North Korea's new Kim Jong-un biography skirts over mother's Japanese heritage

Julian Ryall
·2-min read
Kim JOng-un's biography commences with his years at Kim Il-sung Military University in Pyongyang - AFP
Kim JOng-un's biography commences with his years at Kim Il-sung Military University in Pyongyang - AFP

A new official biography of Kim Jong-un published to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s Workers’ Partyhas been criticised for major omissions, including that his mother is half-Japanese. 

Released by the party’s publishing house, “Comrade Kim Jong-un’s Revolutionary History” makes no mention of where or when he was born and skips over his education at an elite private school in Switzerland

It also omits the fact that his mother was never married to his father and was herself born in Japan to a Korean father and a Japanese mother.

Her heritage would therefore place Ko Yong-hui firmly in the lowest of North Korea’s three-tiered caste system, labelled as “hostile” to the regime. 

Instead, Kim’s biography commences with his years at Kim Il-sung Military University in Pyongyang, the Korean service of Radio Free Asia reported. 

Kim Jong-un, seen here an international school in Berne, Switzerland - EPA
Kim Jong-un, seen here an international school in Berne, Switzerland - EPA

“Any book that is available in North Korea is going to be a part of the regime’s campaign to build up the cult of personality surrounding the leader and this one is following in that tradition of making him look like a god”, said Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University and the author of a number of books on the Kim dynasty. 

“But this one is different by what it leaves out,” he said, confirming that the biographies of Kim Jong-il, the present leader’s father, and Kim Il-sung, his grandfather and the founder of the nation, spent a great deal of effort to emphasise the struggles they endured as children, even if those accounts are not always accurate. 

According to state literature, for example, Kim Jong-il was born in 1941 in a rustic cabin on the flanks of Mount Paektu, which is effectively a holy mountain for the North Korean people, while his father was bravely leading the resistance against the Japanese occupiers of the Korean Peninsula. In truth, Kim, who died in December 2011, was born in a refugee camp in Russia. 

“For me, the most interesting omission from the book is his mother”, said Professor Shigemura. “If it became widely known in the North that Mr Kim is descended from a half-Japanese member of the ‘hostile’ class and that he himself is part-Japanese, then that raises all sorts of difficult questions about the legitimacy of his rule, which is based entirely on the concept of the ‘pure Mount Paektu bloodline’."