HUNCHUN, China: Like many Chinese hotels, the Kunlun International hotel has rock bottom prices. It also boasts rooms with round beds and dance poles, and an all-female North Korean rock band who belt out “Anthem of the Worker’s Party” and other socialist classics every night.
Young and good-looking, the seven-piece group bears a striking similarity to the Moranbong band, a North Korean musical phenomenon that has been accorded huge success since its members were hand-selected by leader Kim Jong-Un.
Now, imitators from Pyongyang are performing in Chinese border towns, looking to provide genuine entertainment rather than the novelty value long offered by North Korean restaurants and bands in Asia—which provide the diplomatically isolated government with much-needed hard currency.
At the hotel in Hunchun, sandwiched in a sliver of China between Russia and North Korea, the band—who have no name of their own—wore lurid red and were bathed in purple spotlights and clouds of dry ice.
They delivered ear-splitting renditions of traditional Korean folk songs and patriotic tunes, complete with howling electric guitars, heavy drums and thumping basslines.
The Chinese tribute to the ruling organization, “Without The Communist Party, There Would Be No New China” was given the same treatment, in front of a video of a waving Chinese flag.
Three middle-aged Chinese men raised their arms, crying “Bravo!”
“North Korea is so impoverished and they really need the open up economically like China did,” said tourist Zhao Dongxia.
“But the band was pretty good. It’s the first time I’ve seen North Koreans. They didn’t look that poor.”
Symbol of Kim’s reign
Pyongyang strictly controls which citizens are allowed to leave the country, and Beijing’s policy is to repatriate illegal border crossers—returning them to an uncertain fate.
The performers spend almost all their time in the hotel, rarely venturing outside, singer Lim Tae-Jeong told AFP, picking up a Chinese edition of Vogue.
“Of course I love the Moranbong band, although we are not anywhere as good as them,” she demurred.
The Moranbong band has not had a similar global impact. But inside North Korea, streets reportedly empty during their concerts and students can sing their repertoire at the drop of a hat.