As news of Kim Jong Il's death swept the globe on Sunday night and into Monday morning, North Koreans wept openly in the streets, convulsing with grief in abject mourning over the loss of a man many outside the country considered to be a ruthless dictator.
Kim Jong Il, 69, was known throughout the world for his oppressive policies and his erratic attitude towards North Korea's nuclear weapons. However, as citizens flooded the streets of Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, their grief was both moving and incredibly unnerving to witness.
'Convulsing with pain and despair.'
The AFP news agency reported that ruling members of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea were shown by state TV banging on the tables, weeping and breaking down in sobs.
I can't believe it, a party member named as Kang Tae-Ho was quoted as saying. How can he go like this? What are we supposed to do?
Another, Hong Sun-Ok, said: He tried so hard to make our lives much better and he just left like this.
KCNA, meanwhile, reported that millions of North Koreans were engulfed in incredible sadness and convulsing with pain and despair.
Kim Jong Il as 'God King'
For those who've paid close attention to North Korea's citizens and state media in the past, however, the excessive grief displayed at Kim Jon Il's death strikes them less as sincere mourning and more as brainwashing at best and outright coercion at worst.
Journalist Lisa Ling, one of the rare journalists to get inside North Korea in 2009 as a National Geographic reporter, documented the god-worship that surrounded Kim Jong il in a documentary called Inside North Korea (watch video below).
Ling documents North Koreans' blind and extravagant devotion to Kim Jong Il and the way in which the dictator-controlled state media praised him to such an extent that government and news were one and the same.
Much of the lamentation seen at the death of our dear leader makes more sense in this context, especially when Ling describes the relationship of North Korean citizens to the late ruler as that of subjects to a god king.
The Unified Front
But an even more sinister explanation is also possible: the mourners could be completely faking their grief as a way to escape persecution, torture or execution by the new government, likely to be led by Kim Jong Il's son.
As a period of national mourning is declared until Dec. 29, with a funeral in Pyongyang on Dec. 28, state media centers across the board were already instructing citizens who to turn to in the days ahead.
All party members, military men and the public should faithfully follow the leadership of comrade Kim Jong-un and protect and further strengthen the unified front of the party, military and the public, they parroted.
Even the first announcement of Kim Jong Il's death came with deep political spin; an announcer on national television told North Koreans he had perished from physical and mental overwork.
Considering the organization and intensity seen in the video and the brutal nature of North Korea’s government, it’s natural to wonder how sincere these lamentations are, Billy Hallowell, a writer at The Blaze, said. Are they being forced? Was this video staged? These are legitimate questions.
Even activist stars like Mia Farrow are joining the thousands of Facebook and Twitter users who finish watching videos of North Koreans in mourning with a mix of skepticism and near-revulsion.
N Korea: Ppl sobbing, wailing & thrashing about -- as an actor I can say, they would never get hired, the 69-year-old actress tweeted with a link to the clips.
Footage and Photos of North Koreans in Mourning
Below, watch video footage of North Koreans mourning Kim Jong Il's death and see photos of citizens reacting to the news that the dictator has died.
North Korea Mourns Kim Jong Il, by ITN News:
North Koreans Weep Hysterically as They Pay Respects:
Inside North Korea by Lisa Ling: