Point for review: Kim Jong Un’s wife, Ri Sol Ju. In a nation of secrecy and occlusion to solid information, this is one person who is exceptionally hidden from understanding.
What little is known about her are a few facts gleaned from incidental photography and defector reports. Sol Ju (possibly not even her real name) was born around 1984, making her one year younger (give or take) than her husband. Intel suggests she was born in Chongjin, in the North Hamkyung Province, a city that now sees active business as a trading center with China. Her father is a college professor and her mother is a section chief in the gynecology department at Chongjin Hospital.
Most news sources agree that Sol-Ju performed as a singer with Unhasu Orchestra, though exact dates for this are difficult to estimate. We know that she married Jong-Un in 2009, so it had to have been before that. It is entirely likely she was familiar with Hyon Song Wol, prominent singer with Ponchonbo Electronic Ensemble (and Jong Un’s ex), as these were two of the three most popular acts in the mid-’90s to mid-2000s. An unfortunate side effect of KCNA’s coyness with confirming Sol Ju’s presence in photos was that the rumor mill instead pinned Song Wol’s name to her, generating animosity with the story that he had returned to his former love. This was worsened when members of these popular bands were wiretapped and overheard casting aspersions upon Sol Ju’s past. Not only were a dozen musicians executed, but Supreme Leader took steps to collect and destroy any recordings of Sol-Ju’s performances with Unhasu Orchestra.
The best information suggests Jong Un and Sol Ju were married in 2009 (possibly one year later). Analysts like to use the term “handpicked” in reference to Kim Jong Il’s selection process for his son’s fiancee: Sol Ju was heavily vetted both for spotless background and political advantage. We may infer she either shone on her own merit or was the least risky option among the candidates; one report implied she was chosen for her resemblance to Jong Un’s mother. (Yeesh!) Married in 2009, but KCNA declined to formally acknowledge the marriage or identify Sol Ju until the end of July 2012.
Sol Ju has a reputation for being a Westernized public figure. Geoffrey Cain of the Global Post attempted to nickname her the “Kate Middleton of North Korea“. She has a penchant for handbags, with much ado raised at photos of her Christian Dior handbag, flaunted at a time North Korea had been stricken with floods and the rural populations were starving to death. When Jong Il’s personal sushi chef, Kenji Fujimoto, fulfilled his promise to a teenaged Jong Un to return to Pyongyang, she gifted him with a Dior handbag in a gesture of warmth. Dennis Rodman recently presented Sol-Ju with an English Mulberry handbag (as well as Italian clothes and a fur coat) for Jong Un’s 31st birthday on January 8, 2014. In her public appearance in July 2012, she wore what has been commonly described as a Chanel-cut suit.
Regardless of her glamor, Sol Ju is still subject to punishment under the strict rule of the state. She has disappeared twice in 2012 and 2013, the first time (September−October 2012) was theoretically due to her showing signs of pregnancy. Rather than boasting the fact that Jong Un was due to have an heir, the administration simply tucked her away for a month or two.
Her second disappearance was much less benign: Sol Ju made the mistake of wearing a flowery brooch on her blouse at the opening of Rungna People’s Pleasure Ground (late July 2012), in place of the mandatory cloisonne pin all North Koreans are required to wear. This pin features Il Sung or Jong Il on a red flag, easily identifiable in any photo of anyone in North Korea. For this, and along with charges of being too cheerful, Sol-Ju vanished from public view for 62 days, from mid-October 2013 to mid-December. Just as rumors were forming that she may be dead, she appeared at the memorial service at Kusumsan Palace of the Sun for Great Leader and Dear Leader on December 17, 2013. On the other hand, this is a mistake she has been documented making repeatedly, so one wonders if she is somehow permitted this fashion statement.
Dennis Rodman, best described as a useful clown, inadvertently let slip the name of Jong Un and Sol Ju’s child. While certain photos hinted at the early stages of pregnancy (precipitating her lack of appearances at prominent events), KCNA absolutely refused to mention whether they had a child, but last September Rodman reported meeting and holding their daughter, Kim Ju Ae. He insists Supreme Leader is at least an adequate father, if an endorsement from Rodman means anything.
UPDATE: (Feb. 18, 2014) Ri Sol Ju resurfaces after another 40 days of no public appearances. The last time she had been seen in public was when attending Dennis Rodman’s basketball extravaganza on January 8, 2014. This may be because she is pregnant for a second time.