Liberal Arts Blog — The “Arirang Mass Gymnastics Games” in North Korea

Liberal Arts Blog — Saturday is the Joy of Sports, Dance, Fitness, and All Things Physical Day

Today’s Topic: The “Arirang Mass Gymnastics Games” in North Korea

“Arirang” is the most beloved Korean song. It is on my list of the “Keys to Hearts of Seven Billion People.” I sing it whenever I meet someone from South Korea, which happens a lot — whether a student at Harvard or a tourist at the Minute Man National Park in Concord or anywhere else for that matter (most memorably at the great gothic cathedral in Milan). But I have never met anyone from North Korea, never had the opportunity to learn about the importance of the song there. This week I stumbled upon the story of the “Arirang” mass gymnastics festival in North Korea which takes place in Pyongyang and has over 100,000 participants. Today’s post consists of excerpts from a Wikipedia article. Has anyone ever been? For a little perspective, I have included a map of just five of North Korea’s many forced labor camps. The final link provides details (if you have the stomach for it). Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.


1. “The name refers to “Arirang”, a Korean folk story about a young couple who are torn apart by an evil landlord, here intended to represent the division of Korea.”

2. According to the Russian News Agency (Tass): “The extravaganza unfolds an epic story of how the Arirang nation of Korea, a country of morning calm, in the Orient put an end to the history of distress and rose as a dignified nation with the song ‘Arirang’.”

3. “The festival was held annually between 2002 and 2013, with the exception of 2006. The mass games were not held in 2014, 2015,2016, and 2017.”

NB. “In recent years, foreign tourists have been allowed to watch one of the many performance.”


1. “In 2007, Roh Moo-hyun became the first South Korean President to attend the games during the 2007 inter-Korean summit.”

2.“On September 19, 2018, South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended the Mass Games with Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and addressed the crowd of 150,000.”

3. “The opening event of the two-month festival are the mass games, which are famed for the huge mosaic pictures created by more than 30,000 well-trained and disciplined school school children, each holding up colored cards, in an event known in the West as a card stunt, accompanied by complex and highly choreographed group routines performed by tens of thousands of gymnasts and dancers.”

THE ICONOGRAPHY OF THE GAMES — the purple orchid, the red begonia, Mount Paektu

1.“The Mass Games possess an important ideological character setting out the legacy and political narratives of the North Korean state, with emphasis placed upon Workers’ Party of Korea, its armed forces, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.”

2. “These messages may not be clear to foreign spectators who are not aware of North Korean iconography: a rising sun symbolizes Kim Il-sung. When a gun is shown, it signifies the gun which Kim Il-sung gave to his son Kim Jong-il.”

3. “The color red, particularly in flowers, stands for the working class, and the color purple and red flowers represent Kim Il-sung (as the flower Kimilsungia is a purple orchid and the flower Kimiongilia is a red begonia). A snowy mountain with a lake represents Mount Paektu, a traditional symbol of Korea and where Kim Jong-il is said to have been born in a log cabin.”

FOOTNOTES — 8 training schools, students recruited for life; King Jong-il’s philosophy; map of concentration camps in North Korea (see last link for details)

1. “From as young as five years old citizens are selected based on skill level to serve for the Arirang Festival for many years. In most cases this will be the way of life for them until retirement.They are students of 8 schools of Pyongyang, each of them has its own colour. These are: 서성 Seoseong (red and yellow), 평천 Pyeongcheon (green and white), 대동강 Daedonggang (blue and yellow), 모란봉 Moranbong (red and white), 보통강 Botonggang (blue and white), 만경대 Mangyeongdae (red and white), 대성 Daeseong (blue and white), 락랑 Rakrang (red and yellow).”

2. “Developing mass gymnastics is important in training schoolchildren to be fully developed communist people. To be a fully developed communist man, one must acquire a revolutionary ideology, the knowledge of many fields, rich cultural attainments and a healthy and strong physique. These are the basic qualities required of a man of the communist type. Mass gymnastics play an important role in training schoolchildren to acquire these communist qualities. Mass gymnastics foster particularly healthy and strong physiques, a high degree of organization, discipline and collectivism in schoolchildren. The schoolchildren, conscious that a single slip in their action may spoil their mass gymnastic performance, make every effort to subordinate all their thoughts and actions to the collective.” (1987)

Arirang Mass Games — Wikipedia

Mass games — Wikipedia

A State of Mind — Wikipedia

Propaganda in North Korea — Wikipedia

Prisons in North Korea — Wikipedia

For the last four years of posts organized by theme:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive


#1 A graphic guide to justice (9 metaphors on one page).

#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, 11/17/20


Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related to sports, dance, fitness. Or the coolest thing you learned about Sports, Dance, of Fitness in your life — whether on the field, on the dance floor or in the gym, whether from a coach, a parent, a friend, or just your own experimentation.

This is your chance to make some one else’s day. Or even change their life. It’s perhaps a chance to put into words something you have never articulated before. And to cement in your own memory something cool you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart.

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