What do we know about Kim Jong Un?

With Kim Jong Il having departed this world for the land of pizza pies and Hennessy -- or something -- attention now turns to his son and presumed successor Kim Jong Un. Like his dad, Jong Un's background is largely shrouded in mystery. But here are a few things we know, or think we do: 

Ken Gause wrote for FP in 2009, "According to Kim Jong Il's former personal chef, Kim Jong-un was born in 1983 or 1984 to Kim's third wife, Ko Hyong-hui, and is allegedly his father's favorite son."

Jong Un was reportedly designated successor after his older bloger Kim Jong Nam embarassed the family with an ill-fated trip to Disneyland in 2001.

His health is questionable: There are reports that he inherited his father's diabetes and he was injured in a car crash in 2008. 

He was reportedly educated in Switzerland at the prestigious International School of Berne.

He shares his dad's fondness for James Bond movies and Michael Jordan and former schoolmates remember him being mainly obsessed with basketball in his youth. 

He's thought to speak English, German, and French. 

His father began grooming him only three years ago -- not much time for a 20-something to prepare to lead a troubled country. 

During his time in the North Korean government, he's been personally linked to two disastrous initiatives -- a 2009 currency reevalution that wiped out the life savings of many North Korean citizens and led to rare protests, and a 2010 artillery assault on a South Korean military installation.

According to official propaganda, he is "a military talent who has genius wisdom and policy" and "resembles our great general (Kim Jong Il) so much in appearance." His official nickname is "Brilliant Comrade". (His father was "Dear Leader" and his grandfather was "Great Leader."



Covering Kim Jong Il

It's notoriously difficult to get a sense of what's going on in North Korea -- after all, the world didn't even learn of Kim Jong Il's death until two days after it occurred. But Foreign Policy has published some amazing articles on the Hermit Kingdom. Here's a small selection:

Pyongyang Spring: As the Arab Spring swept across the Middle East, could Kim Jong Il be the next dictator to fall? Don't bet on it, wrote Sebastian Strangio -- the North Korean regime employs methods of repression that could even make Arab autocrats blush.

The Land of No Smiles: Tomas von Houtrye shot his magnificent photo essay, which was nominated for a National Magazine award, after entering North Korea posing as a businessman. His images capture the hardship of everyday life in the Hermit Kingdom.

The Secret History of Kim Jong Il: A North Korean professor who first met Kim in 1959, as a shy student struggling to learn Russian, tracks his evolution into an eccentric dictator. In the process, he describes his own gradual disillusionment with a regime that he once served.

The Rise of Kim Jong Un: Ken Gause's article was one of the first to describe the succession scenario that would likely play out following Kim Jong-Il's death. "[F]or those of us who read the tea leaves in Pyongyang for a living, the growing focus on the third son as the successor appears to be reaching a critical mass," he wrote presciently.

North Korea's Race Problem: Literary critic B.R. Myers spent eight years reading the propaganda that Kim Jong Il used to justify his rule. What he found was not communist agitprop, but pure ethnic chauvinism. "Up close, North Korea is not Stalinist," he wrote. "It's simply racist."

Can North Korea Change?: This article, by Peter Beck, addresses whether North Korea's leaders could ever be attracted by the "China model" -- that is, economic reform coupled with continued authoritarian rule. Beck argues that Pyongyang may have no choice but to embark on a tentative liberalization, or risk an economic collapse that would threaten the elites' hold on power.

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