I saw the red flags of North Korea blazing the stands as Brazil played the Communist nation on the football pitch below. I don’t think I have ever seen this flag before, let alone watching it being displayed prominently on international television. Has North Korea began to open up to the world? Has their first [...]
I saw the red flags of North Korea blazing the stands as Brazil played the Communist nation on the football pitch below. I don’t think I have ever seen this flag before, let alone watching it being displayed prominently on international television. Has North Korea began to open up to the world? Has their first entry into the World Cup soccer tournament in 44 years overturned a new leaf? Is the dictatorship opening up and allowing its citizens to travel internationally?
I had to wonder who these people were, how did so many people get permission to leave North Korea — a country with stonewall borders — to come to South Africa to cheer for their team? How would they get the visas to enter South Africa anyway even if they did get permission to leave their country?
They didn’t. The 2010 World Cup football fans cheering for North Korea are Chinese. They are actors given free tickets to travel to South Africa and hold the red flags of North Korea — they are not Korean, they are a show. Rather than allowing their own citizens out of the country to travel to South Africa and root for their home team, the Korean government granted 1,000 tickets to Chinese people. The recipients of the North Korea booted free ride to the World Cup were mostly well known Chinese pop stars and actors, though some regular soccer fans won the tickets in some sort of lottery. In South Africa, these “fans” operate under the guise of being from North Korea perhaps to make it seem as if the country is not a brick wall nation, to make it seem as if North Koreans are permitted to travel — that they are not trapped within their country.
Otherwise the North Korean cheering section would be as dark and quiet as the country itself.
The position of North Korea in the world is no better amplified than by the bridge that spans between Dandong in northern China and the North Korean town of Sinuiju. At night, the half of the bridge coming from the brightly lit Chinese side shines with lights and fluorescents, but at the exact middle of the bridge it goes completely dark and continues on to a country that is equally without light.
This is a Chinese stunt, a poetic way of saying “We have and they don’t, we are great and they are not.” The Chinese like these stunts, they seem to like feeling collectively powerful. China’s Xinhua news agency is also loving the fact that North Korean’s soccer fans are really from their country. North Korea made it to the World Cup this year, and China did not — they need to be knocked down a peg or two: “Your team made it but your fans can’t nah, nah, na, nah, nah. We are Chinese and even though our soccer team sucks we can travel outside our country nah, nah, na, nah, nah”
So China gladly took the 1,000 free tickets and the accompanying political boost to benevolently lend North Korea its own hired cheering squad to stand in as surrogate fans for their soccer team. The disguise may have worked if Xinhua did not openly propagate the arrangement, if the simple question was not so easy to ask:
How did these people get permission to leave North Korea?
If something in the world requires a large group of people to coordinate their efforts, there are no better people for the job than the Chinese. The society possess the higher attributes of an ant colony.
Though I must imagine the media feast that would have ensued if a band of North Koreans really were allowed to travel to the World Cup. The fans probably would have been devoured by reporters looking for a story, they probably would have been prompted to speak badly about their country, misquoted, creatively sound byted to further reaffirm the world wide notion that North Korea is a bad, bad place run by a bad, bad dictatorship.
Maybe it is.
But the job of the media is to reaffirm the status quo of its audience. We think that North Korea is evil, this is what we are shown, this is what we demand to see — any information to the contrary is blasphemy — these Chinese “fans” holding the red flags of one of the world’s last truly closed dictatorships are reaffirming my media fed perception of North Korea:
The people are so trapped that they are not even permitted to cheer for their own soccer team.
Perhaps this is correct.
Perhaps North Korea would rather be the ass of its own joke than have a heavily biased media inquiry into the status of its citizenry.
I have never been to North Korea, I must strongly remind myself that I know nothing about the country.
There is much debate about whether these North Korean soccer “fans” really are Chinese or if they are, as the North Korean officials say, genuine. There is no hard information in the news articles that I have read — all cite Xinhua, the Chinese news agency with vested interest. The Western news media whines, “How can we tell the difference between North Koreans and Chinese people?”
The solution seems simple, don’t ask officials, don’t look for high end “sources,” just pay a Chinese guy and a South Korean 10 bucks each to go find out:
With a single glance each could confirm without doubt the nationality of the fans. East Asians, like everybody else in the world, know who they are not.
Are the North Korean World Cup soccer fans really Chinese?