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A cautionary succession tale from Kim Jong-il

Surprising news comrades! Our Dear Leader has appointed the youngest of his three sons, Kim Jong-un, as his heir apparent. The succession of the family dynasty will be completed in due course!

The revelation about the ruling Kim family of North Korea, reported last week in a Japanese newspaper, is unusual for many reasons – not least because the country's state media has reportedly never told the population at large that its leader, the infamous Kim Jong-il, has offspring.

Asahi, a daily broadsheet, has claimed that Kim Jong-un flew to China to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao on 10 June. During the meeting, which China has said it has no knowledge of, an aide of Kim Jong-un reportedly told Chinese officials that the Swiss-educated twenty-something was the heir apparent.

Such is the nature of the most secretive of all the political dynasties that the reference point for many people is the hit US film Team America. No one is sure of the date of births nor the exact whereabouts of most of the Kim family.

While we can, I assume, be certain that none of the readers of Campden FB are intent on world domination with the help of some suspect nuclear weapons, there are nevertheless some stories that will no doubt ring a bell with business-owning families across the world.

As we all know, certain personality traits are well establised in childhood and tragedy is often a catalyst for the most ugly of them. Kim Jong-il's brother, known by his Russian nickname "Shura", drowned in 1948. A sad story, but nothing compared to unproven allegations that the 5-year-old Kim Jong-il might have caused the accident that ended his brother's life. Fast forward a year later and he lost his mother when she died in childbirth.

Not a great start to life by anyone's standards, but at least he went on the well trodden path to university. Granted not many family business scions major in Marxist political economy, but many will have accompanied their fathers on tours of the family's factories, farms and workplaces, as Kim Jong-il did while studying.

So to recap, we have childhood tragedy that is unlikely to have been assuaged followed by study, and preparation, through site visits, for leadership of the "business". Next up, we throw in a bit of latent sibling rivalry.

Kim Jong-il's father remarried after the death of his wife and had another son, Kim Pyong-il. When he was older, Kim Pyong-il was sent to distant diplomatic posts in Europe by his father in order, it is suspected, to avoid a power struggle between the two sons.

Now Kim Il-sung, the dictatorial father who didn't want to let go, comes to the fore. Kim Jong-il married but was forced by his father to wed the daughter of a senior military official. This didn't last, it is understood the couple have been estranged for years, and it is alleged that his three sons are the product of three different mistresses.

Kim Il-sung died of a heart attack aged 82 in 1994. He was not replaced as president, and received the designation of "Eternal President" following the abolition of the president title in deference to his memory. That is some act to follow.

Kim Jong-il promptly succeeded his father as North Korea's head of state and has since gained plenty of notoriety on the global political stage – psychologists would no doubt have a field day dissecting whether his actions are an attempt to live up to his father's reputation. The succession question has now come round again and it seems that, just like his father, Kim Jong-il will try to stay in post until his dying day.

Having been given the nickname Brilliant Comrade, also just like his father and grandfather, Kim Jong-un now looks the most likely successor. However, how well he does will depend on whether he is a chip off the old Kim block. If ever there was a cautionary tale about the importance you place on bringing up the next generation of your own family, then this is surely it.

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