Arirang Mass Games Festival

There is this event that began in North Korea in 2002, they call it the Arirang Mass Games Festival. It’s this huge compilation of mass gymnastics that tell the entire history of North Korea, mainly Jim Il-Sung and his successor Kim Jong-Ill.

As you can see in the picture below, there are hundreds of people participating in this show. Even the huge painting elevated as the backdrop is comprised of thousands of disciplined school children holding up cards that create a colorful and complex mosaic. This performance is all for the glory of Korea, the Great Leaders and their ideologies.

When ever tourists do manage to stumble into the North through the ‘back roads’ of Shengyang, China they get to experience North Korea’s obsession with the handful of crazy talented youth being harvested within the city of Pyongyang. From a young age children who show even a little drop of talent are nurtured into super athletes in exclusive private schools. You can often see videos of these talented toddlers and teenagers efficiently playing a variety of instruments, each act is just as amazing as the next, if not better. The participants in the mass games can be five years old and older, in most cases this would be their entire career until they retire. With a mind blowing amount of precision, thousands of freakishly gifted men, women and children passionately perform this Guinness World Record breaking show.

Performers participate in the Arirang mass games in Pyongyang, North Korea. (As you can see in the picture below this text, there are hundreds of people participating in this show. Even the huge painting elevated in the backdrop is comprised of hundreds of people holding up cards that create a picture.)

So who are actually allowed the privilege of seeing this event? From past interactions in North Korean media, you can already guess that the average North Korean ‘Joe’ cannot attend these events. Usually, the Arirang Festival’s audience contains handpicked families and individuals: military generals or soldiers, government higher-ups, people of other important jobs within the government, and the families of the people participating in the acts. Lets not forget about the Great Leader himself, he gets a front row seat.

I see these gigantic events as display of North Korea’s skill to the rest of the world. They don’t exactly want to seem as though they are falling behind. North Korea cannot participate in the Olympic games mainly because their government refuses to uphold any past and or current non-proliferation treaties it made with the U.N. Let’s face it, their government is not on good terms with any other nations except for Russia. I guess this is their way of showing that they can compete with the rest of the globe.

The games are a couple hours long, but as they go on you begin to see the tremendous amount of time, effort and planning that is choreographed into every selection. Performers participate in the Arirang mass games in Pyongyang, North Korea

The nationalist personality of the North Korean people is something so unique in the sense that they are all unified under the Juche ideal. Another thing to keep in mind is the amount of visual perfection that goes into everything Koreans do. I believe this is also a reflection of the Korean culture’s attention to detail when it comes to ‘saving face’; the importance of first impressions, precision and perfection are common in other Asian cultures especially in Japanese and Chinese traditions (although one could argue that the Chinese are a bit more down-to-earth).

3 thoughts on “Arirang Mass Games Festival

  1. When most people hear North Korea, their minds are immediately filled with a wealth of connotations that make it difficult to accept any new information. I really appreciate this post because it gives more insight on the values and ideas present in North Korean culture. I will definitely have to see some of this footage, if its available somewhere. I read “Devil in the White City,” a novel about the Chicago World Fair, a few years ago and I became really interested in large entertainment spectacles: the planning that went into them, the obstacles they overcame, and the actual performances. It says a lot about the North Korean culture.

  2. I still remember how amazing the initiation ceremony was for the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and how precise and articulate the performance was. This is a testament to North Korean discipline and skill in a world where, quite frankly, many diplomatic officials consider them a joke. Performances such as these are always fun to watch and I like how at the end you connect the performance to cultural values that the North Koreans hold. I wonder if there are any videos available of a ceremony.

  3. I loved this post! I really enjoyed how you explained who could go to the performance too!
    I’d like to learn more about this , like what exactly they do.
    –Is it more like tumbling gymnastics, or dance-y like?

    Also, are there videos?
    Maybe you could post a video, I’d love to see the actual show!

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