The TelegraphRival to Kim's regime among 200 on verge of being purged
Records suggest that North Korean history has been rewritten and that Choe Ryong-hae is genuine heir to the dictatorship
By Julian Ryall, Tokyo
1:24PM BST 02 Apr 2014
One of the most powerful figures in Pyongyang is expected to fall victim to Kim Jong-un’s purges, as the North Korean leader trains his sights on a rival who could give the lie to a key moment in the communist regime’s history.
As many as 200 senior officials are being eyed for the latest round of bloodletting, according to sources quoted in South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper – largely because of their loyalty to Kim’s uncle, Jang Song-taek, who was executed in December for crimes against the state.
But Choe Ryong-Hae, the joint chairman of the all-powerful Politburo Presidium and political director of the Korea People's Army, appears to have been singled out for a different reason.
Evidence from the 1930s suggests that it was the father of 64-year-old Mr Choe who led an attack against the Japanese later claimed by Kim's grandfather to legitimise the ruling dynasty.
North Korea's version of the struggle against the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula claims that Kim Il-sung, revered as the founder of the nation, led the June 1937 attack on the Japanese garrison defending the town of Pochonbo.
But contemporary media reports suggest otherwise - indicating that Mr Choe's father - Choe Hyon - was actually in command of the guerrilla force.
One article in the Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper, dated June 7, 1937, three days after the skirmish, says: “A little more than 100 men lead by communist bandit Choe Hyon attacked Pochonbo.”
Ken Kato, a researcher and human rights activist, said that the stories undermined Kim Il-sung’s reputation as the heroic father of the nation.
“Kim Il-sung’s legitimacy came from propaganda that he fought against Japan, symbolised by the Battle of Pochonbo,” Mr Kato said. “Schools in North Korea teach children that the battle was a glorious victory against Japan lead by Kim Il-sung.”
North Korean state media helps to reinforce that claim, with the KCNA news agency reporting on the 70th anniversary of the clash that Kim Il-sung – “the legendary hero of the anti-Japanese war” – commanded the insurgents.
“The Pochonbo battle made the august name of the president serve as a beacon for the national resurrection for all the Korean people,” it said.
North Korea has rarely been averse to reinterpreting the regime’s history, with children in the North taught that the Korean War was started in 1950 by an invasion by the South.
They also learn that Kim Jong-il was born in a cabin on the slopes of Mount Paektu. Historians generally accept that the late leader was actually born in a refugee camp in the Soviet Union.