'Assassins': What is the Baekdu Bloodline? How Kim dynasty borrowed from Christianity to legitimize their rule

For both Korean countries, the Baekdu mountain is not just a site of beautiful nature -- it is a location of both historical and cultural significance


                            'Assassins': What is the Baekdu Bloodline? How Kim dynasty borrowed from Christianity to legitimize their rule
Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il, and North Korean army officers (Getty Images)

In some cultures, geographical locations play an important role in their mythologies and it is no different for the Koreans. The Baekdu Mountain (also spelled Paektu) is located on the border between North Korea and China (where it is called the Changhai Mountain). The mountain is nothing but an active stratovolcano (one that is shaped like a cone) and is the highest mountain in the Changbai and Baekdudaegan ranges. However, for Koreans, from both North and South Korea, the mountain possesses a mythical quality, along with its crater lake known as Heaven Lake. The mountain is mentioned in both countries' national anthems, but for North Korea, it is taken a step further -- even beyond being depicted on the national emblem of the country.

We are given an idea of how important the mountain is to modern North Korean mythology in Ryan White's latest documentary, 'Assassins'. The documentary focuses on the 2017 assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the former favored heir of North Korea and current leader, Kim Jong-un's half brother. The documentary also explains some of the myths surrounding Kim Jong-un, who has been consolidating power both locally and internationally, since 2011.

Both Kim Jong-nam and Kim Jong-un are sons of the former North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, whose own father, Kim Il-Sung (also called the Great Leader) founded North Korea. The Kim family has been ruling North Korea since its establishment in 1948 and one reason they are able to maintain that position is because of the myth known as the Baekdu bloodline, which has been used to legitimize the Kim family as the rulers. In fact, Kim Jong-un is seen making periodical trips to the Baekdu Mountain before important events -- most recently when he did so in the aftermath of US sanctions following nuclear tests.

According to a report by the Straits Times, North Korean history teaches that Kim Il Sung fought against the Japanese occupation forces from Baekdu Mountian and that his son, Kim Jong-il was born there. However, Russian reports suggest that Kim Jong-il was, in fact, born in the former Soviet Union while Kim Il-Sung in exile. Their history also teaches that the Kim family descends from the mountain and therefore, they are divinely deemed to lead North Korea. This was made official in 2013 when Clause 2 of Article 10 of the new edited Ten Principles for the Establishment of a Monolithic Ideological System stated that the party and revolution must be carried "eternally" by the "Baekdu bloodline."

In fact, much of this mythology borrows from Christianity, which was popular in North Korea before the civil war. The Kim family were devout Christians before Kim Il-sung became a communist. In North Korea, the citizens are taught to worship the Kim family because the country is officially an atheist state.

For both Korean countries, the Baekdu mountain is not just a site of beautiful nature -- it is a location of both historical and cultural significance. Earlier this year, North Korea also applied for enlisting the mountain as a UNESCO global geopark. Kim Jong-un's regime has also put a great effort into developing the region -- it is cited as one of North Korea’s major tourist zone development projects, along with the hot-spring spa in Yangdok and the Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist area.

'Assassins' will in release theaters and on virtual cinema on December 11, 2020.

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