North Korea’s Disturbing Tribute to George Orwell’s ‘1984’

Big and scary... nicknamed the Hotel of Doom, Pyongyang's Ryugyong Hotel
Pyongyang apartment building
Pyongyang apartment building

In 1948 George Orwell wrote a book called Nineteen Eighty-Four about a dystopian future perpetually consumed by war. This horrific society was built upon an all-encompassing cult of personality centered around an omnipresent figure called ‘Big Brother’, characterized by overwhelming government surveillance, enabled and sustained by mind-control of the masses under the direction of a privileged (single) party elite. Any proven or conceived independent thought by any individual or group was severely punished by the state as a ‘Thought Crime’, justified by the state as being for the greater good…

Also in 1948, purely by coincidence, perhaps, a Soviet-trained guerrilla fighter named Kim Il Sung became the founder of a new country. Backed by the USSR and China the Northern half of the Korean peninsula became the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea. Following the Korean War Kim Il Sung successfully forged the world’s most impenetrable cult of personality, which would go on to become the ever-decreasingly-likely third generation dynasty that somehow survives today.

Photo: Daily Mail
Photo: Daily Mail

Stupendously huge bronze statues of Kim Il Sung and his son and successor, Kim Jong Il, tower over the citizens of every city and town. Countless billboards and posters bear military slogans and propaganda, accompanied by the likenesses of the Great and Dear leaders. Nationwide, television sets are hardwired to receive a single signal, broadcast by the state. People who openly (or privately) criticize the state or its leadership in any way, or are even suspected of doing so, are reportedly shipped to prison camps, or ‘gulags’ for re-education, often with their entire families. All of this is eerily reminiscent of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four.

A few years ago, British journalist and writer Peter Hitchens (who incidentally won the Orwell Prize for Political Journalism in 2010) traveled to Pyongyang and wrote an article in which he noted eerie similarities between Orwell’s fictitious Ministry of Truth, and Pyongyang’s very real Ryugyong Hotel.

Construction on the mammoth Hotel commenced in 1987, which at the time would have been one of the world’s tallest buildings. Work ground to a halt two years later however, for two primary reasons. North Korea simply had no money to build a 105-storey building, and the young soldiers consigned with the task of building it had no idea how to actually do so. Described by Hitchens in 2007 as ‘The ugliest building in the universe’, the Ryugyong languished in semi-completed disrepair for the next few decades until its facade was finally completed by the German luxury hotel group, Kempinski (North Korea remains too broke to pay for… well, much at all really, and the Kempinski Group was compensated with a 75% stake in Koryolink, North Korea’s single, state-run mobile phone carrier).

The completed 1083-foot Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang, 2012

There are four Ministries in Orwell’s novel which oversee… everyone. These are the Ministries of Love, Peace, Plenty and Truth. The names of each are misnomers, as the true nature of each is the opposite of what its name suggests. The Ministry of Truth (workplace of Winston Smith, the book’s protagonist) deals in the dissemination of State propaganda.

Ok, so THIS is the freaky bit (we’re just getting to that).

George Orwell’s ‘Ministry of Truth’ from Nineteen Eighty-four was a colossal 300-metre, three-sided pyramid-shaped concrete building.

Slightly bigger (at 2.5 times the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza) the Ryugyong Hotel is a colossal 330-metre, pyramid-shaped concrete building.

The Ministry of Truth had 3000 rooms (above ground).

The Ryugyong was originally planned to have 3000 rooms (though this number has been significantly reduced due to structural constraints and the inclusion of facilities generally expected of five-star hotels).

Orwell’s ‘The Party’ maintained total control, utilising a combination of relentless misinformation and ‘re-education’, by means of unimaginable brutality and/or disappearance.

Pyongyang… well, its Pyongyang.

One could be forgiven for thinking Kim Il Sung may have interpreted Orwell’s horrific seminal work as a societal blueprint; a handbook of sorts, rather than a dire warning for humankind as Orwell intended. Is it possible that Kim actually did set out to build the Ministry of Truth (and now continues to thumb his nose at the outside world from the glass box where he lies in state as Eternal President of the crumbling, impenetrable nation he founded)? As for the isolated, corrupt and decrepit society his grandson now rules over, nobody at present can (or will) do anything about it.

Kim Il Sung’s former palace is now his mausoleum, which is also home to his embalmed son, Kim Jong Il. Maintenance of their bodies costs the impoverished nation over a million dollars annually.

Incidentally, Orwell’s Ministry of Truth had three slogans, one of which was written on each side of the gigantic pyramidal building. They were:

WAR IS PEACE

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

Big and scary... nicknamed the Hotel of Doom, Pyongyang's Ryugyong Hotel
Big and scary… nicknamed the Hotel of Doom, Pyongyang’s Ryugyong Hotel.

If you haven’t already, you can read Nineteen Eighty-four free here.

Leave a Reply

21 Comments on "North Korea’s Disturbing Tribute to George Orwell’s ‘1984’"

Leave a Reply


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Christopher
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Nice piece, that building particularly is rather freakishly similar. Peter Hitchens’ brother Christopher (now dead but a better write and journalist) also frequently used the comparison between 1984 and North Korea in his writing.

trackback

[…] navigation ← Previous North […]

trackback

[…] North have the art of intimidating the populace with fear down to a spookily 1984 like efficiency.  But surely in most other parts of the world the people would have risen up […]

trackback

[…] propaganda, mass surveillance operations, and imagined perpetual conflict conjures up images of Orwell’s 1984. Whilst this sounds rather amusing from a superficial glance, North Korea’s continued flouting of […]

Victor Tyrannus
Guest
2 years 11 months ago
That Pyramidical building is indeed the first, most obvious similarity one might see between the DPRK and Orwell’s “Oceania.” For me, I see that three of the greatest similarities between 1984 and North Korea is: 1.) The stratification of classes (‘Songbun,’ as North Korea calls it, where there is an Inner Party composed of high-ranking WPK members and military leaders, an Outer Party composed of the urban ‘Intellectual’ Class, and Proles made up of the ‘Workers’ and ‘Peasants’ Classes). 2.)The constant spouting of propaganda that can never be turned off (via the Telescreens in 1984 versus the radios in North… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
2 years 5 months ago

It was published in 1949 not 1948

Brad
Guest
Brad
2 years 4 months ago

Published in 1949, written in 1948. Correct?

John
Guest
John
2 years 1 month ago

It’s also worth pointing out that Pyongyang has an Office 101, staffed only by some the highest ranking and most trusted of cadres. Although its function is completely different to Room 101, its still an eerie coincidence.

Guest
2 years 1 month ago

Doesn’t NK use that book as its guiding light?

Guest
2 years 1 month ago

Tough to say really… the lights are out quite often due to the electricity shortages.

Guest
2 years 1 month ago

In 1984 the Ministry of Truth had no windows.

Guest
2 years 1 month ago

Good point… actually, neither did the Ryugyong for a few decades, though it did have a few thousand window-shaped holes in its facade.

Stephen James Carey
Guest
Stephen James Carey
1 year 6 months ago
This is the second of your blogs I have read, and enjoy them as they are well written and – rare for the web – the spelling is correct! I think that George Orwell was projecting the socialist paradise of the Soviet Union with his 1984. Certainly when I was on a regular run to Murmansk in the Soviet era, the generally grey decrepitude of the country was matched by East Germany and of course China under Mao. No heating in the buildings, power cuts right left and centre and people who knew tomorrow was going to be worse than… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
1 year 5 months ago

Story*

D Fiandt
Guest
D Fiandt
5 months 9 days ago

Some more interesting facts: This hotel was built on the site where Kim Il Sung invented sliced bread. From the top floor you can just see the mountain peak on which his unicorn descended and was later entombed.

akima tendo
Guest
akima tendo
4 months 15 days ago
If you don’t want George Orwell’s Hell on Earth – and rats eating live babies (and so on) – then separate the Constitutional Republican Mortal State and Liberal Democratic Mortal Society… and let the Welfare Capitalist Mortal Marketplace take care of the poor, etc. Stop Paving the “Road to Hell” with ‘Good’ Intentions – and accept “Fine Enough” under Grey Morality. In the name of Nonviolence, avoiding aggression, and Nonsinning, avoiding harm to others – devise a better Constitution for America… complete with a Declaration of the Rights of the Person and the Citizen. For if America falls to Big… Read more »
wpDiscuz