Cogs and Wheels: The material culture of revolutionary China

February 21, 2007

Kim Jong-Il: uber-Mao?

Reading this post from the Times news weblog, about the 65th birthday celebrations put on for Kim this week, reminds me of how struck I was by the aesthetic and ideological similarities between the Korean revolutionary art in the British Museum’s collection (dating from 1990s) and the propagandist art produced in China in the 1950s and early 60s.  Click on the following links to view photos I took at the BM last summer, which – I think – will demonstrate my point.

News from the Front

A Foundry

“Let’s promote a great surge in coal production”

Surely the scenes played out in Pyongyang this week and the promulgation of the cult of Kim bears more than passing resemblance to (and was presumably inspired by) the cult of Mao during the 1960s, yet even more stylised and stage-managed, if that were possible.  It’s extraordinary and, frankly, ridiculous.  And if you’re not convinced take a look at this Channel 4 news report:

These kind of large scale expressions of devotion to the ‘dear leader’ seem to belong to the past; something that I associate with the Cold War era and certainly very incongruous in the twenty-first century.  And as such somehow devoid of the sinister threat that the old May Day parades in Red Square, for example, represented.  Which says a lot about the West’s perception of who its enemies now are and how ‘we’ position ourselves in relation to the rest of the world.  Has communism been ‘defeated’?  Is that why we can now regard Kim Jong-Il – like the author of the Times article – largely as a figure to poke fun at and I’m thinking ‘Team America’ here (see below), rather than as a threat to western democracy and civilisation as we know it?  And what factors are at play in manipulating our world-view.  These are themes which fascinate me.  Realistically not for in-depth analysis in my thesis, but a project for the future perhaps?

(If you’re a bit sensitive about the f-word, or puppets – or musicals for that matter, probably best not to view this video!)


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