The Tangled History of Kim Jong Un’s Family and North Korea

Kim Jong Un is the third member of his family to rule the unpredictable and reclusive communist state of North Korea.

The North Korean dictatorship established by Kim Il Sung after World War II was taken over by his son Kim Jong Il in the 1990s. Kim Jong Un succeeded his father in 2011. 

Above: North Koreans bow in front of bronze statues of late leaders Kim Il Sung, left, and Kim Jong Il at Munsu Hill in Pyongyang in 2015. 

Wong Maye-E / AP

Kim Il Sung

Kim Il Sung stands with his future wife Kim Jong Suk when they were anti-Japanese guerrillas in the 1930s. Kim Il Sung is credited with a playing a key role in liberating Korea during World War II before he came to power.

Korea News Serivce via AP

Kim Il Sung poses with his first wife Kim Jong Suk and his son Kim Jong Il in the 1940s. 



Reuters, File

North Korea is founded: 1948

After World War II and the the end of the Japanese occupation, Kim Il Sung was installed by the Soviets as the leader of the newly proclaimed Democratic Republic of North Korea. 

Kim purged political enemies and built one of the world's most rigid dictatorships and isolated societies. 

Above: Supreme commander Kim Il Sung attends the military parade celebrating the creation of the Korean People's Army in February 1948.

Korea News Service vie AP

Kim Il Sung poses with North Korean students after enjoying a performance of dancing and singing in 1978.

Korean Central News Agency / AP

Kim Jong Nam

Kim Jong Il sits with his son, Kim Jong Nam, Kim Jong Un's older half-brother, in Pyongyang in 1981. 

After attending elite schools in the 1990s it was said that Kim Jong Nam was his father's choice to be his successor. But he earned a reputation for drinking and gambling and fell out of favor after he was caught trying to enter Japan on a false passport in 2001. 

AFP - Getty Images

North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, left, and his son Kim Jong Il visit a soccer stadium in Pyongyang in 1992. 

KCNA via KNS / Getty Images

Death of Kim Il Sung: 1994

Mourners wail in front of the coffin of Kim Il Sung after his death in July 1994. 

After his father's death, Kim Jong Il consolidated his power and ruled with an iron hand. 


Kim Jong Un

Pictures of Kim Jong Un in his youth are rare, but these pictures appeared in the South Korean newspaper Munhwa Ilbo in 2009. 

Secrecy shrouded Kim Jong Un's childhood, but he is known to have attended an English language international school in Switzerland under a fake name. Ex-classmates say he was a fan of Michael Jordan, Jackie Chan and Jean-Claude Van Damme. 

AFP / AFP - Getty Images

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, left, walks in front of his chosen successor, Kim Jong Un, as they watch a parade commemorating the anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang on Oct. 10, 2010.

Kyodo News / Reuters

Kim Jong Chol

A computer screen shows a man believed to be Kim Jong Il's second son, Kim Jong Chol, at an Eric Clapton concert in Singapore on Feb. 14, 2011. TV footage showed the man resembling Jong Chol, known to be an avid Clapton fan, entering the stadium accompanied by some 20 people, including bodyguards and women carrying bouquets.

Jong Chul was passed over in the line of succession for his younger brother. According to a book written by a family chef, Jong Chul was thought to be too "girlish" to take the helm.


Park Ji-Hwan / AFP-Getty Images

Death of Kim Jong Il: 2011

A car carries a portrait of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during his funeral procession through the streets of Pyongyang on Dec. 28, 2011.

Kyodo News / AP

Mourners react as a car carrying Kim Jong Il's body passes during the funeral procession in Pyongyang on Dec. 28, 2011. Millions of grief-stricken people turned out to mourn Kim Jong-Il. 

Kyodo News / AFP - Getty Images

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is accompanied by his wife Ri Sol Ju as they visit the Rungna People's Pleasure Ground in Pyongyang on July 25, 2012.

Kim Jong Un's age is unverified but he was believed to be the youngest head of state in the world when he took power.


Kim Jong Un is surrounded by emotional soldiers during a visit in Pyongyang on Aug. 24, 2012.

KCNA / Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves at military officers after inspecting the Wolnae Islet Defense Detachment, near the western sea border with South Korea on March 11, 2013.

KCNA / Reuters

Kim Jong Un meets with former NBA star Dennis Rodman in Pyongyang on Sept. 7, 2013. The regime's official news agency said that they watched a friendly basketball game and had dinner together.

It was Rodman's second visit to North Korea. Rodman, the highest-profile American to meet with the North Korean leader, was widely criticized for calling the repressive leader his "friend for life."

Rodong Sinmun via EPA

Jang Song Thaek

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walks past his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, during a military parade in Pyongyang on Feb. 16, 2012.

Declared a traitor, Jang was executed in 2013. It was a stunning end for the leader's former mentor, long considered the country's No. 2. In a sharp reversal of the popular image of Jang Song Thaek as a kindly uncle guiding young leader Kim Jong Un as he consolidated power, North's Korea's official news agency claimed that Jang instead saw the death of Kim Jong Il in 2011 as an opportunity to challenge his nephew and win power.

Kyodo News / Reuters

Death of Kim Jong Nam

Hazmat crews work at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb. 26, 2017, following the death of Kim Jong Nam, seen at right.

Kim Jong Nam, the older half-brother of Kim Jong Un, was killed at the airport in Malaysia on Feb. 13 by a highly toxic nerve agent in what U.S. and South Korean officials have described as an assassination organized by North Korean agents.

Related: Kim Jong Un's Mourning Nephew Breaks Silence, Remains in Hiding

Daniel Chan / AP

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is greeted by members of the army as he observed a ballistic rocket launching drill in an image released by North Korea's official news agency on March 7, 2017.

PHOTOS: The Peculiar Adventures of Kim Jong Un

More news from North Korea

KCNA via Reuters