Kang Chol-hwan

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This is a Korean name; the family name is Kang.
Kang Chol-hwan
Kang Chol-Hwan (WMF February 21, 2014).JPG
Kang in 2014
Korean name
Hangul 강철환
Hanja 姜哲煥
Revised Romanization Gang Cheol-hwan
McCune–Reischauer Kang Ch'ŏl-hwan

Kang Chol-hwan is a defector from North Korea. As a child he was imprisoned in the Yodok concentration camp for 10 years; after his release he fled the country, first to China and eventually to South Korea. He is the author, with Pierre Rigoulot, of The Aquariums of Pyongyang, worked as a staff writer specialized in North Korean affairs for the The Chosun Ilbo, and is now the president of North Korea Strategy Center (NKSC).


Kang meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush in June 2005.
Kang in 2008

According to his autobiography, Kang was born in Pyongyang, North Korea and spent his childhood there. His family lived in relative luxury owing to his grandfather's position and the fortune he had given to the country upon the family's return from Japan. Though they had never renounced their North Korean citizenship and Kang's grandmother had been a staunch Party member in both countries, Kang has stated that the family remained under a cloud of suspicion for having lived in Japan. In 1977, his grandfather was accused of treason and was sent to the Senghori concentration camp. According to current KCNA, the elder Kang was an agent of the Japanese National Police.[1] As the family of a traitor, Kang and his family were sent to the Yodok concentration camp. Kang was 9 years old; his sister Mi-ho was just 7.[citation needed]

Kang's autobiography describes a brutal life in the camp. Death from starvation or exposure to the elements was a constant threat, and beatings and other punishments were routine. His education consisted almost solely of memorizing the sayings and speeches of Kim Il-sung; at 15 his education ceased and he was assigned to exhausting and dangerous work details, and was made to view public executions. He said of the camps, "It was a life of hard labour, thirty percent of new prisoners would die. And we were so malnourished, we would eat rats and earthworms to survive."[2] Ten years later he and his family were released.

After release from the camp, Kang proceeded with his life and lived for a few years in North Korea. He owned an illegal radio receiver and listened to broadcasts from the South. In 1992, he and fellow Yodok internee An Hyuk escaped from North Korea by crossing the Yalu River into China. Kang then moved from China to South Korea.[3]

After publishing The Aquariums of Pyongyang, Kang met with U.S. President George W. Bush[4] and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw[5] and has spoken with several organizations about human rights in North Korea[6][7] and visited Japan about discussion about abductees.[8] He has not been in contact with his family since defecting. In 2011, it was revealed that his sister Mi-ho and her 11-year-old son are believed to have returned to Yodok.[9]


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