The North Korean authorities are now distributing to Party and military cadres the propaganda documentary film, ‘The Mother of Great Military-first Chosun’, which idolizes Kim Jong Eun’s mother Koh Young Hee.
This appears to mark the beginning of concentrated Koh Young Hee idolization, in theory an essential step in the process of bringing Kim Jong Eun’s parenting within the realms of the Mt. Baekdu bloodline myth. However, defectors report that the people have known about Koh since the 90s, despite official efforts to conceal that she was both a dancer and from Japan.
Chung Jin Hyun, who left Pyongyang last July, said that there were first widespread rumors about Kim Jong Il’s wives circulating in Pyongyang in the 90s, then spreading to other regions in the early 2000s. In his estimation, currently at least half the North Korean people know about Koh.
Chung said, “There had been rumors about Kim Jong Il’s private life but everyone was pretty hush-hush about it. But then in the late 90s there were rumors among the cadres that Kim Jong Il’s wife had been Kim Young Sook, also Sung Hae Rim, then at that time Koh Young Hee.”
According to Chung, word also spread that Kim Jong Nam’s mother was Sung Hae Rim while Koh Young Hee was the mother of Kim Jong Cheol and Kim Jong Eun. He said, “Sung Hae Rim an actress, Kim Young Sook a telephone operator in North Hamkyung Province and Koh Young Hee a Korean-Japanese member of Mansudae Art Troupe and a leading dancer. The cadres guessed Koh Young Hui was Kim Jong Il’s third wife.”
In 2009, as Kim Jong Eun slowly emerged as the successor, rumors about Koh started to spread more widely still. She became known to them by a crude term for Korean-Japanese people. In fact, returning pro-North Korea Korean-Japanese had all long been a focus for discrimination. Arriving from Japan they were bullied by the people and the authorities openly dismissed them for having no money.
Overseas propaganda had it that Kim Il Sung visited the homes and workplaces of these returnees from Japan and took a personal interest in their wellbeing, but in truth their contact with the local population was heavily restricted. They could not join the military and could not become Party cadres, either. To this day, one whose parent is a returned native cannot be a Party cadre, only an administrative official.
In an attempt to counter these issues, North Korea clearly decided to introduce Koh Young Hee as ‘Lee Eun Shil’ in the new documentary. However, most people, especially those who have heard all the rumors, will swiftly see through the ruse. Moreover, attempting to hide something the people already know about is liable to have a further negative effect on public perceptions of the regime.