North Korea’s Bizarre Funeral For The “Dear Leader”

The official State Funeral for Kim Jong-il was held in Pyongyang earlier today, and it was about as bizarre as you’d expect something from that country to be:

SEOUL, South Korea — Kim Jong-un, the designated dynastic heir to power in North Korea, walked alongside the hearse of his deceased father, Kim Jong-il, through snow-covered downtown Pyongyang on Wednesday, leading a state funeral that provided early glimpses of who is serving as guardians of the young untested leader.

The extensive funeral was closely watched for signs of shifts in power in the country’s enigmatic leadership. Mr. Kim’s two elder brothers, Kim Jong-nam and Kim Jong-chol, were nowhere to be seen.

Leading the funeral alongside and behind Mr. Kim were a familiar mix of military generals and party secretaries, including elderly stalwarts from the days of Kim Jong-il and his father, the North’s founding president, Kim Il-sung, and younger officials who expanded their influence while playing crucial roles in grooming the son as successor under the father’s tutelage.

Most prominent were the two men whose names seldom fail to pop up when North Korea watchers tried to dissect the palace intrigues in the capital, Pyongyang: Jang Song-taek, Kim Jong-un’s uncle and vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission, and Ri Yong-ho, head of the North Korean military’s general staff.


On the surface, the funeral appeared to proceed with a totalitarian choreography.

Kim Jong-un walked with one hand on the hearse and the other raised in salute. Neat rows of soldiers in olive-green uniforms stood, hats off and bowing, in front of the Kumsusan mausoleum, where Kim Jong-il’s body had been lying in state since his death was announced on Dec. 19.

When the funeral motorcade stopped before them at the start of a 25-mile procession through Pyongyang, they gave a last salute and a military band played the national anthem. Mr. Kim and other top officials did not walk the entire route; from inside their limousines, they watched crowds of citizens and soldiers wailing along the boulevards under a cold, gray sky.

Soldiers appeared to lead the outpouring of grief. They beat their chests in tears, footage broadcast on state television showed. They flailed their hands, stomped their feet and shouted “Father, Father,” as the limousine carrying a gigantic portrait of a smiling Kim Jong-il on the roof crawled past the crowds, followed by the hearse bearing his coffin draped with a red flag. A phalanx of soldiers carrying various party and military flags followed.

In one scene, soldiers rushed to keep mourners from spilling onto the road. But even among the crowds, the intensity of grief — thus loyalty to the regime — seemed to vary; those standing farther from the road seemed less emotional.

The funeral lasted for three hours. A national memorial service will take place at noon on Thursday, state media said.

The North reported that Kim Jong-il died of a heart attack on Dec. 17. He left behind a country gripped by chronic food shortages but armed with nuclear weapons and a successor in his 20s whose control on military generals and party secretaries remains a subject of intense speculation among outside analysts.

The funeral, and the mourning, appeared to have been meticulously choreographed by the government to strengthen the cult of personality underpinning the Kim family’s rule. State television and radio announcers exhorted North Koreans to uphold the family with their lives. They even attributed the heavy snow fall ahead of the funeral to the “heaven’s grief” over Kim Jong-il’s death.

There really isn’t much to say about this entire bizarre affair, I think the video speaks for itself:

Like I said, just bizarre.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Liberal Capitalist says:

    The wailing is no surprise… I think it’s: ” There goes my meal ticket ! ”

    Totalitarian governements can’t exist in a vacuum. They need to be supported.

    Take W. Bush, for example… Could have never made it without a compliant media and a loyal party following that was willing to ignore reality.

    But yeah, KOREA is bizarre, right?