This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
North Korea has published an official biography of its leader Kim Jong Un, but the book omits significant details like his date and place of birth and his childhood education in Switzerland, sources in the country told RFA.
Entitled “Comrade Kim Jong Un’s Revolutionary History”, the book was distributed to libraries, educational institutions, factories and companies nationwide in commemoration of the Oct. 10 75th anniversary of the 1945 founding of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party.
An official of the municipal government in the capital Pyongyang told RFA’s Korean Service Nov. 24 that the biography was put out by the party’s publishing house, with striking omissions.
“This book is the only official publication of the activities of the Highest Dignity in terms of revolutionary history,” the source said, using an honorific title to refer to Kim.
“But if you read the biography, it is very strange that it does not reveal when and where the Highest Dignity was born. It is nonsensical to leave out the date and place of birth in a history book about the life of a head of state,” said the source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.
According to the source, the story of Kim’s life begins with his college years at Kim Il Sung Military University and makes no mention of his having studied in Switzerland as a youth.
This is in stark contrast to the official biographies Kim’s grandfather and national founder Kim Il Sung, and father Kim Jong Il, who led the country from the elder Kim’s death in 1994 to his own death in 2011.
“We all know that Kim Il Sung was born in the southern district of Kopyong village, Taedong county, South Pyongan province [currently Pyongyang’s Mangyongdae district], and Kim Jong Il was born in Miryong on Mt. Paektu. But in ‘Comrade Kim Jong Un’s Revolutionary History,’ it’s just not there” the source said.
Soviet records show that Kim Jong Il was actually born in Russia, indicating that biographies list his birthplace as Paektu, a sacred mountain in Korean mythology, to embellish his nationalist credentials.
People are beginning to speculate as to the reasons why Kim Jong Un’s biography does not reveal his birthplace, according to the source.
“So now there is growing suspicion that authorities are afraid of revealing his birthplace for some reason,” the source said.
An official in North Pyongan province, north of the capital, confirmed to RFA on Nov. 25 that the book starts from Kim Jong Un’s college days, and omits his life abroad.
“Most officials and intellectuals know that the supreme leader has learned of the outside world because of his childhood of studying aboard,” said the second source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.
“Nevertheless, the book only emphasizes that while he attended Kim Il Sung Military University, he ‘made a great plan to open new paths for socialist construction by breaking through the rigorous difficulties of history with an inexhaustible military power,’” the second source said.
The omission of Kim’s birthplace is sparking curiosity among intellectuals according to the second source. But the common people say they are not concerned about such trivial matters.
“We can’t afford to care about the supreme leader… Our television needs electricity. We can learn about his revolutionary activities once that happens,” a resident of North Pyongan’s Ryongchon county told RFA in a telephone interview on condition of anonymity.
“I don’t know when I’ll ever have time to care. I’m killing myself here to make a living. We need electricity. Then we can know what the supreme leader is up to,” the third source said.
North Korea is very secretive about other details of Kim Jong Un’s life. For instance, the identity of his late mother, Ko Young Hui, is a state secret because she was of multiethnic Japanese and Korean heritage and born in Japan, making her a member of the lowest class in North Korea’s songbun caste system. Additionally, she was never Kim Jong Il’s wife.
These facts, if revealed, could make Kim Jong Un appear less legitimate as North Korea’s leader.
Kim is believed to have been born on Jan. 8, 1984, but North Korean state media has previously said he was born in 1982.