On a recent trip to Guizhou Province in southwest China, I witnessed a curious scene. In a museum, I saw a lot of people, maybe a hundred, dressed in old Chinese Communist Party Red Army uniforms.
Young and old alike, women and men wore the pastel blue suit with red stripes on the collar. A blue cap with a red star made up the costume. Over the shoulder, they carried a bag stamped with the effigy of Mao. In 2021, a cell phone in hand and comfortable sneakers completed the look of what was a group of Chinese tourists.
Less than 30 days before the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party, the newspapers shed light on the revolutionary history and the tourism associated with it. Officials are promoting what they themselves call red tourism, of which the city of Zunyi in Guizhou is one of its strengths.
In the house now turned into a museum, there was a meeting in 1935 which consolidated the leadership of Mao Tse-Tung, and thus the city became a mandatory stopover for civic tourism in China today.
Shining their revolutionary letters of nobility, several provinces have promoted thematic tourist routes. Sichuan has launched 11 circuits under the theme “Revisiting the path of the long march”. Mao’s hometown of Shaoshan in Hunan Province has become a pilgrimage center.
The promotion of red tourism is only a small part of the great apotheosis of the party’s centenary. The birthday party reinforces the estrangement and mistrust that exist in the West towards the Chinese political model.
It can be tempting to belittle the Chinese way of doing politics by emphasizing the curious, the eccentric, or the caricature. It is tempting, but misleading, to think that this is just advertising.
Even though it is powered by the government, there is a feeling that under the leadership of the party, the life of the Chinese has improved and the country is stronger.
Moreover, the party continues to frustrate those who insist on predicting its impending collapse. It won’t collapse tomorrow. On the contrary, it is reinforced by the results of the fight against Covid, with its effects on the economy and on the self-confidence of the Chinese.
The reality is that the Chinese Communist Party is the center of gravity of power in the country. Whether we like it or not, to have a basic notion of the rise of our time, it is necessary to better understand the party and its centrality in the Chinese political model.
To illustrate why this is important, I borrow an example from journalist Richard McGregor. Think what would be, say, the party’s human resources department, the central department of the organization.
If there was an equivalent in the United States, that department, according to McGregor, would be responsible for the process of selecting the governors of each American state and the mayors of major cities across the country. This body would select the presidents of companies that represent about a quarter of the US GDP. He would also be responsible for choosing the heads of newspapers and television stations in the country, as well as members of the Supreme Court. It is, so to speak, the HR of the party.
It is not a matter of taste or political preference. It doesn’t matter what your gut tells you about the pilgrimage to Mao’s town or the tourists disguised as members of the Red Army. It is impossible to understand China today without going through the Chinese Communist Party. Anyone who prefers to skip this chapter will not understand the story.
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