When you travel to the Mansudae Grand Hill Monument in Pyongyang, you may note that further along from the two bronze statues stands another statue of a horse with wings on it, mounted by a man holding a torch. This is the statue of Chollima, a legendary horse in Korean and Chinese mythology known for its extreme speed, the name itself translating to “One Thousand Mile Horse“. The iconography of this horse however isn’t just found within in statue, it’s found all around the DPRK. The Pyongyang Metro has a line called “The Chollima Line”, the North Korean national football term is nicknamed the “Chollima” and so on. Ultimately, the legendary animal has come to incur a contemporary political symbolism in North Korea. Here we reveal the lasting significance of Chollima to the country’s ideology and history.
The political usage of Chollima in North Korea emerged in the 1950s. Its purpose was to drawn upon local mythology for ideological mobilization. The winged horse was both incredibly fast but also reflected superhuman qualities in that no mortal man could ride it, thus emphasizing that those who could were of a higher belonging. This would be used to reflect the political sentiment of North Korea itself for the nation prides itself on virtue, purity and moral excellence in comparison to the rest of the world, thus the people of the DPRK would be worthy to be its riders. This built into what Kim Il Sung eventually declared as the “Chollima Movement“, an ideological campaign dedicated to pursuing the country’s economic development. In a similar fashion to Mao’s Great Leap Forward, the Chollima Movement argued that rapid economic advancement could be attained by the sheer force of human will. If the economy was to get better and production was to be improved, people simply had to work harder, as the slogan was put: “‘Let us dash forward in the spirit of Chollima”
Thus in the Chollima movement, the people of the DPRK were to be like the worthy riders of the winged horse which could travel up to 1000 miles a day, achieving incredible feats through virtuous political obligation to the collective goals of the state. Remarkably, in the short term this was a success: North Korea’s economy grew rapidly throughout the 1950s and the 1960s and was at this point in history even more prosperous than South Korea. However, as the Chollima movement was not a serious economic or long term sustainable economic model, its impact would not last. Eventually the country’s growth began to slow down. Regardless, the political legacy of Chollima in contemporary DPRK culture continued to live on. In 1961, the famous Chollima Statue mentioned at the beginning of this article was constructed.
As a whole, Chollima serves as an interesting case study as to how Korean mythology has been integrated into the political agenda of a socialist state. As the article shows, by exploring the symbolism embedded with Chollima, we can obtain insights into how traditions and values form broader representations of how the DPRK perceives itself. The winged horse is not just a fancy icon, but a broader depiction of the type of people North Koreans “ought” to be officially in stark contrast to the rest of the world.