Arirang Mass Games 2009 wrap up

UPDATE: According to Yonhap:

North Korea has wrapped up its Arirang festival, a two month-long mass gymnastics extravaganza, media outlets reported Tuesday.

The festival drew about 1.4 million people from home and abroad since it opened in August at the May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, according to the Korean Central Broadcasting Station, a North Korean radio network.

The 80-minute show was held daily except on Sundays after opening on Aug. 10.

North Korea has held the festival, named after the famous Korean folk song, almost annually since 2002. It features synchronized acrobatics, gymnastics, dances and flip-card mosaic animation. Performed by about 100,000 people, it is believed to be the largest gymnastics show in the world.

Read the full story below:
N. Korea wraps up Arirang gymnastics festival

ORIGINAL POST: North Korea’s Mass Games (100,000 person gymnastics spectacle) began yesterday.

Mass Games used to be held only on special anniversaries (5, 10, 15, 60, etc.) of special holidays such as the end of the Korean War (Victory in the Fatherland Liberation War), Founding of the Worker’s Party, etc.  Since 2005 (when yours truly watched the show with Kim Jing il), however, the games have been hosted annually.

Although the themes and names of Mass Games performances have changed over the years, this specific performance called “Arirang” has been running since 2002—with slight modifications.

According to the AFP, this year the theme Kangsong Taeguk  (powerful and prosperous nation) was added to the performance. This of course reflects the policy goals the government hopes to achieve by 2012, Kim Il sung’s 100th birthday.

According to KCNA:

Extravaganza “Arirang” Starts

Pyongyang, August 11 (KCNA) — The grand gymnastic and artistic performance “Arirang” for this year started at the May Day Stadium Monday.

The creating staff and performers succeeded in re-representing the extravaganza in a brief span of time; they newly created Scene I of Act III and enriched it with fresh contents more truthfully representing the great mental power and skills of the Korean people and the appearance of the country that has undergone tremendous changes.

Among the audience were servicepersons and people from all walks of life, diplomatic envoys and representatives of international organizations here, foreign guests and overseas Koreans.

The performers made an impressive grand epic representation of Juche Korea that has risen high as a dignified sovereign power after putting an end to the history of the nation’s sufferings under the leadership of President Kim Il Sung and the unshakable faith and will of the army and people of the DPRK to build a great prosperous and powerful socialist nation guaranteeing the eternal prosperity of the nation under the Songun leadership of Kim Jong Il.

The performance was highly acclaimed by the audience for presenting fantastic scenery with a good combination of dynamic mass gymnastics and graceful artistry, ever-changing peculiar background scenes, stage decor and a variety of electronic displays.

Further thoughts:
1. This is one of the few times American tourists are able to visit the country. I recommend as many Americans as possible do so.  Based on personal experience, I know that many in the DPRK do not believe the propaganda they are told about Americans.  North Korea’s third generation is now coming of age and these individuals have neither seen a military conflict with the US nor personally known a relative killed in the Korean War.  The kids in particular are very curious.

2. The western media tends to assume the motivation for the mass games is pure propaganda for both a domestic and international audience–“come and see how united our people are”.  Although this might be compelling strategy, I can’t help but to be reminded of the great economic history book by Fogel and Engerman, Time on the Cross, about slavery in the Southern United States.

In the book, the authors discuss the strategy of plantation owners to create a number of cottage industries and tasks which were not terribly economical, however, they kept the slaves occupied so they did not have time to organize or pursue other sorts of goals that could lead them to “trouble”.  I am beginning to feel the same way about the Mass Games.  Kids who are not in school are ripe for trouble-making and the development of individual pursuits, so why not keep them busy all summer producing “wholesome” goods like the mass games?


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