Kim Jong Il death: Who’s who in the Kim family?

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Who’s who in Kim Jong Il’s family? Here’s a primer on the Kim family, which led one of the world’s most enduring dictatorships, a repressive regime that has long defied predictions of its demise. It survived from the end of World War II into the 21st century while many of its people went hungry.

Kim Il Sung, 1912-1994, was the Communist dictator who ruled North Korea for more than four decades since the end of World War II. Academics say he was plucked out of the Soviet army to run the newly liberated region after the war, and built an extravagant personality cult, lionized as a demigod. He presided over severe food shortages, growing public unrest and an increasing number of defectors to China and elsewhere.


Kim Jong Il, 1942-2011, was the eldest son of Kim Il Sung. Behind the scenes, Kim had been helping to run North Korea for nearly two decades when his father died. Kim remained to the end an unrepentant communist, refusing to liberalize the economy even as his people became some of the world’s poorest, with millions dying of starvation and tens of thousands imprisoned for political crimes. Kim defied and baffled world leaders with his nuclear ambition and surprise attacks on South Korea.

Kim Jong Un is the youngest son of Kim Jong Il, and Kim’s chosen successor. He was almost entirely unknown to the North Korean public until September 2010, when he was named a four-star general. ‘Kim Jong Un has had only two years. It is not enough time to become crown prince,’ said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. He is likely to be overshadowed by his powerful uncle, Jang Sung Taek, who is married to Kim’s younger sister.

Jang Song Taek, 65, is the uncle of Kim Jong Un, has been considered the No. 2 man in North Korea behind Kim Jong Il. Analysts speculated that the uncle and his wife might act as regents to the younger Kim. Jang has spent three decades in the ruling Workers’ Party, holding key positions in the military and secret police and running North Korea’s special economic zones. His family members also hold powerful jobs with the military. Jang was promoted in June 2010 to be vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, which was headed by Kim Jong Il.

Kim Jong Nam is the eldest son of Kim Jong Il. He was widely assumed to be the heir, but fell from favor in 2001 after being arrested at Tokyo’s Narita airport, trying to sneak in under a fake passport to take his son to Disneyland. Now living in Macao, the eldest son, 40, told Japanese television last year that he opposed the “hereditary succession into a third generation.” Kim Jong Nam’s own son, Kim Han Sol, 16, has posted photos of himself wearing a cross on Facebook and comments on YouTube expressing concern about the hunger in North Korea.

Kim Jong Chol, not pictured, is the middle son of Kim Jong Il. North Korea watchers believe that both the eldest and middle sons may have jinxed their chances of being tapped as successor by too much public exposure. In the middle son’s case, Kim Jong Chol was photographed attending several Eric Clapton concerts in Germany in 2006.



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-- Barbara Demick and John M. Glionna