|First Lady of North Korea|
15 April 2018
|Supreme Leader||Kim Jong-un|
|Preceded by||Kim Song-ae (1974)|
|Born||1985–89 (age 28–33)|
Kim Jong-un (m. 2009)
|Children||Kim Ju-ae and possibly 2 others|
|Alma mater||Kim Il-sung University|
|Revised Romanization||Ri Seol-ju|
Little is known about her from official North Korean sources but outside sources have speculated more about her background. She is believed to have three children, though this is not known for certain. She has appeared numerous times in public with her husband. In April 2018, her title was elevated in state media from merely "comrade" to "respected first lady", considered a significant honor and the first time the title has been used since 1974.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his family have been characterized as "secretive". Very little information about Ri Sol-ju has appeared in official North Korean sources, but more speculative information has been reported in foreign media.
Very little is known for certain about Ri's origin; some analysts have even said her name "almost certainly is a pseudonym". Her reported year of birth has ranged between 1985 and 1989 among various sources. Some media have even reported her origins are from South Korea. 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. She is said to be related to Ri Pyong-chol, a former air force general and close advisor of Kim Jong-un. JoongAng Ilbo and some commentators have identified Ri 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.
Ri 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.
In December 2012, it was reported that Ri was visibly pregnant, although North Korean officials did not comment. 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. Rodman told The Guardian in September 2013 that the couple's child, a girl, is named Ju-ae (Korean: 김주애). He said that Jong-un had "a beautiful family" and was a "good dad."
First Lady of North Korea
In 2012, Ri made several public appearances standing next to Kim Jong-un, causing speculation about who she might be. South Korean intelligence officials wrongly 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". The announcement of the marriage marked a change from Kim's father Kim Jong-il, who had never introduced his wives to the public.
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.
From 2012 to 2014, Ri appeared occasionally in the North Korean media, accompanying her husband to events, but subsequently she was rarely seen. She had long periods out of the public view in 2015, 2016, and 2017.
South Korean intelligence officials reported that Ri gave birth to a third child of unknown gender in February 2017.
In 2018, Ri took on a diplomatic role. In March 2018, she visited China with her husband, meeting Chinese President Xi and his wife. In April 2018, ahead of the April 2018 inter-Korean summit, Ri's title was elevated to "respected First Lady" (instead of just "comrade"), the first time since 1974 the title had been used in North Korea, when it was used about Kim Il-sung's third wife, Kim Song-ae. The change in title was inaugurated in a news report read by star anchorwoman Ri Chun-hee, who often makes major announcements. Ri attended the summit, the first wife of a North Korean leader to do so, and met the First Lady of South Korea, Kim Jung-sook, for the first time. The two first ladies were observed as being close to each other during their meetings that year. Ri also helped to host the visit of Xi Jinping and his wife to North Korea in June 2019.
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- China Central Television channel 13, in Shenyang
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- Choi Ha-young (1 April 2018). "First ladies of two Koreas meet for first time". Korea Times. Retrieved 22 September 2018.
- "Inter-Korea summit: First ladies to bond over shared love of music". Straits Times. 18 September 2018.
- "North Korea rolls out red carpet for Xi Jinping – in pictures". The Guardian. 21 June 2019.
- Media related to Ri Sol-ju at Wikimedia Commons
Title last held byKim Song-ae
| First Lady of North Korea