Kim Jong Un criticized mass games for being derivative

Mass games in Pyongyang
Mass games in Pyongyang. Image: Rodong Sinmun

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has severely criticized a mass domestic gymnastics show performance called “The Land of the People” for not being “innovative” and depicting an “unrealistic idolization of the Supreme Leader,” Daily NK has learned.

A high-level official in Pyongyang told Daily NK that Kim criticized the performance, called “The Land of the People,” at its premiere for being too similar to past iterations in both content and format, and that it lacked originality.

On June 4, the state-run Rodong Sinmun published an article on its first page entitled “Grand Mass Gymnastics and Artistic Performance Opens” that reported on Kim’s attendance at the performance.

The article, however, stated that “after the performance he [Kim] called [the] creators of the performance and seriously criticized them for their wrong spirit of creation and irresponsible work attitude, pointing to the contents [content] and forms [format] of the performance.”

The article did not go into further detail about Kim’s criticism of the performance.

The source reported that Kim’s criticism of the format was directed at the fact that there were too many performers. The source suggested that Kim may be sensitive to criticisms from the international community aimed at the regime’s past mobilization of some 100,000 elementary, secondary school, and college students, along with members of the Korean Socialist Women’s League for such group performances.

Kim’s criticism of the “lack of innovation” was directed at the lack of advanced technology used in the performance. “Kim Jong Un severely scolded the creators and complained about the lack of equipment used during the performance,” said the source.

“He wasn’t happy about the lack of advanced technology because he always emphasizes the development of the country’s science and technology fields and modernization.”

A separate source in Pyongyang also reported that the North Korean leader said, “It’s important for the greatness of the leader not to be idolized; real topics need to be dealt with in the performance.”

Kim’s criticism reflects previous emphasis he has placed on propaganda and agitation in a letter he sent to the Second National Party Elementary Propaganda Workers Rally held in March in Pyongyang.

In the letter, Kim stated that, “The Suryong (Supreme Leader) leads the people and is devoted to their happiness […] The truth will be hidden if the Suryong’s revolutionary activities and appearance are idolized in the name of emphasizing his greatness.”

North Korean state media chimed in saying that “the tendency to beautify reality with unrealistic and exaggerated language without consideration of the understanding or sentiments of the people must be eradicated […] Truth and conventions in all propaganda and agitation materials must be guaranteed so the people can support and appreciate them.”

In other words, Kim believes that propaganda and agitation materials that are too far removed from reality fail to inspire loyalty from the people and wants to transition to more modern ways of idolizing the leader.

Mass games in Pyongyang.
Mass games in Pyongyang. Image: Rodong Sinmun

Some North Korea observers, however, point out that Kim’s criticism of the “Land of the People” was directed at the fact that the performance was too similar to last year’s performance, “The Glorious Country.”

North Korea held the group performance in 2018, five years after the previous Arirang performance to commemorate the establishment of the North Korean state. Reports from the Rodong Sinmun, Meari, and the Chosun Sinbo reported that the performance included seven “chapters” and 17 acts, starting with the introduction, “Paektusan, Where the Sun Rises” and the finale, “We Have a Great [Communist] Party.”

A Pyongyang-based source previously claimed that The Glorious Country performance reflected on the major events in North Korea’s 70-year history from the “victory of the anti-Japanese struggle” to “land reform,” the “victory of the motherland,” the “construction of the country after the Korean War,” the “Cheollima Movement,” the “economic and defense parallel line”, and the “Three Revolutions Team Movement.”

After Kim’s criticisms, however, the latest performance was reportedly halted until further notice. The creators may be “revising” the content of the performance. The country has not yet released any information about the revised performance schedule, but Koryo Tours and other North Korea-focused travel agencies announced through Twitter that the performances would be halted from June 10.