Little is known with certainty about Kim Jong Il. Western, South Korean, and North Korean accounts vary widely. North Korean and South Korean propaganda have deliberately reconstructed the personal background of Kim Jong Il to serve their own political interests. At home he is a demigod, abroad a playboy terrorist with a passion for films.
His father, Kim Il Sung, was an anti-Japanese guerrilla fighter during World War II who fled to the Soviet Union when the Japanese crushed the Korean resistance force. During exile, Kim Jong Il was born, in February 1942 in a Soviet camp near Khaborovsk, Siberia. According to Western sources, the early childhood of Kim Jong Il was filled with difficult circumstances. During the first years of his life he was cared for by a Russian kitchen maid and was often away from his parents who were involved with resisting the Japanese occupation of Korea. His mother died in 1949.
Kim Jong Il attended kindergarten at Namsan Elementary School in Pyongyang. During the Korean War (1950–53), he spent his life in Manchuria. As a fourth grader he attended the elite Mangyongdae School for Children of Revolutionaries. In 1953, he studied at No. 4 Pyongyang Primary School. It is reported that he spent some period of his latter high school years studying in Romania and East Germany.
His father wanted him to obtain a university education in Eastern Europe, but Kim Jong Il decided to attend Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang. He graduated on 18 May 1964 with a degree in political economy. His thesis was an analysis of his father's ideas on the socialist rural question. He later attended aviation school in East Germany. After graduation, Kim Jong Il started to work for the Korean Workers' Party. He built up a strong friendship base during his university career and early years working with the party.
Kim Jong Il has led a reclusive lifestyle, rarely speaking in public and not allowing his voice to be heard until 1992. In turn, the domestic press rarely mentioned his name. Some consider him to be shy but ostentatious in lifestyle. His hobbies include videos, computers, and theater. He is thought to be married with two children. His brother died in a 1947 drowning accident, and the whereabouts of his sister, Kim Kyong Hui, is unknown.