Young Pioneer Tours

How to visit the North Korean Mansudae Art Museum in Beijing

In 2009, North Korea’s Mansudae Art Studio opened the dubiously-named “Mansudae Art Museum” in Beijing’s trendy 798 Art Zone. YPT went along to check out this outpost of DPRK culture open to visit by the general public without travelling to North Korea.

Firstly, it’s a little hard to find… Google Maps may lead you off to completely the wrong part of Beijing. The correct location is towards the northwest corner of the 798 area, opposite the Pace pavilion. Outside there’s a tall equestrian statue (a scale model of a famous statue in Pyongyang – the original is 8x higher!).

The correct location can be found here.

Those expecting a taste of North Korean propaganda artwork are likely to be disappointed. On display are a couple of patriotic artworks, but nothing of the strident socialist-realist designs urging the people to greater feats of loyalty, unity and hard work which one might expect.

The majority of the art on display is similar to what one might find in any Asian art shop – fairly average-quality paintings of tigers, landscapes and such.

Souvenir sets of old-issue DPRK banknotes and coins are also on sale in the back, along with sets of postal stamps which, although bearing a face value in North Korean won, can’t actually be used. Visitors can also find such rare volumes as Kim Il-Sung’s acclaimed “Guidance on agricultural fertiliser production in Hamgyong province, 1982” and “Aphorisms of Kim Jong-Il, Volume 3”.

The Mansudae Art Museum is somewhat disingenuously named; the fact is that it’s a gallery operated on a commercial basis to sell artworks to raise money for the DPRK.

Mansudae Art Gallery

Mansudae Art Gallery
View from Mansudae Art Gallery

While not exactly being massive the art gallery element to the place is not only extremely interesting, but also extremely different to what you find with other artistic displays by the DPRK. At the Manudae Art Gallery it is not just that you see artists actually working, but also what they create.

Much of the art on display here is like nothing else you will find in North Korea, being not just abstract, but also featuring locations as diverse as Africa and Tibet (link). The gallery itself has done so well also because it is ran as a joint-venture between China and the DPRK, with the manager himself being Chinese of Korean ethnicity.

What brought us here ourselves was not just to see the art work, but also discuss as and when the DPRK will open to tourism, as well as how we might cooperate with the Mansudae Art Museum. Could it be an office? Could we do movie nights here? In our minds all are valid options as we wait for being able to Visit the DPRK again.

And the 798 Art District

Previously unknown to me this area is apparently one of the biggest draws in Beijing and welcomes up to 10 million people per year, something not so surprising when you see the place for yourself. Previously the area was full of factories, which have now been replaced by this art zone. The factories though are still very much present, which in many ways makes this the perfect representation of contemporary China.

The PRC is undoubtedly developing very fast technologically and culturally, but regardless the shadow of Communism and the journey it has been through is never that far from view. For us at least this makes the &(* district, as well as the Mansudae Art Gallery well worth a visit.

If you want to get a real taste of North Korean propaganda and art, join YPT for one of our tours to the DPRK!

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