North Korea has always brought me nostalgic memories. Back in the 1970s, China’s Cultural Revolution caused widespread destruction to the Chinese entertainment industry, creating a perfect opportunity for North Korean art shows and movies to enter the Chinese markets. North Korean performing arts were impressive at the time, with highly trained beautiful performers singing and dancing against the marvellous stage props. Their movies were also well received by Chinese audiences. Tears of sadness poured down my face as I watched a blind girl selling flowers to buy medicine for her ailing mother (Flower Selling Girl); Empathetic anger towards capitalist system gripped me as I witnessed a huge gap in the quality of life between the South and North Korea from the movie --The Fate of Jin Ji and Yin Ji – one of the twin girls lived in hell of the South while her sister enjoyed a life in the paradise of the North.
In the 1970s, both North Korea and China were reigned by an autocratic regime. Sharing a 1400-kilometer-long boarder along Yalu and Tumen rivers, the two countries formed strong political, economic and military ties. They were the best allies, being as close as “lips and teethes”, and their people were merely “brothers plus comrades”. As the guerilla leaders Kim IL Sung and Mao ZeDong, waged a joint battle against their common enemy – the West, citizens of the two countries had little exposure to foreign influence. They were fooled by the state propaganda machine into believing that Western Imperialism was merely paper tigers.
But the two countries have embarked on divergent paths ever since the early 1980s, when China rolled out an economic reform that led to a rapid GDP growth and an open-door policy. Economic and cultural exchanges with the outside world brought global modernization and the luxury of Western lifestyle to light. The shocking reality removed the veil of communist deception, putting the socialist ideology down the drain. As the society was increasingly gripped by growing materialist values, fortune and wealth escalated into the only symbol of success. The West, with the advanced modernization and dazzling prosperity, is cherished as the most powerful and influential in the world, while the poverty stricken North Korea, with a bleak and gloomy economic prospect, is deemed a failure and a loser.
Meanwhile, as China becomes more prosper, North Korea, still under the tightly control of an autocratic regime, increasingly sinks into poverty. In a bid to strengthen its power over an impoverished nation and turn the weakness of poverty and insecurity into strength and stability, Kim Jong Un -- Kim the third, continued to fool its citizens with dark clouds of lies and deceptive propaganda. It has resorted to nuclear missiles to hide its insecurity and boost its citizens’ blind loyalty. North Korea’s repeated nuclear tests have sent China to its opposing camp, pushing Beijing to the forefront of the world’s conflict with Pyingyang. As China reconsiders its “long formed” friendship with the nuclear-armed North, it starts to warm up with the trade-friendly and nuclear-free South.
Today, North Korean singing and dancing performances are still going viral on Chinese social media such as WeChat. But the shows and movies have lost its artistic appeal and the touch on audiences. They only serve as a reminder of the turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution, and a life in crisis under a maniac ruler and regime. Instead of garnering admirations and rounds of applauses like three decades ago, it only elicits scorns, contempt and distains. Without rose colored glasses, the Chinese can see the real North Korea hidden behind the scenes.
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