The Poetry of North Korea's First Family

The death of Kim Jong-il and the installation of his son Kim Jong-un as North Korea's new "Supreme Leader" has the internet abuzz with speculation as to why Jong-il's other sons were passed over for the position.
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The death of Kim Jong-il and the installation of his son Kim Jong-un as North Korea's new "Supreme Leader" has the internet abuzz with speculation as to why Jong-il's other sons were passed over for the position. The International Business Times covered the story with the headline, Poetry, Music, Effeminacy: Why Kim Jong-il Rejected His Elder Sons. They speculate that Jong-il's eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, was passed over for being "overweight" and having "no interest in politics," while his middle son, Kim Jong-chul, was passed over for his feminine qualities.

The source of the effeminate rumor is apparently Jong-il's personal sushi chef, who wrote in his memoir that Jong-chul was "no good because he is like a little girl." One of the few slivers of evidence we have of Jong-chul's so-called "little girl" qualities is a poem he wrote in middle school, which was included in a poetry anthology from the Swiss school where he was, for a time, educated. Newsweek got its hands on it in 2009.

If I had my ideal world I would not allow weapons and atom bombs any more.I would destroy all terrorists with the Hollywood star Jean-Claude van Damme.I would make people stop taking drugs.I would even destroy the word "DRUG" to make people forget about it.I would make everybody get good jobs.Everybody would be happy: no more war, no more dying, no more crying.Then I would make a rule (Do not believe in God.) God doesn't help and there is no God.I would make people believe in themselves, and they would work hard for their happiness and success waiting in their future.I would make the whole world use only one language, which would be Korean, and I would make all people have the same amount of money: no rich people, no poor people.Only in my ideal world can the people have freedom and live very happily.

It's a fascinating read: the European-educated, 12-year-old son of an eccentric dictator thought nukes were bad, drugs were bad, communism was good and Jean-Claude van Damme was awesome -- that seems about right, no?

It's doubtful that Jong-il would have seen Jong-chul's purported interest in poetry (and music for that matter) as a "little girl" quality. Jong-il himself is credited with having written six operas ("all of which are better then any in the history of music," according to his official biography). And Jong-il's father, Kim Il-sun, is known to have written poetry. Il-sun wrote and publicly presented his son (Kim Jong-il) with the following poem in honor of his 50th birthday:

Jong Il Peak soars high above Mt. Paektu, Where the limpid Sobaek meanders. Can it be the Shining Star's fiftieth birthday already? Admired by all for his power of pen and sword Combined with his loyal and filial mind, And unanimous praise and cheers shake heaven and earth.

Il-sun wrote another public poem to celebrate the International Friendship Exhibition, which houses thousands of gifts that North Korea's leaders have received over the years.

On the balcony I see the mostglorious scene in the world...The Exhibition stands here,its green eaves upturned, to exaltThe dignity of the nation,and Piro Peak looks higher still.

It's also clear that the first family's purported interest in poetry extends to its people. Last week, the Korea News Service reported that poets across North Korea wrote hundreds of poems in the days following Jong-il's death, with titles like "Soldiers Do Not Forget General," and "Field Car Has Not Stopped."

As far as Jong-chul's poem is concerned, if it's evidence of anything that could be interpreted as a "little girl" quality, it's that he had too much compassion to be trusted to maintain a brutal stranglehold on North Korea. Well, maybe that and the fact that he thought far too highly of Jean-Claude van Damme.

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