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Mass Games (1:44) Excerpt from film "A State of Mind" September 2003
Thousands of North Korean schoolchildren participate in the Mass Games, a colossal spectacle of rhythmic gymnastics in celebration of the North Korean state.

Country: North Korea
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    Guiding Questions
    1. How do events like the Mass Games provide a means of social control? An opportunity to express national pride? A feeling of belonging?

    2. Can you name other societies that have used similar organizations to these ends?

    Background Essay
    Tens of thousands of North Koreans participate in the Mass Games, a colossal spectacle of rhythmic gymnastics in celebration of the North Korean state. The performance embodies the ideology of the state and the subordination of individual thoughts and actions to the needs of the collective. Pak Hyon Sun shares her personal experience participating in the games.

    In 1945, following World War II, a line was drawn on the 39th parallel dividing Korea into two states: North Korea and South Korea. North Korea was headed by Kim Il Sung and the communist Korean Workers' Party. The structure of North Korean government has persisted unchanged since the death of Kim Il Sung in 1994 and the transference of power to his son, Kim Jong Il. The North Korean government is often referred to as a totalitarian dictatorship due to its single-party rule and the control exercised by the state over many aspects of life in the country.

    The Korean War, that lasted from 1950-1953, was one of several attempts during the last half century to reunify Korea under either Southern or Northern leadership. During this conflict, which in North Korea is referred to as the "Fatherland Liberation War," North Korea was unsuccessful in its bid to take over the southern part of the peninsula by force. The war ended up involving many different nations, and killed an estimated 4 million Koreans, nearly 1 million Chinese, 33,700 U.S. troops, and few thousand international UN troops.

    In recent decades, North Korea has suffered great economic hardship. The country's industry has fallen into ruin following the withering of trade arrangements with the USSR and China. Agricultural prospects are poor and the country relies heavily on foreign food aid. Several recent periods of severe deprivation and famine in the country have left the North Korean people in a struggle for daily survival. In 1995, horrible floods created conditions so bad that it is estimated that close to 3 million people died. In addition, international concern about North Korea's military efforts deepened considerably in the first decade of the 21st century following its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its announcement in 2006 of its first successful nuclear test.

    While North Korea outwardly struggles with isolation, famine, and economic collapse, the state expends considerable energy to produce ideological unity and pride among its population. The film A STATE OF MIND follows two young North Korean gymnasts as they prepare for the Mass Games, a massive state-sponsored event glorifying North Korea's leaders. This display of pageantry and governmental control involves tens of thousands of participants manipulating large colored cards and performing perfectly synchronized gymnastics routines. It is considered a great honor to participate in the Mass Games, and requires year-round practice.

    Hyon Sun is part of an elite group of schoolgirls who specialise in mass gymnastic performances.

    The Mass Games celebrate North Korea's achievements and milestones, such as the leaders' birthdays or important anniversaries.

    Up to 80,000 gymnasts perform in the floor display.

    20,000 schoolchildren hold up books of placards creating huge murals.

    The performance embodies the ideology of the state -- the subordination of individual thoughts and actions to the needs of the collective.

    Gymnasts practice all year round for a minimum of two hours a day. It is estimated that around one hundred million hours are spent preparing a mass games.

    The first time I was in mass gymnastics was in 2001 for the 55th anniversary of the founding of the party. It was the first time I experienced the feeling of participating in an event in the presence of the general.

    The second event I performed in was for the general's 60th birthday in 2002. The third time was the Arirang Festival. It was the biggest mass gymnastics event I participated in and the biggest one we've ever done.

    I've never been happier than those three times performing in the presence of the General.

    Related Links
    A State of Mind on PBS.org

    North Korea's Official Site

    National Geographic: Dangerous Divide

    Korean Central News Agency

    South Korean Ministry of Unification

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