The wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was apparently raised in a middle-class home, studied in China and is no stranger to South Korea. The National Intelligence Service told the parliamentary Intelligence Committee on Thursday that Ri Sol-ju was born in an "ordinary family" in 1989 and attended the Kumsong Arts School in Pyongyang and majored in singing in China.
She visited South Korea's Incheon in 2005 to attend an Asian athletics competition as a member of the North's cheering squad, and sang at a baseball stadium in the city. She also participated in a gathering of South and North Korean university students at Incheon City College. Ri said in an interview at that time that she was "deeply moved" to see young students gather to sing songs about reunification.
In December 2005, South Korean reporters went to Kumsong Arts School where Ri was studying. She told them that she wanted to join a state-run troupe of performers after graduation.
A North Korean woman with the same name also attended a tree-planting ceremony hosted by South Korea's Red Cross at the North's Mt. Kumgang resort in March 2003, and also attended an inter-Korean meeting of teachers at the resort in 2004 hosted by the South's Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union.
Ri married Kim in 2009 and continued performing as a singer for the Unhasu Orchestra. The Chosun Ilbo reviewed footage of performances by the orchestra and found that Ri first appeared at a concert in October 2010 marking the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Workers Party. She then appeared in a series of concerts celebrating the New Year in 2011, where she sang one to two songs each time.
Her last performance was at a Lunar New Year's performance on Feb. 17, 2011 watched by former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Jong-un and Chinese diplomats.
"It is extremely rare in North Korea for the future first lady to perform on stage," said an informed source. "She may have gotten engaged to Kim in 2009 rather than getting married to him that year."
Ri next appeared in the North Korean state media on July 7, when she was spotted sitting next to Kim at a performance by the newly-created Moranbong troupe. The NIS believes the couple had a child in the meantime.
It said the regime appears to have decided that she should be seen by Kim's side to project a "stable image" of Kim as a leader.