North Korea / Places We Go

North Korea’s Mangyongdae Children’s Palace

The exterior of North Korea’s Mangyongdae Children’s Palace:

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The Mangyongdae Children’s Palace is an unusual academy in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, where the most gifted children in the country are sent in order to develop their talents.  The intent is to showcase the children and their capabilities as evidence of the superiority of the North Korean system and state.

The children, some as young as 4 or 5 years in age, and who may not see their families again for years or even decades, are thrust into a regimented program where the sole focus of the child’s life is to perfect their talent, whether it be in ballet or painting or playing a musical instrument or any of several other skills that have been deemed desirable to promote.

The lifestyle and extraordinary talent of the children is certainly fascinating, but what is perhaps even more interesting is revealed by the simple fact that children are not as adept at concealing their feelings as adults are.  Thus, a visitor can catch a rare glimpse of the carefully presented facade of happiness and perfection in North Korea slipping as the fake smiles plastered on the faces of the children occasionally falter and the children reflect the strain of being torn from one’s family and plunged into the lonely, high-pressure environment of the Mangyongdae Children’s Palace.

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When The Velvet Rocket team visited the Mangyongdae Children’s Palace, we were met at the entrance by two attractive women dressed in traditional Korean dresses. As they led us through polished marble halls, the women explained how fortunate the children were and spoke at length about the rigorous training the selected children undergo.

The sprawling palace is divided up into different rooms specializing in a particular talent and we were presented to each room where we would watch the children practice or display their expertise to us. Everything was immaculate and perfect. A little too much so in some cases…

A painfully uncomfortable forced smile on display:

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A group of girls practicing:

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You can hear what it sounds like and see the girls practicing below:

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Another section of the palace where a group of girls were working on their ballet moves:

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A video of their practice can be seen below:

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Another room focused on painting:

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No secret that your editor is a fan of accordions… As such, I was impressed by the talent on display in this room:

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You can see what they’re capable of in the segment below from a performance the children’s palace put on for us:

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A group of teenage girls putting on a small singing performance for us:

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A video of the performance can be seen below:

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The children are the most interesting aspect of a visit, but the palace itself is close behind and even were it not for the children, it would merit a visit all on its own. Fortunately, we were able to see a fair amount of it while being herded through its rooms and halls.

The electricity was off when we visited this section, but that strange model spaceship inside a cavernous hall devoid of any other furnishings is one example of what I’m referring to… But, hey, any ideology that promotes space exploration gains some points in my book:

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A massive chandelier at the heart of the Mangyongdae Children’s Palace:

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Calligraphy is another of the high brow talents promoted within the palace:

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A boy practicing for a performance we would see later in the theater of the children’s palace that involved a jaw-dropping display of acrobatics, music, dancing and even skating:

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Of course, the talent on display within the palace is not limited to the physical, but extends to the mental arena as well:

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Despite their tremendous talents though, happiness and normal child enthusiasm seemed noticeably absent. But then again, maybe the kids were just really well behaved…

Either way, I wondered what these children thought of their existence and what their lives will be like when they are no longer considered children.

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13 thoughts on “North Korea’s Mangyongdae Children’s Palace

  1. Meanwhile millions of North Koreans starve (literally) and live under one of the most despotic and controlled environments in the world.

    There’s some classical photos (satellite photos) of the region around North Korea – including the whole Korean peninsula – that shows lit up South Korea, Japan, etcetera…. while North Korea is basically totally dark!

    • The starvation and lack of export tech for power stations (literally) is actually a product of UN western trade sanctions against North Korea. Fox news and the MSM of course blame the North Koreans. If the USA had such restrictive trade sanctions against it do you not think there would be more poverty than there already is in the supposedly richest country in the world ? Don’t forget that in the Soviet era, when North Korea could trade with the ComEcon countries, it had an economy larger than South Koreas for a while. Talking about restrictive/despotic, let’s also not forget the USA has more people in jail than China and North Korea put together and I bet the North Koreans only dream of the totalitarian style mass surveillance the NSA is capable of and takes out on US citizens as revealed by Ed Snowden…

    • The dictatorships always seem to come down eventually. What’s almost impossible is to predict when. One reason I wanted to visit North Korea when we did was because the whole system could come crashing down tomorrow. Who could have predicted, for example, that a Tunisian fruit vendor’s suicide would have set off the “Arab Spring”?

    • Yes, because of the nature of dictatorships (you can’t vote them out of office), the only way to bring about real change is through the (usually) violent overthrow of the current dictator or ruling class. Like you said, the pressure in that type of environment has no outlet and so eventually it explodes.

    • It was in one of those halls they walked us through. I don’t remember them taking us down to that level of the palace, but I happened to look over and see it when everyone else was being ushered into a room for one of the propaganda sessions. Haha, yet another example of why it was good that we were always dragging our feet and hanging around at the back.

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