August 25, 2014 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Is there any truth to the idea that North Korean textbooks state that Kim Jong-Il (or, more recently, Kim Jong-Un) doesn't urinate or defecate? As in, are there any pictures of one of said textbooks with an accompanying translation?

I recently saw thislist of unfounded rumors about North Korea, and I was wondering just how many of the stories that are published or circulated are based on hearsay.

The notion that Kim Jong-Un doesn't urinate or defecate is put forth in the trailer for the forthcoming movie The Interview, and I wondered if this had any basis in fact.
posted by matkline to Society & Culture (5 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
If you did a little googling, you probably found the same thing I did, which is that many articles refer to this 'fact' but few or none give a reference.

One article did link back to the Kim Jong-Il wikipedia article as the reference. The fact is mentioned in the 10 Sept 2008 version of the wikipedia article but not in later version. The reference is "Chol-hwan Kang and Pierre Rigoulot (2005). The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag, Basic Books." However a page number or other specifics are not given. Here is that book in Google Books and Amazon.

Here is a 2nd-hand source, possibly the source for many other claims of this information being in a 'textbook' - the author claims to have seen photocopies of the textbook at question: Demanding the Impossible, Slavoj Zizek, p. 45

This Guardian article makes this statement: "A government website once stated that Kim Jong-il never needed to urinate or defecate. But the reference was later removed."

This, I think, is potentially useful. I don't think we're likely to have access to any North Korean textbooks, if that is the source. But if the source was a North Korean web site, things are much more promising. There are only a very few official North Korean government web sites and you could use archive.org to try to look up historical copies of the site. I snooped around on the archive.org copy of korea-dpr.com from 2005 and found these possibly relevant biographies of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il

I didn't read all of either of these (they are both long--the Kim Il Sung autobiography is some 2000 pages), but both of them are detailed and wonky and seem unlikely to include 'wonder story' type information.

If I were guessing where something like this might appear, it might be on something like one of the North Korean news agency type web sites, where they posted numerous articles detailing various activities of the current leader--maybe something like this from 2011.

Unfortunately I don't know a good way to search archive.org sites for text--if you could search text of historical NK websites you might be able to find a reference.
posted by flug at 9:21 PM on August 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

OK, here is the reference from The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag by Chol-hwan Kang & Pierre Rigoulot, Basic Books, page 3:
To my childish eyes and to those of all my friends, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il were perfect beings, untarnished by any base human function. I was convinced, as we all were, that neither of them urinated or defecated. Who could imagine such things of gods?
posted by flug at 9:37 PM on August 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

Hmm, this is interesting. Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty By Bradley K. Martin, p 714.

It relates a story from Kim Il-sung's memoirs, where Kim Il-sung tells an experience his father had with a teacher:
Kim Il-sung in his memoirs recalled a bit of family lore from his father's childhood. A village schoolteacher, often in his cups, repeatedly sent pupils to buy wine for him. The boy who was to become the future Great Leader's father obeyed meekly for a while, but lost his respect for the teacher one day when he saw him fall facedown in a ditch on his way home. The next time the teacher sent him off-with a bottle to get a refill, the boy intentionally smashed the bottle on a rock outside the school. Then he told the teacher he had tripped while being chased by a tiger. The pupil's father, Kim's paternal grandfather, heard of the incident and observed: "If pupils peep into their teacher's private life frequently, they lose their awe of him. The teacher must give his pupils the firm belief that teacher neither eats nor urinates; only then can he maintain his authority at school." A teacher, Kim's grandfather added, "should set up a screen and live behind it."
Given that Kim Il-sung quotes this story approvingly and was known as (among other things) "dear teacher," it could well be the source of the idea that worked its way into NK textbooks, school teachings, etc, that Kim Il-sung himself should be portrayed "behind a screen" as neither eating, urinating, or defecating. Either because Kim Il-sung promoted this idea directly (he obviously believed it) or because others around him picked it up & promoted it.
posted by flug at 10:01 PM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

OK, here is another layer of the onion. An online version of Kim Il-sung's memoirs With the Century, dated 1992, includes this passage in Chapter 3.2:
My grandfather would always say that it was not advisable for a pupil to visit his teacher’s house. Not only those from the older generation who had grown up by learning Tongmongsonsub (the first textbook for a boy—Tr.) at village schools, but also many other elders who claimed that they had become civilized thanks to modern eduction were of the same opinion as my grandfather. My grandfather’s opinion was this: If pupils peep into their teacher’s private life frequently, they lose their awe of him; the teacher must give his pupils the firm belief that their teacher neither eats nor urinates; only then can he maintain his authority at school; so a teacher should set up a screen and live behind it.

Grandfather had this opinion at the time when my father was attending the village school. There was a teacher named Kim Ji Song at Sunhwa Village School which my father was attending. He was helplessly fond of drinking. He would often send my father, who was the class monitor, on errands to buy wine for him. At first my father obeyed him meekly, but after seeing the drunken teacher fall flat on his face in a ditch on his way home, father changed his mind.

One day the teacher gave him a large bottle and sent him on the same errand. But outside the school gate he threw the bottle at a rock and smashed it to pieces. He told the teacher that, chased by a tiger, he had tripped over a stone and broken the bottle. In blank dismay the teacher said, “Oh! Has a tiger from Mt. Paektu come as far as Mangyongdae? How shameful it is for me that you must lie to me! It was wrong of me to send you boys for wine.” Thus he stopped drinking. Even though his teacher had stopped drinking, the image of the teacher flat on his face in the ditch smelling of wine was engraved on my father’s memory. My grandfather’s opinion of a teacher’s code of conduct was based on this anecdote.
However, if you look at the version of Kim Il-sung's memoirs available on the official NK website, dated 2003, the same story is still there but it has been edited--or perhaps just translated more circumspectly--and doesn't include the specific references to urination and defecation.

It is just possible that this story from Kim Il-jung's memoirs is both the source of the idea taught to NK schoolchildren that "dear teacher" didn't urinate or defecate (because this story would give a clear indication to people creating children's training materials in NK that this is the way "dear teacher" would prefer to have himself portrayed) and also the source of the statement I mentioned in a previous post, that "A government website once stated that Kim Jong-il never needed to urinate or defecate. But the reference was later removed." The 'removed' business could refer to the version of Kim Il-sung's memoirs posted with the reference to urination & defection removed.

This doesn't quite answer your original question about a direct NK source for or textbook teaching the idea that Kim Il-sung or Kim Jong-il never urinate or defecate, but it is getting pretty close . . . this is almost certainly the original source of the idea, and directly from Kim Il-sung's memoirs.
posted by flug at 10:27 PM on August 25, 2014 [9 favorites]

Wow, simply amazing research Flug! This should make it to the sidebar!
posted by matkline at 11:29 PM on August 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

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