Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
When there were banquets Kim Jong-il’s sister and her husband would attend. At such time the guests would dance the fox trot or disco or music of a dance band. Sometimes they would gamble at blackjack or mahjong […] Her husband was a tall, slender, handsome man…as soon as they arrived, Kim Jong-il introduced us. “This is my younger sister, Kyong-hui. This is Madame Choi. Say hello.”
Kyong-hui introduced herself first, then her husband, said, smiling, “How do you do? I’m Chang Song-taek.”
updated 28 January 2011
Chang Song-taek was born in January 1946, in North Hamgyong Province.[i] He was the youngest of five children, with two older brothers and two sisters. He entered Kim Il-song University in 1963, studying Political Economy. Chang was an average-performing student, but known on the campus as the charismatic leader of a student performing arts group, in which he sang, danced and played the accordion. Jang’s high profile on the campus attracted the attention, and affections, of Kim Kyong-hui, Kim Chong-il’s sister and Kim Il-song’s eldest daughter.
Kim Il-song opposed his daughter’s relationship with Chang. He was eventually expelled from Kim Il-sung University. Despite his transfer to Wo’nsan University of Economics, Kim Kyong-hui insistently continued their relationship. In 1966, Chang Song-taek and Kim Kyong-hui graduated from the KIS High Party School (or KIS School for Higher Party Officials). They also studied at Moscow State University from 1968 to 1969.
In 1971 and 1972 Chang Song-taek and Kim Kyong-hui were married and she took her first official position as a manger in the executive officer of the Korean Democratic Women’s Union. In 1972 Chang began his career as a notification instructor at the Pyongyang KWP City Committee. He later conceived the idea of using North Korean diplomats to earn currency for the regime through legitimate, and illicit, businesses.[ii] In 1976 he supervised, in coordination with the State Security Department (SSD), a mass relocation of North Korean citizens in Pyongyang. It is not clear if this is related to numerous accounts that Chang was expelled from the central party in the late 1970s. He was assigned as manager at the Chollima (Kangson) Iron Works, where he sustained severe burns during an industrial accident.[iii]
In 1977 Chang’s oldest child, daughter Chang Kum-song, was born, followed around 1979 by his younger child, son Chang Kim-song. In 1982, Chang Song-taek became section chief and later deputy director in the CC KWP Workers’ Organization Department with responsibility for the Kim Il-song Youth League and youth labor brigades. In 1985 he was promoted to senior deputy director and became involved in capital city construction.
In 1986, Chang was elected a deputy (delegate) to the 6th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA). In June, 1989, he was elected an alternate (candidate) member to the KWP Central Committee, and promoted to full (regular) member in December, 1992.
In 1992 Chang Song-taek became the senior deputy (1st Vice) director of the CC KWP Organization Guidance Department. In this position, Chang became responsible for the daily management and personnel of SSD, Ministry of Public Security (MPS), Central Public Prosecutor’s Office and the DPRK Central Court. Chang was also tied to the Taesong Corporation, a holding entity of Office #39.
Chang participated in several delegations and interactions concerning inter-Korean relations, both in the ROK and Pyongyang. Chang also attended Kim Chong-il’s guidance tours in the country in the 1990s and 2000s. From June 2003 to January 2006, Chang was neither seen nor observed in the DPRK media. He attended the first session of the 11th SPA in September 2003, and effectively disappeared from DPRK public life for nearly three years.
In January 2006, Chang resurfaced in attendance at a Lunar New Year’s banquet for the Chinese Ambassador to the DPRK. In March of the same year he led a DPRK delegation on a study tour of China. In September 2006, his daughter Chang Kum-song died in Paris from a prescription drug overdose. On 15 October 2006 Chang sustained minor injuries after his chauffer-driven sedan collided with an oncoming truck near the Triumphal Arch in Pyongyang.
In December 2007, Chang Song-taek was appointed director of the reconstituted CC KWP Administration Department. In this position Chang resumed management of the country’s internal and domestic security apparatus, policy inspection groups and control of state-owned enterprises.
At the first plenum of the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly in April 2009, Chang was elected one of the new members of the National Defense Commission. In June 2009, Chang made his first reported appearance with Kim Kyong-hui at a guidance tour of a cooperative farm and opera rehearsal. Since June 2009, Chang and Kim have been the most frequent attendees of Kim Chong-il’s public appearances.
On 7 June 2010 Chang Song-taek was elected Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission. On 28 September 2010 it was publicized that Chang Song-taek had been elected an alternate member of the CC KWP Political Bureau and a member of the Central Military Commission.
Notes about Chang Song-taek’s career
Kim Il-song eventually found out rather than separating, the couple was continuing to meet secretly and more frequently. Kim ordered his brother Kim Yong-chu to have Chang Song-taek expelled…and have him sent to University of Economy in Wonsan. Being directly ordered by Kim Yong-chu, I could not protect Chang any longer. So I gave him a book I treasured and encouraged him to study hard.
…the guerilla group did not allow did not allow any challenged to their political realm. After Kim Jong Il became Kim Il Sung’s successor in February 1974, the guerilla group attacked Kim Song-ae’s group with corruption cases involving her two brothers and purged them at a meeting of the Pyongyang City Party in June.[v]
Ken Gause wrote about KCI’s power building strategy, of which Jang and his wife were part, during the three year transition:
Kim avoided taking the reins of power as the country entered into a three-year mourning period for the late Kim Il-sung. Even as North Koreans starved to death, Kim was able to build support for the regime based on the loyalty and admiration the people felt for his father. He combined this power-consolidation strategy aimed at the elite, which stressed benevolence and goodwill toward first-generation leaders, who were the loyal followers of Kim Il-sung. He also instituted the military-first policy, which tightened his grip on the military. This strategy bough Kim Jong-il time to consolidate his power, maintain a semblance of social stability, and weather the storm of a failing economy, which he did not begin to deal with until 2002.[viii]
The most accurate analysis of Jang’s disappearance is likely to be found in this report from 2009:
Rather than a purge in the traditional sense, however, Kim may have decided that it was necessary for Jang to maintain a low profile, given that his continued activity under those circumstances would have been untenable and possibly even a threat to stability. Given the sensitive nature of the succession issue, the ostensible explanation for the dismissal—abuse of power and corruption, as reported in foreign media and probably based on stories circulating in North Korea — might have simply been a cover for the real reason.
Defectors and sources in North Korea said power is being divided up as Kim Jong-il’s health deteriorates, and at the center of the new power structure is O rather than Jang. One high-ranking source in North Korea said the four-man clique emerged apparently due to Kim’s weakening grip on power. There are even rumors that O has assumed part of Kim’s jobs of signing and approving official documents as Kim has difficulties taking care of them due to symptoms of dementia and other health problems.
O is the only official in North Korea who can speak freely with Kim Jong-il and enjoys the leader’s absolute trust in him.
A senior defector said Jang Song-taek “can’t be seen as the No. 2 official just because he oversees administrative duties on behalf of Kim Jong-il.” Jang could surpass O only if he also oversees the Workers’ Party, but there is no chance of that for the time being, and the four-man leadership led by O will continue for now.
Chang Song-taek Family[xxii]
Chang Song-taek and Kim Kyong-hui have been married for nearly four decades. This marriage has produced two children. Elder child, daughter Chang Kum-song was born around 1978, studied abroad and worked in a central party office. She passed away in Paris in 2006. Chang and Kim’s younger child, Chang Kim-song, was born around 1979 and reportedly “studied in Sweden in the 1990s.”[xxiii] Chang Kim-song reportedly works as one of his father’s aides. He is not the same man as Kim Chang-hyun, a child allegedly resulting from an affair between Kim Il-song and a nurse, and adopted by Chang and Kim.
Chang Song-taek has one older sister, Chang So’ng-ae, two deceased older brothers, Chang So’ng-kil and Chang So’ng-u, and a younger sister. He has five (5) nieces and nephews on his side and at least ten (10) nieces and nephews on his wife’s side.
Chang Song-u (KPA VMar) was born in 1935 in Kangwon Province. He joined the Korean People’s Army in 1950 and served in the Korean (Fatherland Liberation) War. He joined the CC KWP Organization Guidance Department as a deputy director in 1973. VMar Chang served in a number of positions including commanding officer of III Army Corps, political director of the Guard Command and director, CC KWP Civil Defense Department. He attended a central report meeting held on the 15th anniversary of KIS death in July 2009, and passed away in August, 2009.
Chang Song-kil (KPA Lt. Gen.) was born in 1939. Chang’s last significant posting was as commanding officer of the 105th Ryu Kyong Su Tank Division, which is part of the Pyongyang Defense Command. He became a curator at the MPAF Revolutionary Museum and passed away in 2006. His remains are buried in the Patriotic Martyrs Cemetery in the Yongsong District (Yongsong-kuyok) of suburban Pyongyang.
Chang Song-hwa may work at the Kim Il Sung Higher Party School (School for Higher Party Officials) in east Pyongyang. Chang worked as a professor at Kim Il Sung University, where he was Kim Chong-il’s teacher in party history.[xxiv]
[i] Until KCNA published an official biography upon his election to NDC Vice Chairman in June 2010, Chang’s birthday has been reported as 2 February 1946 and 6 February 1946. His birthplace was also open to interpretation with some sources indicating Kangwon Province (specifically, Chonan County) and others, North Hamgyong Province. See “Jang Song Taek Elected NDC Vice-Chairman” KCNA, 7 June 2010; North Korea Handbook. Yonhap News Agency (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2003); “Who Controls NK?” in North Korea A to Z. Korean Broadcasting Station, 2007; EU Council Regulation 1283/2009 (https://nkleadershipwatch.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/council_regulation_ec_1283_221209.pdf) p. 23.
[ii] See Hunter, Helen-Louise. Kim Il-Song’s North Korea. (Wesport, CT: Praeger, 1999)
[iii] Chang is not the only KCI lieutenant suspended from the central party or sent away for reeducation. Kim Yong-chun, O Kuk-yol and Senior Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Sok-chu were all subject to “banishment.” See “’Revolutionization;’ Euphemism for Banishment” Kim Kwang In, Chosun Ilbo. 7 December 2001.
[iv] See Hwang, Jang-yop. Na nun yoksa ui chilli rul poatta : Hwang Chang-yop hoegorok. Seoul: Hanul, 1999.
[v] See Lim, Jae-Cheon. Kim Jong Il’s Leadership of North Korea. New York: Routledge, 2009.
[vi]See “Inside North Korea’s Black Box: Reversing the Optics” Alexandre Y. Mansourov in DPRK Policy Elites (Kongdan Oh-Hassig, ed.) Alexandria, VA: IDA, 2004.
[vii] See “”Background on North Korea-Iran Missile Deal” Oded Garot, Mar’riv. 14 April 1995.
[viii] See “Can the North Korean regime survive Kim Jong Il?” Ken E. Gause, Korean Journal of Defense Analysis. Vol. 20 Issue, Issue No. 2, June, 2008; “Scenarios and Signposts: Managing Future North Korean Crises” Ken E. Gause, Center for Naval Analyses (Alexandria, VA: 2009); and “Kim Jong Il’s Intergenerational Balancing Act” Jei Guk Jeon, Strategic Forum, No. 152, December 1998 (Washington: National Defense University).
[ix] “North Korean Leader Accompanied By Sister During Public Tour” Yonhap News Agency, 7 June 2009.
[xi] “Kim Jong Il Inspects Headquarters of Minstry of Public Security” KCNA 22 November 2009.
[xii] “Kim Jong Inspects Newly Built Fruit Farm” KCNA 29 November 2009.
[xiii] KJI’s first MPS-related appearance was reported by KCNA on 9 November 2009 when he attended an art performance “by the art squad of the Ministry of Public Security.” Among the songs KCNA reported as being performed was “male quintet ensemble ‘Let’s Defend Socialism’.”
[xiv] See “SSD Deputy Director Went to China in mid-November” NK Leadership Watch (https://nkleadershipwatch.wordpress.com/2009/12/11/ssd-deputy-director-went-to-china-in-november/)
[xv] See “N. Korea’s Security Minister Visits China: KCNA” by Tony Chang Yonhap News Agency 15 December 2009 and “Document Signed Between DPRK and Chinese Security Ministries” KCNA 17 December 2009
[xvi] See “Kim Jong Il Inspects Court and Central Court Building” KCNA 23 January 2010
[xvii] See “Joint Statement by the North Korean Ministry of Public Security and Ministry of State Security” Northeast Asia Matters: The Korean Peninsula (http://asiamatters.blogspot.com/2010/02/joint-statement-by-north-korean.html)
[xviii] See “Kim Jong Il Enjoys Art Performance of KPA Unit 10215” KCNA 17 February 2010 , “Kim Jong Il Enjoys Premiere Given by Ministry of Public Security” KCNA 21 February 2010 and “KJI Steps Out with the MPS” NK Leadership Watch (https://nkleadershipwatch.wordpress.com/2010/02/22/kji-steps-out-with-the-mps)
[xix] See “New Names Add Power to PSA in Troubled Times,” Kim So Yeol, Daily NK 7 April 2010
[xx] See “KJI Attends Concerts with Internal Security Chiefs” NK Leadership Watch (https://nkleadershipwatch.wordpress.com/2010/04/18/kji-attends-concerts-with-internal-security-chiefs/)
[xxi] See “N. Korea’s Rule of 4” Chosun Ilbo 9 June 2010. This report speculated that the regime is configured around a gang of four on the NDC: O Kuk Ryol, VMAR Kim Yong Chun, Jang and Gen. U Tong Chuk
[xxii] See “A Biography of Jang Song Thaek: The Juche Jump (Hey, Mr. Jang!)” Michael Madden Parallax: Journal of International Perspectives Volume VI No. 1, Fall 2009
[xxiii] See Mansourov in DPRK Policy Elites (op. cit.)
[xxiv] See Lim (op. cit.) p. 186, Note 150