Over the weekend, there were rumors that North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un had passed away after an alleged botched heart surgery. He was reportedly AWOL since early April after collapsing during a visit to a rural area.
These rumors spread like wildfire—netizens even made the hashtag #KimJongUndead trend on Twitter—even though the facts were conflicting. Japanese magazine Shukan Gendai claimed that Kim was in a vegetative state after undergoing a stent procedure, while Reuters reported that China sent a medical team to aid in the Supreme Leader’s consultations.
In a CNN interview earlier today (Apr. 27), Moon Chung-in, special adviser on national security to the South Korean president, said Kim is “alive and well” and was spotted in the resort town of Wonsan since Apr. 13. “No suspicious movements so have so far been detected,” said Moon.
As people continued talking about Kim’s alleged poor health and posting memes with the #KimJongUndead hashtag, one name kept popping up: Kim Yo-jong.
According to Daily Beast, Yo-jong has advised on key events in Pyongyang, even encouraging the construction of apartments and an amusement park in North Korea. She ultimately caught the world’s attention when she attended the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea and when she gave Pres. Moon Jae-in a handwritten letter from her brother, which suggested that the two leaders should meet for a summit.
Just like the rest of her family, Yo-jong is a mystery. According to The Washington Post, she’s in her early 30s and she is the only (and favorite) daughter of former Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il. She also attended school in Bern, Switzerland where she took up ballet lessons. She returned to North Korea in the early 2000s.
Kim Yo Jong's first recorded public appearance: The North Korean princess appeared among the mourners at her father's funeral at the end of 2011. pic.twitter.com/GWPw4dgbZU
Yo-jong’s first public appearance was during her father’s funeral in 2011. Until recently, she was usually seen in the sidelines assisting her brother. However, it’s believed that she’s been working behind-the-scenes for her father before he passed away. The North Korea Leadership Watch blog also noted that Yo-jong helped Kim Jong-un’s campaign for hereditary succession in 2010 and 2011.
“More female dictators!”
In an Associated Press interview, analyst Cheong Seong-chang from the Sejong Institute said that Yo-jong has a 90 percent chance of becoming the next Supreme Leader if Kim Jong-un becomes gravely ill or dies. “North Korea is like a dynasty, and we can view the Paektu descent as royal blood so it’s unlikely for anyone to raise any issue over Kim Yo-jong taking power,” said Cheong.
On Twitter, netizens started making stan posts about Yo-jong, declaring that she’s a “girlboss” and that there should be “more female dictators.” Even creepier and slightly hilarious is the fact that people are making fancam videos and anime comparisons.
While we’re aware that most of these memes were made as a joke (and probably out of quarantine boredom), we think people shouldn’t get carried away with naming Yo-jong a feminist icon. She may be just as ruthless in pushing North Korea’s propaganda once she assumes leadership.
Back in March, The Guardian reported that Yo-jong condemned South Korea and called it a “frightened dog barking” after Seoul protested against Pyongyang’s live-fire military drill. In her statement, she called the protests a “truly senseless act” and described Seoul’s presidential office as “a burnt child dreading fire.”
In an interview with The Guardian, analyst Go Myong-hyun from the Asan Institute for Policy Studies described Yo-jong as “a dovish figure towards the South and acting as a soft and friendly messenger.” So, for her to strongly condemn South Korea in public is a sign that North Korea is “raising its pressure” and preparing her to become the new Supreme Leader.
In 2017, Yo-jong and other North Korean officials were placed in a blacklist for “human rights abuses and censorship by the communist nation.” According to Amnesty International, North Korean authorities “impose severe restrictions on freedom of movement and access to information.” The government also reportedly conducts public executions for offenses like sexual assault, drug crimes and “superstitious behavior.” There have also been reports about political prison camps where detainees were subjected to torture.
So, think twice before making that Yo-jong stan account because she’s not “better” than her predecessors. Being a woman doesn’t automatically make someone a feminist icon, especially if they’re associated with human rights violations.