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North Korea has faced a barrage of criticism over how wealth is distributed under the Kim dynasty’s regime. World leaders have condemned the nation’s dictators after reports emerged detailing extreme levels of famine while it appears that the elite savoured lavish lifestyles. While exact figures are hard to confirm, the US Census Bureau estimated that up to 600,000 people died from hunger-related illnesses and starvation between 1993 to 2000 – other reports claim as many as 3.5million died. The Institute for International Economics reported that 13.5 million North Koreans, around 62 percent of the population, received government food rations. According to unearthed accounts, China also weighed into this debate when a gold-leaf-covered statue honouring the nation’s founder Kim Il-sung was unveiled to the public.
The enormous effigy was created to honour North Korea’s then leader Kim Il-sung – Kim Jong-un’s grandfather – who was head of state upon its inception in 1948.
His son Kim Jong-il, who would usurp his brothers to become leader in 1994, had commissioned the statue as part of a cunning plan to win favour.
While his siblings were the favoured successors, he outshone them by demonstrating himself to be “the most loyal follower of his father in the country”.
The clever plot saw him create propaganda films that flattered and lied about his father’s victories, according to Chris Mikul’s 2019 book ‘My Favourite Dictators’.
He wrote: “Kim Il-sung loved them, too, which isn’t surprising as they portrayed him as the greatest man who ever lived.”
Kim Jong-il was appointed to honour his father’s legacy after graduating from university in 1964, where he strived to raise the “personality cult of Kim Il-sung to dizzying new heights”.
As part of this, he erased “the role of Korean partisans and China played in defeating Japan”, who ruled the nation between 1910 and 1945.
The rewritten ‘historical accounts’ claimed that Kim Il-sung had beaten his enemies “virtually singlehandedly”, according to Mr Mikul.
An official biographer of the time wrote that Kim was a “legendary hero” who was “capable of commanding heavens and earth”.
Mr Mikul claimed that accounts defined the leader as “an unrivalled brilliant commander who, as it were, can shrink a long range of steep mountains at a stroke and smash the swarming hordes of enemies with one blow”.
Other statements suggested that he could turn “pine cones into bullets”, “grains of sand into rice” and once “crossed a large river riding on fallen leaves”.
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In an attempt to strengthen his leadership claim, Kim Jong-il erected an enormous bronze statue in Kim Il-Sung Square, Pyongyang, to celebrate his father’s 60th birthday.
Mr Mikul reported: “It was originally covered with gold leaf worth an astonishing $850million (£695m) until China’s Deng Xiaoping, shown the statue on a visit, pointed out this was a bit ridiculous for a communist country.”
The 66ft tall statue of Kim Il-sung – approximately the length of a cricket pitch – aimed to preserve his legacy by showing the ‘Supreme Leader’ as he towers over the city and citizens almost like a god.
This was one of 229 effigies across the state designed to honour the nation’s history and leaders.
The Official North Korean Website wrote: “The group sculptures represent in a comprehensive way the immortal history of revolutionary struggle of the Korean people who have recorded only victory and glory under the wise leadership of the great Generalissimos.”
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