|Born||January 1985–1989 (age 26–30)
Democratic People's Republic of Korea
|Alma mater||Geumsung 2 Middle School
Kim Il-sung University
|Children||Kim Ju-ae (born 2012)|
Ri Sol-ju or Lee Seol-ju (Korean: 리설주; born January 1985 – 1989) is the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. North Korean state media has officially identified her as "his wife, Comrade Ri Sol-ju".
North Korea is secretive about Kim Jong-un and his family. Very little information about Ri Sol-ju has appeared in official North Korean sources, but more speculative information has been reported in foreign media.
In 2012, Ri made several public appearances standing next to the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, causing speculation about who she might be. South Korean intelligence officials tentatively identified her as Hyon Song-wol, a former singer for the Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble, a musical group popular in North Korea. However, on 25 July 2012, North Korean state media announced that she was actually Kim's wife, saying she was "his wife, Comrade Ri Sol-ju".
In July 2012, at an elite gala concert in North Korea, Ri was stylishly "dressed in a trim black suit in the Chanel tradition", considered unusual for North Korean women. Along with other recent changes, such as the firing of a hard-line top general, Kim Jong-un's marriage is seen by analysts as "a continuation of what is either a policy change, or a propaganda offensive, or both".
Kenji Fujimoto, the former personal sushi chef of Kim Jong-il, said he met Ri on a recent trip to North Korea. He described her as "just so charming... I cannot describe her voice, it's so soft..." As a parting gift, Ri gave Fujimoto a Christian Dior handbag, which Ri was earlier reported to have.
Very little is known for certain about Ri; some analysts have even said her name "almost certainly is a pseudonym". Various security analysts, politicians, media and others have made public claims about her that have not been officially confirmed in North Korean media.
Ri's reported year of birth has ranged between 1985 and 1989 among various sources. Ri's family is reportedly from the political elite; her mother is the head of a gynecology ward and her father is a professor. She is said to have graduated from Geumsung 2 Middle School in Pyongyang and studied abroad in China majoring in vocal music. JoongAng Ilbo and some commentators have identified Ri Sol-ju as a singer in the Unhasu Orchestra that has made several overseas performances. Reportedly, North Korean officials are "trying to erase her past as a singer and entertainer by confiscating popular bootleg CDs of her performances", such as her singing the song "Sobaeksu". She is reportedly a graduate student at Kim Il-sung University, pursuing a PhD in science.
She reportedly visited South Korea in 2005, as a member of the North Korean cheerleading team during the Asian Athletics Championships. She was said to be among 90 cheerleaders who chanted "We are one!". Ri reportedly told a South Korean teacher while on the trip: "We want to take classes from the South's teachers after being reunited as soon as possible."
The BBC, quoting an analyst who spoke to The Korea Times of South Korea, reported that Kim's father, Kim Jong-il, had hastily arranged his son's marriage after suffering a stroke in 2008. The two were reportedly married in 2009 and Ri possibly gave birth to a child in 2010.
Pregnancy and motherhood
In October 2012, there was speculation about Ri's public disappearance, and questions arose whether it was the result of a "breach of discipline" or "pregnancy", but she later reappeared with her spouse Kim at a military college. It was followed by news reports in December 2012 that Ri was visibly pregnant, although North Korean officials did not comment on the speculation.
In March 2013, former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman visited Kim Jong-un in North Korea and on his return told the British tabloid newspaper The Sun that Ri had given birth to a healthy daughter. One South Korean government source speculated that "doctors induced labor to make sure the child was born in 2012, which marked the 100th anniversary of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung", but no exact birth date has been confirmed. Rodman told The Guardian in September 2013 that the couple's baby, a girl, is named Ju-ae.
Social media and international effect
Several "major news sources have continued to turn out speculation about the woman who is seen as an elusive East Asian celebrity." There is no evidence that any of Ri Sol-ju's Facebook pages are her official Facebook page.
According to social media analysis service Pulse K (펄스K) and the South Korean PR firm Medicom (미디컴) from 25 July 2012 to 15 August 2012, "the total number of tweets during this period skyrocketed to 21,329" about Ri. "There were about 2,000 more tweets including the words "North Korea" and "Kim Jong-un" on the day she was revealed to be the leader's wife than on the day of a major announcement by Leader Kim on July 18." On 18 July 2013, tweets about North Korea numbered 15,653 and tweets about Kim Jong-un numbered 11,231. On 26 July, tweets about North Korea hit 17,004 and tweets about Kim Jong-un reached 13,283."
However, there is a distinct difference in style between the South Korean Twitterverse and the English-language social media dealing with Ri Sol-ju. According to Darcie Draudt, the "media discourse about Ri Sol-ju does reveals [sic] some important ideas worth considering, including international and peninsular attitude toward the North Korean elite." On one hand, the South Koreans "praise her beauty and modern style but also remain sceptical" because of social and economic corruption and the English-speaking audiences "see her as a fashionable doll of the North Korean regime." Draudt argues "internet-based discourse of her reveals more about the people making the constructions."
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