The Four Horsemen of the DPRK
When Kim Jong Un and his cohort appeared on horseback in Pyongyang last month, Inspector O saw a Mongolian connection immediately. SinoNK’s Roger Cavazos, too, feels the turn toward Central Asia, but has an entirely different take, so readers need not worry about “buying the same horse twice.” — Adam Cathcart, Chief Editor
The Four Horsemen of the DPRK
by Roger Cavazos
Rodong Sinmun – an official voice of the Kim regime and DPRK, featured the above rather noble and dramatic picture of DPRK’s Four Horsemen in early November. The image is clearly rich in symbolism and was meant to achieve some intended effect, but what was the intended effect and did it accord with the words? And “why buy the same horse twice,” as Inspector O might ask, when buying brand new ones means entering a new, apocalyptic epoch in style astride a brand new pony?
An avowedly atheistic DPRK would surely not mean to invoke the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from the Bible’s New Testament. Moreover, the picture was also on the Chinese and Korean language sites meaning Rodong was trying to use an image to communicate across cultural barriers – to foreigners.
Four immediate cases come to mind:
1) It’s all about who’s in – and who’s not;
2) It’s about repaying Mongolian love for making North Korea their new “third neighbor”;
3) It’s all about boosting pedigree and transferring filial piety;
4) It’s about Koguryo and historically backpedaling.
Who’s in the picture – and who’s not?
Ok. This one may seem obvious. Kim in front. Party leadership of the military. Yada, yada, yada. Dark horse or light horse; a fast horse is a good horse. Is this a play on Deng Xiaoping’s famous “Black cat, white cat. If it catches mice, it’s a good cat” speech signifying the start of economic reforms in China? But the Chinese captured what Rodong left out – those who hold up half the sky. A youthful Kim Yeo-jong, Kim Jong-il’s reclusive sister, is seen riding by herself and also with her Aunt, Kim Kyong-hui (and Kim Jong-il’s sister). A more remote possibility is one of signaling Japan since Kim Yeo-jong is sometimes thought to be in charge of at least one Japanese abductee.
However, the DPRK has also proven to be relatively chauvinistic. Women are generally considered immune from succession issues. They are out of the succession solidification business.
North Korea: Mongolia’s newest “Third Neighbor”
Mongolia’s in a tough spot. No. Really. They are entirely land-locked and surrounded by Russia and China. Since the Soviet Union broke up, Mongolia has made a point of having good relations with its two neighbors as well as welcoming noncontiguous “third neighbors”. Mongolia has often lent “good offices” as well as sometimes being a go-between in dealing with North Korea. Most recently, the good offices were used as a neutral venue for North Korea and Japan to discuss the abduction issue and other issues. Shortly after that meeting, Mongolia and North Korea talked practical matters – mining and getting products to market via one of the wharves at Rajin port. The picture pays visual tribute to Mongolia. As an aside, “allowing” North Korean refugees to make their way via underground railroad to Mongolia provides China and North Korea a face-saving way to avoid addressing what happens to North Koreans who escape the surly bonds of North Korea.
All in the Family – Like Father, like Son
This visit was all about building legacy, burnishing image and making sure future sculptors get the statue right. Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-il had visited the location, so the son must literally walk in their footsteps to ensure the people transfer their love to the son. Going back to the original article, “If this training ground which was visited by Kim Jong Il several times is rebuilt into a modern ground for horse riding, this will mean better preservation and consolidation of the precious legacy left by him, Kim Jong Un said.” But if Kim Jong-Un is already secure in his leadership, why would he need to do this? Maybe he didn’t need to. Maybe he just wanted to go and KCNA had to find some reason to explain it. KCNA is usually either fairly clear or just incomprehensibly babble-filled. This time it was just dull and flat – which was unusual. When it’s dull and flat about the Young General, it may even be counter-revolutionary, aka, fatal.
Koguryo – Kim Jong Un protects Korea’s historical heritage
North Korea dug up a researcher whose main claim to fame now will be establishing that Koreans have always ridden horses, especially dating back to the Koguryo period. Among the evidence that Korean horseriding influenced others in the region, he cites is “‘…is well illustrated by a picture on horsemanship drawn by Japanese, which is now preserved at the Koryo Art Museum in Kyoto of Japan”.
However, he does not explain why the iron-clad horses never achieved the same national folklore status of Admiral Yi Sun-shin’s iron-clad turtle boats.
So with an ample measure of visual kitsch to accompany an article that was confusing we are left wondering, just what were they trying to achieve? Given DPRK proclivities to flatter the boss, the safe assumption is that they were trying to save their own skin and hoped the boss wouldn’t read what they were writing. This analysis has only been strengthened by other photo-torials (photo-editorials) that have recently appeared on DPRK sites. What we saw was almost certainly meant as a visual legacy builder. Not because he needs international support, but to to show international audiences that he is strong at home and therefore has a stronger hand when dealing internationally.