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Monday, February 28, 2005

North Korea's Tiananmen that never was

I was told rather a funny North Korea story by a friend the other day. Haven't been able to scrape anything up from Google to back it up but I'm sure there's something out there on the internet somewhere... Anyway, you'll just have to take this as a secondhand anecdote and make of it what you will.

In 1991 North Korea's all-important film industry (see previous posts), set out to make a film of South Korea's Kwangju uprising of 1980. When it came to finding a suitable stand-in for the city of Kwangju the filmmakers were helped somewhat by the Japanese colonial regime's penchant for building near-identical city halls all over the country in the German colonial style. So the streets and city hall of Sinûiju up on the border with China could double for those of Kwangju way down in South Chôlla Province. They duly rounded up volunteers from among the local army and workplaces and had them dress like the student protesters of early 80s South Korea, re-enacting scenes from the actual event: demonstrations, pitched battles and so on. It happens, however, that Sinûiju is only separated from the Chinese city of Dandong by the river Yalu and by some coincidence a BBC reporter was in the city at the time. Looking across the river he saw the mass demonstrations with their pro-democracy placards and banners and immediately reported that a democratic uprising was taking place in North Korea. The story had spread around the world before the mistake was discovered.

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