The ruling Kim clan is known in North Korea as the “Mount Paektu bloodline,” a reference to the mountain on the country’s border with China where North Korea claims Kim Jong Il was born and his father fought the Japanese.
“In many regards, North Korea is similar to the European societies of late medieval and early modern days. It is essentially a monarchy,” says professor Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul, in which family members are more trusted than other elites.
That bloodline is what allows the youngre sister of Kim Jong-Un, Kim Yo Jong, to rise so high in North Korean politics, despite a bias against women in power in a country where traditional attitudes are summed up in the Korean maxim “If the hen cries, the household will be ruined.” The saying, used in both Koreas, suggests that when women speak up or take charge, no good will come of it.
“The North Korean system is fundamentally patriarchal,” says Lim Soon-hee, an expert on women in North Korea. “The government tells the people that they form one big socialist family,” she adds. The father of this metaphorical family, she explains, is Kim Jong Un. The mother is the ruling Workers’ Party. The children are the North Korean people. And the father’s authority is unchallenged.
Lim believes Kim Yo Jong’s most likely future role is not that of successor but, instead, a regent or caretaker until Kim Jong-Un’s son is old enough to take over. (Lim says Kim Jong Un reportedly has three small children who are too young to rule.)
Even if Kim Yo Jong were to take power, Lim argues, North Korea’s conservative military would never accept it.
“Kim Yo Jong herself would not hope to be a successor, although she may have a strong will to acquire greater practical power,” Lim concludes. “She is smart enough to know that it wouldn’t be easy for a woman.”