BEIJING - When it was leaked in South
Korea last week that Kim In-hye, a popular
soprano, television celebrity and music professor
at the prestigious Seoul National University, had
habitually used violence against her students over
the past 10 years - as well as mobilizing them for
private functions such as her mother's birthday -
media outlets quipped that she had used her
students as a "pleasure squad".
had been used in Korea to describe groups of
attractive young women enlisted to provide
entertainment and even sexual services for North
Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his top aides.
Little was known outside North Korea about
the pleasure squad, known as Gippeumjo. For
years it was such a well-kept secret that some
analysts even doubted its existence. But information
has gradually emerged through
the testimony of defectors such as Lee Il-nam, a
nephew of Kim Jong-il who attended the same
private school in Geneva as the leader's son, Kim
Jong-nam, and later defected to South Korea.
As a member of the inner circle of the Kim
family, he knew too much about Kim Jong-il's
private life. Even though he changed his name to
Lee Han-young in South Korea and went through
plastic surgery, in 1997 he was shot dead by
assassins sent by North Korea. Yet Lee left a
memoir, called Kim Jong-il's Royal Family.
In it, he described how the saga of the pleasure
In 1972, Kim Jong-il began
to throw parties for his close associates. At
first, they were casual gatherings of only men,
who mainly drank alcohol together. But later, as
from 1974 Kim was internally confirmed to become
the next leader and set about consolidating his
power base, female partners began to accompany
them. The pleasure squad was divided into three
teams: a "satisfaction team", which provided
sexual services; a "happiness team", which
provided massages, and a "dancing and singing
They were normally recruited from
the graduating classes of art schools at the age
of 18. After being chosen, they went through
training to perform their duties immaculately. For
example, "Those who were chosen to provide
massages, received three to six months of
professional massage training in Hong Kong or
Taiwan," said Lee.
Their clients were not
just Kim Jong-il, but included the senior
leadership circle. They were managed by the state
and served as military cadre status and retired
when they reached the age of 25. At that time,
they married one of Kim Jong-il's guards and
usually lived in a special compound so that they
had little interaction with locals. That was a way
to preserve the secrecy of Kim Jong-il's private
The "satisfaction team" was busiest
at the decadent parties Kim Jong-il personally
held. According to Lee, these were usually held at
8pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays at Kim's official
residence in Pyongyang, dubbed the "House of
Fish". Parties usually lasted until 1am or 2am,
sometimes 3am - by which time Kim Jong-il was
drunk and retreated.
According to an
account by a defector recruited to the pleasure
squad as a schoolgirl, published in Marie Claire
magazine, the Dear Leader's favorite dish at the
parties was shark genitals, which he believed
would "benefit his stamina and be good for his
female cohorts' skin".
"Those over 165cm
[tall] are excluded because Kim Jong-Il is short,"
Mi Hyang told the magazine, adding that the
candidate's body should not have any scars or
blemishes and that their voice should be soft and
The routine at the parties
included eating, drinking and dancing, but usually
ended with erotic games. "A favorite was a game in
which the losers had to take off clothes one by
one. It was enforced, regardless of men or women.
If they got heavily drunk, the also played a
hair-shaving game. If men lost, part of their head
hair was shaved, as if it was mown. For women,
their pubic hair was shaved," said Lee.
According to Lee, there were also parties
devoted entirely to sex. These were held "when Kim
Jong-il "was in a particularly good mood". Kim
then allowed the male party participants to
"select a female partner of their choice".
Sometimes, the women who served in such parties
were not just from the pleasure squads, but also
actresses from North Korean movie hits, such as
the ones who starred in The Flower-selling
Girl or The Virgin Hairdresser.
"Sometimes, even actresses who were
married were also summoned. What happened at the
party was a secret they mustn't divulge even to
their husbands. The very fact that they attended
the party was top secret," said Lee. He said the
"rules" were well abided by because "it was an
honor to be invited to such an occasion, and it
was obvious to everyone that they would be sent to
a concentration camp if they leaked the news".
One of the most beguiling episodes from
the party was told by Kenji Fujimoto, a former
private chef for the Kim family for 13 years, in
one of his books on North Korea:
Five dancers from the pleasure squad
were dancing. Kim Jong-il approached them and
suddenly gave an order. "Take off your clothes!"
The dancers began to slowly undress themselves.
Kim made another order. "Your brassieres and
panties too!" The dancers looked surprised and
embarrassed. But they didn't dare to disobey his
order. Looking embarrassed, they took off their
entire clothes and began to dance naked. Then,
Kim Jong-il instructed the aides. "You guys
dance too!" Kim Jong-il warned them. "It's okay
for you to dance [with naked girls]. But you
mustn't touch them. If you touch, you are a
Some North Koreans paid the
highest price for officially questioned the
appropriateness of throwing such decadent parties,
according to Lee.
The wife of a ranking
official, Ri Myung-je, saw her husband returning
home often at 3 or 4 am, intoxicated and also
sometimes with his hair partly shaved. She also
heard him sprouting obscenities during his sleep
and realized the nature of the parties Kim Jong-il
Feeling it was not right for
the then future leader of the country to hold such
parties, she wrote a complaint letter to Kim
Jong-il's father, Kim Il-sung, the founder of the
country. But then, all letters and reports
addressed to Kim Il-sung were screened by Kim
Jong-il. She was found and executed by gunshot in
front of other officials, Lee said.
Korea's intelligence community has in the past
crafted a personality profile of Kim Jong-il based
on his sexual adventurism and decadent lifestyle.
For example, Song Bong-sun, a former chief of the
North Korea investigation team with the National
Intelligence Service, writes in his was book that
although dictators are often also playboys, Kim
Jong-il's womanizing penchant was "a bit too
much", pointing out that Kim acquired whichever
women he liked to satisfy his libido, including
the wife of a diplomat.
that Kim Jong-il's excessive sexual appetite has a
hereditary cause, evoking the fact that his
father, Kim Il-sung, at the age of 70, also had an
affair with a nurse, who gave birth to a baby. Kim
Il-sung is believed to have established the
pleasure squad in the belief that having sexual
relations with young women would have the effect
of enhancing his life force, or gi.
Paik Sang-chang, a South Korean
psychiatrist who has been researching the mental
landscape of Kim Jong-il for 30 years, sees the
root cause of Kim Jong-il's womanizing as
mistreatment at the hands of his stepmother.
While they may be indeed underlying
psychological reasons behind Kim Jong-il's sexual
desires and his secret parties, what perhaps has
eluded the psycho-analysts is how Kim cleverly
exploited such occasions to cultivate people's
loyalty. The parties also offered him a chance to
encourage competition among his aides and create
fear by withholding invitations.
each party, Kim Jong-il prepared an invitation
list, with only 40 people among his 200 associates
selected for the secret affair. "Individuals whose
names were missing from the list become quite
worried, thinking they had fallen out of Kim
Jong-il's good graces or that he was angry with
them," said Lee.
Naturally, officials who
were invited to Kim's private parties naturally
regarded it as a sign of his trust, driving them
to work harder to please the Dear Leader.
A case in point was Kim Yong-sun
(1934-2003), North Korea's point man in charge of
inter-Korean relations. "Although well in his old
age, he practiced dance very hard, especially
disco and the tango, to please Kim Jong-il at the
party," said Lee. This debunks the view of Kim
Jong-il as a delusional dictator with gorged on
sexual excess and gourmet food. Rather, it shows a
Machiavellian and calculating leader who used
parties to pull the strings of the elite.
(firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Seoul-born
columnist and journalist; he has degrees from the
US and China.
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