Kim Kyong Hui, 66, channels her power in part through her husband, Jang Song Thaek, 67, whom she met at Kim Il Sung University and dated against the wishes
of her father. Like his wife, Jang was named a four-star general by Kim Jong Il in 2010. Together, they are widely believed to exercise the real power over
Kim Jong Un in the campaign to convince his people that he's really in charge.
Jang exercises power as vice chairman of the national defense commission, through which Kim Jong Il held sway as chairman before his death in December
2011. Kim Kyong Hui's power lies in her membership on the politburo of the Workers' Party, whose influence is believed to have increased since Kim Jong
Either way, this husband-wife duo is at or near the apex of the two pillars of the North Korean power structure, the party and the armed forces. Kim Jong
Un is in titular command as first chairman of the national defense commission and first secretary of the party - titles that place him just beneath his
late father, overseeing all from on high as "eternal chairman" of the former and "eternal general secretary" of the latter, while the spirit of grandfather
Kim Il Sung towers above all as North Korea's "eternal president."
In the Byzantine struggle for control in Pyongyang, Kim Jong Un was indoctrinated in the last two or three years of his father's rule to depend on his
aunt, who is said to be just as hard-edged and vindictive as her older brother ever was. As an industry official in the days of famine and starvation in
the 1990s, she is believed to have approved the execution of bureaucrats held responsible for the disaster.
Kim Kyong Hui emerged publicly as a national figure after her brother's stroke in August 2008. It was to ensure the safe passage of power from father to
chosen son that Kim Jong Il had her showing up with him and son Kim Jong Un on inspection visits and study tours. The significance of Aunt Kyong Hui and
her husband, Jang Song Taek, became apparent when they were photographed together for the first time at some of these events.
A campus show-off and leader of a musical group when he first met his future wife, Jang has had numerous ups and downs during a long career in a range of
party and government positions. At least twice he was believed to have been purged - a fate that may have been exaggerated since he surfaced again with his
"Without Kim Kyong Hui, he could not survive," says Ha Tae-kyung. "His power depends on hers."
Between them, in recent months this power pair has had to orchestrate a purge of top members of the armed forces. All four career military figures who
accompanied the hearse bearing Kim Jong Il's coffin at his funeral have been disappeared. The extraordinary rhetoric and the threats of nuclear war and
abrogation of the 1953 Korean War armistice are widely believed to have been concocted by these two in order to head off discontent in the top ranks of the
armed forces and suppress continual signs of threats to their own power.