- By Isaac Stone FishIsaac Stone Fish is FP's Asia editor. A Mandarin speaker, he lived in China for seven years before moving to Washington, D.C. His articles have also appeared in the New York Times, the Economist, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, and he has appeared as a commentator on MSNBC, the BBC, NPR, Al Jazeera, and PRI, among others.
On Monday, Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s first female president and the daughter of the dictator who ruled the country in the 1960s and 1970s, was sworn into office. "Consider her roles: daughter, first lady, mother" writes novelist Suki Kim in a recent New York Times op-ed. "This woman, widely lauded as her country’s first female president, is no symbol of latent feminism but of something far more traditional — a girl who grew up before the nation’s eyes, only to lose both parents violently, and then become the mother for whom they had carried a torch since her own mother’s martyrdom."
But she’s not the only feminine leader on the Korean peninsula. "Despite his young years Kim Jong Un is already being praised for his motherly solicitude, just like his father was," BR Myers, author of The Cleanest Race, a book on North Korean propaganda, wrote in an email to me.
In his email to me, Myers explained that Kim Jong Un "is also equated with the ‘Mother Party,’ like with the phrases ‘The Dear Marshal Kim Jong Un is our Mother Party,’ or ‘The Dear Marshal’s breast is the Party’s breast.’ (This is not a purely Korean phenomenon. Goebbels compared Hitler to a mother: ‘The whole nation loves him, because it feels secure in his hand like a child in the mother’s arm.’) It has always been striking in North Korea, however, because it runs so counter to the popular Pyongyang-watching myth of a Confucian-patriarchal state."
Myers has argued that North Korea’s true ideology is not Communism, Juche, or Confucianism, but a race-based, paranoid nationalism, where its people are "too pure-blooded, and therefore too virtuous, to survive in this evil world without a parental leader." Myers hones in on the word parental; explaining that "because the Korean race is born good, it has no need for an educating father figure like Stalin or Mao; instead, Kim Jong Il appears in the personality cult as more of a maternal figure."