. Although regulations state that it was to be awarded to one person every year, in 2007 Kim Jong-il was awarded the seventh prize implying that economic problems led to a halt of several years.30)For a photo of the award document given to Kim Jong Il including the number see Sessler and McDaniel, 28. In early 1994, an order followed commemorating the 30th anniversary of publication of Kim Il Sung’s Thesis on Agriculture [농촌데제발표30돐년기념훈장]. Following improvements in inter-Korean relations and increased exchanges with Koreans living abroad, North Korea also established the Fatherland Unification Prize (조국통일상) in 1990 given to various activists but also long-term prisoners returned by the South.31)National reunification prizes awarded to unconverted long-term prisoners,” Korea Central News Agency, September 4, 2000. Although now only a pro forma exercise, once Kim Jong-il was given the highest title and position in the military by 1992, he also was awarded his third hero title as well as another Order of Kim Il-sung.

Pictures of Kim Il-sung with four, and Kim Jong-il with three gold medals awarded with the title Hero of the Republic and Hero of Labor. | Image: Youtube/Tongil News

Pictures of Kim Il-sung with four, and Kim Jong-il with three gold medals awarded with the title Hero of the Republic and Hero of Labor. | Image: Youtube/Tongil News

Building Socialism: Construction Prizes | From the early 1990s North Korea also began to create decorations to award participation in construction projects. After an order covering participation in capital construction (1992), medals followed for the Mt. Kumgang Power Plant (1996), the Pyongyang-Nampo Highway (2000), and canal construction (2007), as well as the Huichon Power Station (2011). (In October 2015, North Korea followed the same practice in creating a medal for the completion of the Baekdusan Hero Youth Power Station.) In April 2008, an order and medal of teacher’s honor (교원영예) was established. But except a reference in a picture album about Kim Jong-il and its enacting decree, no further information is currently available.32)“History of Revolutionary Activities of Chairman Kim Jong Il.“ As it had done in the decades before, North Korea issued another medal and order in 2008 to commemorate the state’s 60th anniversary.

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Illustration of the 2015 medal commemorating the construction of the Baekdusan Hero Youth Power Station. | Image: Rodong Sinmun

The propaganda line of Kimilsung-Kimjongilism [김일성-김정일주의], proclaimed in 2012 following Kim Jong-il’s death, also found its reflection in North Korea’s system of decorations. On February 3, 2012, the direct equivalents of the Order of Kim Il-sung and its prizes was created for Kim Jong-il, only substituting the portrait and name. Not even the ribbon usually worn by the military is distinguishable from the earlier ribbon for the Order of Kim Il-sung, which likely will give future Pyongyang watchers a headache figuring out which order a person was awarded. Despite the appearance of these decorations, they are still awarded separately and it seems unlikely that they will be united into a single one in the near future. In December, the International Kim Jong-il Prize was also created, thus completing the list of decorations previously created for Kim Il-sung. No differences in awarding can be found yet.

Medals for the Deceased: Kim Jong-il | Two weeks after his death, Kim Jong-il was posthumously awarded his fourth title of Hero. In February the next year, he was given the title Great Generalissimo (대원수) as well as the Kim Il-sung Order and award.33)Title of DPRK Hero Awarded to Leader Kim Jong Il,” Naenara, December 30, 2011; and Biography of Kim Jong Il,” Naenara. This might have been in direct reaction to his death, but it also could have been previously planned for his 70th birthday on February 16, 2012. None of these decorations was awarded to Kim Jong-il on his 60th birthday — an important day in Asian culture — implying that at that time Kim Jong-il still had not consolidated his power completely.

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Prizes and Orders of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il differing only in their pictures. | Image: Uriminzokkiri/Namu Wiki

Following North Korean practice, all domestic decorations and their insignia were made public following Kim Jong-il’s death, and are now displayed at his mausoleum including a list of all domestic and foreign decorations. Clearly differentiated from the other decorations, the three Orders of Kim Il-sung and the single Prize of Kim Il-sung awarded to Kim Jong-il are featured at the top with the three gold medals for the Hero of the Republic with their respective Order of the National Flag, First Class, at the centre. Through the position of the remaining orders and medals, the ranking also becomes visible as they are arranged from left to right. For example, it becomes clear that the Order of Freedom and Independence is considered the third highest order; is always awarded with the second highest, the Order of National Flag. Because Kim Jong-il was never awarded an Order of Soldier’s Honor, First Place, the ranking of this order remains unclear.

Although the picture quality does not allow us to directly identify the various classes of each order, the ordering suggests that two different classes of a single order were never put next to each other. Kim Jong Il appears to have received two lower-class orders in contrast to the other orders in their highest class. The one Order of the National Flag, Second Class likely was awarded with the Order of Soldier’s Honor which according to its initial regulations was conferred with this lower order. The second-class Order of Freedom and Independence appears to have been awarded to Kim Jong Il during the 1960s, when he still was a lower ranking party member.

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Display of Kim Jong-il’s decorations shortly after his death | Image: KCNA/Yonhap News

Orders

Five Orders of the National Flag, First Class; two Orders of Freedom and Independence, First Class; three Orders of Labor; two Orders of DPRK Foundation Commemoration (likely on separate important anniversaries); an Order of Freedom and Independence, Second Class; an Order of the KPA Foundation 60th Anniversary; an Order of the Fatherland Liberation War Victory 40th Anniversary; an unidentifiable order; an Order of National Flag, Second Class; an Order of Soldier’s Honor; an Order of the Three Great Revolutions Red Flag; an Order of Capital Construction Commemoration; and an Order of DPRK Foundation Commemoration (less important anniversary).

Medals

One DPRK Foundation Commemoration Medal (more important anniversary); a Fatherland Liberation Commemoration Medal; two Merited Service Medals; a Mt. Kumgang Power Plant Construction Commemoration Medal; a DPRK Foundation Commemoration Medal (less important anniversary); a KPA Foundation 60th Anniversary Medal; and a Huichon Power Station Medal.

Picture 14

List of Kim Jong-il’s domestic and foreign decorations around mid-2012 | Image: Youtube

A comparison of the initially displayed decorations and a subsequent list available at the Kim Jong-il Mausoleum created somewhen after mid-2012 reveals several things. Not surprisingly, the Orders of Kim Il-sung were also not counted with the other orders but individually to underline their special meaning. The Orders of the National Flag, First Class, awarded with the title Hero of the Republic are apparently also not counted with the other orders. Counting the number of orders and medals in the initial display, eight medals and 21 orders, the subsequent list included an additional order which apparently was awarded to Kim Jong-il posthumously. As the Order of National Flag carried less symbolic importance, he might have been awarded another Order of Freedom and Independence or Order of Labor to honor his achievements in North Korean politics.

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1. So far three books have been published. David L. Cabral. Orders and Decorations of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (San Ramon: Orders and Medals Society of America Monograph Series No. 8, 2nd Edition, 2000); William A. Boik, Orders, Decorations and Medals of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (Springfield: DBM Press, 2008); and Warren Sessler and Paul D. McDaniel Jr. Military and Civil Awards of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) (Nevada: Incorporated, 2009). Although at times providing only fragmentary information, the author found the North Korea section of the Soviet Military Awards Page Forum most useful. Unfortunately, only the last book was available in South Korea for consultation.
2. It is unknown whether every additional order increased the annual salary benefit.
3. While no Korean reference to this medal appears available, Sessler and McDaniel give it as the ‘Korea Liberation Commemoration Medal.’ But awarding documents in Russian only feature “For the Liberation of Korea” [за освобождение кореи] as title.
4. “Stamps,” Naenara.
5. Sessler and McDaniel, 185.
6. “On Awarding the Title of ‘Guard’ to the 105th Seoul Tank Unit, 3rd Seoul Division, and the 18th Battalion” [서울 제105 땅크사단 서울제3사단 및 제18련대에 근위칭호를 수여함에 관하여], Decree of Supreme People’s Assembly, July 26, 1950, Korea Central Yearbook [조선중앙년감] 1951-1952, 86.
7. Haebang Ilbo, February 16, 1951.
8. This order is said to have been abolished at some point. Only twenty orders of the 2nd class were allegedly awarded during the Korean War. But a photograph of an award with the serial number 113 was provided by Sessler and McDaniel suggesting that it was awarded for several years after the Korean War.
9. Sessler and McDaniel, 174 and 191.
10. Numbers are taken from Sessler and McDaniel who appear to have found them during a visit to North Korea in the 1990s.
11. Korean Yearbook [조선중앙년감], 1951-1952, 88.
12. Korean Yearbook [조선중앙년감], 1953, 105.
13. Ibid., 98.
14. Korean Yearbook [조선중앙년감], 1954-1955, Volume One, 60.
15. Sessler and McDaniel, 68.
16. Korean Yearbook [조선중앙년감], 1959, 348.
17. The 2010 Dictionary of the Korean Language  is very explicit on this point: While the title Hero was said to be given for merits, the Labor Hero was described as the highest honorific title. Needless to say, the same dictionary described all Kim Il Sung decorations as being the highest in their categories. Dictionary of the Korean Language [조선말사전] (평양: 과학백과사전출판사, 2010).
18. For a list of all North Korean players, their positions and their matches see the archived webpage of FIFA on the 1966 World Cup.
19. Kang Chol-hwan, “World Cup Hero I met in the Prison Camp of Death [죽음의 수용소에서 만난 월드컵 영웅 – 강철환],” North Korean Defector Association [탈북자동지회], November 17, 2004.
20. Sessler and McDaniel provide pictures identified by others at the Chollima Badge. A photo of one badge they provide reveals that at the back the word “cabinet” was exchanged for “badge” (휘장) — likely once the 1972 constitution abolished the cabinet (내각) in favor of the state council (정무원). Sessler and McDaniel, 79.
21. The numbering of the Order of Kim Il Sung in available award documents implies that it was, in fact, awarded only rarely compared to other orders underlining its high symbolic value. As many in the higher leadership have been awarded the order several times, this would make the actual number of people having received this decoration a rather small circle of possibly less than one thousand.
22. See SPA Standing Committee Decree No. 2477 of June 20, 2012, available at Uriminzokkiri.
23. Sessler and McDaniel, 20-22.
24. Ibid., 43.
25. Rodong Sinmun, 27 May 2004.
26. James Hoare, “Three Revolutions Team Movement,“ Modern Korean History Portal, Woodrow Wilson Center.
27. Memorandum, Branch Office of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Trade in Pyongyang to the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Trade 9 August 1976, MOL, XIX-J-1-j Korea, 1976, 82. doboz, 5, 00170/7/1976. Obtained and translated for NKIDP by Balazs Szalontai.
28. “History of Revolutionary Activities of Chairman Kim Jong Il“ (Pyongyang: Foreign Language Publishing House, 2015), n. pag
29. “Answers to Questions by the Head of State of Democratic Cambodia” [민주주의캄보쟈 주석이 제기한 질문에 대한 대답], in Selected Works of Kim Jong Il [김정일 선집], 8 (Pyongyang: Korean Workers’ Party Publishing, 1998), 231.
30. For a photo of the award document given to Kim Jong Il including the number see Sessler and McDaniel, 28.
31. National reunification prizes awarded to unconverted long-term prisoners,” Korea Central News Agency, September 4, 2000.
32. “History of Revolutionary Activities of Chairman Kim Jong Il.“
33. Title of DPRK Hero Awarded to Leader Kim Jong Il,” Naenara, December 30, 2011; and Biography of Kim Jong Il,” Naenara.