North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Look at Little Sister

Kim Kyong-hui and her brother during a guidance visit to the Tongbong Cooperative Farm in Hamju County, South Hamgyong Province.  Photo: Korea Central News Agency

Kim Kyong-hui and her brother during a guidance visit to the Tongbong Cooperative Farm in Hamju County, South Hamgyong Province. Photo: Korea Central News Agency

The summer of 2009 provided no shortage of North Korean news. The North Koreans threatened to blast a missile off the coast of Hawaii.  The DPRK convicted then pardoned two US journalists who allegedly traversed the PRC-DPRK border.  The DPRK arrested then released a South Korean employee of the Kaesong Industrial Complex.  Former US President Bill Clinton visited Kim Jong-il at the Paekhwawon Guest House, under the auspices of seeking clemency for the journalists.   Hyundai Group CEO Hyun Jung-eun met with Kim Jong-il at his villa near Mount Myohyang (to spring the detained South Korean).  The Kaesong Industrial Complex (which seems to function more as a charity than a business venture) reopened, and the Pyongsong Wholesale Market closed.  In May, many sources seemed certain that General-Secretary Kim’s youngest son, Kim Jong-un, would succeed his father.  By August, young Mr. Kim was said not be the successor, having trespassed powerful members of the DPRK security apparatus.

Lost amid all of this, was the appearance and new public profile of Kim Jong-il’s only sister, Kim Kyong-hui.  Kim Kyong-hui is department director of the Workers’ Party Light Industry Department, member of the KWP Central Committee and 12th Supreme People’s Assembly deputy (representing the 3rd Electoral District).    In June 2009, Kim Kyong-hui joined her brother during his guidance tour of South Hamgyong Province, inspecting a cooperative farm and attending an opera.  She joined subsequent guidance tours in late July and late August.  Ms. Kim is by no means a political neophyte.  She has ties to the North Korean security apparatus through her husband and his late brothers.  She was linked to the political patronage network of late United Front department director Kim Yong-sun and her deceased daughter worked in the KWP Central Committee.  But for someone who’s informally been at the center of power in DPRK for almost forty years, Kim Kyong-hui has maintained a fairly low profile and rarely mentioned in the North Korean press.

Kim Kyong-hui was born on 30 May 1946 to the late DPRK President Kim Il-sung and his first wife Kim Jong-suk.  She was three years-old when her mother passed away.  During the Korean (or Victorious Fatherland Liberation) War, she was moved around with her brother to safehouses in Kangwon Province and Jilin Province, PRC.   Kim Kyong-hui was said to be treated rather harshly by her step-mother (Kim Il-sung’s second wife and former clerical secretary), Kim Song-ae, which required her brother’s intervention and protection.  She attended  Kim Il-sung University where she majored in Political Economy.  During her time at Kim Il-Sung University, she met and fell in love with her husband Jang Song-thaek.

The Jang-Kim courtship was strongly discouraged by her father.  Kim Il-sung told his brother, then-KWP Organization Guidance Director Kim Yong-ju, use whatever means necessary to discourage Ms. Kim’s and Mr. Jang’s relationship.  Hwang Jang-yop, then President of Kim Il-sung University, was asked to monitor the couple’s activities.  However, Mr. Hwang (who defected to South Korea in 1997) was reluctant so to do, particularly after Kim Kyong-hui met with him in his office.  “Kim Kyong-hui came to see me in my office and protested that [I] should not be interfering in matters of love.  I had thought of her as a young girl . . .but I realized she was direct  and very intelligent,” Hwang later wrote in his memoir.  Despite Ms. Kim’s protestations to Mr. Hwang, Jang Song-thaek was eventually transferred to the University of Economics in Wonsan.

Kim Kyong-hui was said to have studied at Moscow State University in the late 1960’s and married Jang Song-thaek in 1972.  She worked in the executive office of the Korean Democratic Women’s Union, with her despised step-mother (and KDWU Chair until 1998) Kim Song-ae.  One can read Kim Kyong-hui’s KDWU appointment as a kind of listening post on behalf of Kim Jong-il, who was then embroiled in a battle for succession with Kim Song-ae and her eldest son, Kim Pyong-il.  In 1975, Ms. Kim transferred into the International Affairs Secretariat (CCKWP) where she advanced from deputy to senior deputy director of the KWP International Affairs Department.  In this position Kim Kyong-hui (along with Jang Song-thaek) supervised the appointment and stationing of ambassadors and diplomats to countries with which the DPRK establsihed diplomatic relations in the mid 1970’s.

Kim Kyong-hui, no doubt, took a sabbatical to give birth to Jang Kum-song who was born around 1977 (Ms. Jang passed away in 2006).  There is also an account that around 1978 or 1979 Kim Kyong-hui gave birth to a son, who may be currently known as Jang Kim-song.  It is not exactly clear how many children Jang Song-thaek and Kim Kyong-hui raised in their household.  According to Lee Il-nam (a nephew of Song Hye-rim; see below),  Mr. Jang and Ms. Kim also raised a son named Kim Jang-hyun, however this person was said to be executed in 2001.  Kim Kyong-hui is also said by Song Hye-rang to have served in a guardian capacity to Kim Jong-il’s oldest son, Kim Jong-nam, and acted as a conduit between her brother and his estranged consort (Kim Jong-nam’s mother) Song Hye-rim.

In September 1987, Kim Kyong-hui was appointed as the department director of the CCKWP Light Industry Department and in November of 1988 was elected as a member of the Central Committee of the KWP (four years ahead of her husband).  She became a deputy (delegate) at the 9th Supreme People’s Assembly in 1990.  An early 1990’s reform of KWP departments saw the Light Industry Department absorbed temporarily into the Economic Policy Inspection Department.  Kim Kyong-hui became a department director and began her own guidance tours of the DPRK’s domestic economy.  There are also reports that Ms. Kim was involved in the DPRK’s hard currency-generating businesses and she may have had affiliations with the notorious Office #35 and the Third Floor, a CCKWP entity with ties to Kim Jong-il’s Personal Secretariat; North Korean entities that produce cigarettes (and possibly narcotics) are sometimes organizationally subordinate to the Light Industry Department to give them an air of legitimacy.

When Kim Jong-il formalized his succession between 1997 and 1998, the Light Industry Department was once again its own entity subordinate to the KWP Central Committee, and Kim Kyong-hui once again became its director.  According to defector reports, she was one of General-Secretary Kim’s key operatives to conduct inspections of North Korean factories in the late 1990’s.  These inspections were reported to end in public trials and executions of factory managers deemed “corrupt.”  She held her Light Industry position until  2003.   While she stood for election to the 11th Supreme People’s Assembly, she was not seen in public after September 2003.  It should be noted that around June 2003, Jang Song-thaek also disappeared from the North Korean press and removed from his position as senior deputy director of the KWP Organization Guidance Department.  This does not give credence to cohort analysis–that is to say assuming those who appear with Kim Jong-il or in the North Korean press are close to the power center.

Ms. Kim was restored as director of the Light Industry Department.  She attended the first session of the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly in April 2009.  On 5 June, 2009, she joined Kim Jong-il in his visit to the Tongbong Cooperative Farm in Hamju County, South Hamgyong.  Hamju County is the site of a Kim Family villa and in July 2007 Kim Jong-il participated in elections for the local People’s Committee.    Also present was Jang Song-thaek, the first known occasion that was not a formal State event, when husband and wife appeared together.   Ms. Kim also attended opera performances with General-Secretary Kim and Mr. Jang on 7 and 14 June.  She appeared at the memorial service commemorating the 15th Anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s death.  On 30 July she was part of General-Secretary Kim’s guidance travel party to the Pyongyang Textile Mill.  Interestingly, this visit has been disappeared from English North Korean web resources, but remains on the Korean versions.  She joined her brother and husband on a guidance tour of the Wonsan Saltern on 28 August.


This article was written on 24 Sep 2009, and is filled under Guidance Tours, Jang Song-thaek, Kim Family, Kim Jong-il, Light Industry Department.

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