In Exit Emperor Kim Jong-il, authors John H. Cha and K. J. Sohn present a compelling portrait of two men caught up in a struggle for the survival of North Korean society. Th e product of an eight-year study of individuals who observed and worked under Kim Jong-il, the dictator of North Korea for over thirty years, this biography provides insight into the Kim's family corruption of power.
The story is told through the eyes of Hwang Jang-yop, a renowned philosopher and writer, former International Secretariat of North Korea, and mentor to Kim Jong-il. It narrates Hwang's journey in his battle against Kim's greed for power. It reveals a three-dimensional portrait of Kim Jong-il rarely chronicled, from Kim's early days and rise to power to his economic crisis and his continual power struggle.
As well as recording the life of Kim, Exit Emperor Kim Jong-il recounts Hwang's defection from North Korea so he could tell the world about the corrupt dictatorship and its policies that he felt were responsible for the massive famine in North Korea. Through testimonies from Hwang and other defectors from North Korea, this biography reveals what was going on inside the man, Kim Jong-il, and the society he ruled.
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Exit Emperor Kim Jong-ilNotes from His Former Mentor
By John H. Cha K. J. Sohn
abbott pressCopyright © 2012 John H. Cha, with K. J. Sohn
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Summit
* * *
June 13, 2000
A Boeing jet carrying South Korean president Kim Dae-jung and his presidential party swooped down on the tarmac of the Sun Ahn Airport outside Pyongyang, slowly taxied toward the concourse, and rolled to a stop, precisely in front of a reception area covered with a red carpet. Cameras zoomed in on the airplane's door in anticipation of the visiting dignitary, and the door opened. Kim Dae-jung emerged from the plane. The octogenarian smiled and waved to the roaring North Koreans, women dressed in colorful Korean garb and men in suits, all of them waving flowers and flags with unprecedented fervor. The elderly statesman gingerly climbed down the ramp, one step at a time, until he finally touched down on the red carpet.
Waiting to greet him was Kim Jong-il, the younger of the two Kims, who took the elder Kim's hands, shook them, and held them, warm and close. It could easily have been the picture of a reunion of two long-lost relatives, an uncle on a visit to his nephew's home.
"Welcome, Mr. President," Kim Jong-il said. "You're so brave to travel all this way."
The elder Kim, sometimes referred to as DJ, beamed with reckless abandon, contrary to his usual stoic demeanor, while the younger Kim assured his "uncle" that all was well in the fatherland. DJ understood what Kim Jong-il meant about being "brave" to visit Pyongyang.
Even though the flight only took one hour, the distance between them metaphysically and metaphorically was a million miles, from one end of the world to the other. They had been living as enemies for five decades, ever since the Korean War in 1950. Technically they were still at war, separated by a strip of land about a mile and a half wide, running across the peninsula's waist. It is universally called the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), a striking misnomer, since the DMZ is the most heavily armed area in the world. Tons of missiles, tanks, and a million-plus troops are poised for a fight at a moment's notice. Countless landmines are buried in between the missiles, tanks, and troops, a testimony to lingering conflict between the North and the South. Former president Bill Clinton once visited the DMZ and called it "the scariest place on Earth."
DJ replied, "It is great to see you," and shook Kim Jong-il's hand again. DJ was surprised to see him at the airport, because the original plan had called for a meeting at the guest house. But then, Kim Jong-il was a man of surprises, and one could always count on that.
Kim Jong-il has reveled in unpredictability over the years. This summit in 2000 was his turn to shine, his time, his show for the entire world. He was ready to make the most out of this rare opportunity as the world press swarmed his city, Pyongyang. He especially liked shocking the old politician from the South, who had paid millions of dollars (reportedly $500 million, one-half the amount originally asked for) for the privilege of visiting Pyongyang under the premise of promoting peace on the peninsula. He knew that DJ aspired to go down in history as the "unification president" of the Korean Peninsula, and he meant to capitalize on what he perceived as the old man's weakness. As much as he abhorred capitalism, Kim Jong-il needed the money, and in return, he was willing to "grace" the world with his charm. The Western press had been harsh on him over the years, painting him as an isolationist dictator who purposefully starved his people while he lived in luxury and wealth in his many palaces. At the same time, it has long been evident that he didn't care what the capitalist press said about him. In his mind, they were always wrong and didn't deserve any attention. He has always touted that all the criticisms he received in the capitalist press meant that he was doing something right.
However, something strange happened during the days of the 2000 summit. Kim Jong-il had the press eating out of his hands. Their cameras recorded every moment the two Kims were together, except during the forty-minute limo ride from the airport to DJ's guest house, leaving everyone to wonder about the content of the private conversation. The reporters were enthralled with Kim Jong-il, who was wryly cracking jokes during these encounters. He said at the dinner with DJ, "In Europe, they say that I live a secluded life, but actually I have traveled quite a bit. This time, you came to liberate me from seclusion." Everyone broke out in laughter, including the reporters. He continued and asked DJ, "How is the noodle soup? The noodles don't taste good if you rush it. Please take your time and enjoy the noodles." He jumped from one subject to another, showing that he was in charge of the conversations at the table.
Kim Jong-il handled these reporters with ease. They lapped up everything he threw out, hailing him as "humorous," "honest," "well-informed," and so on. These were the same reporters who had described him as an "enigma," an "odd weirdo," a "drunken womanizer," and an "incompetent leader."
He smirked at the headline in the South's morning newspaper on June 15, the last day of the summit. It read, "Chairman Kim demonstrates his drinking ability," referring to the wine toast he had made at the dinner the night before and the way he downed a large glass of wine in one smooth gulp. Kim Jong-il said, "I don't know why they [the Southern press] take potshots at me like this."
DJ replied, "Well, it took me four sips to finish my glass."
Kim Jong-il came back with, "But they say nothing about your drinking ... just about my drinking ability. I suppose I proved to them what they suspected all along."
Laughter broke out. He waited for the laughter to subside and said, "Well, I suppose it makes for a good story."
The summit ended well as far as Kim Jong-il was concerned, a personal victory as well as a victory for the revolution. The people in the South became crazy about him. They even imitated his hairstyle and his jumpsuit. He had been under his father's shadow all his life, but thanks to this "coming out party," he showed himself as a capable leader for the whole world to see. The capitalist hype thrust him onto the international stage, and a long list of visitors came to see him in droves-South Korean businessmen, politicians, US Secretary of State Madeline Albright, myriad congressional members from the United States, representatives from the EU. That wasn't all. He had summit meetings with Chinese Premier Chiang, Russian President Putin, and Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan. Everyone wanted to meet this "changed" man, and the Western press kept him in the headlines.
While Kim was enjoying his new stature following his "coming out party," Hwang Jang-yop was quietly watching his old nemesis on television from a distance, in Seoul, South Korea. He had known Kim Jong-il as a young man and recognized his ambition for power. As Kim's mentor and advisor to his father, Kim Il-sung, Hwang saw Kim rise to the top and ultimately gain control of the country. However, his close relationship with Kim Jong-il deteriorated around 1993, when Hwang sought to reform the ailing economy by moving it toward an open-market economy styled after the Chinese model. Kim Jong-il saw the solution differently; he argued for nuclear weapons. Kim Il-sung went along with Kim Jong-il. Even though Kim Jong-il won the argument, he didn't feel comfortable because he was afraid that many party elites agreed with Hwang on reforming economic policies. Kim Jong-il ordered surveillance on Hwang and began persecuting him.
Hwang realized that he could no longer continue in his position as the general secretariat of the party and had to make the very difficult decision to defect. That was three years before the summit. Hwang wrote about these pivotal moments in his memoirs. The following is my translation of excerpts from his memoirs.
That day on January 30, 1997, I don't recall what the weather was like in Pyongyang. My memory of the city is shrouded in heavy fog under the gray sky, reflecting the state of my mind as I left home that day. My wife came out to the gate to see me off. My son Kyung-mo was away in a hospital being treated for his liver infection, and his wife and children were still asleep. As I looked at my wife-she knew nothing-I felt torn again. Should I tell her that I might never see her again?
But I didn't tell her anything. I just went ahead with the decision that I had struggled with for months. I finally decided it was better not to tell her, for I was never certain if things would turn out the way I had planned. Telling her would increase the chance of compromising the secrecy by twofold, not to mention the pain she would feel. She and I had built together a life of fifty years and varied accomplishments, and my actions would be very difficult for her, even if she understood what I was doing. The thought of our shattered life would bring her great pain. Such pain would destroy her even before my defection came to fruition.
"I'll be back. I should be back around February 12," I said and then parted from her after a brief farewell.
We'd met in faraway Moscow during those wonderful days in our youth, followed by the half century of love and trust. I struggled over my decision endlessly, whether I should tell her about my plan, or even mention the possibility that I might not ever see her again. But, in the end, I did not let on at all.
As I look back, however, I think she had an intuitive feeling about my plans. One summer day in 1996, I was in the vegetable garden in the backyard of our house in Pyongyang, thinking about the nation's fate, when she came up and asked whether I was worried about something. She did not look at me directly, her eyes fixed on the tomato plants. I didn't want to pass my struggles onto her, and I gave her a simple answer: no.
Then she spoke in Russian, "We've had a good life up to now. I have no regrets ... even if we were to die right away. But think about how many people depend on you. You have to be patient, if not for us, for them."
She surprised me with those words, as if she knew my plans. I replied in Russian, "A family's life is more important than an individual's life; a nation's life is more important than a family's; the human race is more important than a nation." Then I muttered something like "I have seen the truth of history," thinking that she didn't hear me. I think she heard me, though.
She turned around silently, holding the basket filled with tomatoes. The slump in her shoulders remains vivid in my memory. She might not have understood my meaning exactly, but she might have sensed that I was up to something.
There was another incident about two weeks before I departed the North. I burned two trunks full of manuscripts I had worked on. My wife quietly came up to me and asked, "Why are you burning manuscripts so dear to you?"
"I don't think I need them anymore." I made a short reply then, and she didn't pursue the topic any further. She may have thought that I could no longer publish the manuscripts because they contained banned materials.
I was somewhat relieved that she didn't press me for details. I watched my written thoughts turn to ashes, and I went in the house. Then I asked her to give away my camera, expensive pens, and other valuable things to our children. We still needed some of those things, but my wife didn't say anything. She merely followed my instructions. Did she guess what was on my mind? Was she already prepared for the hardship and sacrifice that lay ahead for her, hardships harsher than death itself?
Of course, I was most concerned with my family's welfare and attempted countless plans to arrange for their safety before I left, which, alas, proved impossible. In the meantime, I was haunted by a nagging voice inside: If you hesitate, as you try to save your family, even though you know you can't, you'll never make the move in the end. Then history will say that there was not one intellectual who criticized or protested against the conditions in the North, the violence and the injustice that was perpetrated on my people, my fatherland. Thus I made the decision to leave my family behind. I had to.
I had originally planned to defect in Japan, but I had to cancel it. The members of Joson Youth Party in Japan, citing security reasons, never left me alone, day or night. They stuck by my side in numbers that made me wonder if they were following a special directive from Kim Jong-il. So I decided to defect in Beijing, China, the next scheduled stop.
My actual defection began at nine in the morning on February 12, 1997. Under the guise of gift shopping, my assistant, Kim Duk-hong, and I went to a department store near the South Korean Embassy in Beijing. We met with several helpers there and discussed the details of the defection. After a brief discussion with the coordinator of our defection, we slipped out the back door of the department store and took a taxi to the South Korean Embassy, where its staff members waited for us. When we arrived, they led us to the consul general.
"Mr. Hwang, welcome, sir," the consul general said, and I held his hand without saying a word.
The South Korean Embassy in Beijing informed the Chinese Foreign Affairs Office of my defection at 11:30 in the morning. At 5:30 p.m., I was told that the South Korean government had made an official announcement.
One thing I most worried about was whether the Chinese government would allow our defection to take place on their soil. I had always loved the Chinese culture and maintained good relations with Chinese officials in my capacity as a North Korean official and a proponent of a strong alliance with China. Therefore, I had no doubt that the Chinese officials would feel favorable toward me. But in terms of national interest, China could ill afford to exchange Kim Jong-il's goodwill for me. It was a good possibility that Kim Jong-il could compel the Chinese government to return us to North Korea or send us to a third country.
On February 13, the day after I walked into the South Korean Embassy, the North Korea Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that if South Korea had kidnapped us, it would pay an appropriate price. Then the Chinese Foreign Affairs Office announced its official position, requesting all the parties to treat the matter in accordance with international rules. I also heard that the South Korean minister of foreign affairs, Kim Ha-jung, sent a special envoy to Beijing, requesting the Chinese government's cooperation.
As it was reported in the press, several hundred North Korean agents made several attempts to penetrate through the Chinese police to get at us. However, they failed to reach us inside the South Korean Embassy, owing to the protection provided by the Chinese, with 1,200 armed police and a tank reinforcing the perimeter.
I had no doubt in my mind what those agents were after; they had stormed the Russian Embassy in Pyongyang and assassinated a military officer who had defected there some years ago. The South Korean Embassy officials, realizing the potential danger, intensified their effort.
I was not myself during these few crucial days. But as soon as I heard that the Chinese government expressed its intention to cooperate with the South Korean government with regard to my defection, I relaxed. Then I began to worry about my family. The worried faces of my wife and children kept appearing in front of me, and I couldn't sleep, even with the help of sleeping pills. I would get up and take another sleeping pill in order to get any sleep at all. I was simply going insane. I buried the family photograph deep in my trunk to avoid looking at them, thinking about them. But I couldn't bury the images that popped up in my head all the time, day and night. My longing multiplied, especially at mealtimes. The embassy personnel learned that I liked candy, and they brought candy for me now and then.... I was besieged with my grandson Ji-sung's image, the way he opened his mouth saying, "Ah, ah," asking me to drop one in his mouth. I couldn't swallow the candy then. Ji-sung would always come to me at the dinner table and ask me to feed him. Had I been able to go back to Pyongyang then, I would have taken the candies for Ji-sung.
In the meantime, we waited for the Chinese government and its next move. Our fate hung on their decision-although it seemed unlikely that they would ship me back to North Korea. The South Korean Embassy staff had a variety of opinions with respect to what China might do. Some were hopeful that the Chinese government would handle our defection according to the international rules and regulations, while others feared that the Chinese government would just keep us in limbo.
Excerpted from Exit Emperor Kim Jong-il by John H. Cha K. J. Sohn Copyright © 2012 by John H. Cha, with K. J. Sohn. Excerpted by permission of abbott press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. The Summit....................1
2. Kim Jong-il's Youth....................14
3. Kim Jong-il's First Marriage....................31
4. Kim Jong-il's Rise to Power....................38
5. Kim Jong-il Takes Control....................52
6. Death of Kim Il-sung....................68
7. The Famine....................77
8. Kim Jong-il's Preservation of Power....................83
9. Dynastic Transfer of Power....................123
10. Let My People Go!....................137
1. Who's Who in Kim Family's Circle of Power....................159
2. Writings by Hwang Jang-yop....................165
3. Aphorisms of the Great Leader Comrade Kim Jong-il....................169