April 15th is a special day in North Korea. It is what is known as the “Day of the Sun” that is the birthday of the country’s first leader, Kim Il Sung. The day of the sun marks a new year in the DPRK Juche Calendar. With Kim Il Sung having been board on April 15th, 1912, it is thus now Juche 109. In commemoration of his legacy, mass celebrations and mass dances are abound in Pyongyang. But why is it called the Day of the Sun? And what is it all about? The celebration embodies a deep symbolism of the former leader and his significance to the state. Our overview here on Visit North Korea offers all the details.
Kim Il Sung is known to have constructed the most all embracing political personality cult in history. As Andrei Lankov quoted, Kim Il Sung was able “to out Stalin-Stalin himself”. With the early North Korea in a tumultuous position facing off against the threat of becoming a subordinate to the neighbouring Communist giants of both the USSR and China, Kim Il Sung responded to the insecurity through an extreme consolidation of his own political power, that is to construct a state that would become inseparable from his personal essence and being. To do this he purged all of his factional revivals and cemented Juche to affirm ideological exclusivity, whilst also embroiding a history and identity of the state exclusivity bound to him. The story of North Korea would be affirmed as a heroic liberation and glorification through the brilliance of Kim Il Sung, of which nobody else could match.
As Historian Bruce Cummings notes, however, the way this was done was unique to the socio-cultural context of Korea. Kim Il Sung’s personality cult was constructed within the framework of Confucianism. That is emphasizing the notions of family piety, benevolent leadership and enlightened rule as legitimating qualities. Kim Il Sung was the “father” of the “family state”, portrayed as a man acting out of love and brilliance on behalf of the Korean nation. Idealistically, his political power was portrayed through the notions of achievement and example. When Children perform at the Mansudae Children’s Palace, they sing a song about Kim which affirms him as “Abeoji” (father) in the literal sense. Cummings described the portrayal of Kim as a “benevolent Stalin”. In turn, his legacy is celebrated in a way which expresses gratitude and appreciation.
This also reflects in his name, which is where the “day of the sun” symbolism begins. It is worth mentioning that Kim Il Sung was not his name at birth. He was in fact, born as Kim Song-ju, changing his name later on. In Korean, “il sung” may be roughly translated to “the sun”. Why the sun? The sun is integral to all life. It offers light, illuminating the world and making all things visible. It offers heat. Without the sun the world is dark and void, it could not possibly function. In this case, the “Day of the Sun” offers special symbolism, it affirms the fact that Kim Il Sung is literally “the sun” of the Korean people and nation. As the centre of all things in North Korea, his legacy symbolically represents life, light, brilliance and opportunity to all as the benevolent father and “eternal president”.
So as a whole, this is why the day of the sun stands as North Korea’s foremost public holiday. Kim Il Sung’s extensive personality cult is like the light of the sun in that it penetrates, reaches and offers meaning to every single chasm of public life in the DPRK. Save you isolate yourself in darkness your whole life, you cannot escape nor separate yourself from the light and influence of the sun, likewise nor can you in North Korea from Kim Il Sung.