Kim Il-sung’s family and North Korean place names

The Oranckay points out that Ryanggang Province, the site of Sept. 9’s large explosion, was not one of Korea’s original eight provinces. As Pete’s post (which is an interesting one I highly encourage people to read) points out, many people in the South have never heard of the place, and much as someone joked (kinda) that war was God’s way of teaching Americans world geography, events like these in North Korea also serve a higher educational purpose:

I’ve actually met people who’d never heard of Ryanggang. Neither new province existed before Liberation and because even the most neutral of factual information about North Korea was suppressed in the South for so long, it’s probable the recent explosion has made some South Koreans notice the name for the first time if they don’t usually pay attention to the news.

Aaron, a commenter on his blog, asked, however:

Yeah, and what’s weirder than the provincial reorganization is the renaming of Huch’ang-gun as Kim Hyongjik-gun (after Kim Il Sung’s father). (See the map at the Marmot.) What a mouthful. I’d known about the eastern coastal city of Kimch’aek (can’t recall the former name) but wasn’t aware of this one. I wonder how many other North Korean geographical names have been meddled with.

Kim Chaek City, formally Seongjin, is an industrial town of about 235,00 souls (1991) on the East Sea coast with a really big steel mill (great English description here) of the type much beloved by Stalinist regimes. Kim Chaek, of course, was a guerrilla buddy of Kim Il-sung during his Manchurian-Soviet days who became a high-ranking member of the Korean Workers Party after his return to Korea and Kim Il-sung’s right-hand man. He was later made commander of North Korea’s front-line troops during the Korean War, which must have had its perks until the Incheon Landing, when someone needed to take the fall for the dramatic change in the course of the war (and it sure as hell wasn’t going to be the Great Leader). He was purged and died in Jan. 1951, supposedly of a heart attack. The Big Man must have felt a little sorry for him, however, because in Feb. 1951, his hometown of Hakseong County was incorporated into Seongjin City to form the newly renamed Kim Chaek City. He also got a big steel mill and and polytechnic university named after him. Somewhere in the big Jucheland in the sky, Kim Chaek smiles.

Kim Chaek isn’t the only place in North Korea named after an individual. Today’s Chosun Ilbo — perhaps having read the comment on Oranckay’s blog — talked of some of the places in North Korea named after family members of Kim Il-sung. Firstly, you have Kim Hyong-jik County, formerly Huchang County, the supposed site of Sept. 9’s Big Bang. As I pointed out in a previous post, Kim Hyong-jik was Kim Il-sung’s father, but what I didn’t know was the name change was relatively recent — October 1988. Immediately to the east of Kim Hyong-jik County, you find Kim Jong-suk Country, formerly Sinpa County, which is named after Kim Il-sung’s first wife and, coincidently, the mother of current North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Also in lovely Ryanggang Province, you have Kim Hyong-gwon County, formerly Pungsan County, named after Kim Il-sung’s paternal uncle. How nice.

The Chosun also pointed out that Kim Hong-jik County used to be a pretty remote area of primeval forests inhabited by tigers, but was transformed into a major military region with the building of a railway in the late 1980s. In the late 1990s, a munitions factory that apparently blew up in an accident in Kanggye was moved to the county, and of course, there is the Nodong missile base Yongjo-ri (which has been incorporated into Woltan-ni), a base suspected of having Daepodong 1 and 2 missiles in its inventory as well.

BTW, The People’s Korea has a pretty cool map of Ryanggang Province with a very North Korean description of the place — all in English!

  • BigFire

    One wonders when these cities will get their original names back. In Russia, we now have the original St. Petersberg (though some nationalists wanted a more Slavic name Petragrad). Stanligrad have reverted back to its original name of Volgograd (though that was a political decision in the 60s when the Soviet disavowed Stalin).

  • slim

    Not to mention all the U.S. inner city Martin Luther King expressways. In (communist-party-run) Calcutta, every communist figure has a street named after him, not just the usual mass-murdering pantheon…

  • Herman

    I’m surprised that you were surprised in your earlier post that cities and counties are named after individuals. There are plenty of towns and counties named “Washington” and “Jefferson” in the U.S. and the practice happens in lots of countries.

    Or is it the recent nature of the name changes that was bothering you?

  • The Marmot

    I’m well aware that the practice of naming cities and towns after people is common practice in many countries. The reason I’m surprised (not really surprised, as I knew they did it, but more like unnerved) is because it’s NOT common practice in Korea to name cities or towns after people.

  • Simon World

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  • http://- yen jun

    “95 per cent of blacks enjoy a higher standard of living”: that’s comparative, since US is a developed country. China is developing. You sd measure the blacks against the white population.

    The reconstruction of North Korea is inevitable: while China will not? And which country dictates the IMF?
    Yes, I am aware that Japan has given a lot of aid post-War to Korea and China, tho I can’t speak for soccer hooligans who rioted because the soccer team could not beat a 2nd string Japanese team without their Europe-based stars.
    But I am sure those same people you refer to might consider them war reparations.
    That is the Japanese way of doing it – I didn’t do anything wrong, but you might like this $$$. Reminds me of something I read about Kobe Byrant lately…
    US generously allowed cheap Chinese goods – I find that a good one,too. I think many Afghans and Iraqis might disgree.
    You said it yourself – it’s cheap coolie labour, not generosity. US used the MFN status for years to keep China in line, before finally making it permanent.

    I referred to a clear-cut plan for reconstruction, such as Marshall Plan, and American money to Korea and Japan.

    As for your assertations about Chinese Nokia, Samsung, etc – as pointed out, China is still a developing country. Was Samsung anywhere on Fortune’s 500 radar 20 years ago?
    My boss had a Hyundai company car 10 years ago – it was a joke. Look at Hyundai now.

    China can still will not have the same standard of living as the Americans in per GDP: China has already said it expects, at best, to be a middle-income country by 2050, and certainly nowhere near the GDP of the USA (if presidents like Bush don’t keep screwing up the country, that is).
    A middle-income country of that size is a potent one. 10 per cent that can afford anything decent right now – as you say – is already the population of Japan, and more than Korea.
    Why do so many Chinese hate Japan? Maybe many Koreans, too, and other Southeast Asians? Sigh…here, we go again. Simply, the memories cast a long shadow.
    Just bring it closure: WW2 happened, we invaded other countries, behaved badly. Tell it in the textbooks. Period.

    Corruption: your opinion, again.
    Human rights: as I said, please look at America’s own litany of abuse. Trumped-up charges? Read Gina Doggett’s piece in IHT (just for example) yesterday abuot police arresting anti-War protesters in NYC on trumped-up charges.
    And Indian land still gets expropriated… centuries after the Mayflower. How’s that for progress?
    Or perhaps you missed that picture of Lyndie England with an Iraqi prisoner on a leash. Human rights?
    Kimbob: the Good Book taught us, let he among you without sin, cast the first stone.

  • WJK

    This is different. George Washinton’s father, Stalin’s mother, Martin Luther King’s grandfather, or Deng Shao Ping’s wife probably do not have cities, counties, or provinces (states in US terms, roughly) named after them.

    Reason why? Well, Kim Jong Il has to back up his claim of deity with things people can see. I think North Korea teaches its people that Kim Il Sung learned how to read at 3, annihilated the Japanese army at age 14, and made the sea dry up at age 20, and such. Not exactly like that, but very similar stuff. Anyway, the King Kims like to back those stories up with landmarks, cities and such that claim to be the birthplaces or important places where the Kims or their ancestors lived. I guess they want to say Kim Il Sung’s wife is holy since she gave birth to Kim Jong Il. And, Kim Il Sung’s friend is to be commemorated eternally since he probably saved Kim Il Sung in battle once or twice. Call him an Archangel. Not exactly like that, but that’s how they think and no one else in the world does that.

    If you had a TV set, you probably did see news footage of countless North Koreans wailing and bowing in front of Kim Il Sung’s graven image. Those people looked like they discovered a god died. Again, I don’t think any leader in the world claims the status that the King Kims have insisted upon.

    Sucks for people who call those renamed places their home or birthplaces. Imagine with me if you are Korean.

    ” I live on Jun Doo Hwan Blvd of Roh Moo Hyun City.”

  • WJK

    Actually my example is bad. Imagine refereces to their ancestors. Who had nothing to do with what they did Presidents, good or bad. The Confucian way of thinking though likes to attribute all the good to the ancestor’s super qualities.

  • kimbob

    > But my point was: does ROK have the deep pockets to deal with the horrendous cost of national re-construction? Without American aid? Or Japanese? And again be humiliatingly reduced to status of semi-colony?

    Semi-colony? Hardly. Of course the ROK will have to dip into the $200+ billion surplus fund PLUS, it will need international loans like the Asian Development and IMF loans for immediate needs to repair the infrastructure. But most important of all, ROK will need a huge injection of international investment into North Korea. That’s where most of the money will come from. ROK will have to make sure that a big chunk of international investment dollars that goes into China today, gets re-averted to North Korea with a promise of even cheaper labor than China can provide. Give open access to North Korea, they will come. The reconstruction of North Korea won’t happen over night, but it’s inevitable.

    > What good has that done America?€™s blacks, many still mired in poverty,

    They maybe mired in poverty, but I wouldn’t be too off if I say African Americans still have a higher standard of living than 95% of mainland Chinese.

    > China has done this, without benefit of a Marshall Plan, or the billions that US has poured into Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

    I have to laugh on what you just wrote – that China did all these wonders without any outside help. It’s almost funny as China claiming Korea, Mongolia, and Turkey were all once Chinese provincial kingdoms. China is the biggest aid receipient in Asia, if not the biggest (maybe if you discount India). The US stopped giving economic aid to China few years ago because of lack of human rights in China. True. But I’m betting those Chinese who rioted against hated Japan after China lost a soccer match, aren’t aware that Japan is the single most largest aid donor to China. Japan’s aid to China amounts to $2 billions a year, and that’s after when Japan slashed the aid of $4 billions a year, in 2000. From 1980 to 1998, Japan donated over $25 billions to China’s economic development – a staggering sum of money if you take into consideration the inflation rate. Other important aid sources for China also include, Germany, United Kingdom. Sweden, the United Nations, Australia, Italy, New Zealand, and Canada . Multilateral donors include the World Bank, the European Union, the Asian Development Bank, and the United Nations Development Program. Why did China choose Japan’s bullet trains for their new high speed train project when so many Chinese hate Japan? Could it have something to do with the fact that Japan provides economic aid that China doesn’t want to see drying up?

    Could China have become an economic power all by itself – as you suggest? Hardly. China could not have become an economic power without outside assistance, and most important of all, outside open markets like the United States that generously allowed cheap Chinese goods into the market without large trade barriers. The only things that make your market attractive are abundance of cheap labor that will work for foreign bosses for $100 per month, and a huge divided market which has only about 10% of the people who can afford anything decent. There are no comparable Chinese Toyota, Chinese Coca Cola, Chinese Nokia, nor Chinese Samsung. Even the impressive Chinese economic growth rates are in doubt, as it’s well known that much of it is exaggerated figures and lies by the local communist governments. China will grow economically, but it won’t grow forever, as they will soon run into the same constraining problems as Korea – like corruption, regionalism, unequal development, and labor militancy. Only worse for China, multiply the problems that Korea has, by 50 times. For example, just look at how much more corrupt China is. China can continue to grow at the current rate for 100 years, and they still will not have the same standard of living as the Americans in per GDP. China has a long long way to go, if it ever gets there.

    > Didn?€™t Korea have authoritarian central planning (as did Japan in its early modernization)?
    China?€™s leadership through the 1990s was still dominated by a generation, just a heartbeat

    Central planning isn’t the main problem with Communism. It’s the lack of human rights. Even under Korea’s authoritarian regimes of the past, the human rights wasn’t nearly as bad as China’s.

    > Yes, there is nepotism and corruption ?€“ tell me there isn?€™t any in `secular, liberal democracies?€™ like Japan and Korea?

    Yes, but they aren’t nearly as bad and corrupted as China. China is in a class all by itself.

    >Perhaps by the time unification actually happens, China will have developed that region (to pre-empt what you have suggested) far ahead? Hey, if the so-called Gando region becomes more prosperous than its new Korean neighbour, maybe the Chinese-Korean side might incite their cousins to merge with them instead?

    Very unlikely. That region is a slum fested area. It will take decades to develop. But Korea is the second biggest investor in China, after Taiwan. I am sure much of that money will flow into Gando and unified area around North eastern China and Korea, and away from rest of China. That will be a tremendous boost toward development in that area (Korean autonmous regions in China).

  • Jing

    I know this is a little off topic… but I think Kimbob dismisses the most obvious problem with Koreans claiming the Gando area simply because ethnic Koreans live there. Communist governments are generally not known to be subtle with their minority populations if they become “recalcitrant”. If push comes to shove, the PRC could very well either flood Gando with Han Chinese or as mr. Marmot briefly mentioned, simply relocate all the Koreans there to say, central Henan.

  • WJK

    Yen Jun, you don’t think it’s weird that Clinton’s prosperous America faded with the dot come boom, and that Bush’s tax cuts actually lets make money for the first time in 2004 while it ran on debt since its founding?

    I think Bush’s tax cuts minimized the hit on the economy. It’s sooo off topic, but you put it here, so I’m just putting something back. And, you called me down in the Gando section, but never apologized, so I think you should let your retaliation fizzle away :)

  • http://- yen jun


    Gando??? That’s so…last century. But yes, I think I was very rude to someone, and someone complained about it.

    Wasn’t it you? My humble apologies, then. It seemed so clever (to me, anyway) but, taking a step back, it wasn’t.


    Anyway, I shan’t open another can of worms venturing into American territory. I only know Bush is not my man

  • kimbob

    Take a look at this article regarding China’s economic advances into Mongolia. It won’t be long before all the Chinese move into Mongolia, outnumbering the Mongolians, own all the big companies and businesses – wiping out Mongolian culture, and then one day China will declare overnight, that Mongolia was always part of China (ancient provincial state), and that Mongolians are Chinese in origin. Then China will annex Mongolia, with the claim that Mongolia always belonged to China. They did the same things to Tibet and to the Turkic states in the west.

  • Jing

    Thats quite the extrapolation you made from that one small article (which was not without errors in the first place). You make it sound as if the Chinese are real-life Borg. Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated. All your base are belong to us.

  • kimbob

    “Chinese are real-life Borg. Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated. All your base are belong to us.”

    Jing, that just about sums it all up, doesn’t it?
    Good way to describe what’s going on.

  • kimbob

    Jing, the reason why I say your anology is so perfect is because Korea is virtually being smothered by China. For example, just go out into the Yellow sea, off of the coast of Korea, and see the thousands of illegal Chinese fishing junks that dot the coastlines like black locust plagues. They sweep the sea clean of life, while they move taking advantage of the North/South Korea border restrictions. I wish the navy will just sink one of the junks and then maybe the stink will hit the fan. But in reality, there is nothing Korea can do about it to stop it.

    Resistance is futile, you will be covered, smothered and liquidated.

  • WJK

    From the Korean nationalistic perspective, it was always the case that the Chinese were good at whatever they were good at because they had so many people and so many resources. Thus, the Koreans have always chosen to bow down to the Chinese instead of fighting them. This beautiful tradition began when Shilla allied with Tang China to defeat Paek Jae and Koguryo. In the late days of the Koryo Kingdom, General Choi and the King of Koryo wanted to invade China. China was at unrest at this point. Koryo had endured the invasions of many Chinese kingdoms, most notably of the Mongolian empire. General Lee and General Choi were ordered by the King of Koryo to invade mainland China. General Lee betrays the King of Koryo, fights Choi and kills him in a big battle, and sets up his own Kingdom, the Kingdom of Chosun. Thus, sadly but truly, it is Korean tradition to stand and stay quiet while the Chinese abuse the Koreans for being weak. Many kings of Koryo and Chosun have bowed their faces to ground in a show of surrender toward Chinese generals. Generals, not emperors. Of course a few of them had to go and bow their faces to the emperors later on.

  • WJK

    All Koreans should now proceed and learn both English and Chinese very well. That’s our way to survival, I guess.

  • kimche

    r u in japan now?