Kim Jong Un flouts his own rules in recent Mount Paektu climb

North Korean defectors criticize Kim Jong Un's recent luxury-laden climb up Mount Paektu

Photographs of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ascending Mount Paektu recently published in Rodong Sinmun have come under criticism for embodying the realities and constraints of North Korea’s cult of personality. 

In a Dec. 4 article accompanied by around 70 photographs, Rodong Sinmun reported that Kim Jong Un, Ri Sol Ju, and several military generals toured Miyrong on Mount Paektu after attending a ceremony celebrating the end of the second phase of construction in Samjiyon County, Ryanggang Province. 

The article praised the “unchanging majesty” of Mount Paektu and also relayed Kim Jong Un’s poetic-sounding remarks about the mountain: “I am moved by the spirit and passion of the revolution the more I come here.” 


Yet North Korean defectors interviewed by Daily NK say that Mount Paektu’s Miryong represents something much different for ordinary North Koreans. 

Specifically, the defectors pointed out that Kim’s ascent of Mount Paektu was done in a luxurious fashion, something unimaginable for most ordinary North Koreans. 

Kim Jong Un and his wife rode on white horses, with their entourage on light gray horses. Ordinary North Koreans ordinary have to climb the mountain on foot; this is meant to help them “experience” the difficulties faced by Kim Il Sung’s band of revolutionaries during their fight against the Japanese. 

mount paektu ascent
Image: Rodong Shinmun

Moreover, Kim and his companions all wore rain boots during their ascent. Ordinary North Koreans, however, can’t wear rain boots because of all the walking they have to do on the climb up. 

“Although the authorities emphasize the spirit of ‘resistance’ and ‘revolution’, unwavering resolve in the face of difficulty, and comradeship, these qualities were nowhere to be found in Kim’s ascent up the mountain,” a 51-year-old defector named Hyon Chol Hwa (an alias) told Daily NK. “Watching them ascend the mountain so comfortably likely angered many ordinary people. 

Kim’s horse was also lavishly ornamented with a gilded saddle and bridle. Such luxury wasn’t even present during Kim Jong Il’s time and defectors agreed that it was far from symbolizing the arduousness of the “revolution.”

mount paektu ascent
Image: Rodong Shinmun

In a photograph of Kim surveying Miryong, there is also evidence of the path having been cleared for him. It appears that a person, rather than a machine, carefully shoveled snow off the road. Much like how every North Korean is called upon to wash and clean the roads with water prior to the Supreme Leader’s one-the-spot visits, the same seems to be happening on mountain paths. 

Image: Rodong Shinmun


What really riled up defectors that Daily NK spoke to was a picture showing Kim and his wife Ri Sol Ju warming themselves by a campfire. 

“Ordinary people wouldn’t even dream of having a campfire in Miryoung,” a former high-ranking North Korean government official told Daily NK. “The Supreme Leader violated a general rule that fires can’t be held on the mountain. Even tour guides and other employees at the local sites in the area don’t have campfires.” 

mount paektu ascent campfire
Image: Rodong Shinmun

“Kim probably thought that he could kindle a fire as a courtesy to his wife and show his ‘human side’ to the people. It will only cause an uproar among the people,” the defector added. “Essentially, Kim has punctured the image that he is an ‘error-free’ leader.”

The pictures published in the article were notable because they showed that the trees in the area were quite short. “As I understand it, because Jongil Peak needs to be visible beyond the birth home, tall trees are regularly cut down,” Hyon Chol Hwa, the defector, said.

*Translated by Violet Kim

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to

Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to