The legend of Kim Jong-un… Mom was from Japan
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The legend of Kim Jong-un… Mom was from Japan

By Todd Crowell, Asia Sentinel

In North Korea it isn’t enough for the supreme ruler to enjoy the support of the communist party apparatus, the army or even to be a member of the Kim family. He must be a person of heroic stature. And if there isn’t enough real heroism in his life story, then the Kim propaganda machine will invent some.

This was true for the current supreme leader, Kim Jong-il, whose official biography proclaims that he was born in a secret military base camp located somewhere on the slopes of Mt Paektu, the crater lake along the northern border which is sacred to Koreans even though most of it is in China. His birth 69 (or is it 70?) years ago was, everyone is taught, foretold by a swallow and heralded by a double rainbow.

This anyway is the myth pedaled to North Korea’s population. Most scholars believe that Kim Jong-il was actually born in a grubby Siberian village called Vyatkoye, near Kharbarovsk, where his father, North Korea’s founder and currently “eternal president”, commanded a mixed big battalion of Korean exiles and ethnic Chinese Koreans.


North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, right, and his third son Kim Jong Un. Pic: AP.

Enter now the third member of the Kim dynasty, one Kim Jong-un, the twenty-something third son of North Korea’s supreme ruler. He was publicly unveiled to the world as Kim Jong-il’s anointed successor at several public events in Pyongyang in 2010.

Many details about Kim Jong-un’s young life, including even his date of birth and place of birth are obscure. He was born in Wonson in Kangwon province or maybe in Chagang province, His birthday is said to be January 8, but the year is unclear: 1982? 1983? Or1984? He is known to have studied in Switzerland.

One undisputed fact is that his mother, Ko Young-hee, was a dancer in the Mansudae Art Troupe, with whom Kim Jong-il was smitten and whom he married. She died of cancer in 2004 at the relatively young age of 51. All of this is probably to the good, but there is one major blot on her and therefore on her son for North Korea’s mythmakers.

She was born in Japan.