Published On: Mon, Jun 15th, 2015

Chinese tourists want to know ‘real truth’ about North Korea

chinese-tourists-in-baliChinese tourists visit North Korea because they are curious about their “mysterious” southern neighbour, and want to see the reality of people’s lives under dictator Kim Jong-un for themselves, a study by a University of Waikato PhD student has found.

North Korea receives around 100,000 foreign visitors a year, 80% of whom are Chinese. Fangxuan’s study looks at Chinese tourists’ perceptions of North Korea, and their reasons for wanting to visit the isolated country.

In recent years, North Korea has been actively trying to promote its highly controlled tourism industry to wealthy foreigners. Last year the government opened a new luxury ski resort in the Masik Pass, although foreigners are still heavily restricted in their movements.

Fangxuan grew up in the Chinese border town of Dandong and could see North Korea out of his bedroom window. “My grandfather fought in the Korean War in the 50s, so I’ve heard a lot of stories while growing up,” he says.

Many Chinese tourists want to know the ‘real truth’ about North Korea, or to seek out potential business opportunities, his research found. During their trip, they are keen to sample traditional Korean food; visit Mt Kumgang National Park; see historic war monuments; and go to the famous Arrirang Festival.

Overall, they perceive North Korea as an attractive tourism destination with an unspoiled natural environment, which is relatively cheaper to visit than many other countries.

Having visited the country three times, Fangxuan says: “It’s a really, really poor country and there are political slogans everywhere. Their economic situation is not good, so they want more people to come and bring foreign currency with them. But North Koreans are very proud of their country and their leaders.”

His study found that elderly travelers have a nostalgic view of life in North Korea as being similar to that of China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s. “But for younger people, there are too many limitations placed on them over there, and they don’t like it.”