Kim Il Sung (kĭm ĭl sŏng) [key], 1912–94, North Korean political leader, chief of state of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (1948–94); originally named Kim Sung Chu. While fighting Japanese occupation forces in the 1930s, he adopted the name Kim Il Sung after a famous Korean guerrilla leader of the early 20th cent. He was trained in Moscow before World War II, and in 1945 he became chairman of the Soviet-sponsored People's Committee of North Korea (later the Korean Workers' party). In 1948, when the People's Republic was established, he became its first premier. Between 1950 and 1953 he led his nation in the Korean War. In 1972 the "Great Leader" relinquished the premiership but retained his position as North Korea's leader by assuming the presidency under a revised constitution. Under his rule, North Korea increased its military forces, embarked on a program of industrialization, and maintained close relations with both China and the Soviet Union.
His son, Kim Jong Il kĭm jông ĭl, 1941?–2011, was groomed as his successor. Active in the Korean Workers' party leadership from 1964, Kim Jong Il became secretary of its central committee in 1973. In 1991 he was appointed supreme commander of the armed forces. Upon his father's death, Kim Jong Il took over leadership of the country. He was named secretary of the Communist party in 1997 and consolidated his power with the title of National Defense Commission chairman in 1998. Although Kim established relations with a number of Western nations, easing the North's diplomatic isolation, and hosted meetings with South Korean presidents Kim Dae Jung (2000) and Roh Moo Hyun (2007), he did not reciprocate with a visit to the South, and the North developed nuclear weapons and provoked international crises to win desperately needed food and other aid.
In 2010, due to ill health, the "Dear Leader" moved to secure the succession for his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, 1984?–, whose name is sometimes transliterated Kim Jong Eun. He attended school in Switzerland and Kim Il Sung Military Univ. (2002–7), but was largely unseen in public until 2009, when he was named to the National Defense Council and appointed chief of the State Security Dept. In 2010 he was promoted to four-star general and shortly afterward named to the Workers' party central committee and became vice chairman of its central military commission. He was named to succeed his father when the latter died in 2011, and officially became first secretary of the party and chairman of its central military commission in 2012; later that year he was made a marshal.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.