South China Morning Post, Dec 5, 2005

'Red tourism' aims to drag in capitalist cash

Industry watchers say independent travellers not keen on reliving Mao's era


COMMUNIST PARTY leaders are attempting to rekindle the revolutionary spirit with a campaign to promote 'red tourism' or visits to old revolutionary sites. And they're hoping the interest in the past will pull capitalist cash.

This year has been officially designated The Year of Red Tourism, in honour of the 70th anniversary of the Red Army's Long March, but the campaign is set to run until 2011.

People from around the country are visiting legendary sites, dining on steamed red rice, trekking over old Red Army battlefields and singing revolutionary folk songs.

The China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) earlier this year published a list of '30 choice red tourism routes, 100 classic red tourism sites and 12 major red tourism zones' across the country.

Popular sites include Jinggangshan, the 1927-36 base of the Red Army, Red Army battlefields along the route of the Long March, and the dusty caves of Yanan, where the communists held out the nationalists for 12 years.

According to official statistics, 20 million mainlanders flocked to 150 major red sites in 13 provinces and municipalities last year.

Tourism officials predict the numbers will rise an annual 15 per cent between 2004 and 2007, and 18 per cent from 2008 to 2010. In the first quarter of this year, tourists visiting Jinggangshan shot up eight times over the same period a year earlier, leading Air China to launch twice-weekly direct flights from Beijing.

While the government hopes red tourism will reawaken the Yanan spirit among younger Chinese, who are becoming increasingly estranged from the communist ethics of the past, red tourism seems to be as much about capitalism with Chinese characteristics.

'The promotion of 'red tourism' is a need to eulogise the brilliant cause of the party, inspire and carry forward China's national spirit,' He Guangwei, former director of the CNTA, told a conference.

But then he added that the campaign would also help people in revolutionary base areas 'overcome poverty and get rich'.

It is estimated that red tourism will directly create two million new job opportunities, and another 10 million indirectly, by 2010, when income generated by the project is estimated to reach 100 billion yuan.

According to statistics from the CNTA, tourist revenue from the top 20 red sites hit 20 billion yuan last year, up 33.3 per cent from a year earlier.

Everyone appears to be getting into the act. Travel agencies are offering special tour packages, with China Youth Travel Service advertising more than 30 itineraries for government agencies and public institutions to take their staff on red tours.

Meanwhile, peasants are deserting the farms to make and sell Mao-rabilia, from Mao lighters that play The East is Red to Mao statues.

In Yanan, a former Red Army headquarters has been converted into a three-star cave hotel.

On a recent morning at the Date Orchard in Yanan, where Mao had his headquarters from 1945-47, visitors queue for a chance to suit up in the grey uniforms of the Red Army, complete with leather belt and pistol holster, smiling broadly as they pose for a picture in front of Mao's cave.

Just metres away, another 'Red Army soldier' pretends to spin thread with an old spinning wheel, said to be the kind the Red Army used to make fabric for their uniforms.

In the town of Zunyi, where Mao took control of the party, restaurants are advertising a 12-course commemorative Red Army Banquet. The meal includes dishes such as 'Thinking Sweetly of Past Bitterness,' a dish made up of bitter melon and bitter bamboo shoots.

Despite the government campaign to encourage red tourism, few individual travellers are making the effort to visit these far flung scenes of the revolution on their own.

Industry sources say the bulk of the tours are organised by government units and state-owned companies, which are encouraged by the state to participate in red tourism for the sake of revolutionary education.

'I guess these red sites would not seem as interesting to people as other traditional destinations,' said Gao Xiaolan, who hosts a travel programme for China Central TV.

'But a lot of these sites also have beautiful natural scenery nearby, and usually the organisers will bundle the two up. As long as the trip is paid for by government, and it is time off from work, then people are willing to go.'