In the psychotic prison state that calls itself the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, nothing is what it seems, and everything is a secret. The entire country is essentially a 47,000 square mile Potemkin village, an elaborate ruse of happiness and efficiency designed to obscure the terror, poverty, and murder hidden beneath.
So it's probably no surprise that we know so little about the wife of North Korean boy dictator Kim Jong-un. The Kim regime is notoriously secretive about the private lives of the ruling dynasty. The wife of the dynasty's founder, Kim Il-sung, was named Kim Song-ae; she disappeared forever when her stepson Kim Jong-il took power. Jong-il had four wives and "consorts," none of whom ever appeared in public or in the state-controlled media. Jong-un is the first leader since his grandfather died to appear with his wife in public.
But who is Jong-un's wife, Ri Sol-ju? The only thing experts can agree on is that she's beautiful. It is even widely suspected that the name "Ri Sol-ju" is a pseudonym; Kim Jong-un's own biological mother was often referred to in Northern media with a fake name. The regime has released practically no information about the woman.
Here are the claims made by the official North Korea propaganda organs:
- Her name is Ri Sol-ju.
- She is Kim Jong-un's wife.
- She makes public appearances with her husband, such as attending this concert and watching a baseball game with washed-up American athlete and fellow traveler Dennis Rodman.
Outside observers, particularity in the the South Korean media, have dug deep to uncover facts about the mystery woman. As with any speculation about the inner secrets of the North, these "facts" have to be taken with a healthy serving of salt:
- She was born in 1985. Or 1986, 1987, 1988, or 1989.
- Her family is prominent in the Communist Party elite. Her mother is a doctor and her father is a university professor.
- She studied singing in China.
- In 2005, she participated in a cheerleading competition in South Korea.
- The couple was married in 2009; it was an arranged marriage, ordered by the dying Kim Jong-il.
- She has given birth to one child, although the birth was never announced and the child has never appeared in public. Rodman told The Guardian that Ri gave birth to a girl named Ju-ae in 2012. While it may seem strange there was no public announcement, it should be noted that no one on Earth knew that Kim Jong-un existed until he was announced as heir in 2010.
- She was a singer in the Unhasu Orchestra, a state-sponsored Western-style musical group, and she performed a number of times outside of North Korea. Nine members of the Unhasu Orchestra were executed last year on Kim's orders, and foreign observers speculated that the dictator was eliminating his wife's old friends to maintain control over her. A high-level defector claimed the band had produced a pornographic video, and the executions were to cover up Ri's involvement.
- Kim is attempting to obliterate his wife's past as a singer, ordering all her old CDs to be confiscated and destroyed.
- While North Korean women, including previous Kim family wives, are required to wear approved styles of clothing, Ri dresses in expensive Westerm fashions, favoring Chanel. Long live the proletariat!
- In 2012, Ri was "grounded," banned from public appearances for two months. This was supposedly because she refused to wear a pin bearing her father-in-law's face, or because she was "too cheerful."
- On social media, South Koreans express admiration for Ri's modernity and style, while foreigners operate under the assumption she is a captive of the regime. Facebook features a number of fake profiles for the Dear Leader's wife; she does not have an official social media presence.
Unlike North Korea's so-called space program, we have evidence that Ri Sol-ju actually exists. But who is she? How much power and influence does she wield? Is she a willing accomplice to the regime's crimes, or an innocent prisoner trying to protect her family?
Until the North Korean regime is finally overthrown and dismantled, we may never know.