Despatch from Yan’an | International

Red tourism is part of President Xi’s anti-poverty drive

Mao Zedong declaring a ‘New China’ from Tiananmen Square in Beijing, in October 1949.

Mao Zedong declaring a ‘New China’ from Tiananmen Square in Beijing, in October 1949.  


Places associated with the 1949 revolution, like Zunyi and Huamao, are attracting many visitors

Chinese President Xi Jinping has set lofty goals for his country, marked with clarity and embedded with detailed road maps.

Mr. Xi has declared that by next year, extreme poverty would be eliminated, which means bringing the remaining 10 million poor people in China on the road to a better future. Besides, the President has stated that all Chinese nationals must be educated, have basic medical care, safe housing and drinking water, as well as comprehensive child and elderly care. After this goal of a “moderately prosperous society” is achieved, the next step would be to turn China into the world’s most advanced socialist nation by 2050. If this dream is also accomplished, China would have reached the stage of complete national “rejuvenation”. The Chinese have tied up their ambitious plans with the Sustainable Development Goals set out by the United Nations as well as the global climate change agenda.

While all-round material growth has to be achieved, President Xi has also consistently vowed to retain his country’s ‘red’ identity — crashing hopes of those who have wishfully assumed that by shedding its red roots, China would one day breakout into a Western-style democracy.

On the trail of the Long March

Unsurprisingly, midway in his first term, President Xi reinforced his country’s red heritage by making well-publicised visits to primary bases of the revolution, which had led to the emergence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. During a 2015 landing in Zunyi — a major landmark along the Long March, in the impoverished Guizhou province in the country’s southwest, Mr. Xi pledged to channel revolutionary ardour to bring prosperity to the countryside. “A very important topic of this visit of Guizhou is to learn how an impoverished population can work to overcome poverty,” Mr. Xi observed. Promotion of ‘red tourism’ as a pillar of the anti-poverty drive was apparently already on the President’s radar.

In 2015, a massive brand new museum, close to the building where the famous Zunyi conference was held, was drawing tourists in droves. Today, legions of visitors, many following flag-bearing leaders, routinely pour over the exhibits, showcasing episodes the Zunyi conference, where, in 1935, Mao Zedong had stamped his leadership over the Communist Party of China (CPC). In doing so, he outflanked leaders of the Communist International, handpicked by Moscow, who had been sent to mentor China’s fledgling revolution. Following the conference, Mao led the Long March, an epic escape of the Red Army, which faced almost certain annihilation following a massive siege by the rival Kuomintang (KMT) led by Chiang Kai-shek.

President Xi, during his Guizhou trip, also visited the nearby Huamao village, where the Red Army soldiers had funneled during the Long March. In the last few years, the village has broken out of poverty and is a model of rural red tourism, leveraging its Long March legacy, and beautiful scenery.

“I am earning an annual income anywhere between $14,000-$25,000,” said Zhang Chengjun. A former migrant worker in the coastal province of Zhejiang, Mr. Zhang decided to come back home five years ago. His two-storey homestay unit gives stressed urban travellers the taste of languid rural life along the Long March route, at an under-$30 per night price tag. “Our strategy has been to first build the infrastructure — roads, power, water, and the Internet. Rural red tourism followed once the basics were in place,” said Shuai Bo, a party leader of the village. Mr. Shuai pointed out that a loan of over $20,000 at 0% interest rate helped Mr. Zhang set up his business. The city of Yan’an, the terminus of the Long March in the northwest Shaanxi province, is the epicentre of red tourism. After its takeover by Mao’s forces in 1935, it became the crucible and headquarters of the revolution till 1947.

It was in Yan’an that Mao, in 1942, launched his famous three years Rectification Campaign, which grounded the party that had expanded rapidly, in Marxist theory and Leninist party organisation. But even more significantly, adaptation of the Marxist principles to China’s local conditions on Mao’s watch, despite pressures from the Communist International based in Soviet Union, became the hallmark of the experiment. On any given day, crowds throng Zaoyuan, a former orchard in Yan’an, where Mao and his comrades lived in caves, hewn out of the soft mountainside.

The Yan'an Revolutionary Memorial Hall, boldly fronted by a bronze statue of Mao, is also a big draw.

Atul Aneja is The Hindu’s Beijing correspondent

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 1:04:13 AM |

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