There may be one North Korean citizen even more famous that Kim Jong-un, and that person is the Pink Lady. Ri Chun Hee is North Korea’s most famous news anchor, and for over 40 years, she has been covering the news on the country’s single television network, Korean Central Television.
Recently, Ri announced that North Korea’s sixth nuclear detonation had gone off swimmingly. (She said this quite gleefully.) She has been reporting for the Korean Central Television since 1971, delivering the news with her robust and imposing voice. Still, despite her love of pink and her sometimes soap opera worthy TV moments, what is the real story behind one of North Korea’s most famous citizens?
Ri is 74 years old, so she’s been in the news game for quite a long time. Though details about Ri’s early life are few and far between, we do know that she was born in 1943 to a very poor family. However, it seems like she always had a flair for theater because she went to the Pyongyang University of Cinematic and Dramatic Arts before she came on board at Korean Central Television in 1971.
Kim Il Sung’s protegee
Upon coming onboard the network, Ri caught the attention of North Korea state founder, Kim II Sung. He was the leader of North Korea from its founding in 1948 until his death in 1994.
According to a story reported by Reuters, Kim pushed her “with warm love and faith. As the days passed, her voice grew to have an appeal so that whenever she would speak on the news, viewers were touched. When Ri announced reports and statements, enemies would tremble in fear.”
When Kim died in 1994, Ri reported the news while weeping on air. She did the same when his son Kim Jong Il died in 2011.
A voice of generations
To say that Ri’s voice is distinctive would be a gross understatement. She has been called the “voice of North Korea” and “the people’s broadcaster.”
Ri is perpetually optimistic, so much so that Peter Kim, an assistant professor at Kookmin University in Seoul told the Los Angeles Times, “Whenever I see her, it seems like she’s singing instead of broadcasting the news stories.”
Nam Sung-wook, a professor of North Korean Studies at Korea University in Seoul said, “Her voice has strength to it — strong, expressive and also has great charisma to it. That’s why she is qualified to deliver important messages.”
We can all think of beloved new anchors like Barbara Walters and Peter Jennings, who delivered our news for generations. However, Ri’s career in North Korea is something of a marvel. Unlike many of her contemporaries, she has survived three different regimes and the numerous purges that have occurred over the years.
According to North Korea Leadership Watch, “Ri has seen many of her colleagues and supervisors dismissed, demoted or sent for re-education.”
Ri got her nickname “Pink Lady” because she adores dressing in bright pink Choson-ots, which are traditional Korean formal dresses. The dresses consist of A full-length, high-waisted skirt and a cropped, long-sleeved top.
In South Korea, they are actually referred to as hanbok.
Ri retired from the news business back in 2012, but she is so beloved in North Korea that she often returns to announce special news.
Martyn Williams, a writer for the North Korean Tech website said, “She’s in that place now that just her presence on television signifies to the North Korean people that this is important, serious news. Certainly, her appearance is noted overseas as well.”
Living in luxury
TV has been really good to Ri Chun Hee. These days she lives in a rather plush modern house in Pyongyang with husband, children, and grandchildren.
Apparently, she also drives a luxury vehicle, which was a gift from the nation of North Korea. In 2008, her lifestyle was profiled in North Korean magazine.
The next generation
Since retiring, and even in the years prior, Ri focused a great deal on the next generation of news anchors. In an interview with China Central Television (CCTV), she said, “I see younger people on television, and they are very beautiful. I realized for television you need to be young and beautiful.”
Still, though she has trained them well, younger anchors don’t yet carry the same weight as the Pink Lady, so any important news in North Korea will probably continue to come directly from her.
Follow Aramide on Twitter @midnightrami.
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