What these pins tell us about North Korea's Olympic chances

Enamel badges, featured in Made in North Korea, reveal the relationship between state and sporting success
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A selection of North Korean sports badges, as featured in Made in North Korea
A selection of North Korean sports badges, as featured in Made in North Korea

North Korea’s decision to send athletes to the 2018 Winter Olympics, taking place in Pyeongchang, South Korea, was welcomed as a breakthrough in international relations. However, the one-party, totalitarian state has a fairly good history when it comes to the Games.

 

A selection of sporting badges from North Korea. The 'Juche' badges are in the middle column third row down from the top, and in the top row, far left
A selection of sporting badges from North Korea. The 'Juche' badges are in the middle column third row down from the top, and in the top row, far left

Sportsmen and women from North Korea have won medals in every summer’s game since 1964, and have a respectable record when it comes to the Winter sports too.

Part of the state’s success lies in the old, autocratic way it approaches sporting prowess; triumphant athletes have been given official titles and luxurious apartments in this highly militarized, impoverished country.

These badges, featured in our new book, Made in North Korea, while not denoting any official achievements, are in keeping with the kind of state-led, celebration of sporting success once common in other communist countries during the 20th century.

The set above even includes a machinery badge, featuring a picture of an electricity pylon, alongside other, more conventional images of skating, swimming and gymnastics.

 

A selection of sporting badges from North Korea. The 'always ready' badge is in the middle column second row down from the top
A selection of sporting badges from North Korea. The 'always ready' badge is in the middle column second row down from the top

Viewers might be surprised to see a softball badge in this set (above). However, as Made in North Korea explains, “Under Japanese occupation (1910–1945) baseball was played in Korea but now only softball is played in the North, and with limited popularity.”

The set also includes two badges exhalting "Juche" or the North Korean philosophy of self reliance.

This set also features propagandist badges in among the Olympic disciplines. “‘Always Ready’ (second row from top, centre) is the motto of the Schoolchildren’s Union (for children aged 9 years to 14),” explains our new book. Clearly, whether on or off the field, a win for one North Korean is a win for all.

 

Made in North Korea
Made in North Korea

For more on graphic design behind the bamboo curtain, get Made in North Korea. 


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