Kim Il-sung’s father Kim Byong-jik and mother Kang Ban-sokmet and married through an American Presbyterian missionary by the name of Nelson Bell.[Reverend Bill Graham’s father-in-law] Initially, Kim Il-sung’s mother went by the name of Kang Shin-hee, until Bell baptized her and gave her the baptized name, Ban-sok, Korean for “founding rock,” referring to Peter, the founder of the church.*
* Yu Soon-ho, The Kim Il-sung Biography (김일성 평전), JiWonPublishing, Seoul, 2017https://www.yna.co.kr/view/AKR20170109144900014
Kim Il-sung Born to a Christian Family
In North Korea, the children are taught that Kim Il-sung was born in a revolutionary household, never mentioning that he had attended the church as a young boy growing up in ManGyongDae. Kim himself recalled in his memoirs about Pastor Kim Sung-ho, who had presided over SongSan Church. Kim further recalled receiving sugar candies and notebooks at the church. SongSan Church was located where Kim Il-sung Military School stands now.
In his memoirs, Kim wrote, “When things were really difficult, mother and her brother used to go to the church. The SongSanchurch was Presbyterian, and there were many Christians in the neighborhood. They lived a hard life, and many of them thought that they would live their after-life in heaven by following Jesus and his teachings.”
Oh Soon-ho, a Korean American historian, wrote, “Kang Ban-sok became a Christian before her marriage due to her father Kang Don-wook’s influence. She married Kim Hyung-jik, an independence worker. She sewed and pulled carts like other women. She always carried a Bible, never forgetting to pray.”
When Kim Il-sung turned seven, his parents moved to China across the Apnok River in 1918. From Paldoku, China, Kim’s mother brought Kim to Po-Pyong Church in HuChang-kunacross the river.
Founder of Joson National Association Was Jang Il-hwan, Not Kim Hyung-jik
Kim Il-sung mentions Jang Il-hwan in his memoirs, introducing Jang as Kim Hyung-jik’s subordinate. Jang, an upperclassman at Soong Sil School and eight years senior, was like a big brother to Hyung-jik. Jang was the one who organized the JosonNational Association, not Hyung-jik. Jang had founded ChungSan School in Pyongyang with Ahn Chang-ho’s help in 1913. On March 23, 1917, he organized an anti-Japan resistance group composed of twenty-five Christians such as Kang Suk-bong, Suh Gwang-jo, Bae Min-su, Baik Se-bin, Ri Bo-sik, and Kim Hyung-jik. Jang Il-hwan chaired the group. Jang was the one who introduced Reverend Sohn Jung-do to Kim Hyung-jik. Founded by American missionaries, the Joson National Assembly was a Christian organization comprised of graduates from the Soong Sil School. Jang was arrested by the Japanese police in February 1918 and was tortured to death on April 9th. Kim Hyung-jik, the youngest member of the group, was released shortly. Learning that Jang had died in prison, he gathered his family and escaped to JoongGangJin.
In JoongGangJin, Kim Hyung-jik was helped by Oh Dong-jin. Kim Il-sung writes in his memoirs, “In the beginning, I thought Oh Dong-jin was just a good-natured merchant ajocee [generic term for an avuncular individual], but I found out later that he was a great independence fighter.” Kim Il-sung praised Oh in a lavish way for a reason. Besides being a close friend of Kim’s, Oh had acquired a diploma from Severance Medical Academy for his father so that he could open a medical clinic. According to North Korean experts, Oh had given Kim Hyung-jik a medical book as well as giving him operating funds for the clinic.
Severance Medical Academy was the first western-style hospital founded by an American missionary and physician Horace Allenin Seoul in 1885. It began with sixteen students and combined with Yonsei University in 1957. Kim Il-sung writes in his memoirs, “My father turned a room into a clinic and pharmacy and hung a large sign, SoonChun Medical Clinic. He had a diploma from Severance Medical Academy. I think a friend got it for him before we left Pyongyang.”
Kim Hyung-jik, the Opium Dealer
Kim Il-sung’s mother had three older brothers, Kang Jin-suk, Kang Yong-suk, and Kang Chan-suk. Only Kang Jin-suk, the oldest uncle, appears in Kim Il-sung’s memoirs, With the Century (세기와 더불어). In it, Kim Il-sung writes that his uncle had been arrested by the Japanese police while raising funds for the independence army. The Kim Il-sung Biography (김일성 평전) reveals more details about Kang Jin-suk. According to the witnesses around April 1919, Kang, then a member of the independence army in Manchuria, crossed the Apnok River into Korea and robbed a wealthy collaborator [with the Japanese] and stole opium during the process and gave them to Kim Hyung-jik. Kim used the opium to treat his patients and sold itas well.
After Kang was arrested in April 1921, Kim Hyung-jik feared that the opium issue would come up and moved to Paldoku, China, where he continued to practice medicine using opium as his medication for treating pulmonary and digestive ailments.
Thus Kim Hyung-jik built substantial wealth, and the Japanese officials recorded his assets as 1,000 WON, which was enough to buy many houses. In Paldoku, their church attendance was considerably less frequent than it was in ManGyongDae. They remained close to Reverend Sohn Jung-do, whom Jang Il-hwan had introduced. Their friendship with Reverend Sohn laterallowed Kim Il-sung to attend a Christian school, HwaSungSchool.