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Digital Archive International History Declassified


Jang Seong-taek

James E. Hoare

Brother-in-law of the DPRK leader Kim Jong Il, married to Kim's only sister, Kim Gyeong-hui, and uncle of the current DPRK leader Kim Jong Un.


JANG SEONG-TAEK (1946- ). Brother-in-law of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) leader Kim Jong Il, married to the latter’s only sister, Kim Gyeong-hui, and thus the uncle of the current DPRK leader Kim Jong Un. Jang’s main official position is director of the Organization and Guidance Department of the Korean Workers’ Party Central Committee, but he is widely believed to exercise much power behind the scenes. His name is generally spelled Chang Sung-taek in Republic of Korea (ROK) accounts. He is the brother of the late Marshal Jang Seong-u and Lt. Gen. Jang Seong-gil. Jang Seong-taek was educated at the Kim Il Sung Military University and the Kim Il Sung Higher Party School. He also studied at the Moscow State University. He married Kim Gyeong-hui in 1972, and then occupied various party positions. He appeared to suffer a demotion in the late 1970s, when he became manager of a steel works in Nampo. Reports said that he was becoming too powerful or, according to other accounts, he had an over-ostentatious lifestyle. However, he reemerged as deputy director of the Youth Work Department of the KWP Central Committee in 1982, becoming the director in 1985. He was first elected as a delegate to the eighth Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) in 1986, and also served in the 9th, l0th, and 11th assemblies. In April 1989, he was named as a People’s Hero, and in June the same year was elected as an alternate member of the KWP Central Committee. He was awarded the Order of Kim Il Sung in April 1992. Later that year he became a full member of the KWP Central Committee. He served on the Kim Il Sung funeral committee in 1994, and took up the post of first vice director of the Organization and Guidance Department in November 1995.

His rise came to an apparent halt in 2004, and he disappeared from view. Various rumors surrounded his nonappearance. It was said that he had been intriguing over the possible succession to Kim Jong Il or that he had again been leading an extravagant lifestyle. It was also reported that he clashed with then prime minister Pak Bong-ju over development of the economy. Whatever the cause of his disappearance, it proved only a temporary blip in his career and he reemerged in 2006 as first vice director of the Organization and Guidance Department. In March that year, he led a delegation to China to examine economic developments. In the wake of Kim Jong Il’s illness in autumn 2008, there was much international speculation about Jang’s role, with some accounts claiming not only that he was effectively running the country in Kim’s absence, but also that he might be a possible successor. He was elected to the powerful National Defense Commission in 2009, a further indication of his importance. Following Kim Jong Il’s death in December 2011, Jang was listed 19th on the funeral committee. However, during the following week, he appeared in a uniform of a four-star general, although there had been no previous announcement of a role in the military. On the day of the funeral, he was one of those who walked beside the hearse, immediately behind Kim Jong Un.

It is believed that he and his wife are separated. They had two children, one of whom, Kim Hyeon (often called Jang Hyeon as well), whose exact date of birth is not known, is currently working in the Organization and Guidance Department. It is rumored in the ROK that he is an adopted illegitimate son of Kim Il Sung. A daughter, Jang Geum-song, born 1977, apparently committed suicide in Paris in 2006, allegedly over her parents’ objection to her choice of husband. She had also worked in a department under the Central Committee. Reports from the ROK say that Jang is deeply unpopular among ordinary people because of his wish to reimpose a more rigid socialist system and his opposition to markets. Other reports say that he is interested in economic reforms along Chinese lines.

All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior written permission of the publisher. (Historical Dictionary of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, by James E. Hoare, published by RLPG Books, appears by permission of the author and publisher).