Taewŏnsu (literally grand marshal, usually translated as generalissimo) is the highest possible military rank of North Korea and is intended to be an honorific title for Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. The rank is senior to that of wonsu (marshal). The title also exists in Chinese military history as dàyuánshuài (same Sino-Korean characters 大元帥), and was briefly taken by Sun Yat-Sen.[1][2]

Generalissimo rank insignia (North Korea)
Shoulder boards for the rank of taewŏnsu (grand marshal).
Revised RomanizationDaewonsu


The rank of taewŏnsu was created by a joint decision of the Central Committee and Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea, the National Defense Commission and the Central People′s Committee in April 1992 to honor Kim Il-sung on his 80th birthday. In February 2012, his son and successor Kim Jong-il was awarded the title posthumously on the occasion of his official 70th birthday.[3][4]

The insignia for taewŏnsu is similar to wonsu but with an added crest worn beneath the shoulder board's large marshal star (and an added crest added to the parade uniform's marshal star worn below the collar), below the Emblem of North Korea. The rank insignia is based on the now obsolete rank generalissimus of the Soviet Union.

If translated, the full rank is "grand marshal of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea" literally and "generalissimo of the DPRK" in the usual translation.

Rank comparison

According to rank comparison charts of the United States Forces Korea (USFK), taewŏnsu is equivalent to a "seven-star general", with the junior ranks of wonsu and chasu listed as six and five stars respectively.[5] The rank is frequently referred to in U.S. military publications as "grand marshal", comparable to the rank of general of the armies although that is normally considered a six-star rank. European military texts rate the rank equivalent to a generalissimo.

The South Korean armed forces have never made an attempt to declare an equivalent to the wonsu ranks of North Korea, and indeed often deride these ranks as having been created so as to "outrank" the military leaders of other nations, rather than for any necessary purpose of military administration. Even so, the holders of these ranks have commanded one of the largest military forces in the Pan-Asian theater therefore giving some credence to their existence.[6]

unofficial rank insignia of Daewonsu

See also

Other pronunciations of the characters 大元帥

元帥, a rank lower than Taewonsu

  • Wonsu in Korean
  • Yuan Shuai, the original Chinese title
  • Gensui, the Japanese equivalent


  1. ^ The People's Liberation Army as organization: reference volume v 1.0 - Volume 1 - Page 30 James C. Mulvenon, Andrew N. D. Yang, Center for Asia-Pacific Policy (Rand Corporation) - 2002 "Rank Categories - Ranks 1. Generalissimo (dayuanshuai) 2. Marshal (yuanshuai) 3. General Grade (jiangguan).. "
  2. ^ China this century - Page 169 Rafe De Crespigny - 1992 "In 1917 Sun Yatsen took for a time the title dayuanshuai, which basically means 'commander-in-chief ; though it is a general term rather than a military rank, it was translated as "
  3. ^ James Fleming Broken Border - Page 22 2009 "President Kim Jong Il is a man of many titles: Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army, Commander of the Armed Forces, Taewŏnsu (a seven–star general), Chairman of the National Defense Committee, General Secretary,..."
  4. ^ Armstrong, Charles: "The Role and Influence of Ideology". In Kyung-Ae Park, Scott Snyder (ed.) North Korea in Transition: Politics, Economy, and Society 2012 "Kim Jong Il... and on April 20th, 1992, he was named “Marshal”(Wonsu). Kim Il Sung had been named “Generalissimo” (Taewonsu) .."
  5. ^ USFK Comparative Ranks Chart Publication (2006)
  6. ^ U.S. 7th Fleet Sharem Intelligence Brief, published 13 Dec 2007

External links


Dai-gensui (大元帥, grand marshal) was the highest rank of the Greater Imperial Japanese Army and the Imperial Japanese Navy from the 1870s to 1945, when the Empire of Japan was dissolved. The rank was only ever held by the Emperor of Japan as commander-in-chief of the Empire's Armed Forces and, separately, the highest ranking officer in each of the Armed Services. The rank was equivalent to a generalissimo or general of the armies and admiral of the navy, being a six-star rank senior to the rank of gensui ("marshal"). It formally became obsolete in 1947 when the Imperial Japanese armed forces were abolished.

Day of Songun

The Day of Songun (Korean: 선군절; MR: Sŏn'gun-jŏl) is a public holiday in North Korea celebrated on 25 August annually to commemorate the beginning of Kim Jong-il's Songun (military-first) leadership in 1960.

In 2013, Kim Jong-un elevated the holiday to an official status on the North Korean calendar, on par with the Day of the Sun (birth anniversary of Kim Il-sung). Thus it became the holiday associated with Kim Jong-un, with his own birthday still missing from the official calendar. This has helped to further Kim Jong-un's charismatic rule. According to North Korea analyst Adam Cathcart, the purpose of the holiday is "to reinforce Kim Jong-un's legitimacy to rule, confirm the principle of very early succession and young leadership, and emphasize the preternatural military abilities of the sons in the Kim family."On the calendar, the 25 August holiday takes place after the Liberation Day (15 August) and before the Day of the Foundation of the Republic (인민정권_창건일) (9 September). Day of Songun is one of three days celebrating Kim Jong-il on the calendar, the other two being the Day of the Shining Star (his birth anniversary) and Generalissimo Day (commemorating his accession to the rank of Taewonsu).

Day of the Shining Star

The Day of the Shining Star (Korean: 광명성절; MR: Kwangmyŏngsŏng-jŏl) is a public holiday in North Korea falling on 16 February, the birth anniversary of the country's second leader, Kim Jong-il. Along with the Day of the Sun, the birthday of his father Kim Il-sung, it is the most important public holiday in the country.Kim Jong-il was born in 1941 in the Soviet Union, although North Korean propaganda insists on the date 16 February 1942 and places the birth at the Mount Paektu area in Korea. His birthday became an official holiday in 1982 when he began his work in the Politburo of the Workers' Party of Korea. During his lifetime, he kept out of the public eye during his birthdays. In 2012, the year following his death, the holiday was renamed the Day of the Shining Star.

The most lavish observances take place in the capital Pyongyang and include mass gymnastics, music performances, fireworks displays, military demonstrations, and mass dancing parties. The North Korean people receive more food rations and electricity than usual on the Day of the Shining Star.


Generalissimo ( JEN-(ə-)rə-LISS-im-oh) is a military rank of the highest degree, superior to field marshal and other five-star ranks in the states where they are used.


Gensui (元帥) may refer to:

Grand marshal (大元帥 dai-gensui), highest rank in Greater Imperial Japanese Army and the Imperial Japanese Navy, held by the Emperor of Japan;

Field marshal (元帥陸軍大将 gensui rikugun-taishō), OF-10 officer in Imperial Japanese Army;

Marshal (陸軍元帥 rikugun gensui), only held by Saigō Takamori in July 1872–May 1873.

Marshal-admiral (元帥海軍大将 gensui kaigun-taishō), OF-10 officer in Imperial Japanese Navy.

Gensui (Imperial Japanese Army)

Marshal-army general (元帥陸軍大将, gensui rikugun-taishō) was the highest title in the pre-war Imperial Japanese military.

The title originated from the Chinese title yuanshuai(元帥).

The term gensui, which was used for both the Imperial Japanese Army and the Imperial Japanese Navy, was at first a rank held by Saigō Takamori as the Commander of the Armies (陸軍元帥 Rikugun-gensui) in 1872. However, in May 1873 Saigō was "demoted" to general, with gensui thereafter no longer a rank as such, but a largely honorific title awarded for extremely meritorious service to the Emperor - thus similar in concept to the French title of Marshal of France. Equivalent to a five-star rank (OF-10), it is similar to Field Marshal in the UK British Army and General of the Army in the United States Army.

While gensui would retain their actual ranks of general or admiral, they were entitled to wear an additional enamelled breast badge, depicting paulownia leaves between crossed army colors and a naval ensign under the Imperial Seal of Japan. They were also entitled to wear a special samurai sword (katana) of a modern design on ceremonial occasions.

In the Meiji period, the title was awarded to five generals and three admirals. In the Taishō period it was awarded to six generals and six admirals, and in the Shōwa period it was awarded to six generals and four admirals. The higher title of dai-gensui was comparable to the title of generalissimo and was held only by the Emperor himself.

Note that several were promoted the same year they died; these were posthumous promotions.

The title was also bestowed on King George V of the United Kingdom on October 28, 1918.

Head of the Royal Thai Armed Forces

The Head of the Thai Armed Forces (Thai: จอมทัพไทย; RTGS: Chom Thap Thai) is a position vested in the Thai monarch, who as sovereign and head of state is the commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Armed Forces.

The position is only nominal. The armed forces are actually managed by the Ministry of Defence, headed by the Minister of Defence (a member of the cabinet) and commanded by the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters, which in turn is headed by the Chief of the Defence Forces.

Highest military ranks

In many nations the highest military ranks are classed as being equivalent to, or are officially described as, five-star ranks. However, a number of nations have used or proposed ranks such as generalissimo which are senior to their five-star equivalent ranks. This article summarises those ranks.

History of the Workers' Party of Korea

The History of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) encompasses the period from 1949 onwards.

Kim Il-sung

Kim Il-sung (officially transcribed Kim Il Sung; English pronunciation: ; Korean: 김일성; Korean pronunciation: [kimils͈ʌŋ]; born Kim Sŏng-ju (김성주); 15 April 1912 – 8 July 1994) was the first leader of North Korea which he ruled from the country's establishment in 1948 until his death in 1994. He held the posts of Premier from 1948 to 1972 and President from 1972 to 1994. He was also the leader of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) from 1949 to 1994 (titled as Chairman from 1949 to 1966 and as General Secretary after 1966). Coming to power after the end of Japanese rule in 1945, he authorized the invasion of South Korea in 1950, triggering an intervention in defense of South Korea by the United Nations led by the United States. Following the military stalemate in the Korean War, a ceasefire was signed on 27 July 1953. He was the third longest-serving non-royal head of state/government in the 20th century, in office for more than 45 years.

Under his leadership, North Korea was established as a communist state with a publicly owned and planned economy. It had close political and economic relations with the Soviet Union. By the 1960s, North Korea briefly enjoyed a standard of living higher than the South, which was fraught with political instability and economic crises. The situation reversed in the 1970s, as a newly stable South Korea became an economic powerhouse fueled by Japanese and American investment, military aid and internal economic development while North Korea stagnated and then declined in the 1980s. Differences emerged between North Korea and the Soviet Union, chief among them being Kim Il-sung's philosophy of Juche, which focused on Korean nationalism, self-reliance, and socialism. Despite this, the country received funds, subsidies and aid from the USSR (and the Eastern Bloc) until the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. The resulting loss of economic aid adversely affected the North's economy, causing widespread famine in 1994. During this period, North Korea also remained critical of the United States defense force's presence in the region, which it considered imperialism, having seized the American ship USS Pueblo in 1968, which was part of an infiltration and subversion campaign to reunify the peninsula under North Korea's rule. He outlived Joseph Stalin by four decades and Mao Zedong by almost two and remained in power during the terms of office of six South Korean Presidents, ten U.S. Presidents and the rule of British monarchs George VI and later his daughter Elizabeth II. Known as the Great Leader (Suryong), he established a personality cult which dominates domestic politics in North Korea.

At the 6th WPK Congress in 1980, his oldest son Kim Jong-il was elected as a Presidium member and chosen as his heir apparent to the supreme leadership. Kim Il-sung's birthday is a public holiday in North Korea called the "Day of the Sun". In 1998, Kim Il-sung was declared "eternal President of the Republic". During his rule, North Korea was founded as a totalitarian state with widespread human rights abuses, including mass executions and prison camps which killed between 710,000 and 3.5 million people with a mid-estimate of 1.6 million.

Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il portraits

Visual depictions of Kim Il-sung have been commonplace in North Korea since the 1940s following the example of Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union and Mao Zedong in China. The display of Kim Il-sung portraits was made mandatory at homes in the 1970s. Gradually, they have become mandatory in certain public places as well, such as factories, airports, railway stations, and rail and subway carriages. Portraits of Kim Jong-il have been hung next to Kim Il-sung since the late 1970s. A portrait of Kim Jong-un was displayed for the first time in public in 2018.

Rules regarding the placement and maintenance of the portraits are complex and change frequently. At homes, they should be placed on the most prominent wall in the living room with nothing else on it, at high and looking downwards. Of importance, and subject to random checks, is that they are kept clean, a responsibility that usually falls on the lady of the house.

Kim Jong-il

Kim Jong-il (officially transcribed Kim Jong Il; Korean: 김정일; Korean pronunciation: [kim.dzɔŋ.il]; 16 February 1941 or 1942 – 17 December 2011) was the second leader of North Korea. He ruled from the death of his father Kim Il-sung, the first leader of North Korea, in 1994 until his own death in 2011. He was an unelected dictator and was often accused of human rights violations.In the early 1980s, Kim had become the heir apparent for the leadership of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and assumed important posts in the party and army organs. Kim succeeded his father and DPRK founder, Kim Il-sung, following the elder Kim's death in 1994. Kim was the General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), WPK Presidium, Chairman of the National Defence Commission (NDC) of North Korea and the Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army (KPA), the fourth-largest standing army in the world.

During Kim's rule, the country suffered famine and had a poor human rights record. Kim involved his country in state terrorism and strengthened the role of the military by his Songun ("military-first") politics. Kim's rule also saw tentative economic reforms, including the opening of the Kaesong Industrial Park in 2003. In April 2009, North Korea's constitution was amended to refer to him and his successors as the "supreme leader of the DPRK".The most common colloquial title given to Kim was "Dear Leader" to distinguish him from his father Kim Il-sung, the "Great Leader". Following Kim's failure to appear at important public events in 2008, foreign observers assumed that Kim had either fallen seriously ill or died. On 19 December 2011, the North Korean government announced that he had died two days earlier, whereupon his third son, Kim Jong-un, was promoted to a senior position in the ruling WPK and succeeded him. After his death, Kim was designated the "Eternal General Secretary" of the WPK and the "Eternal Chairman of the National Defence Commission", in keeping with the tradition of establishing eternal posts for the dead members of the Kim dynasty.

List of political leaders who held active military ranks in office

This article lists national heads of government and heads of state who held an active military rank while in office.

Note that in many countries, the head of state office has an ex officio military rank; for example, the President of the United States is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. This list omits ex officio ranks.

On the Art of the Cinema

On the Art of the Cinema (Korean: 영화예술론; MR: Yŏnghwa yesul ron; lit. Film Art Theory) is a 1973 treatise by the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. It is considered the most authoritative work on North Korean filmmaking.

The book sets forth several original theories, which can be applied to the practices of filmmaking, the arts, and beyond. Of these the theory of literature as "humanics" and the "seed theory" are the most important ones. Humanics centers on the question of a good and worthy life. In art, it emphasizes truly independent individuals who are capable of transforming society. The seed theory has become essential to North Korean film theory. It seeks to direct all artistic creation through a single ideological foundation, or "seed". In an individual work, the seed is the synthesis of its subject matter and idea and the basis of its propaganda message. These ideas complement the themes of nationalistic form and socialist content of films. Many ideas presented in the book are justifications for the creation of propaganda supporting the Workers' Party of Korea's policies.

On the Art of the Cinema had major political implications on Kim Jong-il's succession of Kim Il-sung. Kim Jong-il gained political and cultural influence in North Korean society and government by authoring the book.

The impact of On the Art of the Cinema on North Korean filmmaking is disputed. Films from before and after the publication of the treatise are similar in style and many contemporary films breach various rules laid out in the treatise.

Star (classification)

Stars are often used as symbols for ratings. They are used by reviewers for ranking things such as films, TV shows, restaurants, and hotels. For example, a system of one to five stars is commonly employed to rate hotels, with five stars being the highest quality.

Workers' Party of Korea

The Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) is the founding and ruling political party of North Korea. It is the largest party represented in the Supreme People's Assembly and coexists de jure with two other legal parties making up the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland. However, these minor parties are completely subservient to the WPK, and must accept the WPK's "leading role" as a condition of their existence.

It was founded in 1949 with the merger of the Workers' Party of North Korea and the Workers' Party of South Korea. The WPK also controls the Korean People's Army. This political party (and all of the other parties in the DPRK) remains illegal in South Korea under South Korea's own National Security Act and is sanctioned by Australia, the European Union, the United Nations and the United States.The WPK is organized according to the Monolithic Ideological System and the Great Leader, a system and theory conceived by Kim Yong-ju and Kim Jong-il. The highest body of the WPK is formally the Congress, but in practice a Congress occurs infrequently. Between 1980 and 2016, there were no congresses held. Although the WPK is organizationally similar to communist parties, in practice it is far less institutionalized and informal politics plays a larger role than usual. Institutions such as the Central Committee, the Executive Policy Bureau, the Central Military Commission (CMC), the Politburo and the Politburo's Presidium have much less power than that formally bestowed on them by the party's charter, which is little more than a nominal document. Kim Jong-un is the current WPK leader, serving as Chairman and CMC chairman.

The WPK is committed to Juche, an ideology which has been described as a combination of collectivism and nationalism; and at the 4th Conference (held in 2012), the party charter was amended to state that Kimilsungism–Kimjongilism was "the only guiding idea of the party". At the 3rd Conference (held in 2010), the WPK removed a sentence from the preamble expressing the party's commitment "to building a communist society", replacing it with a new adherence to Songun, that is "military-first" policies. The 2009 revision had already removed all references to communism. Party ideology has recently focused on perceived imperialist enemies of the party and state; and on legitimizing the Kim family's dominance of the political system. Before the rise of Juche and later Songun, the party was committed to Marxist–Leninist thought as well, with its importance becoming greatly diminished over time.

The party's emblem is an adaptation of the communist hammer and sickle, with a traditional Korean calligraphy brush. The symbols represent the industrial workers (hammer), peasants (sickle) and intelligentsia (ink brush).

Yuan shuai

Yuan Shuai (元帥) was a Chinese military rank that corresponds to a marshal in other nations. It was given to distinguished generals during China's dynastic and republican periods. A higher level rank of da yuan shuai (大元帥), which corresponds to generalissimo, also existed.

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