Therefore, today would have been her sixtieth birthday. In Korea a sixtieth birthday is referred to as ‘hwangap’. The hwangap is very meaningful, representing as it does one cycle of the Chinese zodiac. Rodong Shinmun has published essays related to the succession on June 25th or 26th every year for the past decade. Last year, Song Mi Ran’s (referenced as an “expert on the succession”) writing was published on the day.
But there has been little about Koh. Over the past decade, Koh idolization has been tried three times. However, all came to nothing, and since 2008 when Kim Jong Il suffered a stroke there has been nothing of note. It’s an eternal dilemma, attempting to make the regime’s ‘pure blood’ succession logic fit the shape of a woman who is of Korean-Japanese heritage.
Even within the pro-North Korea Korean-Japanese association itself, the General Association of North Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), the fact that Koh Young Hee is Korean-Japanese is strictly an ‘open secret’. Its discussion is forbidden.
The only official mention of Koh inside North Korea proper since the death of Kim Jong Il was on Kim Jong Eun’s birthday [January 8th], when a documentary film was aired during which the narrator commented, “One February 16th [Kim Jong Il’s birthday], Kim Jong Eun and his mother [Koh Young Hee] waited all night for the General [Kim Jong Il] to return from his guidance visit.”
It is ironic that the North Korean authorities are able to say little about Koh’s background and career; the truth is that her family actually represents all the socialist, revolutionary ideals that the North Korean state was founded nominally to embody. However, it all undermines the pure blooded nature of the Kim bloodline, and must be hidden.
Indeed, to have once had a Japanese name and to have come from Japan and to have a grandfather who worked for the Japanese Imperial Army (he did, in a sewing factory) represents the lowest imaginable status qualities for a person in North Korea.
This is all the more ironic since Koh is also a long way short of being the first “returnee” to make the highest grade in North Korea. For what is Kim Il Sung, if not a returnee himself? The North Korean founder left North Korea with his father Kim Hyung Jik when he was 14 and moved to Jilin Province, China. It was only later that he would “return” under the wing of the Soviet Union.
Better still, Kim Jong Il was also born in Russia and had a Russian name, ‘Yura’. In fact, most of North Korea’s royal family was ‘returnee’ stock.
Simply, Kim Jong Il had two sons and a daughter with a Korean-Japanese returnee, and one of his son is now the supreme leader of North Korea. It should be a normal and unsurprising occurrence.