The group of tourists, dressed in replicas of the Red Army costumes, stood in front of a red hammer-and-sickle billboard. With their right fists raised, they swore allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party.
“Be ready at any time to sacrifice my best for the party and the people and never betray the party,” they proudly recited next to a huge statue of Mao Zedong in the northern city of Yan’an, the base of the revolution until 1948. Then they shuffled them off before another group came to do the same.
Mass swearing-in ceremonies are not typical group travel activities, but this is “red tourism” in China, where thousands of people flock to places like Yan’an to learn the official version of the party’s history. At these sites, school children are told how the Red Army, which was later renamed the People’s Liberation Army, came into being. Tourists marvel at an ensemble of chairs used by Xi Jinping, China’s guide, and other guests when they visited Mao’s home. Pensioners take selfies with statues adorned with flowers of Mao and Zhu De, the commander of the Red Army.
The 100th anniversary of the founding of the party on July 1 gave Mr. Xi an opportune moment to reinforce the value of such pilgrimages. The centenary has also spurred China’s largest real estate developer to make money as they spice up typical “red tourist attractions” like boring exhibition halls and cave dwellings and make them friendlier for the Instagram and TikTok era.
This month, Dalian Wanda, a property developer, opened a Communist Party theme park in Yan’an. In it, mascots in Red Army costumes parade through the “Rote Straße”, a long shopping street where visitors can take photos and buy snacks and souvenirs.
“I think patriotic education is necessary whether you are a child or an adult,” said Gao Wenwen, a 26-year-old teacher who recently visited the park. “Many may find it boring, but when you combine patriotic upbringing with what people love to do – eat, drink and have fun – they will feel rewarded.”
The pilgrimages are in line with Mr. Xi’s call to Chinese citizens to learn from the party’s history. Even before he came to power in 2012, Mr. Xi said that any “red tourist attraction” equals a “living classroom with rich political wisdom and moral nourishment.”
Since then, Mr. Xi has used the power of propaganda to bring the party back into people’s lives. Concerned that the party might become less important to the Chinese – especially the young people – Xi said that revolutionary education should begin with babies, “so that the ‘red gene’ can penetrate their blood and hearts and the young people can lead ”. to create a correct worldview. “
With international borders still closed due to the coronavirus, Trip.com, a popular travel website in China, said this month that the number of bookings for “red tourism” attractions increased in the first half of a. more than doubled a year earlier. The company said it expects the numbers to rise before the centenary next week.
Most tours are carefully curated to show a sanitized version of the party’s history. To see: a museum in Shanghai, where the first party congress took place in 1921, and Mao’s houses in the mountains of Jinggangshan and Yan’an. Not to be seen: a reminder of the bloody party purges in Yan’an, the millions of people who starved to death during the Great Leap, or the persecutions and deaths caused by the Cultural Revolution.
“The thing about China is that there is only one origin story that is not up for debate,” said Richard McGregor, senior fellow at the Lowy Institute in Australia and an expert on Chinese politics. “History is at the heart of propaganda in China. It is important for the party that people have an emotional connection to this story, and you will only feel that on the spot. “
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June 25, 2021, 5:12 p.m. ET
It was in Yan’an that leading communist leaders were bombed by the Japanese during World War II. It also marked the near end point of the Long March when the Red Army withdrew from the nationalist forces known as the Kuomintang.
Wang Biyao, 29, who works in a consulting firm in northern Xi’an City, recently traveled to Yan’an with her parents, who are among the Party’s 92 million members, to commemorate the centenary. Ms. Wang said she was touched when she looked at photos of Red Army soldiers in the Yan’an Revolutionary Memorial Hall.
“In such difficult conditions, the faces of these revolutionary ancestors looked so positive and optimistic,” she said. “It made me believe that it is worth learning that no matter how difficult the conditions are, you can never defeat people’s fighting spirit.” Ms. Wang plans to join the party soon.
In a recent show at the Wanda theme park, tourists got close to actors recreating the hardships the communists suffered while fleeing nationalist forces. The show ended with a giant Chinese flag falling on the audience, who excitedly reached up to touch.
China’s entrepreneurs have proudly spoken of the “revolutionary culture” in Yan’an. State media reported a visit by tech titans Pony Ma of Tencent and Liu Qiangdong of JD.com in June 2018. Both men wore Red Army costumes for the occasion. Alibaba’s Jack Ma said he went to Yan’an to see the party “rebuild hope and trust”.
Not only did “red tourism” boost the party’s devotion and knowledge, but it has also been good for business. By 2023, industry revenue is expected to reach $ 153 billion, according to data consultancy Qianzhan Research Institute. This corresponds to an average annual growth rate of 14.1 percent from 2019 to 2023. Wanda said she is planning a second “red” attraction.
In Shanghai, where the first party congress was converted into a museum, a long line of people waited outside on Thursday for the opportunity to see the newly expanded premises. Tickets for the new wing of the museum, which opened on June 3, are sold out until its 100th birthday.
In Jinggangshan, a small town in the east known as the “cradle of the Chinese revolution”, tourists and school children were recently walking around in steel-gray and blue military costumes, red star caps and army green school bags. A tourist prayed in front of a shrine dedicated to Mao and his third wife, He Zizhen, in the late chairman’s old house.
Several visitors were employees of a small financial company who had come from Shanghai for a team building trip and combined a day of “red tourism” with another day of meetings.
They had just finished their lunch in a restaurant where a huge, blissful portrait of Mao looked over them. A staff member said she was very supportive of the party. “We are very blessed to have good leaders,” she said.
Your boss was less enthusiastic. When asked what he thought of Mao, he refused.