“When we wear this uniform, we feel the spirit of the Red Army, we are not afraid of difficulties,” proclaims Guo Guanghua, 71. Like the rest of the music band he leads, made up entirely of retirees between 56 and 81 years old, he proudly wears the blue uniform, with a red star on the cap, of the forces founded by Mao Zedong and his companions and that would end defeating the nationalists of Chiang Kai-shek in 1949. Lined up in formation, these fifty pensioners bravely perform some of the most popular musical pieces of the Maoist era on the most touristy street in Zunyi, a town in southern Zunyi famous for his role in the history of the Communist Party of China (CCP).
“Our songs love people. Many young people stop to listen to us, and join us as a chorus. The songs move them, ”says Guo, her hair done with revolutionary braids. His next piece is East is Red, the most emblematic song of that era. A murmur of recognition arises from the spectators; some are encouraged to hum it, with a gesture of devotion.
This year, the Party, China’s most powerful institution, above the state, celebrates its first centenary. With the covid pandemic almost over within its borders, and in an era of increased national assertiveness and confrontation with the United States, Chinese President Xi Jinping has launched a campaign for Chinese citizens to study the history of the training and visit the places most related to it.
Whether out of genuine interest, political expediency or lack of travel alternatives when other countries are still trying to defeat the coronavirus, their compatriots have responded fervently to the call: only during the holiday week of May, reservations related to the call red tourism They increased 375% compared to the same period of 2019, according to the Ctrip portal. This virtual travel agency has designed a hundred routes that it expects to hire close to 50 million people.
Among the pilgrimage sites is Zunyi, a town of six million people in the mountains of Guizhou province. At a conference held here in 1935, during the Long March of Communist troops, Mao Zedong finished consolidating his Party leadership over other rival leaders who disputed his strategy and decisively separated the CCP from Moscow’s directives, according to the version they tell. the official historians.
In the Museum of the Revolution, a group of retirees, also dressed in the uniform of the Red Army as the musical band of Mrs. Guo, attend the representation, in hologram, of that meeting. A group of cyclists contemplate relics of that time. Zhang, a 55-year-old tourist who has come from Jilin, in northeast China, says her passion for revolutionary history has brought her here. “This is a very special year, and I want to take the opportunity to see and learn everything I can,” he says.
Kong Xia, whose grandfather Kong Xianquan fought in the Red Army, tells visitors stories of the daily hardships of soldiers during the Long March (1934-1935), the difficult route taken by Communist troops to flee from Japanese attacks and from the nationalists before finding refuge in Yanan, in the north of the country. “I think this kind of suffering inspires us to appreciate more our quiet and prosperous lives today, and to try to do our job well,” says the woman.
This narrative of sacrifice and resistance in the face of adversity forms the nucleus of what, almost 1,000 kilometers to the east, they define as the “spirit of Jingganshan”, the remote town of 200,000 inhabitants that, hidden between mountains, served as the first enclave for the communist soldiers and turned the CCP into a peasant-based party, after its origins in the metropolis of Shanghai. “People come from all over China to see Jingganshan as a sacred place in their lives, a spiritual home,” said Zhang Yanhua, the Party’s propaganda officer for this “cradle of revolution,” during a press visit in April. by the Government. “If someone has problems in their life, when they come here they can see the places where so many young people sacrificed their lives, and they will feel that it is easy to overcome difficulties.”
The red tourism moves huge amounts of money. It is evident in the prosperity of their destinations, in the groups that crowd the dozens of stores that sell, in the most touristy streets, all kinds of revolutionary souvenirs. From reproductions of Mao’s favorite lighters or espadrilles similar to those of the soldiers in the Long March, to key rings with soldiers’ effigies, to large golden statues of the Great Helmsman or portraits of Xi Jinping.
Jingganshan alone has already generated more than 75 million euros so far this year thanks to revolutionary tourism. Between January and March, its number of visitors grew by 6.52% compared to 2019, reaching 791,700 travelers. The income extends to other towns in the suburbs, such as Mayun, in whose surroundings the Red Army trained in guerrilla warfare. This small village promotes family dwellings with the promise of reliving the experiences of the Long March.
But, in addition, the visits to key places and the review of the history of the CCP reaffirm a message that Xi has wanted to reinforce since the beginning of his term, nine years ago. That “Government, army, society and schools, to the north, south, east and west, the Party leads them all”, as it has repeated on several occasions. That only this formation can govern the country successfully and guarantee stability. That if China already treats the other great power, the United States, face to face and aspires to overcome it, it is thanks to the CCP.
“No matter how far we have come, we will never forget the past, and we will never forget why we started on the road,” Xi said last February. According to the president, by studying the history of the Party, its members can draw lessons from the past, increase their confidence that the path is the right one, and move on.
But the history to be studied must be the official one. To dwell too much on the tragedies of the Cultural Revolution or the Great Leap Forward may imply the accusation of practicing “historical nihilism.” Since February, Chinese censors have removed more than two million “harmful” comments on the internet that contradicted the version promoted by the leaders.
Following her visit to the Jingganshan Museum of the Revolution, these are the conclusions that Li Gao, a 65-year-old woman, seems to have drawn, explains that she has come with her family driving from Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, 2,800 kilometers away. to travel by car the complete route of the Long March. On an esplanade where groups with scarves and red flags queue to enter the compound, Li sums up his experience in two sentences: “I was moved by the poverty with which the comrades lived at that time. Life in China has really improved a lot, ”he says on leaving.