Mao's Disneyland: 'Red Tourism' Is Golden for Chinese Economy
By Sandra Schulz
China's leaders have responded to waning interest in ideology by setting up a vast "red tourism" industry. While celebrating the great members and moments of the Communist Party of China, it also helps the economy.
Wu Yongtang's great advantage is having a mole on his chin almost exactly where Mao Zedong did. The 56-year-old actor pulls at the bandage covering the spot, then carefully peels it off and touches the scab with his fingertip. He saw a doctor to have the size of the mole reduced, and now it is exactly as large Mao's was. Wu is pleased. He looks like Mao, he speaks like Mao and his mole might be his ticket to landing movie roles as Mao. There's demand for Mao look-alikes in China -- and especially now. "People have deep feelings for the chairman," Wu says.
Wu spent a full theater season playing Mao at the open-air theater in Yanan, a city in central China described locally as the "Holy Land of the Chinese Revolution." Yanan is where the Long March ended in 1935, the military retreat that marked Mao's ascent to power, and where the Communist Party of China established its headquarters for the province of Shaanxi. Every morning, visitors can watch a performance here called "The Defense of Yanan," complete with fake tanks and real horses. A model airplane even drops from the sky at the end of the show, a moment captured by all the mobile-phone cameras of audience.
The Chinese government has dubbed this "red tourism," and it is meant as a response to its people's identity crisis, to a certain sense of emptiness and alienation. What exactly should people in China believe in these days? Who is really still interested in ideology? Taking a proactive approach to these questions, the Communist Party decided to put its own history on stage to create reminders of the revolution in various places around the country -- and to make clear to all Chinese citizens who made their country great. The government has also set up a "National Coordination Group for Red Tourism" and convened "Conferences for Red Tourism" that have even been attended by a member of the Politburo.
But one thing sets this approach apart from similar campaigns in the past. This time, the idea is for Chinese people to have fun with their political party, to enjoy themselves in the great amusement park of Communism. They're invited to feast on braised pork, Mao's favorite dish, in the leader's birthplace of Shaoshan. They can drink from the well Mao himself supposedly dug in Ruijin or carry fake rifles aboard a rollercoaster at the "Cultural Park of the Eighth Route Army," where they can re-enact the war against Japan. There have even been "National Red Games," including events such as "storming the log house" and a "grenade toss." Party training centers and companies send members to these destinations as part of educational holidays. China saw over half a billion "red tourists" in 2011 alone.
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