WUHU, China — Sixty years after founding the People’s Republic of China, the communist regime is keeping the revolutionary fires burning while promoting its version of history through “red tourism” destinations such as that in the eastern city of Wuhu.
Standing in three straight rows, dozens of Chinese university students bowed three times before a large statue of a communist revolutionary hero at a museum in Wuhu.
“We came here to gain courage, not only to help us study… but also to boost our morale,” said 20-year-old Shi Yingrui.
“Without these revolutionaries, I do not believe that life would have been so good.”
Since President Hu Jintao took the helm in 2002, the leadership in Beijing has emphasised the Communist Party’s revolutionary history in an effort to reaffirm its legitimacy.
Expanding “red tourism” has been a key part of this strategy.
“The People’s Republic of China was created 60 years ago, we must remember this. We cannot forget the heroes and their spirit which enabled us to continue the task and grow,” said Wang Shande, director of the museum in Wuhu.
At this museum in a hilltop park, visitors learn about the exploits of Wang Jiaxiang, an early revolutionary and ally of Mao Zedong who put forward the concept of “Maoism”.
After the communists’ victory over the Nationalists in 1949, Wang also became the PRC’s first ambassador to the Soviet Union.
The museum, in Wang’s old school, features photographs, personal effects and films about his life.
The 60 students, sent by their university, go from one museum piece to the next, attentively following the explanations of the guides.
However the exhibition pays little attention to the Cultural Revolution, a tragic period for millions of Chinese, including Wang.
He was the victim of one of the many political purges that characterised that tumultuous decade from 1966, and he died in 1974 shunned by the party to which he had devoted his life.
The museum says Wang was politically “rehabilitated” in the early 1980s, but gives no other details.
Such an omission reflects the Communist Party’s determination to impose its own version of events on history, according to Jean-Philippe Beja, a visiting scholar at the French Centre of Studies on Modern and Contemporary China in Hong Kong.
“The regime seeks to prevent the emergence of alternate views, because if competing views start appearing, you get new interpretations of the 60 years of the regime and that, of course, could be the basis of another ideology,” Beja said.
China’s state-run media has trumpeted “red tourism” as a huge success, attracting hundreds of millions of visitors keen to learn more about their rulers’ rise to power.
The locations are likely to attract even more official attention come October 1, when China will mark 60 years of the communist republic.
Among the major spots on the “red tourist” trail are Shaoshan, Mao’s home village in central Hunan province, and Yan’an, a mountain base for the communists hailed as the birthplace of their revolution.
But Beja said there were no tourists when he went to Yan’an three years ago, and he believed most of those who visited these “red tourism” spots were not independent travellers, rather than groups bussed in by their local party cell or work unit.
“It is organised by schools and work groups, it’s something which does not work at all,” he said.
“But it demonstrates well the way in which the (communist) party behaves by trying to use new social activities to reaffirm traditional values,” he said.
At the Wang Jiaxiang Museum, Beja’s assessment appeared to hold true with Shi and his fellow students, the only visitors on the day AFP visited.
But museum director Wang insisted the exhibition was hugely popular, saying it had attracted 320,000 visitors since it was renovated in 2006.