Between secretiveness and official legend, it is hard to determine what is real about the DPRK’s ruling family.
View our tree of the Kim family and read more about its most intriguing members.
Born on April 15, 1912, in Mangyondae, Kim Il Sung is today considered “Eternal President” of the DPRK.
In 1920, Kim’s family fled to Manchuria to escape famine and persecution from Japanese rule. Later, in 1935, Kim Il Sung joined the guerilla war against Japanese occupation in the DPRK. Though there were some military successes, by 1940, much of the resistance was forced to flee across the Amur River into the Soviet Union, where he eventually became a captain in the Red Army.
In World War II, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and, in August, 1945, took control of Pyongyang. After being recommended to Josef Stalin, Kim Il Sung was made head of the DPRK Temporary People’s Committee in 1946. Two years later, in September 1948, he was declared the first prime minister of the newly established Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
In 1980, his oldest son Kim Jong Il was chosen as heir apparent to the country’s leadership.
Kim Il Sung died in 1994 of a sudden heart attack. His birthday is a national holiday in the DPRK called the “Day of the Sun,” and in 1998, the constitution was revised to declare him “eternal President of the Republic”.
Kim Jong Suk
b. 1918-1949: Wife of Kim Il Sung / Mother of Kim Jong Il
Kim Jong Suk was the first wife of Kim Il Sung and mother of Kim Jong Il (1941) and his sister Kim Kyong Hui (1946).
Jong Suk and Kim first met when they were guerilla fighters against Japanese occupation in the 1930s.
Kim Jong Suk died at only 29 years old in 1949, most likely during childbirth. The official version of her death states she died as a result of “hardships she had endured during the years as a guerrilla fighter.”
A statue honoring her part in the nation’s founding stands in the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery in Pyongyang.
Kim Jong Il
b. 1941-2011: “Dear Leader”
Known at home as “the Dear Leader,” Kim Jong Il took over the DPRK in 1994 when his father Kim Il-sung, known as “the Great Leader,” died.
According to the state, Kim was born in a secret base on Mount Paektu — the legendary spiritual home for the Korean people. It is more likely, however, he was born in the Soviet Union while his parents were in exile.
While Kim Jong Il was head of state, the DPRK suffered both an economic collapse due to the fall of the Soviet Union, the country’s main benefactor.
There was also drought, flooding, and a disruption to food production that lead to a great famine. There are no official numbers on the death toll, but international observers estimate anywhere between 240,000 and 2 million people died in the food shortage.
At the same time, Kim Jong Il oversaw the rapid development of the DPRK’s missile defense and nuclear weapons program, which has continued to challenge security concerns and the balance of power in both the East and West hemispheres.
Kim Jong Il died of a heart attack in December 2011 while riding a train outside of Pyongyang. His son Kim Jong Un became Supreme Leader on December 17, 2011.
As with his father, the constitution was amended on his behalf in 2012, declaring him Eternal General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea and Eternal Chairman of the National Defence Commission.
Kim Jong Un
b. 1984-present: “Supreme Leader”
Though dynasties tend to favor the eldest child, fourth born Kim Jong Un assumed the role of “Supreme Leader” when his father died suddenly in 2011. After elder brothers, Kim Jong Nam and Kim Jong Chol, fell out of favor with Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un’s grooming for leadership and his public portrayal were both elevated.
Long before his father passed away, Kim Jong Un was depicted in DPRK media as an exact likeness to his revered grandfather, Kim Il Sung. Also similar to his grandfather, he was hailed as a military genius, despite having no formal experience with the armed forces prior to his ascension.
Kim Jong Un attended an English language international school in Switzerland under a false name. Other than that, very little is known about his childhood.
According to Yonhap, the first few years of Kim Jong Un’s rule was rife with family drama. In 2013, his uncle, Jang Song Thaek (married to Kim Jong Il’s sister), was found guilty of plotting treason and summarily executed.
In 2017, his eldest brother, Kim Jong Nam, was poisoned at an airport in Kuala Lumpur. In the pre-trial hearing of two women accused with his murder, the judge said evidence supported the charge that the women conspired with the four DPRK men – and didn’t rule out political assassination as a motive.
To the outrage of the world community, Kim Jong Un has continued to oversee the advancement and testing of his country’s missile and nuclear weapons technology. In September, 2017, DPRK tested a nuclear device of 140+ Kilotons – ten times the size of its largest yield a year before. It also successfully tested a ballistic missile capable of striking the continental United States.
Following pressure from neighboring countries like China – and a tense showdown through public statements (and Twitter) with U.S. President Trump – Kim Jong Un has pivoted towards ending hostilities. Since January, 2018, Kim has taken steps to normalize DPRK’s relations with the Republic of Korea and move forward talks to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
Among these, joint participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics with the Republic of Korea; an opening of diplomatic relations with ROK when Kim Jong Un met at the border between their two nations with ROK President Moon; and the first ever summit with a sitting U.S. leadership in Singapore last June.
Ri Sol Ju
b. 1989-present: Wife of Kim Jong Un
Kim Jong Un married performing artist Ri Sol Ju in 2009, two years before he ascended to leader of the DPRK.
South Korean intelligence services believe the couple have three children, born in 2010, 2013, and 2017, according to Yonhap.
Yonhap also reports, “retired U.S. basketball player Dennis Rodman, who visited Pyongyang in 2013, identified Kim’s second child as a girl, named Ju Ae. But there is no confirmed information about Kim’s first and third children.”
Outside of government releases, information about other Kim family members and close relations is hard to come by. But news and intelligence reports – and testimony from those within the DPRK – have helped paint a better picture of its members.
Jang Song Thaek
b. 1946-2013: Uncle of Kim Jong Un / Married to Kim Il Sung’s daughter
Jang, who was married to Kim Jong Il’s sister, was at one time the second most powerful man in the DPRK behind Kim Jong Un. In 2013, he was executed after a special military tribunal found him guilty of treason, according to Yonhap.
Kim Kyong Hui
b. 1946-present: Eldest daughter of Kim Il Sung
(From Reuters) Younger sister of DPRK leader Kim Jong Il, she remains a part of the inner circle, even after the execution of her husband, Jang Song-taek. For many decades, she had been a part of the National Defence Commission.
Kim Jong Nam
b. 1971-2017: Eldest son of Kim Jong Il
Though the oldest of Kim Jong Il’s children, Kim Jong Nam fell out of favor with his father after a number of controversies, including trying to visit Japan’s Disneyland on a fake passport, CGTN reported.
In the years before his death, most public sightings of the elder Kim were in places like Macao and other party locations in Asia.
Kim Jong Nam died in 2017 after being poisoned by two women at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Some, including the judge overseeing the trial of the women, believe the murder may have been politically motivated, according to CGTN.
Kim Sol Song
b.1974-present: Eldest daughter of Kim Jong Il
Very little is actually known about Kim Jong Il’s eldest daughter by first wife Kim Yong Suk. There have been numerous and conflicting reports coming from those who have defected from the DPRK. Some say she has been shunned by the greater Kim family, while others claiming she has become a part of the decision making apparatus in the Supreme Command of the Korean People’s Army.
Kim Jong Chol
b. 1981-present: Second eldest son of Kim Jong Il
(From Reuters) The next elder brother of Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Chol is reportedly a music fan who has little interest in politics.
Asked if Jong Chol, could run the DPRK, defector Thae Yong Ho was skeptical. “Kim Jong Chol has no interest in politics. He is only interested in music,” Thae said. “He’s only interested in Eric Clapton. If he was a normal man, I’m sure he’d be a very good professional guitarist”.
Kim Yo Jong
b. 1989-present: Youngest daughter of Kim Jong Il
(From Reuters) The younger sister of Kim Jong Un was born to Ko Yong Hui, the fourth partner of late leader Kim Jong Il. She is believed to have attended the same Swiss boarding school as her elder brothers Kim Jong Un and Kim Jong Chol.
In May 2016, she was formally elected by the congress to the ruling party’s Central Committee. In November 2014, state media named her as a vice director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department, which handles ideological messaging through the media, arts and culture.
In a rare visit from the country’s ruling family, Kim Yo Jong briefly became the public face of the DPRK in 2018 as she accompanied athletes participating in the Winter Olympics in Seoul.
Kim Han Sol
b. 1995-present: Son of Kim Jong Nam
Born in Pyongyang in 1995, Kim Han Sol’s life was transformed after his father, Kim Jong Nam, became persona non-grata within the larger Kim family.
His family soon moved to Macao, but the location of his schooling in Europe – and other places he has lived – have been kept secret.
According to the BBC, Kim Han Sol has spent most of his adult life in hiding – especially after the murder of his father in Kuala Lumpur International Airport in 2017.
Kim Han Sol has, however, criticized the DPRK government on social media and expressed sadness for the suffering of its people.