North Korea and the ‘Greatest Show On Earth’
The Mass Games, Pyongyang, North Korea
It is, in some ways, misleading to call them ‘The Mass Games’. The enormous, grandiose, colour-drenched, epic performance has nothing to do with competition or playfulness. It is a 90-minute orgy of coordination, talent, dancing, acrobatics, music, patriotism and propaganda.
The setting – in Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium – is impressive enough. It is generally accepted to be the largest stadium in the world, holding about 150,000 people. Although it has been used for football games, official functions and executions (yes, you read that right), its main purpose is as the home of the Mass Games.
For each performance, there are more than 100,000 people involved. About 20,000 of them are children who sit in the stands and, by holding up signs, form a colossal picture background for each scene. Meanwhile, the rest of the performers appear on the stadium’s grass and gradually tell the story of two star-crossed lovers, torn apart and trying to be reunited. You don’t need much analysis to understand this is telling the story, through metaphor, of the two Koreas.
In recent years, there have been several performances of the Mass Games show each week during August, September (and sometimes extended into October). It’s not clear now, after the death of Kim Jong Il, what to expect in the years to come. So I thought this would be a good time to share some photos from my experience at the Mass Games.
I was in North Korea for a ten day trip around the country and there’s no doubt this was one of the highlights. I don’t think you need any commentary. These photos speak for themselves. Enjoy.