[KS] Gold leaf on the Kim Il Sung statue in the Mansudae Grand Monument?

don kirk kirkdon at yahoo.com
Thu Dec 20 18:46:06 EST 2012

I thought that statue was erected after the Great Leader's death in 1994 -- don't recall being led there for the usual flower-laying and bowing when first in Pyongyang in 1992. Was back in 1995 when I saw the statue for the first time -- before trooping into the huge building in back (I should know its name but don't) and seeing his embalmed body under glass. (The body is now across the river  in Kumsusan beside that of his son.) The statue was definitely bronze-coated at the time -- I suspect the bronze is on top of cement or concrete -- not gold. Incidentally, I know what gold leaf looks like on soaring monuments -- think of the flaming torch on Merdeka Square in Jakarta where I arrived in 1965. Gleaming in the sun. Not so this one of Kim Il-sung.Don Kirk

--- On Thu, 12/20/12, Kirk Larsen <kwlarsen67 at gmail.com> wrote:

From: Kirk Larsen <kwlarsen67 at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [KS] Gold leaf on the Kim Il Sung statue in the Mansudae Grand Monument?
To: "Ruediger Frank" <ruediger.frank at univie.ac.at>
Cc: koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws
Date: Thursday, December 20, 2012, 12:19 PM

Rudiger’s comments both illuminate and complicate the gold
leaf statue story somewhat.


It is definitely the case that DPRK rhetoric is filled with
stories of the benevolence of its leaders and their constant desire to share
the meals, working conditions, and lifestyles of the average citizen. Kim Il
Sung was renowned for this and there were at least some attempts to cast Kim
Jong Il in the same light (c.f., the “Story of the Returned Boots” being taught
to schoolchildren and teachers alike in the film North Korea: A Day in the Life). This impulse is arguably
consistent with the socialist aim of leveling and creating a classless society
(more than a little paradoxical in the land of sŏngbun). It also echoes at least some older traditional
Korean/Confucian practices. I am reminded of King Sejong mourning his mother: 


“It was the hottest season of the year but he
discarded his softer yo
(mattress) and used only a rough mat to lie on. Those about him placed
oil-paper beneath lest the dampness should harm him, but he refused it and had
it taken away.”


But the original question of whether there actually was gold
leaf on Kim’s statue at one point remains unanswered. It seems to me that there
are a couple of possibilities here:

--there was gold leaf but it was later removed. This may
have been for cosmetic reasons (too shiny), ideological reasons (Kim wanted to
burnish (pun intended) his “man of the people” image), or for more practical
reasons (desire to keep Chinese aid flowing), or some combination of the above.

--there never was gold leaf but the regime either tolerated
or actively encouraged the story of loyal and respectful workers calling for
gold leaf only to be gently declined by the magnanimous Kim Il Sung. If so,
perhaps the story of Chinese criticism was added later by critics of the


If the reality is that there never was gold leaf on the Kim
statue, this raises some interesting questions about the credulity of the
largely foreign North Korea-watching and commenting community. How many other
things have we gotten wrong but continue to repeat and recirculate simply
because the stories are too good, too lurid, too engaging to pass up.


On the other hand, one could make an argument that even if
the actual story isn’t “true” in the sense of actually having happened, it
still conveys deeper “truths” about the nature of the DPRK regime and its
leadership: cult of personality, pragmatic and calculating concession-seeking,


Will the real North Korea please stand up?



Kirk Larsen 

On Thu, Dec 20, 2012 at 1:49 AM, Ruediger Frank <ruediger.frank at univie.ac.at> wrote:

Dear Kirk,

I have no photo of the golden one, but the story I was told by the NKs about 20 years ago was slightly different: that the workers (sic!) originally wanted to have it covered in gold leaf, but the great leader, in his typical humbleness, insisted on "simple" bronze. Of course I don't know whether this was a mere ex-post modification of the official "text". In any case, it would correspond well with the ages-old ideal (rarely achieved) that rulers "go down" to the people and lead a "simple" life. North Korean literature and art is full of examples; just think of the often told and pictured story at the Ch'òllima steelworks (http://www.flickr.com/photos/josephferris76/6974483452/) where the leader refused to sit on a chair and rather sat on a piece of debris (which is now preserved as a national treasure). Funny, in the 1970s in the Soviet Union I heard similar anecdotes about Lenin. Speaking of historical precedents, isn't there also a section in
 Ch'angdòkgung (the yòn'gyòngdang residence, I believe) where the Korean king occasionally took upon himself the alleged hardship of leading a "simple" life?

Another, different story I heard was rather technical: that the original golden statue reflected the light too strongly. In 1991, the statue was for sure bronze. But there are list members who visited the country earlier, so perhaps they can help.



on Donnerstag, 20. Dezember 2012 at 00:27 you wrote:

Hello all,

I have often heard it said that the mammoth Kim Il Sung statue that long graced the Mansudae Grand Monument (before recently being updated and placed side by side with a similarly large statue of Kim Jong Il) was originally covered in gold leaf. But, as the story usually goes, an expression of distaste by a visiting PRC official (sometimes Deng Xiaoping, sometimes someone else) and a threat to reduce Chinese aid to the DPRK resulted in the gold leaf being removed. 

My question is whether anyone has seen or has access to a photograph of the original gold-plated version of the statue? My cursory fumbling around the web has not resulted in any such image. I am beginning to wonder whether the story is actually true (and whether perhaps some early visitors mistook the new, shiny bronze for gold?). 

Any experts able and willing to weigh in on this? 



Kirk W. Larsen 

Department of History

Assistant Director, Academic Programs and Research

David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies

2151 JFSB


Provo, UT 84602-6707

(801) 422-3445

Kirk W. Larsen 
Department of History
Assistant Director, Academic Programs and Research
David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies
2151 JFSB

Provo, UT 84602-6707
(801) 422-3445

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