It has been a year since Kim Jong-un’s daughter “Kim Ju-ae” (her name according to South Korean authorities. They also claim she was born in 2013) appeared for the first time in public. Initially, North Koreans were highly interested in her name, age and other personal information; now, however, people are thinking about the reasons the regime has brought Kim Ju-ae into the public sphere. (KANG Ji-won / ISHIMARU Jiro)
◆ The authorities may be intentionally spreading rumors that she’s an “all-round genius “
In November 2022, a girl wearing red shoes appeared at the test launch site for a ballistic missile accompanied by her father, Kim Jong-un. State-run media called her the “respected daughter,” and her appearance at the time marked the first time that North Koreans saw Kim’s daughter in public.
At the time, reporting partners in different areas of North Korea told ASIAPRESS that regular people had a strong interest in the personal details of Kim’s daughter, including her name, age, whether she had siblings, what school she attend, and the fact that she was similar in appearance to her father and mother (Ri Sol-ju).
Moreover, the reporting partners said they had also heard rumors that she was a “genius with a memory so good she never forgets anything she sees just once,” and that “she was such an all-round genius that she was advising Kim Jong-un despite her young age.” The reporting partners opined that it was the authorities that were intentionally spreading such rumors.
◆ Government provides no explanation to people about Kim’s daughter
In North Korea, information about policies and orders from the regime are typically delivered and explained to people through meetings organized by social organizations, such as inminban, workplaces, and Socialist Women’s League branches. State-run media outlets have widely promoted images and videos of Kim Ju-ae; however, these reports have not provided any explanation about her other than she has accompanied her father to events.
※ Inminban are North Korea’s lowest administrative units and typically manage 20-40 households each. The Socialist Women’s Union is an organization for women not in the work force and is generally made up of housewives.
How is Kim Ju-ae talked about during various meetings for ordinary North Koreans? This is very important to know in order to understand the intentions behind the regime’s promotion of Kim Jong-un’s daughter.
After Kim Ju-ae first appeared in November of last year, ASIAPRESS instructed six reporting partners living in North Hamgyong, Yanggang, and North Pyongan provinces to pay attention to and report on how the authorities are mentioning and explaining Kim Ju-ae at various meetings organized by organizations they are affiliated with.
What the six reporting partners found was that over the meetings they attended over the past year, the authorities did not talk about Kim Ju-ae’s name, age, the reason she accompanied her father to events, or any other explanations about her (although cadres may have provided explanations outside of meetings).
However, a reporting partner in Hyesan, Yanggang Province, did tell ASIAPRESS that: “On August 31, the Socialist Women’s League branch held a lecture entitled, ‘Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un is the model for the love of the people and is always devoting his time to bettering the lives of the people.’ A Hyesan party cadre came and told us that ‘Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un is devoting even the time spent with his daughter to bettering the lives of the people by bringing her on on-the-spot inspections.’ The same kind of propaganda began to be repeated from around that time, but it was so ridiculous to me that I wasn’t happy hearing it.”
◆ No evidence that people named “Ju-ae” are being forced to change their names
On February 10 of this year, Radio Free ASIA (RFA) published a story that said a woman with the name “Ju-ae” was taken away by the police and forced to change her name. If the story is true, it suggests that the regime intends to make Kim Ju-ae the successor to her father given that men named “Jong-un” were forced to change their names starting in February 2011 after Kim Jong-un officially came into the open as the successor to his father.
That being said, all six reporting partners told ASIAPRESS that the authorities are not moving to have women with the name Ju-ae change their names. In mid-November, ASIAPRESS contacted several reporting partners about the issue, but they all said that they had never heard of any move to get people to change their names. Moreover, the reporting partners said that the authorities have not officially announced that Kim Jong-un’s daughter is named Ju-ae, so nobody knows her real name for sure. They added that there had also been no rumors to that effect, either.
◆ People banned from talking about daughter
As Kim Ju-ae’s appearances in state media increased, there seems to have been an increase in rumors about her spreading among interested North Koreans. According to a reporting partner, a related incident occurred in Musan County in late August.
“Members of the Youth League were carelessly talking about the daughter while having drinks, and this led several people to be called into the Ministry of State Security. The group included a former soldier, two women in their 20s, and another man, and they said, ‘Women will get stronger. We will receive consideration from a female Suryong (Supreme Leader).’ These comments caused an issue and all four were called into the Ministry of State Security and are currently under investigation.”
People are unable to talk badly about Ju-ae because they know any criticism toward her will be met with arrest. Multiple reporting partners told ASIAPRESS that people avoid talking about Ju-ae in front of other people as a result. Moreover, after Ju-ae’s appearances in state media, most people had nothing more than a passing interest in Kim Jong-un’s daughter. One reporting partner said: “Life is so hard that people can’t be too concerned about her all the time.”
◆ Is Kim Ju-ae her father’s successor?
With the increase in Ju-ae’s public appearances, Japanese and South Korean media outlets have more frequently discussed the possibility of a fourth-generation shift in power in North Korea. What do North Koreans think about this? Below, ASIAPRESS has gathered the opinions of reporting partners and those around them:
Most people think that “she’s still too young. She’s a woman, so people don’t think she can become the successor.”
“There are people who are curious about why she is brought so frequently to events. There are rumors that she’s an all-round genius. It would be strange for the daughter to become the leader, but perhaps (Kim Jong-un) is seriously thinking about turning power over (to his daughter).” (reporting partner in North Hamgyong Province)
“It’s ridiculous that the next leader would come from the same family. I oppose that.” (female reporting partner in Yanggang Province)
Kim Ju-ae first appeared in public in November 2022, and then again in February 2023’s military parade. These days, however, her image is changing, according to some in the country.
“When she first appeared, she just looked like a small child, but this year, she’s been wearing more adult-like clothing and hairstyles, so people have begun whispering to each other that perhaps she’s already old enough to have graduated from school or that she may in fact be advising her father.” (female reporting partner in Yanggang Province)
※ ASIAPRESS communicates with reporting partners through Chinese cell phones smuggled into North Korea.
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