Coat flying open, reins in hand, Kim Jong Il is depicted astride a galloping horse in a larger-than-life statue unveiled as part of birthday celebrations for the late North Korean leader.
The statue is the first bronze casting of Kim, who during his lifetime shunned proposals to erect a bronze like the massive statue of his father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, that towers over downtown Pyongyang. Kim Jong Il, who would have turned 70 on Thursday, died of a heart attack in December.
Kim Jong Il postage stamps, commemorative coins and gold medals have been rushed into production in the weeks before the birthday newly dubbed "Day of the Shining Star." Slogans have been carved on mountainsides in honor of his birthday, and a song has been composed in his honor.
State media have reported a series of supernatural events: Mountains glow crimson, double rainbows, a family of bears weeps by the side of a road, hundreds of shrieking magpies hover over mourning sites. Kim Jong Il has also been given the title of "Generalissimo," a name his father shares, North Korea announced Wednesday.
"Having Kim Jong Un's father and grandfather portrayed as gods is important for a regime based on hereditary rule," said Peter Beck, a Korea specialist and The Asia Foundation's representative in Seoul, South Korea. "Legitimacy comes from his forefathers. Kim Jong Un's father and grandfather may be dead, but he embodies their essence."
Calling himself the "inheritor" of his father's cause, Kim Jong Il was said to have avoided the kind of veneration he ordered for Kim Il Sung, even as he ruled North Korea with an iron fist.
North Korea's ceremonial head of state, President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly Kim Yong Nam, praised Kim Jong Il for "applying his unique 'military first' policy to turn our country into an invincible one that can never be defeated and has a nuclear deterrent in the face of the deadly pressing offensive of imperialists."
Kim Jong Un provided detailed instructions on creating the "perfect image" of Kim Jong Il and helped with a rough draft of the statue, Kim Yong Nam said.
The unveiling of the statue is the marquee event of birthday commemorations in a nation that remains in a semiofficial state of mourning for the man often referred to as "our fatherly general."