Kim Jong-un had his uncle shot by a firing squad using a machine gun. It is bizarre, but probably something Machiavelli would have recommended as quartering doesn't seem to be an option in North Korea. The strange (it actually makes Game of Thrones seem normal) but interesting thing about the way Jang Song-thaek was ousted is that it was made public, and that publicity will undermine the legitimacy not only of young Kim's rule, but of the entire system, not unlike how the official revelations about the fall of Mao's designated successor Lin Biao, and then the "Gang of Four's" palace intrigues broke the spell of infallibility surrounding the Communist Party leadership. New York Times reports:
“Although high-ranking leaders, including members of the Kim family, have been deposed before, we haven’t seen anything this public or dramatic since Kim Jong-un’s grandfather Kim Il-sung purged his last major rivals in the late 1950s,” said Prof. Charles K. Armstrong, a North Korea expert at Columbia University in New York and the author of “Tyranny of the Weak: North Korea and the World, 1950–1992.”Some of the analysts quoted in the New York Times piece see this as an end of their dreams of economic reforms. I rather think this is the beginning. Either Kim Jong-un will introduce reforms as a way to buy back some of the legitimacy he has squandered, or he will be the next guy executed, and then the new leaders will have to push reforms to mark a break with the miserable tyranny.
Execution Raises Doubts About Kim’s Grip on North Korea (December 13, 2013)
North Korea Releases List of Accusations Against Purged Official (December 8, 2013)
North Korea’s Leader Is Said to Oust Uncle in Power Play (December 3, 2013)
CNN on the execution of Kim's uncle