Red Tourism And CCP Centennial: What They Show And What We See
Updated: Feb 2
The Commentary argues that although Chinese Red Tourism has resulted in significant progress for the Chinese tourism industry and has been a successful campaign in historical education by the Chinese Communist Party, it has fallen short of portraying Chinese history in its complete sense and glory.
As part of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s centennial celebrations, commemorative tourist infrastructure has been set up across the various provinces that have been historically significant for the history of the party and the country. Historically significant sites include Jinggangshan, the cradle of China’s communist revolution, and Yan’an, the city that served as CCP headquarters till 1947. Other important sites include Zunyi, which is an important landmark for the watershed “Long-March” of 1934, and Shaoshan, which is the birthplace of Mao Zedong. These feature the glorious history of China under the party’s “Red” leadership. Forming part of China’s “Red Tourism” initiative (which was launched in 2004), the architecture displays figures of Red Army soldiers in action, photos, and statues of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Other visual representations of the successes of the Cultural Revolution or the Chinese communist endeavours, especially against the agendas of Western domination and the nationalist Kuomintang party. Not only the project has become the centre of the party’s 100th-anniversary celebrations in 2021, but it also demonstrated to us the great significance of narrativizing select history to legitimize communist party rule in China.
The setup has attracted a huge number of tourists, many of whom have considered this to be part of their learning and growth as Chinese citizens. It also has led to field days for the tourism industry, and for domestic tour operators, who faced drastic setbacks due to COVID-19-induced lockdowns. Revenue generated has helped both, the government and the private tourism stakeholders, and the youth have been the largest contributors to the same - especially those falling in the age category of 21-30. Revolutionary sites number in thousands and are located deep within villages to enable their economic and socio-cultural transformation through tourist and educational campaigns.
In this way, the Red Tourism-Centenary fervour provides an impetus to both the rural community economy through the revival of tourism and the local CCP prestige.
The blueprint for the display has been designed methodically. School curriculums now include essential trips for students to tourist sites like Yan’an to instill in them a sense of national pride and historic glory. Across interviews and reports, youngsters and adults alike argue how difficult it was for the party and its founding members to fight against hostility from many sides, and how they develop a sense of veneration for the efforts of Mao. Inspiration to love their country as much as the revolutionary leaders themselves.
But a great deal of violence and bloodshed has been left out of the display. In the words of the New York Times (which, mind you, is an American platform), it is a “sanitized version” of Chinese history put on display to sway the youth of the country, that feels especially estranged and uneasy in a CCP-led China today. Many leaders and business magnates including Jack Ma (formerly of Alibaba) have visited the tourist sites, claiming to have felt morally refreshed and intellectually stimulated. But the fact that the displays feature “half-knowledge” cannot be denied, especially in the context of the atrocities committed by the People’s Liberation Army of China (initially founded as the Red Army) during the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests (an event that also commemorated 32 years on 4 June 2021), as well as the millions-high death toll during the Cultural Revolution led by the CCP icon, Mao. While the former saw a brutal crackdown of the military on a largely peaceful movement, the latter saw a perpetuation of “Stalinist Techniques” of violence (that is, use of both physical and mental force).
One cannot overlook the feeling that the project has indoctrination at its heart, seeing as the Chinese state has always invested a lot in agitprop. At a party conference in October 2017, Jinping himself reiterated “Party, government, military, civilian, and academic; east, west, south, north, and centre, the Party leads everything.” Red tourism and its glorified histories fit perfectly in the party’s quest to dominate everything. Moreover, it has been successful in gathering a massive young tourist base, essentially influencing the future leaders of China to be more like the Communist leaders of the bygone era. But the narratives these sites present show the CCP to be the lifeblood of China and its past when that is not the case. While the party has been around for a long time, the preceding Kuomintang party politics under the revolutionary leadership of Chiang-Kai Shek and Sun-Yat Sen, and the monarchical history of China, are prolonged and diverse in themselves. For example, much before the CCP took power over China, the nation underwent various revolutionary events - from the Boxer Rebellion to the 1911 Xinhai revolution. It resulted in the downfall of the Ming dynasty and the formation of a Chinese “Republic” under a new Nationalist Party formed by Sun-Yat Sen (later renamed ‘Guomindang’). Then there was the intellectual, anti-imperialist movement of May 4, 1919, and the consequent war against warlordism in China, which was carried out together by the Nationalist and Communist Parties. Once the agenda of defeating warlord governments and unifying China was fulfilled around 1927, a long civil war ensued between the two political wings, resulting in the victory of the CCP and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Conveniently, the historical accounts before this moment are left incomplete across Red tourist sites, glorifying only the feats and struggles of the Communist Party. Most importantly, what is also left out is the painful violence and mass casualty of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, which, by and large, resulted not from the protests of the students and the workers, but from the brutal methods of suppressing student-worker dissent, and the infighting between the CCP functionaries and their superiors.
An undoubtedly superior initiative to further Chinese tourism in a post-Pandemic world and to picture Communist China’s history, the Red Tourism architecture is set to receive a major boost through the 14th Five-year plan of the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism (2021-25). It’s true that education in national history forms the basis of how its citizens perceive the present and the future of that country, and, in the case of China, the revolutionary “red” sites further pedestalize the Jinping-led CCP. In more ways than one, the party and its leadership embody the spirit and the ideals of 1960s China, with “Chairman” Mao as the guiding father of contemporary party ideology, as has often been regarded by President Xi Jinping himself. However, it must be remembered that we may call it brainwashing because it’s China, but the truth is that history is always a product of its times, distorted either by the ignorant mind or by the historian himself.
Cover image: Source
About the author: Anushka Saxena is a first-year student of M.A Diplomacy, Law and Business at the Jindal School of International Affairs.