Kim Kyung Hee: the obstinate woman

Many of you may already know of Kim Kyung Hee. She is famous for being Kim Jong Il’s sister and, more importantly, his most loyal adviser. As important as her position within North Korea is, I think it’s important to spend time taking a look at who she is.

Kim Kyung Hee was born in 1946, four years after her brother, Kim Jong Il was born. Both she and Kim Jong Il were born under Kim Il Sung’s first marriage with Kim Jong Suk. Their mother died at a very young age of 32 in 1949, just three years after giving birth to Kim Kyung Hee.

Kim graduated from Kim Il Sung University, North Korea’s most prestigious university. It is here, that she met her husband, Jang Sung Taek. According to Hwang Jang Yup, North Korea’s highest level defector (former international secretary of North Korea’s Worker’s Party), the two met while studying political economics together. Mr. Hwang remembers Jang as “not a particularly good student, but as a member of the arts society he was a talented accordion player, singer and dancer. Above all, he was sensible and shrewd.”

When Kim Il Sung eventually found out about the two dating, he immediately issued a thorough background check on Jang Sung Taek to be done but he didn’t like what he found. Apparently, there was something “wrong” on Jang’s father’s side. As a result, he ordered that his daughter immediately discontinue her relations with Jang. But she could not be wavered. “Kim Kyung Hee was so strong and firm that even her brother, Kim Jong Il, couldn’t control her.” Even expelling Jang from Kim Il Sung University and moving him to a city far away could not change her mind. She eventually got her wishes married Jang Sung Taek in 1972, despite her father’s disapproval. The fact that she defied Kim Il Sung speaks volumes about what kind of person she is.

After graduating college at the age of 25, she officially started her public activities at North Korea’s Union of Democratic Women in 1971. In 1975, she joined the Worker’s Party and in 1997 she was appointed Director of the Light Industry Department, a position she continues to hold. She disappeared off the radar for six years between 2003 and 2009. There are rumors that she suffered from health issues due to alcoholism brought on by relationship problems with her husband and the suicide of her daughter (some have said that the suicide was caused by Kim and Jang’s refusal to let their daughter marry a foreigner). Then in 2010, she became the first woman in North Korea to be given the title of “General” of the People’s Army.

Her family ties to Kim Jong Il and her obstinate personality in general granted her much freedom. For example, she was the only person that was able to speak freely to Kim Jong Il. A former Worker’s Party defector described her as such: “During Kim Jong Il’s time, Kim Kyung Hee was officially the head of the Light Industry Department, but in actuality she was his most loyal adviser. [Amongst ourselves], we said that he would do whatever she wanted.”
Now, with Kim Jong Il gone and Kim Jong Un having taken his place, experts believe that she is acting as “advisor” to the young leader. Some even believe that she is the actual person who holds the reins, not Kim Jong Un. But that’s something we’ll never know for sure.

What’s interesting is that lately there have been quite a few news releases on Kim Jong Un’s supposed sister, Kim Yeo Jong. She, like Kim Kyung Hee, is just 4 years below her brother. Intelligence officials say that she is already a member of the Worker’s Party and that she may be given an official title in the near future. If true, it really just might be history repeating itself.

But then again, it may not be true at all. Some have speculated that the woman in the photo is actually Kim Jong Un’s secret wife. “But a government source  has commented in response that ‘talk that Kim Jong Un got married is just a rumor. It is unimaginable that they would expose a secret wife to the North Korean public on state TV.’”

I guess we’ll have to see.

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