SEOUL North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is visiting China, his only powerful ally, with his son and heir apparent, South Korean media reported.
The visit is taking place ahead of a rare meeting next month of the North Korea's Workers' Party, which rubber stamps major policy decisions. Analysts say this meeting could set in motion the succession of the leader's son, Kim Jong-un.
Following are five facts about Kim Jong-il, many of which have been embellished by official North Korean media to build a cult of personality:
February 16, 1942. Western reports suggest Kim was born at an army camp in the Soviet Union where his father was a key figure among Korean communist exiles receiving training. The North says Kim was born in a secret guerrilla camp at Mount Paektu, a peak considered sacred to Koreans.
Kim Jong-il's younger brother mysteriously drowned in 1947.
Kim was mostly educated in China and later attended Kim Il-sung University -- named after his father -- in Pyongyang. He joined the ruling Korean Workers' Party upon graduation and quickly rose in its ranks. By 1969, he was a member of its Politburo and deputy director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department.
North Korea's official biography said that in elementary school, Kim showed his revolutionary spirit by leading marches to battlefields where Korean rebels fought against Japanese occupiers of the peninsula.
Kim Il-sung named his son as his successor in 1974. Kim Jong-il, referred to as the "Dear Leader" in state media, steadily increased his power in domestic, international and security affairs in the 1980s.
Intelligence experts say Kim ordered the 1983 bombing in the capital of Burma, now Myanmar, that killed 17 senior South Korean officials and the bombing of a Korean Air jetliner in 1987 that killed 115.
Kim was also suspected of devising plans to raise cash by kidnapping Japanese, dealing drugs through North Korean embassies and counterfeiting currency.
He took power in 1994 when his father died at the age of 82. Kim Jong-il assumed the title of grand secretary of the Workers' Party and chairman of the National Defense Commission, but did not take the title as president. "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung is named eternal president.
CULT OF PERSONALITY
According to North Korean officials and state media, Kim has a photographic memory, piloted jet fighters, composed operas, directed globally acclaimed movies and hit 11 holes-in-one in the first round of golf he ever played.
(Reporting by Seoul Bureau; editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Dean Yates and Jeremy Laurence)