[A day after North Korea announced the death of its longtime ruler, Kim Jong-il, televised video and photographs distributed by the reclusive state on Tuesday showed scenes of mass hysteria and grief among citizens and soldiers across the capital. The images, many of them carefully selected by the state Korean Central News Agency, appeared to be part of an official campaign to build support for Mr. Kim’s successor, his third son, Kim Jong-un.]
Korea Central News Agency, via European Pressphoto Agency
SEOUL, South Korea — Among countless mourners at a public square in North Korea, the kneeling middle-aged man in an off-white windbreaker stands out. The state broadcaster’s camera zooms in as he wails, rocking back and forth with clenched fists, his grief punctuated by the white puffs of his breath visible in the cold of the capital, Pyongyang.
The camera lingers a few seconds too long on this perfect mourner. A couple of rows away, two teenage boys stand motionless, seemingly uncertain about how to behave. They look toward the man — perhaps even at the camera beyond him — then briefly away, before also dropping to their knees to weep.
A day after North Korea announced the death of its longtime ruler, Kim Jong-il, televised video and photographs distributed by the reclusive state on Tuesday showed scenes of mass hysteria and grief among citizens and soldiers across the capital. The images, many of them carefully selected by the state Korean Central News Agency, appeared to be part of an official campaign to build support for Mr. Kim’s successor, his third son, Kim Jong-un.
In his first public appearance since his father’s death, Kim Jong-un visited the mausoleum in Pyongyang where Kim Jong-il’s body lay in state, covered with a red blanket. The coffin was surrounded by white chrysanthemums and Kimjongilia, a flower named after the deceased leader.
Kim Jong-un was accompanied by a group of senior party and military officials, giving the outside world a hint about whom he might be relying on as he seeks to consolidate control over a dynasty that has controlled North Korea since it was founded by his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, whose death in 1994 led to even greater outpouring of public mourning.
Contrived as they might look to Western eyes, the wild expressions of grief at funerals — the convulsive sobbing, fist pounding and body-shaking bawling — are an accepted part of Korean Confucian culture, and can be witnessed at the funerals of the famous and the not famous alike in South Korea. But in the North, the culture of mourning has been magnified by a cult of personality in which the country’s leader is considered every North Korean’s father.
As such, the public expressions of grief are not so much an assessment of Kim Jong-il’s stewardship over North Korea — his failings have become increasingly known to North Koreans in recent years, especially to the privileged class of citizens shown in the videos and photographs released in the past two days. Rather, they are in some ways, at least, the expected way to mourn the passing of a father; not hewing to this tradition would invite social or state opprobrium, as the two teenage boys in the videos seemed to grasp instinctively.
Park Jong-chul, an analyst at the government-financed Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said that much of the grief on display in Pyongyang was genuine. Fear and uncertainty about the North’s future were also behind the flow of emotions, but some degree of coercion as well.
“Other North Koreans may be doing it as they think they should or because they are being watched,” Mr. Park said.
For more than six decades, the Kim family, starting with Kim Il-sung, ruled the country as if it were one extended family. People called the Kims “father” and “parent.” Propaganda murals show North Korean soldiers clinging to the Kims as children do to their parents. Newlyweds pay homage at the nearest Kim Il-sung statue. As filial children take religious care of a parent’s tomb in traditional Korean culture, citizens sweep around the Kim monuments, some each morning.
“So they do really feel as if the head of the nation has been cut off,” said Brian R. Myers, an expert on North Korean ideology at Dongseo University in South Korea. “Naturally, that makes people feel a certain shock or trauma regardless of whether they really felt a strong personal affection for Kim Jong-il.”
Mr. Myers said a critical failure in the West’s understanding of North Korea was the tendency to underestimate the cult of personality and the importance of state loyalty there. In the North, he said, “nationalism and state loyalty are mutually reinforcing,” so that even when people are displeased by their country’s direction, they identify strongly with the state.
Still, Kim Jong-il’s death has not inspired as much grief as his father’s, analysts said. Under Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s food shortages worsened. A growing gap in loyalty to the regime developed “between those with vested interests and living in Pyongyang and those living in the outlying provinces,” Mr. Park said.
Even North Korean defectors living in South Korea typically recall Kim Il-sung with affection, while saying little about Kim Jong-il, or denigrating him. North Korea’s government has been carefully orchestrating the transition to the grandson, a figure with an even thinner record of accomplishments.
When Kim Jong-un made his public debut last year, he was prepared so that he would look just like his grandfather. He was overweight. He wore his hair slicked back. He clapped his hands at party meetings and received kowtowing generals older than his father with a casual gravitas North Koreans identified with his grandfather.
“He was such a spitting image of his grandfather that when he first appeared on TV, many North Koreans broke into tears, hailing him as the second coming of Kim Il-sung,” said a South Korean intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.
The campaign continued Tuesday. At the Pyongyang National Theater, actors and actresses were photographed crying, effectively instructing the nation how to behave. The public grief had a goal, as the actors and actresses made clear as they urged the nation to “turn sadness into strength and courage.”
Choe Sang-hun reported from Seoul, and Norimitsu Onishi from Tokyo.
[Given the age and inexperience of Kim Jong-un, who is believed to be in his late 20s, questions persisted over whether he could consolidate his power or would become the figurehead of a collective leadership where the military and his uncle would emerge as power brokers. Jang Song-thaek, 65, the brother-in-law of Kim Jong-il, grew influential under Mr. Kim’s rule and was often cited as a possible regent for Kim Jong-un.]
The allies’ desire not to provoke North Korea and to see a stable transition of power in Pyongyang was underlined on Wednesday when Seoul allowed private organizations and individuals to send their condolences over the death of Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader whose death was announced on Monday.
Hours earlier, the State Department said American officials had met North Korean diplomats at the United Nations in New York after the announcement to continue discussions of possible food aid for the North, which were first held in Beijing last week.
Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman of the State Department, said the Beijing talks were inconclusive. “So we’re going to have to keep talking about this,” she said. “And given the mourning period, frankly, we don’t think we’ll be able to have much more clarity and resolve these issues before the new year.”
The gestures showed that Seoul and Washington, which have expressed sympathy for the North Korean people but not explicitly for the regime, were signaling their readiness to engage with the emerging leadership in Pyongyang when it was ready.
On Tuesday, South Korea decided not to send a government delegation to Mr. Kim’s funeral in Pyongyang on Dec. 28 but allowed the families of former President Kim Dae-jung and the former Hyundai chairman, Chung Mon-hun, to visit. On Wednesday, it said it would allow private groups and individuals, such as the foundation named after the late President Roh Moo-hyun, who held a summit with Mr. Kim in 2007, to send condolences by mail or fax.
South Korea remains angry over the North’s artillery attack on a South Korean island and the sinking of a South Korean warship that it also blamed on the North. Fifty South Koreans were killed in the two incidents last year.
On Wednesday, defectors from North Korea and human rights activists in South Korea released giant balloons containing propaganda leaflets into North Korea. The leaflets denounced the hereditary power transfer in Pyongyang .
Given the age and inexperience of Kim Jong-un, who is believed to be in his late 20s, questions persisted over whether he could consolidate his power or would become the figurehead of a collective leadership where the military and his uncle would emerge as power brokers. Jang Song-thaek, 65, the brother-in-law of Kim Jong-il, grew influential under Mr. Kim’s rule and was often cited as a possible regent for Kim Jong-un.
The first thing Kim Jong-il did when he unveiled his youngest son as heir last year was to give him two key military titles: four-star general and vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party. But his control on the hard-line People’s Army, whose influence has grown under his father’s songun, or “military-first” policy, remains untested. The military was considered the most resistant to the idea of giving away the North’s nuclear weapons in return for outside aid.
There was some apprehension that Kim Jong-un might choose to raise tensions to establish his leadership credentials with the military, said Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at the Sejong Institute in South Korea.
On Wednesday, North Korean television showed senior military leaders saluting Kim Jong-un, who received mourners at the Kumsusan mausoleum, where his father lay in state inside a glass case for public viewing.
The state television repeatedly broadcast images of senior military leaders pledging allegiance to Kim Jong-un.
The South’s National Intelligence Service reported to the National Assembly that North Korea put its military on heightened alert as the regime moved to consolidate behind the new leader. Shortly after Mr. Kim’s death was announced on Monday, North Korean troops were ordered to cancel their field training and return to the barracks, Won Se-hoon, the head of the intelligence agency, was quoted as saying by lawmakers.
The order was given under the name of Kim Jong-un, an indication that he was in control of the North’s 1.2 million-strong military, the South’s national news agency, Yonhap, reported on Wednesday, quoting an anonymous government source.
The spy agency also told the Parliament’s intelligence committee that security has been tightened in major cities across the country.
The regime’s hurry to establish the young Kim’s leadership, while the nation was still grieving over his father’s death, also reflected his vulnerability. Kim Jong-il himself had been solidly established as successor when his father, the North’s founding president Kim Il-sung, died in 1994.
“When Kim Il-sung died, talking about Kim Jong-il’s succession while the country was gripped in mourning, was considered sacrilegious,” said Choi Jin-wook, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.
The prospect of uncontrollable instability in the North also worries its neighbors. China, North Korea’s traditional ally, moved quickly to show its support. Chinese President Hu Jintao went to the North Korean Embassy in Beijing on Tuesday to express condolences.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and four other members of the ruling Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee paid their respects at the embassy.