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Mass games

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Federal Gymnastics Festival in Milwaukee, 1893
Opening Ceremony of the Second National Games of China at the Workers' Stadium in Beijing, September 1965

Mass games or mass gymnastics are a form of performing arts or gymnastics in which large numbers of performers take part in a highly regimented performance that emphasizes group dynamics rather than individual prowess.

North Korea[edit]

1998 mass games held in Kim Il-sung Stadium, Pyongyang, North Korea. The performers are honoring the image of former Supreme Leader Kim Il-sung.
Mass games festival in North Korea. The performers are honoring the image of the Eternal President, Kim Il-sung.

Mass games are now performed only in the Rungrado May Day Stadium but in the '90s there were mass games held at the Kim Il-sung Stadium and in the Pyongyang Gymnasium. Mass Games may be described as a synchronized socialist-realist spectacular. They typically feature over 100,000 participants in a 90-minute display of gymnastics, dance, acrobatics, and dramatic performance, accompanied by music and other effects, all wrapped in a highly politicized package.

According to Kim Jong-il, the philosophy behind the events was that:

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.

— Kim Jong-il, On Further Developing Mass Gymnastics: Talk to mass Gymnastics Producers. April 11th 1987[1]

Mass gymnastics exhibit the North Korean idea of "ilsim-dangyeol" (single-minded unity), as well as nationalism.[2][3]

Outside North Korea[edit]


Guyana under the leader Forbes Burnham held mass games. They were first held in February 1980 to commemorate the founding of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana.[4]


Czech Sokol festival, Prague, 1920

In Germany, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn developed a gymnastics method called Massenturnen. In 1860, in a bid to promote the sport he initiated the Massenturnen festival [de]. The festival continues to exist to the present day.

Mass games developed alongside 19th century nationalist movements, including the German unification and Czech Sokol movement.

Mass games festival in Romania celebrating pioneer day on June 18, 1977.

In Romania, the communist government organized compulsory mass games after Romanian Communist Party General Secretary Nicolae Ceauşescu and his wife had visited the People's Republic of China and saw such games there. These were the hardest working days of the year since every individual was required to participate along with his fellow workers. Being late on this day or not shouting the party leader's name loudly enough would lead to being reported by fellow workers to prosecutors.

In Bulgaria, mass games were occasionally held during the Zname na mira ("Flag of Peace") international youth festivals. However, Bulgaria did not have a tradition of mass games, and performances were rare.

In Yugoslavia, similar activities called Slet were organized, and one of these events was the Relay of Youth. In Yugoslavia, participation in Slet events was voluntary.[5]

In East Germany, eight mass games called the GDR Gymnastics and Sports Festival were held in Leipzig. Participation in mass games in East Germany was voluntary, and the segments combined both Western and Eastern elements infused with German traditions.


In Japan, schools adopted German gymnastics and mass games were started. Between 1925 and 1945, mass games were played in Meiji Jingū Kyōgi Taikai (Meiji Shrine Sports Competition).


Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was an admirer of North Korea's Mass Games.[2]

Current performances[edit]

Arirang Festival mass games display in Pyongyang

Today, mass games are annually performed in North Korea, where they take place to celebrate national holidays such as the birthdays of former rulers Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. In recent years, they have been the main attraction of the Arirang Festival in Pyongyang. The 2004 documentary film by VeryMuchSo Productions and Koryo Tours A State of Mind details the training of two young girls from Pyongyang who perform in the mass games.

Arirang mass games were first performed in 2002 in Pyongyang's May Day Stadium and have been held every year since – between August and October and on one occasion in Spring. The show was on 4 times a week. Tourists from all over the World were welcomed to the DPRK during Mass Games.

Sokol is a Czech gymnastics organization which runs mass games called Slet [cs] for Eastern European youth. The word slet means 'a gathering of falcons'.[6] The first Sokol slet was held in 1882 in Prague to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Sokol organization.[7] Since 1994 slets have been held every six years.

The opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games may also be viewed as instances of mass games.[by whom?]

See also[edit]


  • "Mass Games in North Korea". Insight. 2005-10-04. CNN. Transcript.
  1. ^ Kim Jong-il (1987). On Further Developing Mass Gymnastics: Talk to Mass Gymnastics Producers April 11, 1987 (PDF). Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House. p. 1.
  2. ^ a b Young, Benjamin R. (2020). "Cultural Diplomacy with North Korean Characteristics: Pyongyang's Exportation of the Mass Games to the Third World, 1972–1996". The International History Review. 42 (3): 543–555. doi:10.1080/07075332.2019.1609545. ISSN 0707-5332. S2CID 164424248.
  3. ^ Burnett, Lisa (2013). "Let Morning Shine over Pyongyang: The Future-Oriented Nationalism of North Korea's Arirang Mass Games". Asian Music. 44 (1): 3–32. doi:10.1353/amu.2013.0010. ISSN 1553-5630. S2CID 191491691.
  4. ^ "'Only a disciplined people can build a nation': North Korean Mass Games and Third Worldism in Guyana, 1980-1992 | the Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus". 26 January 2015.
  5. ^ Bojana Ceveljić and Ana Vujanović (5 December 2012). "Public Sphere by Performance". Katarina Popovic. p. 69. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
  6. ^ "History". SOKOL USA CHICAGO GYMNASTICS. Archived from the original on 10 September 2012. Retrieved 22 December 2008.
  7. ^ Bednar, Charles and Sivak, Paul: The Sokols and Their Endeavor. 1948.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]