A group of tourists dressed in a replica of the Red Army stood in front of a billboard with a red hammer and sickle. Raising his right fist, he pledged his allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party.
“Be ready at all times to sacrifice everything for the party and the people, and never betray the party,” he said, standing proudly next to a giant statue of Mao Zedong in the northern city of Yan’an, whose The basis is the revolution till 1948. Then, they shuffled before the other group came to do the same.
Mass swearing-in ceremonies are not typical group travel activities, but are “red tourism” in China, where thousands of people flock to places such as Yan’an to absorb the official version of the party’s history. At these sites, school children are told how the Red Army, later renamed the People’s Liberation Army, was created. Tourists see a group of chairs used by Chinese leader Xi Jinping and other guests upon arrival at Mao’s home. Retired Mao and Red Army commander Zhu De take selfies with flower-adorned statues.
July 1, the 100th anniversary of the party’s founding, has given Mr. Xi an opportune moment to reinforce the value of such pilgrimages. The century has prompted even China’s biggest property developers to capitalize as they jazz up typically “red tourist” attractions like lush exhibition halls and cave dwellings, and befriend them for the era of Instagram and TikTok. .
Earlier this month, Dalian Wanda, a property developer, unveiled a new Communist Party theme park in Yan’an. In it, mascots dressed in Red Army costumes parade down “Red Street,” a long shopping boulevard where visitors can take photos and buy snacks and souvenirs.
“I think patriotic education is essential, whether a child or an adult,” said Gao Wenwen, a 26-year-old teacher who recently visited the park. “To many people may find it boring, but if you combine the education of patriotism with what people love to do, which is to eat, drink and have fun, they will feel rewarded.”
The pilgrimage is in line with Mr. Xi’s call for Chinese citizens to learn from the party’s history. Even before coming to power in 2012, Mr. Xi said that every “red tourist” attraction was the equivalent of a “vibrant classroom that contains rich political knowledge and moral nourishment.”
Since then, Mr. Xi has used the power of propaganda to bring the party back into the lives of the people. Beware that the party may lose its relevance to the Chinese people – especially the youth – Mr. Xi has said that revolutionary education should begin with children, “so that the ‘red gene’ can enter their blood and heart.” and guide the youth to establish a right outlook on the world to the people.”
With international borders still closed because of the coronavirus, Trip.com, a travel website popular in China, said this month that the number of bookings for “red tourism” attractions had more than doubled in the first half of the year. for the same period a year ago. The company said it expects the numbers to increase ahead of the centenary celebrations next week.
Most of the tours are carefully curated to show a clean version of the party’s history. On display: a museum in Shanghai where the First Party Congress was held in 1921 and Mao’s homes in the mountains of Jinggangshan and Yan’an. Not on display: Any reminder of the bloody party in Yan’an, the persecutions and deaths sparked by the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution, millions starved to death.
“The thing about China is just an origin story, and it’s not up for debate,” said Richard McGregor, a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute and an expert on Chinese politics. “History is at the core of propaganda in China. It is important for the party that people feel an emotional connection to that history, and you are only going to get it on the ground.”
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June 24, 2021 at 4:34 pm ET
It was in Yan’an that the top communist leaders faced bombing by the Japanese during World War II. It also marked the near-endpoint of the Long March, when the Red Army retreated from the Nationalist troops, known as the Kuomintang.
Wang Biao, 29, who works at a consulting company in the northern city of Xi’an, recently traveled to Yan’an with her parents, who are among the party’s 92 million members, to celebrate the centenary. Ms. Wang said she enjoyed seeing the photographs of Red Army soldiers at the Yan’an Revolutionary Memorial Hall.
“In such difficult circumstances, the faces of these revolutionary ancestors looked so positive and optimistic,” she said. “It made me think it’s worth learning that, no matter how difficult the circumstances, they can never beat the fighting spirit of the people.” Ms. Wang has plans to join the party soon.
At a recent show at the Wanda Theme Park, tourists approaching the actors recreate the hardships that the Communists endured while escaping from nationalist forces. The show ended with a giant Chinese flag descending on the audience, who excitedly rushed to touch it.
Chinese entrepreneurs have proudly talked about the “revolutionary culture” in Yan’an. State Media covered a June 2018 visit by tech titans Pony Ma of Tencent and Liu Qiandong of JD.com. Both men wore Red Army livery for the occasion. Alibaba’s Jack Ma has said he went to Yan’an to see how the party had “rebuilt hope and confidence.”
Besides promoting party devotion and lore, “red tourism” has also been good for business. In 2023, industry revenue is expected to reach $153 billion, according to data consultancy, Qianzhan Research Institute. This represents an average annual compound growth rate of 14.1 percent from 2019 to 2023. Wanda said it was planning a second “red” attraction.
In Shanghai, where the site of the party’s first congress has been converted into a museum, a long line of people waited outside on Thursday to view the newly expanded venue. Tickets for the new wing of the museum, which opens on June 3, are sold through the centenary.
In Jinggangshan, a small eastern town known as the “Cradle of the Chinese Revolution,” tourists and schoolchildren recently clad in steel gray-blue military costumes, red-starred hats and army-green bags. A tourist prays in front of a temple dedicated to Mao and his third wife, He Zizen, at the late chairman’s old home.
Many of the visitors were employees of a small finance company who traveled from Shanghai for a team-building trip, combining a day of “red tours” with another day of meeting.
He had just finished lunch at a restaurant, with a huge, beautiful portrait of Mao in front of him. An employee said that he was very supportive of the party. “We are so blessed to have good leaders,” she said.
Its owners were less enthusiastic. When asked what he thought of Mao, he declined to say anything.