Kim Chang-ryong

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Kim Chang-ryong
Korean name
Hangul 김창룡
Hanja 金昌龍
Revised Romanization Gim Chang-ryong
McCune–Reischauer Kim Ch'angnyong

Kim Chang-Ryong (1920–January 30, 1956), was a high-ranking officer in the Republic of Korea Army, head of the Korean Counter Intelligence Corps, and Korean President Syngman Rhee's most trusted right-hand man. He was assassinated in 1956 by army colleagues.

Early life[edit]

Kim Chang-Ryong was born presumably in 1920 to a poor peasant family in Kumya County, South Hamgyong Province, during the period of Japanese rule and like many other young Koreans at that time enrolled in the Imperial Japanese Army in Manchukuo. At first serving as an MP (Military Police), he soon became a reputed detective, whose job it was to uncover moles in the Japanese intelligence service and to hunt communist activists. In 1941, Kim cunningly assumed the appearance of a beggar in order to get close to Wang Gunlai (王近禮), an infamous Chinese spy master. After gaining the latter's trust, having himself intentionally arrested several times in the process, he was able to gather intelligence allowing the Japanese military to neutralize a spy network of about 60 agents from the Soviet Union.


After the surrender of Japan and independence of Korea in 1945, Kim Chang-Ryong came back to his hometown Hamheung, finding it to be under Soviet occupation. Wanted by the Communists for being a former Japanese soldier, he had to keep a low profile. Around the end of 1945, he apparently visited friend and former assistant Kim Yun-Won (金允元) in Chorwon who sold him out, following which he was sentenced to death for "anti-Korean deeds", i.e. arresting anti-Japanese combatants. But as Kim was being transferred to the place of his execution, he managed to jump off the truck transporting him and escaped to a relative's house. Recovering from his wounds, he lay in wait for the right time to flee to the American-controlled South Korea but was once more betrayed and captured by the Communists, who subsequently sentenced him to death a second time. However Kim again managed to break loose, knocking out the soldier guarding him with a chair, and escaped south.

South Korea and the Korean War[edit]

Kim Chang-Ryong arrived in Seoul in May 1946, joined several different corps of the ROKA (Republic of Korea Army) and was eventually assigned to G-2 (intelligence). After seeing his homeland embrace Communism, for which he had by then developed a strong hatred, Kim promised himself he would do everything to prevent South Korea from following the same path. Besides, he would soon find another enemy to fight, this time among his very colleagues : corruption. Kim Chang-Ryong earned President Syngman Rhee's trust with the arrests of Kim Sam-Yong and Lee Joo-Ha, two key members of the South Korean Labor Party (Nam-Ro-Dang). Rhee, aware that complete control over the army was the only possible way to maintain his regime, saw Kim Chang-Ryong as the ideal right-hand man, an efficient young officer who could "clean up the mess in the army" and get rid of anyone capable of threatening Rhee's position (Kim himself posed no threat, as his record of serving the Japanese ensured that he would never be supported by the people). Armed with this favored connection to the country's leader, Kim perhaps became somewhat reckless in his investigations and obviously made serious enemies among army officers, many of whom were indeed involved in corruption business or subversive activities. Kim Chang-Ryong, now a superior officer, formed with the support of US Army officials the CIC or Counter-intelligence Corps, which was responsible for arresting and interrogating thousands of assumed North Korean spies. It is said that in reference to his infamous relentlessness, General Douglas MacArthur nicknamed him "Kim the Snake". By July 1949, the facts seem to be, a little less than 5,000 soldiers and officers of the ROKA had been arrested and interrogated.


In 1953, Kim Chang-Ryong, then head of the Korean CIC, was promoted to Junjang (Brigadier General) and, in 1955, to a Sojang (Major General). This quick rise through the ranks did not help with the growing dislike some of his peers felt toward him. What is more, Kim had never been part of the very tight community of frontline officers that had formed during the Korean War, further accentuating his estrangement from most of his colleagues. His enemies had already tried several times to assassinate him but all attempts had failed up to then. In the early morning of January 30, 1956, Kim left home in his Willys Jeep and noticed a car blocking the way. As he shouted at the visitors to get off the road, three shots were fired. Hit in the head, Kim Chang-Ryong, then aged 36, was taken to a nearby hospital where he died.


Because of his relentless investigations, Kim is despised by a majority of the Korean people and some go so far as to consider him a war criminal. This resentment has been much emphasized in later years by the alleged claim of former president Kim Gu's murderer Ahn Doo-hee that Kim Chang-Ryong was the mastermind of the assassination. Kim Gu's relatives even urged the South Korean government to exhume Kim Chang-Ryong's remains and banish them from the National Military Cemetery of Daejeon. Despite what seems to be commonly believed, Kim Chang-Ryong's involvement in the assassination of Kim Gu is not definite: while Kim seems to have looked after Ahn after the assassination, the chief of the operation was Major Chang En-san,[citation needed] then the commander of the artillery corps, who himself was arrested by Kim in July 1950 and executed in Daegu. Besides, at the time of Kim Gu's death, in 1949, Kim Chang-Ryong was only a subordinate officer and could not be possibly given such power as would imply organizing an assassination.

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