Novel Leader: State Fiction and the Leg­end of Kim Jong Un

State Fiction and the Leg­end of Kim Jong Un

Global Asia - - CONTENTS - By Mered­ith Shaw

state-ap­proved pro­pa­ganda tales tell of his strate­gic prow­ess, achieve­ments and place at his­toric events he likely did not at­tend.

He is re­spect­ful of his el­ders, a bril­liant mil­i­tary tac­ti­cian, a bold thinker, a man of the peo­ple and much more. This is the back­story cre­ated for North Korea leader Kim Jong Un by the best fiction writ­ers in his coun­try.

With vir­tu­ally no pub­lic pro­file when he was named to suc­ceed his fa­ther in 2010, stateap­proved pro­pa­ganda tales tell of his strate­gic prow­ess, many achieve­ments and im­por­tant place at his­toric events he likely did not at­tend, writes Mered­ith Shaw, who dis­cerns clues to the con­cerns of the Korean Work­ers’ Party in these works of fiction. OVER The Past TWO Years, I have been trans­lat­ing and an­a­lyz­ing fiction for the “North Korean lit­er­a­ture in english” project (see it at https://dprk­ This is a par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing time to study North Korea’s in­ter­nal pro­pa­ganda, as the lit­er­ary pro­duc­tion ap­pa­ra­tus man­aged by the rul­ing Korean Work­ers’ Party (KWP) has been tasked with hur­riedly build­ing a ha­giog­ra­phy for a new leader whose very ex­is­tence was a closely guarded se­cret un­til shortly be­fore he in­her­ited power.

Kim Jong un was of­fi­cially el­e­vated to suc­ces­sor sta­tus at the KWP con­fer­ence in septem­ber 2010, two years after his fa­ther Kim Jong Il suf­fered a de­bil­i­tat­ing stroke. It was the first time the North Korean me­dia had men­tioned him by name. si­mul­ta­ne­ously, he was pro­moted to fourstar gen­eral and given an im­por­tant po­si­tion on the Cen­tral Mil­i­tary Com­mis­sion, de­spite be­ing only in his late twen­ties with no sig­nif­i­cant mil­i­tary ex­pe­ri­ence. Just over a year later, in De­cem­ber 2011, the elder Kim passed away sud­denly, and the “Young Gen­eral” in­her­ited top po­si­tions in the party and mil­i­tary hi­er­ar­chies, mak­ing him the de facto head of state and gov­ern­ment.

This rapid as­cent pre­sented an un­prece­dented chal­lenge for state pro­pa­ganda. The first leader, Kim Il sung, was a well-known guer­rilla fighter be­fore tak­ing power in 1945 and spent decades con­struct­ing his per­son­al­ity cult; Kim Jong Il served for 14 years as his fa­ther’s anointed suc­ces­sor prior to in­her­it­ing power and his per­son­al­ity cult could draw from his decades of faith­ful

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