Sunday, November 20, 2011

More Communist Propaganda

My last post had a look at some modern Chinese "Communist propaganda". It seems pretty childish to western minds, but I get the feeling it works for China. What I want to talk about now, though is another, far more subtly crafted form of propaganda that I noticed in North Korea. I'm not talking about the Arirang games here, either. The Arirang games are ceratainly elaborate, and a fine piece of propaganda, but there is nothing subtle about them.

In Pyongyang, there is, amongst other sights, a memorial to the Chinese soldiers who fell during the Korean war. It's a decent size, though not huge, but it's also quite prominent on a hill. And it gets a constant stream of Chinese visitors.

Now, the Chinese themselves probably couldn't care one way or another about the memorial. Given a free itinerary, some might go to see it if they were in the area, but most would probably skip it in favour of other sights.

However, the Chinese are not given a choice in the matter. All tourist travel to North Korea must be done through tour companies, with the tourists accompanied by guides at all times. What happened to our group was this: our guides first took us to a park by a university (which was admittedly had quite an impressing building). We wandered around for a while, taking photos, and then as we headed back to the bus, the guides told us that we were going to the war memorial, and there just happened to be a girl nearby selling flowers to place at the memorial, with the price being a mere 10 yuan per posy. The way the guide spoke made it unclear if the purchasing of the flowers was optional or a requirement. In any case, we were heading for the memorial anyway, and the price was cheap, so the majority of the tour group bought flowers. We then headed to the memorial and were asked by our guides to line up and bow before the memorial before placing the flowers upon it. It was a pretty obvious set-up to all involved. The next day while driving past the memorial, I saw another group up on the hill doing the exact same thing we had done a day previously. It occurred to me that all Chinese tour groups going to Pyongyang probably went through the same ritual that we had gone through.

Taking a step back and looking at the situation from the locals' point of view, I realised how clever the set-up was. The average North Korean is aware that foreigners can't go into their country without a guide, however they are not necessarily aware that it is the guides who insist the tourists visit the memorial, rather than the tourists who want to see the memorial of their own volition. What the local North Koreans see is dozens of Chinese going to the memorial every day to pay respects to their war dead, in a show of solidarity with their North Korean brethren. It sends a simple message to people: namely that the Korean situation is still seen as important to the average Chinese today, just as it is to the average North Korean, and the North Korean government doesn't even have to pay for it! It's the Chinese tourists who ultimately foot the bill for this bit of propaganda.

Whether or not you agree with the North Korean government, you must admit that what they have there is a magnificent piece of propaganda. Rather than using their own voice to sell their message, they make the Chinese demonstrate their solidarity with North Korea.


  1. Very clever. Were you expected to bow as well, even though you were not Chinese?

  2. Of course I bowed. I put some flowers down as well.

    I always wondered if they recycled the flowers for different groups. I always imagined that they did. The scam seemed too clever to have them miss that money-saving detail.