If you have spent any significant time researching your trip to Pyongyang, you will have undoubtedly stumbled upon images of strapping North Korean workers riding a winged horse. You might think, ‘Cool! A Korean Pegasus!’. But, you would be sadly mistaken. Read on to find out more!
The air beneath my magical wings
What you are seeing here is an altogether different mythical beast. The Chollima or ‘thousand-mile horse’ is a mythical winged horse. This beast occupies a special place in the hearts and minds of North Koreans for several reasons. In fact, the country’s national football team is said to move like the Chollima.
To discover why this winged creature is so important in contemporary North Korean discourse, one must examine the country’s brief post-war history.
The Chollima Movement was a five-year economic plan that singled an era of intense rebuilding and industrial growth following the Korea war. Kim Il Sung devised the slogan to “rush at the speed of Chollima” in December as a rallying cry for the country’s proletariat. From 1957-1961, the North Korean government’s goal was to undergo a total socialist transformation of the country’s industry and agriculture. The plan was purportedly such an enormous success that by 1960 all the aims of this five-year plan had been met.
It’s the economy…
Five-year plans are a big deal in countries with planned economies. The Soviets made a national hero of Aleksei Grigorievich Stakhanov – birthing the Stakhanovite Movement. Much the same happened in the German Democratic Republic to Adolf Hennecke, a miner who managed to fulfil his quota by 387%. East Germans would exclaim der rennt wie Hennecke! (‘he runs like Hennecke’) in response to someone’s swiftness.
Similar feats are celebrated in North Korea – they even put the Chollima on their stamps:
Five-year plans for dummies:
Unlike societies organised according free-market ideals which behave according to supply, demand and fluctuations in the market, communist economies are centrally planned by an especially appointed government department. They gather data and, based on their findings, set out five-year production targets for the entire country’s industrial and agricultural output. For example, a toothbrush factory would be given the five-year quota to make enough toothbrushes for the each member of the population in that period. Simple! Marx would be proud.
With that in mind, the Chollima Speed became something of a rallying cry for North Korea’s workers. To move with Chollima Speed symbolises the proletariat’s commitment to the state’s targets and sets a shining example for their comrades. Riding the Chollima imbues that person with superhuman and even supernatural qualities.
Nothing it seems, in North Korea, is capable of moving with anything other than Chollima Speed. It is not simply a grand way of saying ‘fast’, Chollima Speed dazzles and amazes.
In recent years, another North Korea speed has emerged to challenge Chollima as the fastest thing around. Construction of Maskyrong ski resort, the first of its kind in North Korea was completed in a breath-taking 10 months, giving rise to the new slogan “Masikyrong Speed”. Since then, this new speed has become a new source of national North Korean pride.
Can you count to Chollima?
Ambitious production targets aside, how exactly do you reach Chollima speed? According to the myth you would need to be able to travel 400km in one day. According to the Pyongyang Marathon blog’s resident mathematician (and expert on mythical flora and fauna) your marathon PB would clock in at under 90 minutes.
If you really want to raise a smile when you are running the race, be sure to shout jongmal Chollima sotoimnida (‘that really is Chollima Speed’). For added effect be sure to mention Masikyrong speed as well for added encouragement!