Arirang Mass Games

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Arirang Mass Games
아리랑 축제
North korea mass games.jpg
Arirang Festival mass games display in Pyongyang, North Korea
StatusIrregularly held, usually held every year
GenreMass gymnastics, festival
VenueRungrado May Day Stadium
Location(s)Pyongyang, North Korea
CountryNorth Korea
Years active2002—2013; 2018—2020[1]
Arirang Mass Games
아리랑 祝祭
Revised RomanizationArirang chukje
McCune–ReischauerArirang ch'ukche

The Grand Mass Gymnastics and Artistic Performance Arirang[2] (Korean아리랑 축제), also known as the Arirang Mass Games,[3] or the Arirang Festival[4] is a mass gymnastics and artistic festival held in the Rungrado May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea. The games usually take place in August or September. The Arirang Mass Games were held annually between 2002 and 2013, with the exception of 2006. After a five-year hiatus, Mass Games returned for a performance entitled 'The Glorious Country' in 2018.

According to the Russian state news agency "TASS", "Arirang is a gymnastics and artistic festival, known as mass games. 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'. The Arirang performance has been included in the Guinness Book of Records."[5]


A scene from the 2012 Arirang Festival

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.

The festival was held annually between 2002 and 2013, with the exception of 2006. In 2007, Roh Moo-hyun became the first South Korean President to attend the games during the 2007 inter-Korean summit. The mass games were not held in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.[6] In recent years, foreign tourists have been allowed to watch one of the many performances.[7]

The mass games returned after a five-year hiatus, taking place from September 9 through September 30, 2018. The new performance was called "The Glorious Country" (빛나는 조국). On September 19, South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended the Mass Games with Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and addressed the crowd of 150,000.[8]

The 2019 edition was named "People's Country" or "The Land of The People" (인민의 나라).[9]

A further mass games event has been scheduled to begin on August 15, 2020, playing weekly until the October 10. The dates of this presently unnamed performance are designed to coincide with the start of the 75th anniversary of Liberation Day and the 75th anniversary of Party Foundation Day.[10] The 2020 edition was eventually held from October 11 through October 31, and was entitled "Great Leadership" (위대한 향도). Although held during the COVID-19 pandemic, the country's borders were closed to foreigners at the time.[11][12]

There were no mass games in 2021.[13]


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.[14]

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. The colour red, particularly in flowers, stands for the working class, and the colour purple and red flowers represent Kim Il-sung (as the flower Kimilsungia is a purple orchid and the flower Kimjongilia 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.[citation needed]


Arirang Festival in 2007
Arirang Festival in 2011

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.[15] They are students of 8 schools of Pyongyang, each of them has its own colour.[citation needed] 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)


The Korean People's Army Marching Band at the festival in August 2013.

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[16] well-trained and disciplined school children, each holding up coloured 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.

World record[edit]

In August 2007, the Arirang Mass Games were recognised by Guinness World Records as the largest gymnastic display with 100,090 participants at the May Day Stadium in Pyongyang.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ abc News (ed.). "North Korea to hold 'Mass Games' after 5-year hiatus". Retrieved 29 January 2021.
  2. ^ Merkel, Udo. "'The grand mass gymnastics and artistic performance Arirang' (2002–2012): North Korea's socialist–realist response to global sports spectacles." The International Journal of the history of Sport 30.11 (2013): 1247–58.
  3. ^ CENTER, NCC. "The Arirang Mass Games of North Korea 朝鮮民主主義人民共和国のアリラン祭 Rüdiger Frank."
  4. ^ Jung, Hyang Jin. "Jucheism as an Apotheosis of the Family: The Case of the Arirang Festival." Journal of Korean Religions 4.2 (2013): 93–122.
  5. ^ "DPRK prepares for celebration of victory in the 1950–1953 war under rain". Russian News Agency "TASS". Archived from the original on 21 October 2018. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  6. ^ Leo Byrne (6 February 2014). "No Arirang Mass Games this year". NK News. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
  7. ^ "North Korea halts showcase mass games due to flood". Reuters. 27 August 2007.
  8. ^ "Moon, Kim attend North Korea's mass gymnastics performance". The Korea Times. 19 September 2018. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  9. ^ "The Mass Games are confirmed". Uri Tours. 7 July 2018.
  10. ^ Rowan (18 February 2020). "Mass Games to Return for 2020 North Korean Tours". Young Pioneer Tours. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
  11. ^ Colin Zwirko (10 October 2020). "North Korea's mass games will celebrate 'great leadership' starting on Monday".
  12. ^ "Mass Games 2020 Photos Released!". Young Pioneer Tours. October 2020.
  13. ^ Colin Zwirko (13 November 2021). "Why North Korea won't hold its 'mass games' spectacle this year". NK News.
  14. ^ "What are North Korea's Mass Games?". Visit North Korea. 22 March 2019. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  15. ^ "human billboard paintings at north korea mass games". Design Boom. 21 October 2011. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
  16. ^ Watts, Jonathan (1 October 2005). "Welcome to the strangest show on earth". The Guardian.
  17. ^ "Largest gymnastic display".

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 39°2′58.47″N 125°46′30.79″E / 39.0495750°N 125.7752194°E / 39.0495750; 125.7752194