Poster Children of the Hermit Kingdom

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North Korea's first leader, Kim Il Sung, greets the adoring masses; behind him is North Korea's official coat of arms, a red star shining down on a hydroelectric power plant. The personality cult surrounding the country's leaders has never hid the corpulence of either of the Kims; on the contrary, their girth is seen as a sign of their easy-going nature. Yankee villains, by contrast, are often depicted as beanpole-thin in propaganda art.


Kim Il Sung, his wife Kim Jong Suk, and their son Kim Jong Il ride horses near the Liberation Army's secret camp on Mount Paektu.


North Korean propaganda often associates the country's leaders with snow, a symbol of purity, and with carefree children, symbols of innocent spontaneity. In these paintings, Kim Il Sung visits kindergarten students in a mountain village. Here the leader seems not to be talking at all, instead simply exuding benevolent solicitude and good cheer; he resembles not so much a traditional Confucian educator, let alone a Marxist-Leninist intellectual or disciplinarian, but rather an indulgent parent. That is how his role to the nation is also often described.


Kim Jong Il is often depicted as having spent his school years in the 1950s enlightening fellow students about his father's "Juche" thought. In fact, the sham doctrine was not even spoken of until the cultural revolution of the mid-1960s, with the first books on the subject appearing several years after.


Kim Jong Il comforts a distraught nation after his father's death on July 8, 1994. In the background is the 66-foot bronze statue of the Great Leader that was erected on Mansu Hill in Pyongyang in 1972. Dark skies in depictions of this period symbolize the growing threat from without.


The myth of Kim's tireless, never-ending inspection of the country's defenses is meant to absolve him of responsibility for North Korea's economic woes.


The Dear Leader stands guard as the waves of a hostile world crash ineffectually against the rocks.


Since the proclamation of a "military-first" policy in 1995, the Supreme Commander's five-pointed star has become as prominent a propaganda motif as the national flag itself. Standard are depictions of a square-jawed soldier leading the way to a strong and prosperous country, while the rest of society -- here a laborer and a white-collar worker with one of Kim Jong Il's works -- follows closely behind. But outsiders who think the military has been placed over the party should note that the legend reads, "Let us loyally venerate the party's military-first leadership."

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