TIME China

See China’s Internet Dilemma in One Screen Grab

Can the country really hope for entrepreneurial innovation while restricting Internet access?

Chinese state media today announced a plan to lure more “entrepreneurial” expatriates to China. The goal is to get people into startups and promote innovation, according to a site-leading story Wednesday on the English-language edition of the China Daily.

Running just below that article, though, was a piece headlined “VPN Providers Must Obey Rules.” VPN (virtual private network) providers are the companies that help people jump over China’s Great Firewall. In recent weeks, the government has targeted several such firms, slowing or stopping their services altogether.

The thing is, the “innovative” foreign entrepreneurs China seeks will almost certainly want unfettered access to the Internet. You know, crazy stuff like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube (all of which are banned in China). What’s a startup-loving Communist Party official to do?

TIME China

Watch This Haunting Seven-Minute Film About China’s Insane Air Pollution

It's haunting and eerily beautiful

Greenpeace East Asia today released a seven-minute film by director Jia Zhangke about China’s toxic air. The impressionistic piece, Smog Journeys, follows two families — one rural, one urban — as they live, play, and work in the country’s polluted northeast.

“When it comes to smog, no matter what jobs we do, it is still a problem we all face,” says Jia in an interview released online.

Jia is one of China’s most renowned filmmakers. His work is famously gritty, filled with tales of alienation and strife, and shot in shades of brown and gray. His last feature, A Touch of Sin (2013), was a critical hit abroad, but was considered too politically sensitive to be shown on the Chinese mainland.

TIME Pope Francis

Stop Breeding Like Rabbits? The Pope Misses the Point on Contraception

VATICAN-RELIGION-POPE-PHILIPPINES-SRILANKA
Pope Francis adresses journalists sitting onboard a plane during his trip back to Rome, on Jan. 19, 2015. Giuseppe Cacace—AFP/Getty Images

Emily is Beijing Correspondent at TIME.

It is not the mom of seven who should be scolded for "irresponsibility"

On his flight back to Rome on Monday, Pope Francis offered the press corps some friendly advice on family planning. During his recent travels in the Philippines, he said, he met a mother who risked her life to bear seven children. Chiding her “irresponsibility,” he said the Catholic Church’s prohibition on modern contraception does not mean large families are a must. “Some think, excuse me if I use the word, that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits,” he said. “But no.”

Now, I can’t argue with the Pope on matters of doctrine — that’s his specialty. But in the Philippines, the church’s stance on “artificial” contraception is also a national political issue. And its opposition to the use of things like birth-control pills and condoms is a matter of public health and human rights. From that perspective, his decree is deeply problematic.

The Philippines’ Catholic hierarchy has fought long and hard to restrict access to prophylactics. Over the past few decades, as most countries embraced family planning, the Philippines has moved in the opposite direction, discouraging the use of contraception and prohibiting abortion under any circumstance. They cast condom use as anti-Catholic and anti-Filipino, insisting that couples ought to use “natural methods.” That means abstinence — or abstinence on all but a woman’s least fertile days. (I once got a briefing on this from a bishop; it was awkward.)

Opposition from the church, particularly the influential Catholic Bishops Conference, kept the country’s family-planning bill on the shelves for more than a decade. Yet the Holy See is at odds with the stated preferences of Filipinos. Research suggests that most support voluntary family planning, and surveys show an unmet need, meaning a large number of women would like to control the number and timing of their pregnancies but can’t. That gap is highest (about 25%) among poor women, who, for instance, might be less able to afford pills or condoms, or may be less educated on their use.

The antiprophylactic rhetoric is also at odds with what we know about family planning in terms of public health. As social policy, abstinence does not work. Multiple studies show that without access to affordable, modern methods of contraception, the number of unplanned or unwanted pregnancies rises, as do rates of sexually transmitted infections and unsafe abortions. (Here is a telling case study from Manila.)

Finally, whether she chose to have seven children or did not have other options, the woman Pope Francis met — and all others — are entitled to make their own decisions about reproduction and reproductive health without coercion, danger or disrespect.

“Irresponsibility” is insisting on abstinence at women’s expense.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME North Korea

North Korean Camp Survivor Admits He Was Not Straight About His Story

Shin Dong-hyuk
North Korean human-rights activist Shin Dong-hyuk delivers remarks during an event on human rights in North Korea at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, in New York City, on Sept. 23, 2014 Jason DeCrow—AP

Shin Dong-hyuk's story was the basis for the book Escape From Camp 14

When Shin Dong-hyuk’s life story was published in 2012, CNN hailed it as a “true North Korea survival story.” Born in a notorious North Korean prison complex, Shin endured almost unimaginable deprivation and torture before breaking out, crawling under an electrified fence, and over the body of a fellow prisoner, to flee. The account, Escape From Camp 14, by journalist Blaine Harden, became a New York Times best seller, helping to call global attention to the country’s egregious rights abuses.

Trouble is, it was not all true.

On Friday Jan. 16, Shin told Harden a revised version of the story. While he was born at Camp 14, he spent part of his youth at another complex, Camp 18, escaping twice before landing back at the first camp, he now says. And it was at Camp 18, not at Camp 14, that he betrayed his mother and brother, sharing their plan to escape, and then witnessing their executions. This and other new details came to light after fellow defectors raised questions about the tale. The new timeline, first published by the Washington Post, has yet to be confirmed.

“When I agreed to share my experience for the book, I found it was too painful to think about some of the things that happened,” Shin told Harden. “So I made a compromise in my mind. I altered some details that I thought wouldn’t matter. I didn’t want to tell exactly what happened in order not to relive these painful moments all over again.” Shin also said in a Facebook page that he did not realize that the extent to which these details mattered, and asked forgiveness.

The details, of course, do matter. As one of the most high-profile survivors of North Korea’s political prisons, Shin has done more than most to raise awareness about the camps and the people who suffer there. Doubts about his credibility as a witness — and hence his credibility as a spokesperson — may make people less likely to believe other survivor testimony.

In weighing the revelations, though, it’s worth keeping three things in mind. First, we don’t yet know the full story. In his Facebook post, Shin said he would not be speaking further on the matter. The author, Harden, says he and his publishers will work to find out what really happened and to amend the book. Until they release more details, or others are able to corroborate Shin’s revised story, there will be gaps. The bulk of the story may — or may not — be true.

Second, it is worth considering why survivors of trauma might provide inconsistent or incorrect testimony. As Shin himself says in his Facebook note, recounting torture can be traumatic, especially when it involves the suffering of family members or friends. And Shin’s story is based on childhood and teenage memories of profound suffering and abuse.

Indeed, those who work with North Korean refugees note that obscuring details and withholding information can be a sort of survival strategy. “North Korean refugees can face more challenges than other refugees because they are acutely aware that what they say may affect people back in North Korea,” says Sokeel Park, director of research and strategy at Liberty in North Korea, an NGO that works with North Koreans. “They still feel tied because their relatives, or the people who helped them escape, are there.”

Third, and perhaps most important, with or without Shin’s testimony, there is a wide body of evidence that the prison camps exist — and are absolutely brutal. A U.N. investigation into the country’s rights abuses includes testimony from 80 witnesses, and was also based on accounts by 240 others who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “The basic knowledge on how serious this is does not hinge on the details of one person’s story,” says Park.

That’s the same message Shin sent out before stepping away from the spotlight for a while. “Instead of me, you all can still fight,” he wrote. “The world still needs to know of the horrendous and unspeakable horrors that are taking place.”

And that, no doubt, is true.

TIME Philippines

Pope Calls Out Philippines on Corruption and ‘Scandalous’ Inequality

Pope Francis Visits Philippines - Day 2
Pope Francis waves to thousands of followers as he arrives at the Manila Cathedral on Jan. 16, 2015, in Manila Lisa Maree Williams—Getty Images

His remarks come on the first day of a highly anticipated four-day visit

Pope Francis has called on the Philippine government to fulfill its pledges to crack down on the country’s rampant corruption.

Addressing assembled dignitaries, including President Benigno Aquino, at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila on Friday, the Pontiff called on “everyone, at all levels of society, to reject every form of corruption which diverts resources from the poor.”

He added that “it is now, more than ever, necessary that political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good” and asked Filipinos “to hear the voice of the poor.” Injustice and oppression, he said, had given rise to “glaring, and indeed scandalous, social inequalities.”

The Pope’s remarks will have resonance for Aquino. When he campaigned for President in 2010, he vowed to fight poverty and tackle corruption and said that for too long the Philippines’ ruling elite had grown rich at the expense of the poor. The campaign message hit home in a country where about 1 in 4 lives in poverty. But while steps in the right direction have been made, official impunity and social inequality persist.

Filipinos, meanwhile, are sure to be pleased by the Pontiff’s comments. The country’s vibrant civil society has fought hard for decades to improve governance and give ordinary people a better shot. Their efforts have been stymied, though, by political infighting, special interests, and sclerotic courts that often operate at the behest of the wealthy and well-connected.

Pope Francis is on the first day of a highly anticipated four-day visit to Asia’s most Catholic nation. During his stay, he will tour areas hit hard by Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) in 2013, and deliver Mass to what’s expected to be a millions-strong crowd in the capital.

TIME Philippines

Millions Expected to See Pope Francis Visit the Philippines

Pope Francis waves to the crowd next to President Aquino upon his arrival at Villamor Air Base in Manila
Pope Francis waves to the crowd next to President Benigno Aquino upon his arrival at Villamor Air Base for a state and pastoral visit, in Manila on Jan. 15, 2015. Erik De Castro—Reuters

Asia's most Catholic nation will treat him like a rock star

You know the expression, more Catholic than the Pope? Well, the Philippines, more than any other country, comes close. More than 80% of the former Spanish colony’s population — or about 70 million people — are Catholic, and the Church still holds considerable sway in matters of state. It is the only country outside the Vatican City, for instance, where divorce is illegal. When Pope John Paul II visited in 1995, he was greeted like a rock star; a record-breaking 5 million people attended his Manila mass.

Now it’s Pope Francis’ turn for a grand tour of Asia’s most Catholic nation. He lands in the Philippines Thursday evening, local time, to start a four-day visit. His itinerary includes a trip to the area hit by Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda), and a mass in the capital, Manila, on Sunday. Local authorities are expecting a millions-strong gathering, despite concerns about security (more on that here) and the possibility of torrential rain.

If previous visits are any indication, it’s going to be a party. Filipinos are convening on the capital from across the country and around the world. Many will stand in line for days for the chance to see him. If they don’t they can still buy all manner of Pope merchandise — from stamps to t-shirts to commemorative children’s books. Odds are good that the crowds will at some point burst into the event’s official song.

Amid all the pageantry, Filipinos will be listening closely for Pope Francis’ perspective on issues of national concern. Although the Philippines is still heavily influenced by Church thinking — gay marriage is banned; abortion is illegal — over the last decade or so, there has been a move away from a hard-line stance on the use of modern methods of contraception, such as condoms and birth control pills.

For years, even as contraception became the norm elsewhere, the country’s Catholic establishment remained firmly opposed to the use any type of prophylactic, casting condoms as anti-Filipino and an affront to God’s will. In 2000, the mayor of Manila effectively banned the distribution of condoms in government hospitals and clinics.

In 2012, after more than a decade of debate, the government finally passed a national family planning bill. It was victory for rights campaigners and women’s groups, and the fulfillment of a campaign promise for President Benigno Aquino III, but remains deeply unpopular among conservatives.

With a Pope in town for the first time in 10 years, Filipinos will be keen to hear his thoughts on this and other questions. Much has changed in Filipino society since 1995; their love for the Pope has not.

TIME China

Beijing Is Choking Under Another Nightmare Smog

Visitors take a walk during a polluted day at Tiananmen Square in Beijing
Visitors take a walk during a polluted day at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Jan. 15, 2015. Kim Kyung-Hoon—Reuters

Readings are off the charts

Deep down, Beijing knew it was coming. But against all odds, the 21 million residents of China’s capital hoped that the cold chemical soup that passes for “air” might not be so bad this winter, sparing the city another airpocalypse.

But just two weeks into the year, Beijing is on “yellow alert” — the third highest in a four-tiered government pollution warning system. The U.S. embassy said its air-quality index, measuring PM2.5 particulates, had hit 545 (anything above 300 is considered hazardous). Visibility is expected to drop to 500 m. Not that anybody who has a choice will be looking outside.

This year’s first spell of particularly putrid air comes on the heels of news that the region’s air-pollution problem is, believe it or not, improving. Earlier this month, local authorities reported that average air pollution was actually down slightly in 2014.That’s good news, although the level of the most dangerous particulate matter was still more than three times the recommended limit.

Besides, the report is unlikely to cheer Beijing’s pollution-weary residents, who today took to social media to share pictures of the sullen sky:

TIME North Korea

The Interview May Be Funny; North Korea and Kim Jong Un Are Not

North Korean leader Kim inspects the Artillery Company under the KPA Unit 963, in this undated photo released by North Korea's KCNA in Pyongyang
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the Artillery Company under the Korean People's Army Unit 963 in Pyongyang on Dec. 2, 2014 KCNA/Reuters

The Sony Pictures movie has been shelved because of alleged threats by North Korea — a country that should be taken seriously

If you were hoping to spend Dec. 25 at a movie theater watching a comedy about the violent death of a dictator, you are out of luck.

Sony Pictures on Wednesday announced it is pulling The Interview, the Seth Rogen and James Franco film linked to a massive hack and threats of violence on U.S. soil. The decision came as authorities investigate whether or not the threats are credible, and in advance of solid evidence about who is responsible for the attacks. U.S. intelligence officials believe it was North Korea; others (including the smart folks at Wired) say the links are tenuous at best.

I’ll leave the cyberforensics to the pros and steer clear of questions about the film itself. I have not seen it (though TIME’s esteemed critic, Richard Corliss, has), and though I suspect scholars will have a field day dissecting The Interview‘s handling gender and race, I defend the studio’s right to make movies about whatever they choose. The Interview may be, as Corliss writes, a “parade of ribald gags,” but Americans, unlike North Koreans, are free to watch such fare. Ribald is nothing.

As a Beijing-based correspondent who often writes about North Korea, the interesting bit is how the fury surrounding the film casts light on how we think about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as the country is officially known. Despite its axis-of-evil pedigree, its truly egregious human-rights record, and a nuclear weapons program, North Korea is more of a punch-line than a policy priority or topic for serious, sustained discussion. And that, I reckon, is what’s really dangerous.

It is not the jokes, exactly, but the fact that they play into a narrative that wildly underestimates, or willfully ignores, North Korea. Asked by the New York Times about the fallout from the film, Rogen, said the backlash was “surreal, “not something that we expected at all.” Few expected a hack of this magnitude, sure. And Kim Jong Un’s regime may not be directly responsible for this particular attack. But his country is indeed experienced in cyberespionage. And yet, Rogen could not fathom that they’d lash out?

In a roundabout way, Rogen’s quote reminded me of comments by Merrill Newman, the 85-year old veteran who spent two months as a detainee in Pyongyang before being released in December 2013. During the 1950–53 Korean War, Newman led South Korean fighters operating behind enemy lines. North Korea hated the unit. Yet, according to The Last P.O.W., a new Kindle Single written by longtime foreign correspondent Mike Chinoy, Newman entered as a tourist unconcerned that he could run into trouble with the regime, let alone be arrested and detained for war crimes.

Some DPRK basics: for North Korea, the Korean War, also known as the Fatherland Liberation War, never ended. There was an armistice agreement, but it was meant to be temporary; a peace treaty was not signed. North Koreans are taught that the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung, was a masterful general who repelled two waves of foreign invaders, the Japanese, and then the Americans and South Koreans. His son, the late dictator Kim Jong Il, and his grandson, current leader Kim Jong Un, stayed in power in part because they’ve convinced their people that the U.S. military and its South Korean allies could return at any moment, and only a strong leader — a veritable God among men — can keep them safe.

As much as he’s revered at home, Kim Jong Un is infantalized by outsiders. When he came on the scene in late 2011, biographical details were scarce. We knew that he was probably in his late 20s, that he spent part of his adolescence at a boarding school in Switzerland, and that he might like basketball. From these clues were cobbled a narrative that felt credible: he was young, malleable, and maybe more open to the West. TIME put him on the cover under the tagline “Lil Kim.”

It’s worth considering how wrong we were to dismiss him. There is no question that Kim Jong Un is younger than your average autocrat. But he did not emerge, baby-faced and bumbling, from nowhere. He was raised by dictator Dad in a family where shooting is the preferred pastime. At some point after his stint in Switzerland, he attended his country’s most prestigious university, the Kim Il Sung Military Academy. After purging his uncle, touring sad-looking factories, or disappearing for a while, people were quick to count him out. Each time, he proved us wrong. His long-suffering country is still in a tenuous position: the economy is weak, and thanks to the porous border with China, ordinary people have more access than ever to foreign goods and ideas. Hunger persists, health care and education are rudimentary or absent, especially in rural areas, and people have almost no political or civil rights. These are serious and enduring problems. But from a North Korean perspective, the leader is strong.

If you need to crack a Kim Jong Un joke this holiday season, I get it. We tend to joke about things that are strange, things that scare us, and things that we don’t quite understand. But do so with an eye to what’s really going on north of the 38th parallel. The Interview may be funny. North Korea definitely is not.

Read next: Everything We Know About Sony, ‘The Interview’ and North Korea

TIME Taiwan

Cross-Strait Ties Just Got More Complicated

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou walks out of a voting booth at a voting station during local elections in Taipei
Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou walks out of a voting booth at a polling station in Taipei during local elections on Nov. 29, 2014 Frank Sun—Reuters

Taiwan politicians must fathom how to engage with China without vexing voters who are increasingly distrustful of Beijing

Ma Ying-jeou is having a bad week. Taiwan’s President went into this weekend’s local elections battered, his approval ratings low. Then on Saturday his party, the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), got thoroughly trounced, losing ground across the island, including key mayoral posts in Taichung and Taipei. The results prompted Prime Minister Jiang Yi-huah to resign and 80 cabinet colleagues to also offer to step down — an act of contrition that may or may not be enough to staunch growing dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of food-safety scandals, the economy, and the island’s relations with China. Ma may yet resign his chairmanship of the KMT.

China and Taiwan have been at odds since Mao Zedong’s communists prevailed and the nationalists beat a retreat across the strait. Ma came to power in 2008 promising to put existential questions about Taiwan’s relationship with China on hold, focusing instead on building economic ties with the Chinese mainland. He was re-elected in 2012 in a hard-fought battle with the opposition Democratic Progress Party (DPP), which is generally more skeptical of Beijing. It was a narrow victory — Ma beat challenger Tsai Ing-wen by about 6% of the vote — and in the years since, his government lost more ground. This spring, demonstrators occupied the legislature under the banner of the Sunflower Movement to protest the government’s handling of a proposed trade pact with China, only heightening the sense of a political reckoning to come.

This weekend, voters delivered it. While it might be tempting, especially from a distance, to read the results as a sort of referendum on cross-strait ties, to do so is to misunderstand the island’s electoral landscape. What the results show, Taiwan watchers say, is that the voting public is deeply unhappy with the status quo under the KMT, including, but not limited to, their China policy. They are worried about quality of life issues, clean government, and want their leaders to focus on competing globally, not just trading with China. “These are local elections, fought on local issues, by local personalities, so we have to be careful not to overinterpret the results” says Alan D. Romberg, distinguished fellow and the director of the East Asia program at the Stimson Center in Washington, D.C. “Cross-strait relations were not at the center this time, but next time, in [the 2016 general elections], they will be.”

Indeed, the KMT losses are particularly striking considering that the 2016 presidential election is fast approaching. The prospect of a KMT defeat in that contest — that is to say, a win by the opposition DPP — could potentially alter the calculus of cross-strait ties. Unlike the KMT, which accepts some iteration of Beijing’s “one-China policy,” the DPP is more reticent. The DPP maintains that Taiwan is already a sovereign nation and should engage with China on those terms. The DPP does not see reunification in the future, a no-no for Beijing. As such, the prospect of a DPP government in 2016 is sure to worry the Communist Party’s top cadres. Says Shelley Rigger, a Taiwan specialist at Davidson College in North Carolina: “Beijing is definitely not loving this.”

Especially right now. Since late September, pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong have occupied for long stints three neighborhoods in the former British colony, demanding a more representative voting system. The movement is, like the Sunflower Movement before it, student-led and fueled by a deep distrust of the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing. Though Hong Kong is not — as any Taiwan person would tell you — the same as Taiwan, Beijing cannot be pleased with the parallel. Beijing sees Taiwan as a renegade province and compares Hong Kong to an impertinent child. At a time when President Xi Jinping is speaking evocatively of an “Asia-Pacific dream” and forging ties abroad, it is awkward to have trouble at (what he considers) home.

Going forward, Taiwan politicians must find ways to engage with China without alienating a public that is increasingly wary of Beijing’s embrace. “The question for China is: How do we deal with a Taiwan that does not make anything easy?” Rigger says. After the week he has had, President Ma may be wondering the same thing.

TIME North Korea

New Kim on the Block: The Rise of Kim Jong Un’s Little Sister

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the Sinchon Museum
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the Sinchon Museum in Pyongyang in this undated photo released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency on Nov. 25, 2014 KCNA/Reuters

But who exactly is Kim Yo Jong?

At last, a North Korea rumor proves true: all year, Korea watchers have been buzzing about the rise of Kim Jong Un’s little sister, Kim Yo Jong. She popped up at her father Kim Jong Il’s December 2011 funeral, then reappeared next to her brother on election day in March of this year. (Yes, North Korea has elections, of sorts.) Experts speculated that her presence at a high-profile political event signaled that she was on the rise within the regime but, as with many things in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as it is officially called, the theory was just that — until now.

On Thursday, Nov. 26, in an otherwise humdrum account of Kim Jong Un’s visit to a cartoon studio, state media listed Kim Yo Jong as “vice department director” in the powerful Central Committee of the ruling Worker’s Party. In March, when she was pictured beside her brother on polling day, she was identified only as a “senior official.” Though the precise role of a “vice department director” is unclear, that she has an official title suggests a relatively high-profile, and potentially important, role.

So who is Kim Yo Jong? Korea scholars believe she was born in 1987 or 1988, making her 26 or 27 years old, and that she is close to her brother, Kim Jong Un. Their father, former dictator Kim Jong Il, fathered at least seven children by four women, but Kim Jong Un and Kim Yo Jong have the same parentage. They were raised by their mother Ko Young Hui at a hillside estate, says Michael Madden, the founder of North Korea Leadership Watch. Largely restricted to the palace grounds, they were exposed, for the most part, to family members and close friends. “As they say in [Martin Scorsese’s mafia epic] Goodfellas, ‘There were never any outsiders,’” says Madden. “The life of Kim children was hermetically sealed.”

At some point in the mid-1990s, as North Korea starved, Kim Jong Un and his sister Kim Yo Jong were sent to to school in Switzerland. They studied under pseudonyms, presumably to protect their privacy and keep them safe. Remarkably little is known about their time there, Madden says. Upon returning to the DPRK, Kim Yo Jong likely attended university, although the details of that period are still fuzzy. Her stature within the clan started to crystallize at Kim Jong Il’s funeral, when she was spotted walking directly behind heir-apparent Kim Jong Un.

Analysts are still piecing together what, exactly, Kim Yo Jong does. She has been pictured several times in her brother’s company, often on “field guidance tours” (that’s DPRK-speak for the Kim clan looking at things). These appearances have fueled theories that she serves as a sort of events director and aide to her brother, managing his schedule and accompanying him on trips. If that is indeed her role — and again, these things are difficult to pinpoint — it suggests a level of closeness that would give her access to a lot of information. “She may be one of the only people Kim Jong Un trusts completely,” Madden says.

Her presence at Kim Jong Un’s side is rich with symbolism. Her first official public appearance, in March 2014, came not long after the disappearance of her aunt Kim Kyong Hui, who has not been seen since her husband Jang Sung Thaek was executed in late 2013. Before the purge, Kim Kyong Hui was a close adviser to Kim Jong Il, holding key jobs in the ruling party and “protecting her brother’s flank,” according to Ken Gause, a Korea expert at CNA Corp., a Washington, D.C.–based research firm. Kim Il Sung, the country’s revered founding father, also ruled with a sibling — his brother — at his side (until he demoted him).

This new sibling pairing provides an important sense of continuity. Though North Korea is often called a communist state, it is really more of a totalitarian monarchy. North Koreans are taught that Kim Il Sung was a fearsome warrior who, while camped at the base of Mount Paektu with some comrades, crushed a much larger force of Japanese invaders. His son and heir, Kim Jong Il, is said to have been born at the same site, imbued with the same superhuman abilities — heck, he officially shot 11 holes in one in his first-ever game of golf.

Since the deification of the Kim clan is what makes North Korea tick, providing a symbolic link to the past makes sense, even while power passes to the next generation. “The old power elites loyal to Kim Jong Il are being pushed out,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, in an interview earlier this year. “They will be replaced by new, younger elites who can safeguard the leadership of Kim Jong Un.” So goodbye, Kim Kyong Hui, and hello, Kim Yo Jong.

Vote Now: Who Should Be TIME’s Person of the Year?

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser