The images were found in a 1973 pictorial magazine used for external propaganda called ‘Chosun Hwabo’.
The images, in which Ko appears in her role as a young chorus girl, document the tour, which occurred in August and September of the same year. Ko can be seen in one image, entitled ‘Fan Dance’.
To date, the only photo of Ko known to the public came from another publication from the 1970s, ‘Chosun Folk Songs Collection’, a book of musical scores. By cross-checking the images, it is easy to see they both feature the same woman.
“It is clear that the woman in the middle with her fans held high is Ko Young Hee,” one source who once worked in the arts for the Chongryon and helped to organize the 1973 tour confirmed. “At the time, we called her ‘Teacher Ko’; she took the lead in a number of performances, including ‘The Azalea’s of the Motherland’, ‘Fan Dance’ and ‘The Girl and the Shepherd Boy’.”
The source went on, “One year before that, I heard from the North Korean actress Pak Ae Ra that ‘Among the women who will go to Japan next year will be the woman who is closest to the next leader’.”
“Later, I learned from someone inside Chongryon the fact that after finishing the Japanese performances and returning to North Korea, she became Kim Jong Il’s wife,” the source added.
It seems, therefore, that only a year at most had passed since the 1971 birth of Kim Jong Nam to Kim Jong Il’s first known mistress, Sung Hye Rim, when Kim Jong Il first met Ko.
Despite the birth of Kim Seol Song to Kim Jong Il and first wife Kim Sung Sook in 1974, Ko went on to have three children with Kim; Kim Jong Cheol (born 1981), Kim Jong Eun (1982) and, most recently, Kim Yo Jeong (1987).
Cited as being a distinguished performer and a graduate of North Korea’s ‘Music and Dance University’, the figure in the magazine is not introduced as Ko Young Hee, however; instead she is named as Ko Young Ja..
This is because following the liberation from Japanese rule in 1945, Kim Il Sung ordered that North Korean women’s names may not end with ‘Ja’, a quintessentially Japanese naming form, and decreed that all persons hitherto named ‘Ja’ be made to change their name.
The image of Ko Young Sook, Ko Young Hee’s younger sister who fled North Korea to the United States in 2001, can also be found among the images.