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Kim Jeong-suk

James E. Hoare

First wife of Kim Il Sung and mother of Kim Jong Il, Kim Man-il, and Kim Gyeong-hui.


KIM JEONG-SUK (1917-1949). The first wife of Kim Il Sung and mother of Kim Jong Il, Kim Man-il, and Kim Gyeong-hui. She was born to a poor peasant family in North Hamgyeong province. Her family moved to China in 1922, and she became active in the anti-Japanese guerrilla movement in the 1930s. According to Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) reports, she was working with Kim Il Sung by about 1937 and acted as his bodyguard, among other roles. She seems to have been known to the Japanese police. By 1941, she was in the Soviet Union with Kim, and it was there that Kim Jong Il was born, probably in 1941. According to the DPRK account, however, she established a guerrilla base on Mount Baekdu, where she gave birth to Kim Jong Il in 1942. After 1945, she lived with Kim Il Sung in what is now the Party Foundation Museum in Pyongyang. It was there that her second son, Kim Man-il, drowned in 1947. She was apparently known as Vera by the Soviet occupation forces and renowned for the quality of her cooking. She died in September 1949, while giving birth to a stillborn girl.

Kim Il Sung took a second wife, Kim Seong-ae, who may already have been his mistress before Kim Jeong-suk’s death, although he appears not to have married her until the 1960s. She presumably did not want to hear about her predecessor and there were few references to Kim Jeong-suk until the 1970s. However, as Kim Jong Il emerged as his father’s likely successor, there were occasional references to his mother, who was named a “Hero of the DPRK” in 1972. After the elder Kim’s death in 1994, Kim Seong-ae soon disappeared from public life and the focus switched to Kim Jeong-suk. She was described as one of the “Three Generals of Mount Baekdu” and the “Mother of the Nation.” Pictures and statues showing her in military uniform or riding with Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on Mount Baekdu now began to appear. Biographies were published and a number of institutions were named after her, including various schools and the Naval Academy at Hamheung. It is also widely believed that the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital, to which Kim Jong Il is said to have paid much attention, was partly a tribute to his mother. The DPRK media reported in February 2009 that the Geographical Institute of the Academy of Sciences had published An Atlas on the Anti-Japanese Heroine Comrade Kim Jeong-suk’s Revolutionary Activities.

All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior written permission of the publisher. (Historical Dictionary of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, by James E. Hoare, published by RLPG Books, appears by permission of the author and publisher).