Ooh, Interesting! Fascinating Facts - The Arirang Festival in North Korea

February 10, 2017

When most people think of North Korea, they think of Kim Jong-Il or Kim Jong-Un and the way that the country is separated from the rest of the world. Despite this, it is in fact possible to visit North Korea and those who have crossed from the South to the North have reported back about the spectacular Arirang Festival, an entertainment extravaganza that we’ll cover in this blog!

The Arirang Festival, or the Arirang Mass Games is a mass gymnastics and artistic festival held in the Rungrado May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, the largest stadium in the world. The games usually begin in early August and end around the second week of September. The name of the festival refers to the title of a Korean folk story about a young couple who are torn apart by an evil landlord, which is intended to represent the separation of Korea.

 Most of the population of North Korea live below the poverty line but in spite of this, the government are hugely focused on education and ensuring that they come across as brilliantly as possible to the outside world. As such, children as young as five are selected to be a part of the Arirang Festival, with citizens selected to take part based on their skill level. For many, this will be their way of life until retirement.

Despite what many may believe, the Arirang Mass Games is not an annual event; it was not held in 2006 or 2014 and as far as can be ascertained, there was no festival last year either. Because of the veil of secrecy that hangs over the nation, nobody in the western world appears to be sure if the Games will be returning in 2017 but history suggests that it’s likely. After all, between 2007 and 2013, there was one every year.

  In terms of content, the Mass Games takes the form of a huge show. Similar to an Olympics Opening Ceremony, it shows off North Korea in the very best light possible, praising many areas of governance – the Workers Party of North Korea, the armed forces, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. If you visit North Korea when the Games are on, you are pretty much forced to attend (well, you wouldn’t say no would you?) and there are a number of videos on YouTube which serve to highlight just how spectacular the occasion is. 

Not only are there numerous dances and set-pieces to the event, but the sheer scale of the festival is a sight to behold. More than 30,000 people are involved in the opening ceremony, which features enormous human billboards (or card stunts), which reveal massive mosaics of North Korean iconography (the sun represents Kim Il-sung, the colour red represents the working class, etc.) As well as this, there is also astonishingly complex and highly choreographed group routines with tens of thousands gymnasts and dancers. Such is the scale of the event that the Guinness World Records believe it to be the largest festival of its kind in the world.

It’s difficult to truly do justice to the scale of the Arirang Festival without video, so we’ve included a piece of surreptitiously shot footage below. It certainly seems breathtaking but would you ever want to go?


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By Henry Fosdike