China’s “red tourism” commemorates 90th anniversary of Communism

red tourismCome up with a wacky tourism concept, and they will come. For the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party’s founding on July first, enterprising operators throughout China are creating a new crop of cultural and commemorative “red” tours.

On the idyllic island province of Hainan, visitors young and old alike travel to rural Qionghai, to visit Pan Xianying. At approximately 95 (Hainan isn’t so great at archiving old birth records), Pan is one of three remaining members of a famed, all-female Chinese Communist army unit. As such, she’s a living attraction on a “red” tour of Hainan, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Pan was about 15 when she joined the unit in 1931; the battalion was formed by a Hainanese Communist to promote gender equality. The unit was disbanded after several years, when Nationalist forces drove local Communists underground. In 1949, the women gained national attention after Chairman Mao overtook China. The battalion is now the subject of several films and a song.

Enterprising authorities in Qionhai are now offering tours of the unit’s former training ground and meeting spots, and offering hikes, during which one can experience the thrill of following a difficult route once used by Red Army soldiers. Adding a further note of authenticity: guides wear era-appropriate green hats adorned with red stars (also available as souvenirs), and hikers willing to cough up an extra 100 yuan can even slog in full soldier regalia. The hikes are said to foster “army-style camaraderie.” Does that mean dysentery is included?

Not surprisingly, there has been official encouragement behind revolutionary tours, although red tourism isn’t new. Mao’s home city of Shaoshan in Hunan province, as well as the Communist base of Yan’an in Shaanxi province attract tourists, and authorities in places like Chongqing encourage the learning of “red songs” printed in local newspapers or on websites.

Chen Doushu, head of the agency organizing the Hainan tours, says red tourism reflects a desire by many to look back fondly on the past, after more than 30 years of focus on the future during China’s rapid recent modernization. “Chinese people cannot forget their history, and the best way to do that is to go and remember it, to study it. That’s where red tourism comes from.”

Apparently, absence does make the heart grow fonder.

[Photo credit: Flickr user xiaming]