Among the many interesting stories that are hidden in the archives of the North Korean ruling family, one of the most intriguing surrounds Kim Hyun, a mysterious illegitimate son of Kim Il Sung. Just in the last week, more information on his fate has come to light.
It started with an error. In an interview with Radio Free Asia on August 4th, Woodrow Wilson Center scholar James F. Person suggested that a post-Kim Jong Il North Korea might feature a co-operative leadership system led by “either Jang Sung Taek or Kim Hyun.” Furthermore, Person asserted that Kim Hyun had recently accompanied Kim Jong Il to the Dear Leader’s on-site inspections.
However, this was swiftly refuted by South Korean news agency Yonhap News, which announced on the 6th that, in fact, Kim Hyun, who allegedly took drugs and led a life of great debauchery, had been executed in 2001.
In North Korea, only Kim Jong Il can order executions. Accordingly, if Kim Hyun was indeed executed, then it was indisputably at the behest of Kim Jong Il. Considering Kim Jong Il’s ruthless willingness to crush the so-called “branches” which might threaten his power, it is highly likely that Kim Hyun was executed in the name of securing Kim Jong Il’s power.
Kim Hyun’s existence, which remains a state secret inside North Korea itself, was first revealed in “Kim Jong Il’s Royal Family,” (the Zeitgeist, 2004) the memoirs of Lee Han Young (real name Lee Il Nam, the nephew of Kim Jong Il’s first mistress Sung Hye Rim).
In the book, Lee explained that Kim Hyun, whom he had met, was Kim Il Sung’s hidden child; an illegitimate son born between Kim and his private nurse back in 1971. Interestingly, on May 10th the same year, Sung Hye Rim also gave birth to Kim Jong Il’s son Kim Jong Nam.
In Lee’s memoir, Kim Jong Il’s brother-in-law Jang Sung Taek is said to have put Kim Hyun on his family register as “Jang Hyun.” Kim Hyun apparently spent February 1979 in Moscow with his nephew Jong Nam, and studied in the Soviet capital from September of the same year. His mother played the role of Jang Hyun’s aunt.
North Korean citizens know nothing of the existence of many members of the ruling elite, not just Kim Hyun; for example, Kim Jong Il’s other wives (Sung Hye Rim, Kim Young Suk, Ko Yong Hee and Kim Ok) and his other children (Kim Jong Nam, Kim Sul Song, Kim Jong Cheol, Kim Jong Woon, and Kim Yeo Jong), to name but nine.
Of course, the reason behind North Korea’s strict control of information regarding the Kim’s private lives is to maintain the cult of personality and legitimacy of the regime.
Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, by promoting themselves as deities in this way, are laying claim to being the world’s greatest, most perspicacious leaders, of unparalleled noble character and personality.
By doing so, they are able to demand unconditional devotion and sacrifice from the citizens for the “Sun of the 21st Century Kim Il Sung” and the “Supreme Commander of the People Kim Jong Il.” If North Korean citizens were to become aware of their depraved and corrupt private lives, then the tower of deification which both have invested so much in building until now could come crashing down at any moment.
Consequently, Kim Jong Il has kept everything strictly secret regarding both his and his father’s love lives, and if one knows and divulges such information, then one is liable, indeed likely, to be sent to a political prison.
The reason why defector Kim Young Soon, originally a member of the Chosun People’s Army Orchestra, suffered for eight years in the political prison camp in Yoduk was due to the fact that she had become aware that Sung Hye Rim was living with Kim Jong Il.
Kim Jong Il has never ceased being vigilant in purging the elite ranks so that he, and only he, can lay claim to being the legitimate descendent of the Kim Il Sung lineage.
When Kim Jong Il first rose to a position of power, he designated Kim Sung Ae, his stepmother, and her sons Pyong Il and Young Il as “branches.” By continuously assigning his step-brother Kim Pyong Il to embassies overseas, Kim Jong Il was able to cut off his power base. Kim Young Il, after being dispatched to serve in Germany, died from cirrhosis of the liver in 2000.
Another reason for the average citizens not being aware of Kim Jong Il’s wife is that, in contrast to Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il has never been accompanied by his wife during overseas visits or for receptions with foreign premiers, so his female companions are almost never visible in the strictly controlled North Korean media.
The first time Kim was accompanied anywhere by a woman was when he took Ko Young Hee, with whom he was living at the time, to visit the 4-25 Training Bureau of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces in early 2000.
At the time, the soldiers did not know who the woman accompanying Kim Jong Il was, but an astute political manager of the Women’s Communication Squadron decided to call Ko “Mother” after hearing the words and seeing the body language between the two.