Red Culture in China
Photographer: Roman Pilipey
Every year, millions of Chinese tourists flock to museums and sites that pay tribute to the country’s Communist Party (CCP) and its ‘glorious’ revolutionary past. Dressing up in Red Army uniforms - topped with caps bearing the communist hammer and sickle - and singing revolutionary songs, these patriotic tourists spend millions of yuan on the political pilgrimages, which are central to what is known in China as ‘Red Tourism’. The tours take visitors to historically significant sites for the CCP, battlefields, and residences of important former communist leaders. This year, with the Party marking its 100th anniversary, the stream of visitors is expected to reach its zenith.
One of the best-known destinations is Jinggangshan, a city in Jiangxi province that is famed as a center of ‘Red Culture’ for its many important revolutionary sites, including where Chairman Mao Zedong and other Communist Party leaders created the first rural base for the revolution in 1927.
After enjoying a meal in aptly-decorated revolutionary restaurants, the tour groups, mostly made up of elderly retirees, are brought to the city’s Revolution Museum and its dozens of shops selling a range of Communist souvenirs, from tiny pins bearing Mao’s portrait, to the huge statues of him that can cost up to 300,000 yuan (38,460 euros). Souvenirs and paintings of the current president Xi Jinping, who has emerged as the country’s most powerful and influential leader since Mao, are also ubiquitous.
Among other places, one of the must-see stops on ‘red culture’ tours is in Maoping village, home to a former residence of Mao Zedong, as well as the city of Zunyi, with its Red Army street and Meeting Memorial Museum.
According to local authorities, the city has generated 565 million yuan (72.3 million euros) from this patriotic tourism so far this year thanks to some 791,700 visitors who made the journey between January and March, an increase of 6.52 percent compared to last year, which was marked by the Covid-19 pandemic and a general freeze on domestic and international travel.
As well as tourists, workers from state companies and CCP members also come to take classes and ‘reaffirm their faith’ in Marxist ideals at party-run centers in Jinggangshan. Here, students can visit ‘sacred’ Red Army historical sites, such as Huangyangjie. The course teachers insist that students can debate the history of the Party but stop short of saying whether discussions are allowed on some of the CCP’s more contentious periods, such as the Great Leap Forward between 1958 and 1962 that left anywhere between 15 and 55 million people dead due to famine, or the purges amid the chaos and violence of the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976. Ahead of the CCP’s big day on 01 July Chinese authorities have opened a hotline to receive tips of online comments that disparage the Party and its history - all a part of an ongoing campaign against those who disagree with the Party line or "who deny the excellence of advanced socialist culture".