China's "red tourism" puts the party back into communism

Thu Jun 30, 2011 3:52am EDT
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By Maxim Duncan

YAN'AN, China (Reuters Life!) - The smell of gunpowder fills the air as a band of young communists in ragged uniforms darts between sandbags. Deafening explosions ring out in the mid-day heat.

China's stern Communist leaders don't usually take a light-hearted approach to armed insurrections.

But they make an exception for the twice daily re-enactment of a famous battle performed for tourists in a dusty northwestern city to boost fealty to the Party. Nine decades after the founding of the Communist Party, to be celebrated in a frenzy of propaganda throughout the county on Friday, China's booming "red tourism" industry is transforming once-forgotten backwaters.

Tour buses today clog the streets of Yan'an, a gritty city of two million in northwestern Shaanxi province, which Mao Zedong and the Party made their base for 13 years before conquering the rest of China in 1949.

For 150 yuan ($23) a head, tourists can watch "The Defense of Yan'an" unfold, the retelling for a modern audience of a crucial 1947 battle to protect the Communist stronghold from the Nationalists, who eventually fled in exile to Taiwan.

For an additional 15 yuan, lucky early comers can dress as soldiers and take part themselves, playing out a 30-minute scenario complete with imitation rifles, a tank that bursts into flames and a model bomber that wobbles unsteadily down a wire.

Naturally, the heroic Red Army soldiers end up storming the enemy lines and the surrendering Nationalists are marched out in front of a grandstand crammed with hundreds of cheering viewers.

"Because we were born in the 1980s, we are far removed from this period of history," said Tang Qunshan, a 27-year-old from China's wealthy east coast, playing the part of a defeated Nationalist infantryman.   Continued...

<p>A giant Communist emblem is seen on display as a woman holding an umbrella poses for a photograph at Beijing's Tiananmen Square June 30, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer</p>