|Born||c. 16 June 1953
|Died||c. 13 August 2004 (aged 51)
|Revised Romanization||Go Yeong-hui|
Ko Yong-hui (c. 16 June 1953 – c. 13 August 2004), also spelled Ko Young-hee, was the North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-il's consort and mother of North Korea's Supreme Commander, Kim Jong-un. Within North Korea she is known as "The Respected Mother who is the Most Faithful and Loyal 'Subject' to the Dear Leader Comrade Supreme Commander", "The Mother of Pyongyang", and "The Mother of Great Songun Korea."
Ko was born in Ikuno, Osaka, Japan to parents of Korean descent. Ko's birth date and Japanese name in Japanese official records are 26 June 1952 and Takada Hime, respectively. It seems that her father Ko Gyon-tek worked in Osaka in a sewing factory run by Japan's ministry of war. She along with her family moved to North Korea in May 1961 or in 1962 as part of a repatriation program. In the early 1970s, she began to work as a dancer for the Mansudae Art Troupe in Pyongyang. Ko's younger sister Ko Young-sook sought asylum from the U.S. embassy in Bern, Switzerland while she was living there to take care of Kim Jong-un during his school days there, according to South Korea's National Intelligence Service; U.S. officials arranged Ko Young-sook's departure from the country without consulting South Korean officials.
It is thought that Ko and Kim Jong-il first met in 1972. In 1981, Ko gave birth to son Kim Jong-chul, her first child with Kim. It was Kim's third child, after son Kim Jong-nam (born 1971 to Song Hye-rim), and daughter Kim Sul-song (born 1974 to Kim Young-sook). Kim Jong-il's second child with Ko, present North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un, followed between one to three years later after Jong-chul. Their third child, Kim Yo-jong, a daughter, was believed to be about 23 in 2012. However, the birth year of Kim Yo-jong is also given as 1987.
On 27 August 2004, various sources reported that she had died in Paris, probably of breast cancer. However, there is another report, stating that she was treated in Paris in 2004 Spring and then flown back to Pyongyang where she fell into coma and died in August 2004.
Cult of personality
Under North Korea's songbun ascribed status system, Ko's Korean-Japanese heritage would make her part of the lowest "hostile" class. Furthermore, her grandfather worked in a sewing factory for the Imperial Japanese Army, which would give her the "lowest imaginable status qualities" for a North Korean.
Prior to an internal propaganda film released after ascension of Kim Jong-un, there were three attempts made to idolize Ko, in a style similar to that associated with Kang Pan-sŏk, mother of Kim Il-sung, and Kim Jong-suk, mother of Kim Jong-il and the first wife of Kim Il-sung. These previous attempts at idolization had failed, and they were stopped after Kim Jong-il's 2008 stroke.
The building of a cult of personality around Ko encounters the problem of her bad songbun, even though it is usually passed on by the father. Making her identity public would undermine the Kim dynasty's pure bloodline, and after Kim Jong-il's death, her personal information, including name, became state secrets. Ko's real name or other personal details have not been publicly revealed in North Korea, and she is referred to as "Mother of Great Songun Korea" or "Great Mother". The most recent propaganda film called its main character "Lee Eun-mi".
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