Communist heritage is good business in China

Communist heritage is good business in China

But nine months later, he was back in battle against Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists. It was simple; if the People’s Liberation Army won the civil war, “we could have shelter and land. And we wouldn’t suffer starvation. And we wouldn’t be oppressed.”

Mao would have given his life for the cause. But for youthful compatriots, reliving his experience comes somewhat cheaper — a 68 yuan (£6.10) ticket to the Defence of Yan’an re-enactment, held on a site north-west of his care home at 11 am each day.
Tourists clamp their hands to their ears as explosions rend the air. The ground shakes and smoke billows from craters as soldiers dash across the field, red flags fluttering prettily in the breeze. For an extra 10 yuan, spectators can even dress up and participate.

As China celebrates the 60th anniversary of party rule on Thursday, its Communist heritage is good business — and nowhere more so than in Yan’an, the “holy land of the revolution”.

Four years ago, Beijing launched a drive to promote ‘red tourism’, believing it would reinvigorate the ‘national ethos’ of visitors and the economies of mostly poor, landlocked areas such as this city in Shaanxi; Shaoshan, Mao Zedong’s Hunan hometown; and Xibaipo in Hebei, another Communist base. As elsewhere in modern China, capitalism marches in step with the political status quo.

Mao Guangrong joined the Red Army as a destitute 15-year-old orphan reared in a brutal, hierarchical society where men could kill their wives with impunity and ruthless landlords could seize grain and leave farmers to starve.

Now he was rubbing shoulders with the future rulers of China. He recalled: “Chairman Mao was a very simple person — he didn’t wear smart clothes. He used old clothes we made ourselves and they had patches. After he finished his meals, he would walk out and talk to ordinary people... it wasn’t like now, when it’s so difficult to meet leaders.”
It is hard to imagine what its former denizens would make of Yan’an today. At Mao Zedong’s former home at Zaoyuan, you can buy postcards, tobacco tins and keyrings depicting the Great Helmsman.

Vendors sell Pepsi and Seven-Up and benches are sponsored by China Mobile: about 700 million people in China have mobiles today. Visitors pull up in gleaming cars; vehicle ownership is surging and Credit Suisse predicts it will rise fivefold in the next decade. For 15 yuan, you can be photographed as a dutiful cadre, in a blue jacket and trousers far smarter than the Chairman’s.

“It gives me a patriotic feeling,” said Ma Xiaoyu, a teenage shop assistant from a nearby city, pulling off the uniform and smoothing her fashionable haircut. “We came because we really wanted a look at how Chairman Mao and those leaders lived in those times. They built up the new China, so we need to remember them.”

Her friend Xu Ru — teetering on shiny leopard-print stilettos, clutching a souvenir Mao medallion — nodded appreciatively.

This is precisely the kind of sentiment officials like to hear. They launched the red tourism drive with a promise to inspire young people and “consolidate their faith in pursuing the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

A reported 2,000 visitors a day inspect historical artefacts at Yan’an’s new revolutionary memorial hall and pose for snapshots beneath its huge Mao statue.

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