North Korea has continued to mystify the rest of the world, thanks in large part to the secrecy that shrouds the country. Now that its leader, Kim Jong Un, is in grave danger after surgery, according to CNN, the world has turned its gaze even more closely to the elusive nation.
But gaining material about the country has consistently proven difficult. As National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said in an interview with Fox News on April 21, 2020: “As you know, North Korea is a very closed society.” Fox News shared that one reliable source is The Daily NK, an online news site based in Seoul, South Korea, that is run by North Korean defectors. According to the site, Kim had to undergo surgery because of his smoking habit, obesity and overwork.
While the situation remains precarious and news about North Korea continues to surface, we’re curious about Kim’s wife, a woman who has appeared in many photos beside her husband. While she seems as enigmatic as the rest of the nation, there are actually a few things we’ve uncovered about the first lady of North Korea.
The first lady of North Korea was once a cheerleader
While North Korea remains shrouded in mystery, more information has become available about the first lady of North Korea, Ri Sol Ju, wife of the supreme leader. According to The Daily Beast, it took numerous sightings of this “mystery woman” to finally confirm that she was “Ri Sol Ju,” though the outlet clarified things saying: “Ri Sol Ju almost certainly is a pseudonym—leaving the question of what her true identity is.”
According to CNN, Ri was first spotted at the funeral of her father-in-law, Kim Jong Il, in 2011. It took until July 2012 for state media to confirm Kim Jong Un and Ri were married. Meanwhile, CNN, through South Korean intelligence, believes that their wedding actually took place three years earlier.
According to The Daily Beast, Ri comes from a family within the political elite. Her mother “reportedly heads a gynecology unit at a local hospital” while her father is a university professor. Ri herself is said to be a graduate student at Kim Il-sung University, pursuing a PhD in science. But Ri apparently has a playful side, as she also went to South Korea in 2005 for the Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon where she joined a cheerleading team, according to CNN.
Kim Jong Un's wife gets rave reviews
Kim Jong Un’s former personal sushi chef, Kenji Fujimoto, met Ri Sol Ju in 2012, according to CNN and was impressed. He said that Ri was “so charming.” Media attention in North Korea has drastically changed for Ri, compared to treatment of wives and mistresses of past leaders in the country. CNN points out that “the wives of Kim’s father and grandfather” were “never mentioned in the media.”
However, in June 2018, Ri was officially called the “respected First Lady” within North Korean media instead of the title “comrade.” Analyst Peter Ward said that this shows Ri is “getting her own personality cult” in a way that aligns with Western political treatment of spouses, per CNN.
The couple reportedly has three children together, per CNN. When NBA star Dennis Rodman visited Pyongyang in 2013, he said he held Kim’s daughter, Ju Ae. However, the other two children are not named, though it is reported that their eldest child is a boy.
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