Koreans on both side of the DMZ are still trying to unravel the mystery of Kim Jong-Un's new bride, including why they apparently got in married in 2009, but didn't bother to tell anyone. South Korean intelligence service spent the last day slowly trickling out what little information they know about the North's First Lady and it isn't much more than we know about her husband.
Ri Sol-ju was apparently born in 1989, making her about five years younger than her beloved spouse. (His birthday has also been in dispute, but the South now pegs it as January 1984.) She is indeed a singer with something called the Unhasu Orchestra — though not apparently the same singer that was originally believed to be alongside Kim in recent weeks. Reports say that Ri is not from an elite family, but may have caught Kim and his father's eyes during a performance, and was "singled out" as a potential first lady by Kim Jong-Il when he made his successsion plans.
Though she was reportedly born into an "ordinary" family — her father is an academic and her mother is a doctor — at some point she managed to study singing in China. Southern officials also figured out that in 2005, she visited South Korea as part of a cheering delegation for the Asian Athletic Championships in Incheon. That would make Ri one of the few North Korean citizens to spend any significant time outside her home land. According to other reports, she is a graduate of (where else?) Kim Il-sung University where she also took a six-month course on the "duties of a first lady."
The most puzzling part of the story, however, is that the Kims were apparently wed in 2009, but that North Korea's media never saw to fit to mention that fact until this week. For a nation built on dynastic family rule, you might think it would be important to establish that their new leader is a family man, particularly after he emerged on the scene seven months ago as a green young man with a tenuous grasp on power. The understated marriage reveal, combined with the recent purging of one his father's key military allies, seems designed to show everyone that he has cemented his power in Pyongyang.
There were even reports from a Japanese newspaper that Ri and Kim already have a child, but they also got Ri's date of birth wrong and South Korean sources don't seem to agree. However, given the bizarre secrecy and shady details around the rest of her story, we suppose anything is possible.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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