The late Hwang Jang-yop
By Lee Tae-hoon
Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-ranking North Korean ever to defect to South Korea, died of a suspected heart attack at his home in Seoul Sunday, according to police and government sources. He was 87.
The former secretary of the North’s Workers’ Party defected to the South in 1997. He was known as the main architect of Pyongyang’s “juche” or self-reliance ideology.
Police said a security guard found Hwang, dead at around 9:30 a.m. in the bathroom of his home in southern Seoul, and there were no signs of a break-in at the house.
“His bodyguard found him sitting in the bathtub,” a senior police officer told the press.
Police said an autopsy will be conducted to determine the exact cause of death. However, they ruled out homicide.
Despite continuous threats of retaliation from Pyongyang, Hwang had been a vocal critic of the reclusive North Korean regime since his defection.
In April this year, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) announced that two North Korean spies were arrested for plotting to assassinate him.
The two agents had trained for six years in preparation for their mission on the order of the spy agency on the North’s Ministry of People’s Armed Forces.
Hwang’s wife reportedly committed suicide shortly after his defection and one daughter killed herself by jumping off a train on her way to a labor camp.
All of his other family members, including his grandchildren, are thought to have been sent to such camps.
Former President Kim Young-sam expressed his condolences on Hwang’s death, saying he was a patriot who strived to prevent another fratricidal war between the two Koreas and addressed the fallacies of the North’s father-to-son succession.
“He has well survived the North’s tenacious assassination attempts,” Kim said. “I lament the death of Hwang, with whom I used to have lunch-time conversations with once a month about the North’s democratization and unification.”
Kim helped Hwang land in Korea during his presidency through diplomatic efforts after Hwang defected on his way back from a trip to Tokyo by walking into the South Korean Embassy in Beijing.
Hwang has since lived under police protection at an unknown location for security reasons.
The former chief of the North’s parliament is known to have been a teacher of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and a confidant of his father, Kim Il-sung.
He served in many high-level posts in North Korea, including the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the Stalinist regime’s rubber-stamp legislature.
Hwang was born in Gangdong, South Pyeongan Province, and graduated from Pyongyang Commercial School in 1941. He then went to Tokyo in 1942 to attend Chuo University’s law school, but quit two years later and returned to Pyongyang, where he taught mathematics at his alma mater.
He joined the Workers’ Party in 1946 and was sent to study at Moscow University in the Soviet Union.
Upon his return to Pyongyang, Hwang became head lecturer in philosophy at Kim Il-sung University and later the head of the university.
In 1983, however, he was removed from the Assembly and his standing deteriorated.
After his arrival in the South, he authored over a dozen books, many of which harshly criticized Kim Jong-il for “betraying juche and building feudalism instead of socialism.” Hwang also served as chairman of the South’s Unification Policy Research Institute.