Infiltrating North Korea Part 9: Worshiping at the Altar of Kim

It’s impossible to visit North Korea as a tourist without being forced to personally pay respects to the Great Leader oneself.

This is always done at the capital’s Mansudae Grand Monument where an enormous bronze statue of the Great Leader towers above the city. According to my copy of Pyongyang Review, the statue was built in 1972 due to the “unanimous desire and aspiration to have the immortal revolutionary exploits of the great leader Comrade Kim Il Sung remembered for all time and to carry forward and consummate the revolutionary cause of Juche [self-reliance] which he initiated.”

The Grand Monument is one of the holiest places in Pyongyang and our guide appeared a little nervous when we piled out of the minivan. “There are a lot of people here,” he told us. “Please don’t do anything that would embarrass me.” He also asked that we did not take any photographs of the Great Leader which would cut him in half. Only full shots were allowed in order to show the utmost respect.


Before leaving the parking lot, our guide walked us over to a small flower stand where a member of our group was asked to purchase an arrangement. After doing so, we joined a large crowd of North Koreans also bearing flowers, and walked up a slight hill towards the statue and two large monuments which stand on either side of it, one of which commemorates the anti-Japanese struggle while the other chronicles the socialist revolution and includes a large slogan that reads, “Let us drive out U.S. imperialism and reunify the country!”

Because of the mass of people paying their respects, we had to wait a moment before a member of our group was allowed to walk the remaining distance and place the flowers at the base of Kim Il Sung. When he returned, we all stood nervously in a line facing the statue. I wasn’t about to bow, and I assumed that the others in my group wouldn’t as well. Our guide however, had no choice. He bent low to the waist and offered up a very serious bow to the Great Leader. And then, we were free to go.

We hung out for a little while and watched as a never ending flow of North Koreans did the same as we had just done; parading up to the statue, offering flowers, and then bowing deeply to Kim Il Sung. For an atheist nation, I never would have expected such religious devotion.

Yesterday: The Cult of Kim
Tomorrow: The Followers of Kim