Inside North Korea’s Theocracy

The Rise and Sudden Fall of Jang Song-thaek

By Ra Jong-yil
Translated by Jinna Park

Subjects: Asian Studies, Biography, Politics, Leadership Studies, History
Hardcover : 9781438473734, 216 pages, May 2019
Paperback : 9781438473727, 216 pages, May 2019

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Table of contents


1. In the Shadow of Greatness

2. A Shadow Cast Across Love

3. Edgy Romance

4. Kim Kyong-hui’s Residence

5. The Dark Side of Success

6. Northern Snakehead and Rice

7. Sunshine, Shade, and Shadows

8. The Past Is Never Dead

English Bibliography
Korean Bibliography

Offers biographical accounts of several of North Korea’s leaders to illuminate the inner workings of its government.


First published in Korean in 2016, Inside North Korea's Theocracy offers a fascinating and rare look at the lives of several of the regime's key leaders. Its primary focus is Jang Song-thaek, a talented and reform-minded member of the political ruling class who was executed in 2013. Jang was the son-in-law of North Korean founder, Kim Il-sung; brother-in-law of its second leader, Kim Jong-il; and uncle to its current leader, Kim Jong-un. The author traces Jang's life from his youth as a brilliant student in Pyongyang to his eventual marriage to Kim Kyong-hui and his rising power as a businessman to, ultimately, his untimely death. In addition to biographical sketches of Jang, his wife, and brother-in-law, Ra Jong-yil provides first-hand impressions of life in North Korea and illuminates the inner workings of its government.

Ra Jong-yil is University Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Gachon University and Chair Professor at National Defense University of Republic of Korea. A former deputy head of the South Korean intelligence service, Ra spent several years engaged in shuttle diplomacy between North and South Korea—a kind of work that is ongoing but never reported in the media. He met many of the individuals he discusses in the book, including Mr. Jang, and also obtained anonymous testimony from senior sources in China and North Korea itself.


"…an important contribution to the field of North Korean studies." — Acta Asiatica Varsoviensia

"If one could read only a single book to thoroughly understand the nature of the North Korean political system, the Kim family dynasty, and the forces that have combined in creating a unique authoritarian regime marked by deep and worsening structural flaws, Ra Jong-yil's pathbreaking study of Jang Song-thaek is such a book. A preeminent watcher of North Korea coupled with top-level national security policy experiences, Ra presents a chilling and compelling story." — Chung Min Lee, Senior Fellow and Director of the Korean Security Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

"…a rich biography of Mr. Jang, the most prominent victim of the purges his young nephew has conducted since assuming power in 2011." — New York Times, on the Korean edition