Archive for the ‘Mass games’ Category

May Day Stadium Under Renovation

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Here is a December 2013 satellite image of the renovation (currently under way):



My comments are in this NK News article


Koryo Tours reports the [probable] end of Arirang performance [but not really]

Monday, March 11th, 2013

UPDATE 1 (2013-3-11): Koryo Tours reports that the mass games will take place this year…and it will be “Arirang” themed.  The DPRK had earlier reported that Arirang had been consigned to history.  So it appears that management of the mass games is handled in much the same way as the management of economic policy. Here is what the Koryo Tours email had to say:

Today, Koryo Tours received confirmation of the mass games dates for this year. They are scheduled to run from JULY 22nd to SEPTEMBER 9th. These dates incorporate two of the biggest holidays in the DPRK this year – the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War on 27th July (Victory Day) and the 65th anniversary of the founding of the DPRK on September 9th (National Day) .

Despite claims last year that 2012 would be the last ever Arirang-themed performance, it seems that this is not the case and this year the theme will again be Arirang but we expect to see new scenes added in to make it bigger and better than ever before.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-7-11): I have relocated to the DC area and have begun clearing out the backlog of posts and emails. I should be caught up by the end of the week.

This morning, however, I wanted to point out a marketing email sent out by Koryo Tours:

Word from our sources in Pyongyang is that the Arirang Mass Games of 2012 will be the last – so we suggest you sign up now to ensure that you can see this remarkable event while it is still running。

While mass games have been performed since the 1940s in the DPRK the Arirang show is the largest and most impressive they have ever produced. Born in 2002, since 2007 it has been an annual event, but 2012 will be Arirang’s 10th anniversary, and it seems the powers that be have decided to close the curtain. As for the reason, our Korean partners suggest that the narrative needs to change with the times. Combining dance, gymnastics, propaganda, politics, music, and even unicycling, this spectacular performance chronicles the struggles of the Korean people suffering under Japanese occupation, moving into the independent era and building a modern country – basically the period linked to the first 100 years since the birth of North Korea’s Eternal President Kim Il Sung.

However, since 2013 marks the 65th anniversary of the foundation of the republic (Sept 9th) as well as the 60th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the Korean War (July 27th), organisers are reportedly planning a whole new performance for next year – for more news on this, please stay on our mailing list!

So if you haven’t seen Arirang yet, or if you want to see it one last time, this is your chance.

Koryo Tours is also repeating its Ultimate Frisbee Tour and Pyongyang’s first ever DJ set! Email them at [email protected] if you are interested.

You can read the full Koryo Tours newsletter here.



Report: preparations for Arirang 2012 under way

Friday, May 4th, 2012

Pictured Above (Google Earth): The May Day Stadium on Rungra Island in Pyongyang.  Home of the Mass Games.

According to the Daily NK:

North Korea has begun forming troupes to take part in this year’s Arirang mass games performance, leading to a game of wait-and-see between parents determined to ensure that their children are not required to perform.

Training for Arirang, as well as the performance itself, places four or five months of severe physical and emotional stress on participants. Training for the games begins after May 20th, once the annual ‘farm supporting activities’ are completed, meaning that the time for concern is rapidly approaching.

A source from Pyongyang told Daily NK, “Each school began working on its own list of participants for the Arirang games after the Labor Day holiday. There was some hope that the mass games might not be held in the Kim Jong Eun era, but alas that was not to be. All the parents of school-aged children are now working on plans to get their children exempted from the games.”

“Well-off parents are secretly paying bribes to hospital staff for medical certificates which can get their children off. Genuinely infirm children are sent to recuperate in the country, which completely removes any chance of being selected for the games.” The source also said, “People are pretty brazen now when talking about having to pay expensive bribes and the like to get their children off these lists.”

The Arirang mass games are administrated by the Mass Gymnastics Organizing Committee, which is made up of members of the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League and the cabinet-directed Chosun Sports Guidance Committee. From the beginning of May the committee screens children at Pyongyang’s elementary and middle schools based on height, health and artistic talent, and whittles the names down to a list of participants. In Pyongyang, roughly half the children from every school year are selected to take part in the games.

“Parents are keeping their eye on the situation and are keen to find out what other parents are doing to get their children out of selection,” the source said. “There is a palpable atmosphere amongst Pyongyang parents at the moment of trying to avoid selection for the games.”

The Arirang mass games have earned a nickname amongst the North Korean people: ‘Arirang of tears’. The games, which began in 2002, conscript over 10,000 elementary, middle school and university students from Pyongyang every year. Equipment including clothes, shoes, cards, artificial flowers, handheld flags, folding fans, and pole vaults become a burden for participants learning each routine.

As the performance approaches, students are made to train outside in stifling heat for 12 hours a day, from 8 o’clock in the morning, and practice is sometimes extended into the night. Parents of children who sit out from a rehearsal or fall behind in their training also become targets of severe criticism.

When the games began, performers were given televisions, which sparked envy amongst parents of non-participants; however, these have now been replaced with nylon blankets, leading to even less willing participation.

Read previous posts on the Mass Games here.

See a great documentary on the Mass Games here.

Read the full story here:
‘Arirang’ Looming over the Horizon
Daily NK
Choi Song Min


Are Pyongyang citizens getting tired of the mass games?

Friday, August 5th, 2011

Pictured Above (Google Earth): Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium (see in Google Maps here)–home of the Arirang Mass Games

UPDATE 1 (2011-8-15): According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s massive dance and gymnastics extravaganza Arirang has drawn more than 10 million spectators since it was first staged in 2002, Pyongyang’s state media reported Monday.

About 300 Arirang shows have been staged since 2002 and the number of people who watched the performance has topped the 10 million mark, including some 100,000 foreigners, Radio Pyongyang reported.

ORIGINAL POST (2011-8-5): According to the Korea Times:

A growing number of North Korean people are discontent over a widespread rumor that their regime is considering continuing a massive propaganda show for foreign tourists until 2015.

The North Korean regime had said the performance, Arirang, would end next year thus also ending the forced mobilization of hundreds of thousands of citizens as performers.

“Many people in Pyongyang are upset by the rumor that Arirang might be performed until 2015,” Radio Free Asia (RFA) quoted an unidentified Chinese source who recently visited Pyongyang as saying. “They say it’s hard to understand the reason for possibly keeping the show going, which nobody watches.”

The non-profit radio station headquartered in the United States reported that many Pyongyang citizens openly criticized the regime for extending the run of the show indicating a loss in people’s confidence in the regime.

Arirang was first performed in 2000 to mark the 90th birthday of the North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung, father of the current “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il.

The current version of the Mass Games, Arirang, aired first in 2002 then it took a break and resumed in 2005 (I know because I was there).  It has run annually since then with only slight modifications each year (CNC, China friendship, etc).

While most coverage of the mass games focuses on the ideological conditioning of the performers and the audience, I believe their true value to  the leadership is much more practical: Arirang training keeps the youth of Pyongyang occupied in group activities for extended periods of time.  There are few physical resources in the DPRK with which to urban children may be occupied during the summer, and idel hands are the devils workshop! 🙂

Read the full story here:
N. Koreans unhappy with Arirang show
Korea Times
Park Si-soo


Arirang 2010 begins

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

According to the Associated Press:

North Korea opened this year’s massive dance and gymnastics performance known as the Arirang Festival, turning to propaganda to unite its people amid new U.S. sanctions on the isolated country to squeeze its nuclear program.

Named after a traditional Korean love song, the show typically features thousands of gymnasts in synchronized maneuvers and giant mosaics formed by children turning pieces of colored paper. Versions of the mass games have been staged in 2002, 2005, 2007, 2008, and 2009.

Senior North Korean officials, including Yang Hyong Sop, vice president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, watched the opening performance at Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium on Monday evening, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. The festival will run through to Oct. 10.

KCNA said spectators were mesmerized by performers who presented dynamic gymnastic movements, beautiful music, elegant dances, ever-changing background scenes and gorgeous electronic displays.

“It’s very great, really great, fantastic theater here and performing is perfect. That’s one of the best things in North Korea I have seen,” Andreas Heckes, a German tourist told international TV news agency APTN.

The festival came as the United States seeks to cut off North Korea’s illicit moneymaking sources by freezing the assets of those who help the regime fund its nuclear weapons program.

The U.S. measures will pinpoint “illicit and deceptive” activities such as drug trafficking, currency counterfeiting and the banned trade in conventional arms, Robert Einhorn, the State Department’s special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control, said in Seoul on Monday.

Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean affairs at Seoul’s Dongguk University, said the festival is aimed at solidifying the North’s internal unity.

The festival made its debut in 2002 to commemorate the birth of the North’s late founding leader Kim Il Sung, father of the North’s current leader Kim Jong Il.

It has been criticized as a propaganda tool achieved through the rigid and disciplined training of its young performers.

Over the years, the festival has attracted more than 12 million people, including 118,000 foreigners, according to a recent report of the North’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper.

In 2000, Kim Jong Il took visiting then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to a mass performance that was a precursor to the Arirang show, the highlight of which was a giant mosaic displaying a rocket flying into the sky.

This year’s Mass Games features CNC technology—the first time it has made an appearance.

Photo via NK Leadership Watch.

Previous Mass Games posts here.

Read the full story here:
North Korea begins massive dance performance
Associated Press
Kim Kwang-Tae


Mass Games to be performed in 2010

Monday, May 17th, 2010

According to the Koryo Tours newsletter:

Koryo Tours has been officially informed by the Korea International Travel Company that Arirang Mass Gymnastics (Mass Games) will be performed from August 2nd throughout to October 10th, 2010. Mass Games can basically be described as a synchronized socialist-realist spectacular, featuring over 100,000 participants in a 90 minute display of gymnastics, dance, acrobatics, and dramatic performance, accompanied by music and other effects, all wrapped in a highly politicized package. Literally no other place on Earth has anything comparable and it has to be seen with your own two eyes to truly appreciate the scale on display.

Book your tour here.

See the group tours we offer during Mass Games.

You can choose your dates of travel, methods of entry and exit and also the itinerary can be tailored to suit your requests if you prefer to travel with an independent tour. Find more information here.

Preparations are visible on the streets of Pyongyang well in advance of the Mass Games with tens of thousands of gymnasts preparing their routines in the city’s open spaces and parks. The 2009 performance was entitled ‘Arirang’ based on a historic tragic love story but was adapted to represent the struggle of North Korea during the Japanese occupation and Korean War. Students practiced every day from January onwards. The 90 minute performance is held every evening at 7pm and features the ‘largest picture in the world’ a giant mosaic of individual students each holding a book whose pages links with their neighbours’ to make up one gigantic scene. When the students turn the pages the scene or individual elements of the scene change, up to 170 pages make up one book.

In 2003 we made our film on the Mass Games A State of Mind (Koryo Tours, VeryMuchSo productions and BBC4), The film has been broadcast unedited in both North and South Korea and in 2004 won the Pyongyang Film Festival Special Prize and best film music award as well as various international awards and is currently on worldwide release.


North Korens advise Vietnam on national celebrations

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

According to TVNZ:

North Korean experts were in Vietnam this week to advise the government on – no, not uranium enrichment – choreography for an extravaganza celebrating Hanoi’s 1,000th anniversary, state media said.

The delegation was led by Song Pyong Won, deputy director of the Arirang performance department in North Korea’s Ministry of Culture, and included experts in mass performance, stage design, sound and lighting, reported the website of the newspaper Saigon Tiep Thi (

“This is the advance team that will make preparations for the various art performances, including card flipping to make images and words, as well as stage design, sound and lighting for the opening ceremony,” the newspaper said.

Hanoi will mark its 1,000th anniversary on October 10 this year.

Song hoped “through this visit the delegation would gain a precise grasp of the basic material conditions in Vietnam, like human resources, so that the staged programme can be the most unique and best possible,” the article said.

The group met representatives of Vietnam’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and planned to visit various anniversary event venues, including the 40,000-seat My Dinh Stadium. It would also visit other sites, such as Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, it said.

Read the full story here:
N Korea teaches Vietnam how to party


Arirang Mass Games 2009 wrap up

Monday, October 19th, 2009

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?


DPRK tourism upgrade

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Tour Company Remote Lands has launched a luxury travel package to North Korea that is private jet optional.  According to Reuters:

“We love learning first-hand about the cultures of the world`s most remote places,” said Catherine Heald, Co-Founder & CEO of Remote Lands. “We do not engage in politics of any kind; we simply believe that tourism can promote peace and understanding between peoples at a grassroots level. North Korea is one of the most mind-blowing places I have ever been, and visiting the country is an incredibly stimulating and enlightening experience that I can`t recommend highly enough to our most intrepid clients.”

Remote Lands ( will design customized itineraries that originate at a five-star hotel in Beijing, and clients can fly either privately or commercially into the capital city of Pyongyang. They can travel all over North Korea from the gorgeous mountains in the north, where they can hike to remote Buddhist temples, to the lovely beaches of the east to the DMZ on the southern border with South Korea. They will visit awe-inspiring architecture and monuments, and attend the dazzling Mass Games extravaganza with 100,000 synchronized performers/dancers/gymnasts, held every August and September. They can also go off the beaten track and visit schools, hospitals, orphanages, farms and factories and spend time with some of DPRK`s many warm and friendly people.

Accommodations are arranged in the best hotels available, with suites specially enhanced by Remote Lands with European linens, feather pillows and duvets and other exceptional amenities. Fine food and wine will be brought in, and the best chefs will be on hand to create the most delicious Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Continental cuisine. North Korea is not for everyone, but for those adventurous few who have been almost everywhere else in the world, it is the last frontier and a real eye-opener to witness in person.

Prices for a Remote Lands luxury bespoke holiday in North Korea/China start at $1,000 per person per day.

According to their web page:

Catherine Heald just returned from a reconnaissance to North Korea that she describes as mind-blowing. She found it quite different from what she expected – much more beautiful and many of the people were very warm and friendly (although others were clearly just baffled that a blond American woman was there in their midst, for example going for a morning run with them along the lovely riverside in Pyongyang). She drove all around the country and saw villages, farms, schools, hospitals and even an orphanage. She saw the Mass Games, a dance/gymnastics extravaganza, which was a truly dazzling performance. She visited the DMZ border with South Korea, the War Museum and the USS Pueblo ship and learned a lot about the Korean War. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is the ultimate remote land, and Catherine found it to be one of the most fascinating places she has ever been.

Also Koryo Tours has sent out a newsletter with the following:

Insider information from Pyongyang tells us that the mass games – originally scheduled to finish on Sep 30th – will now be running to October 17th. This is the only time of year that Americans are able to visit the DPRK and the mass games is an event that no-one should miss! We are therefore offering our popular mini-break a third time round (3 days, 850 Euros). This is an amazing opportunity to experience the Arirang Mass Games as well as the highlights of the capital city of Pyongyang. We guarantee this will be an experience you will never forget. Koryo Tours has been running trips to North Korea for over 16 years now and is the only expert in the field.


See Mass Games more affordably this year

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

UPDATE 9/2/2009: According to the Koryo Tours newsletter, the mass games will be extended to the 10th October–so an extra 2 weeks for Americans to visit DPRK this year.  Also, a quick mass games tour for 850 Euros will be repeated Sept. 24-26. Finally, Koryo Tours is resuming a tour of Turkmenistan this November.  I took this trip and recommend it.  Learn more about travel to Turkmenistan here.

ORIGINAL POST: Koryo Tours sent out  a newsletter highlighting an affordable trip to see the Mass Games in Pyongyang this year:

Following on from the success of our first ever mini-break, we are pleased to be able to offer you a re-run of the most affordable trip we have ever run to North Korea. This is an amazing opportunity to experience the Arirang Mass Games as well as the highlights of the capital city of Pyongyang, see what all the fuss is about this August on a journey we guarantee you will never forget. Koryo Tours has been running trips to North Korea for over 16 years now and is the only expert in the field.

-only 850 Euros all inclusive from Beijing
-3 days in North Korea
-package includes return flights from Beijing, deluxe accommodation, transportation in North Korea, entry fees, guides services, etc
-2 opportunities to see the Arirang Mass Games, literally the most amazing spectacle you will ever witness
-full itinerary in Pyongyang city, including the Juche Tower, Korean War Museum, Kim Il Sung Square, Pyongyang Metro, and much more
-meals in local restaurants
-US citizens welcome to join this tour also
-accompanied by our expert British staff and the best Korean guides available
-the maximum experience for the minimum cost
-discounts available for students, children, and groups of 3+ booking together

This tour will take place from September 24th – 26th and the deadline for booking is Monday September 14th, please get in contact if you are interested in being part of this journey of a lifetime to the country that makes the most news but still has only a trickle of western visitors per year. See it for yourself a mere 90 minutes from Beijing by plane. A fascinating, safe and unique experience is guaranteed.

Check out Koryo Tours’ web page here.