Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
Last week, Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n) attended a concert by the newly formed Moranbong Band. Since initial DPRK state media reporting about the concert, two details about the concert and who attended it have surfaced. Part of the performance included scenes from several Disney animated films, while performers dressed as Disney characters danced. The Associated Press reports:
Performers dressed as Minnie Mouse, Tigger and others danced and pranced as footage from “Snow White,” ”Dumbo,” ”Beauty and the Beast” and other Disney movies played on a massive backdrop, according to still photos shown on state TV.
The inclusion of characters popular in the West — particularly from the United States, North Korea’s wartime enemy — is a notable change in direction for performances in Pyongyang. Actors and actresses also showed off new wardrobes, including strapless gowns and little black dresses.
Kim himself established the group that performed, and the changes may be a sign that he is seeking to carve out a different image from his father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il, by easing restrictions on Western culture, said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korean studies professor based in Seoul, South Korea.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency said Kim has a “grandiose plan to bring about a dramatic turn in the field of literature and arts this year.”
Under Kim Jong Il, who died in December, North Korea became well known for its massive Arirang shows, synchronized dance and gymnastics shows involving up to 100,000 people.
This appears to be the first time Disney characters have been included in a major performance in Pyongyang, though Winnie and Mickey have been popular among children for several years. Backpacks, pencil cases and pajamas imported from China often feature Disney characters, and stories such as “Dumbo” have been translated into Korean for North Korean schoolchildren. However, it is unusual to make such images a central part of a North Korean performance and publicize them on state TV.
Zenia Mucha, chief spokesperson for The Walt Disney Co., said the use of Disney characters in the North Korean performance was not authorized by the U.S. entertainment company.
During the performance, seated on Kim Jong Un’s right, was a young woman who appeared to be his younger sister and close aide, Kim Yo Jong (Kim Yo’-cho’ng). A closer examination of photographs of Kim Yo Jong and the woman attending the concert show some differences in their physical characteristics. The woman who attended the concert with KJU later joined him on his visit to Ku’msusan Memorial Palace to commemorate the 18th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s death. She also toured the historical exhibitions at Kum’susan with KJU and his entourage of senior Korean People’s Army [KPA] officials.
JoongAng Ilbo, citing anonymous sources, suggested that the woman is a former singer of Poch’o’nbo Electronic Music Ensemble, Hyon Song-wol, whom Kim Jong Un has reportedly known for years. According to JoongAng, a pregnant Hyon performed with the U’nhasu Orchestra at an International Women’s Day concert in March. KCNA reported the “concert climaxed with a solo of a woman who was a vocalist at the Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble the emcee tenderly asked the pregnant woman if she could sing all three verses. . .” Prior experience in the Poch’o’nbo Electronic Music Ensemble (which is similar to the Moranbong Band) and Hyon’s ties to Kim Jong Un would certainly explain her presence at the concert. However, it does not account for a married woman with a small child, taking a prominent place next to the supreme leader along side the country’s military leadership on one of the DPRK’s most important days. Also, the woman identified as Hyon did not appear in post-concert images of Kim Jong Un talking with DPRK officials.
The other possibility is that the woman is Kim Jong Un’s wife. According to various reports and sources, Kim Jong Un has been married since 2010 to a slightly older woman. Kim Il Sung’s second wife, Kim Song Ae, appeared with him on several occasions during the 1970s, as well as during a visit by former US President Jimmy Carter in 1994. This might be a continuation of KJU’s emulation of his grandfather by publicly appearing with his wife. If KJU has appeared with his wife at the concert and Ku’msusan, it has occurred after a film of his mother Ko Yong Hui (Ko Yo’ng-hu’i) traveling with Kim Jong Il was allegedly screened to members of the DPRK leadership. This would create political cultural conditions supporting KJU’s accession (and that of the KJI-Ko Yong Hui line) as well as a first lady’s position within the leadership.