North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Gen. Hyon Chol Hae

updated and revised 20 May 2023

Marshal Hyon Chol Hae [Hyo’n Ch’o’l-hae] was a core North Korean elite and senior leadership figure in the Korean People’s Army [KPA].  He was a close aide and adviser to late DPRK leader Kim Jong Il (KJI; Kim Cho’ng-il) and a mentor and adviser to current DPRK leader Kim Jong Un (KJU; Kim Cho’ng-u’n).  Hyon was a savvy manager and skillful elite insider who controlled a large patronage network in the KPA’s trade companies and political commissar corps.

Hyon Chol Hae lied about his age and joined the KPA at the outbreak of the Fatherland Liberation (Korean) War and was assigned a member of Kim Il Sung’s bodyguard unit.  After the war, Hyon received his university education in the DPRK and Romania.  He returned to his home country around 1957 and received additional training and work experience as a guidance official in the South P’yo’ngan party organization.  During the 1960s he held positions as an instructor and cadre in the KPA General Political Bureau [GPB].  He was appointed GPB deputy director for organizational affairs in 1968 and became a general-grade officer with a promotion to Major-General.

Hyon was involved in the 1968 and 1969 purges of Kim Chang-bong and other Partisan guerrilla elites identified as factionalists and military adventurists.  According to official DPRK accounts, Hyon maintained his loyalty to Kim Il Sung during these purges. However, Hyon was demoted after the purges.  This was probably linked to conflicts in the party’s organizational apparatus.  In 1970, he was appointed political director of the IV Army Corps.  In 1976, he was appointed rector of the KPA General Logistics Department training institution.

In 1986, Hyon was promoted to Lieutenant General and assigned to be director of the KPA General Logistics Bureau, where he served until 1995.  He was elected a Candidate Member to the Workers’ Party of Korea [WPK] Central Committee at its 19th Plenum (6th CC/6th Term) in December 1991 and elected to full membership at the WPK Central Committee meeting, the 21st Plenum (6th CC/6th Term) in December 1993, the last known Central Committee meeting held until September 2010.  He was a member of Kim Il Sung’s Funeral Committee in July 1994.  In November 1994 he led a KPA delegation visit to Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam, and led a KPA delegation on a visit to China in September 1995.

In October 1995 Hyon Chol Hae was promoted to General and assigned as deputy director of the KPA General Political Bureau, with the organization portfolio. Despite holding a second-tier leadership position, Hyon became a close aide to Kim Jong Il.  As a member of the KPA Operations Command Group (along with Ri Myong Su and Pak Jae Gyong), Hyon appeared at many of Kim Jong Il’s public engagements and inspections from 1995 to 2010.  Hyon was a key aide in KJI’s military management.

He was elected a deputy to the 10th Supreme People’s Assembly in 1998 and served on its Qualifications Screening Committee.  He was subsequently reelected to the 11th SPA in 2003 and the 12th SPA in 2009.  He was appointed director of the National Defense Commission [NDC] Standing Bureau in 2007.  In that position Hyon managed the NDC’s daily operations.  He also coordinated security and interactions for Kim Jong Il’s field inspections of KPA units. In 2008, Hyon Chol Hae, despite a lower-tier position in the formal leadership hierarchy, appeared at a September 2008 military parade as a surrogate for Kim Jong Il, who was then recuperating from a stroke.


Gen. Hyon Chol Hae (R) with Kim Jong Il in Kangdong Cuonty, Pyongyang in January 2009 (Photo: KCNA)

Hyon Chol Hae was an early supporter of Kim Jong Un’s hereditary succession.  Some accounts put his support for KJU’s succession in the early 2000s when the regime began a subliminal publicity campaign for KJU’s mother, Ko Yong Hui (Ko Yo’ng-hu’i).  Hyon may have been present at a 1992 event at which Kim Jong Il identified then then eight-year old KJU as successor.  No matter the origin story, Hyon began accompanying KJU on the latter’s inspection of KPA units in 2009.  Hyon was a member of Kim Jong Il’s travel party when he visited China in May 2010.

During the 3rd Party Conference on 28 September 2010, Hyon sat next to Kim Jong Un in the gallery.  The party conference was KJU’s mass public debut (although many North Korean citizens knew who he was).  Hyon’s presence next to KJU at the party conference indicated that KJU’s succession not only had the support of vested military constituencies, but that his political leadership was originating in the KPA.

Hyon Chol Hae was the first DPRK elite to receive the Order of Kim Jong Il after its establishment in February 2012.  He was was promoted to Vice Marshal in 2012.  In April 2012 at the 4th Party Conference, he was elected an alternate member of the WPK Political Bureau.  He was also appointed 1st Vice Minister of the People’s Armed Forces and Director of the KPA General Logistics Department.  He retired from office in 2013.  In April 2016, for his many years of service and contributions, Hyon was given the title of KPA Marshal.  Hyon Chol Hae’s last public appearance was at war anniversary events in July 2021.  Hyon Chol Hae passed away on 19 May 2021 and was given a state funeral.

Hyon Chol Hae was born in 1934 in present-day Jilin Province, PRC.  His parents were Partisan guerrilla fighters, Hyon Yong Thaek and Choe Kang Nung, the younger of two sons.  Hyon Yong Thaek had ties to Kim Jong Suk, first wife of Kim Il Sung and mother of Kim Jong Il and Kim Kyong Hui, but died in 1938.  Hyon Chol Hae was part of the second graduating class of the Mangyo’ngdae Revolutionary School.  After his service in the Fatherland Liberation (Korean) War, Hyon attended Kim Ch’aek University of Science and Technology in the DPRK and the Nicolae Bălcescu Military Academy in Romania.  Hyon was married to Choe Kum Ryong with whom he had a son, Hyon Song Jun (born 1965).  His granddaughter, Hyon Hyo Jong, attended Kang Pan Sok Revolutionary School.


Gause, Ken.  “Scenarios and Signposts: Managing Future North Korean Crises,” (Alexandria, VA: Center for Naval Analyses, June 2009); North Korean Civil-Military Trends: Military First Politics to a Point (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute USAWC, 2006);Yonhap News Agency.  North Korea Handbook (Armonk, NY: ME Sharpe, 2003) pp. 657; 791

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