Peering into birthplace of 'the new China'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 June, 2011, 12:00am


It looks like a suburb in Beijing - roadworks upon roadworks disappearing into the distance.

But this is Xibaipo, deep in the Taihang Mountains on Hebei's border with Shanxi, a village that provided the last rural base for the Communist Party Central Committee before the defeat of Chiang Kai-shek's army allowed it to relocate to the opulent gardens of the former imperial capital, Beijing.

Xibaipo's role won it a place on the list of 100 national sites for red tourism chosen by the central government in 2004, and it began to brand itself as the place 'where the new China came from'.

Mao Zedong moved to the village, along with the headquarters of the People's Liberation Army, in May 1948.

It was here, from September 1948 to January 1949, that he plotted the PLA's three decisive campaigns which, to a great extent, finished off Chiang militarily.

After just a couple more months, in March 1949, Mao took his small secretariat to their would-be capital, 350 kilometres to the north, in a small convoy of American jeeps freshly captured from the battlefields.

Since then, the Communist Party has ruled supreme in China.

The only enemy that could be still waiting in the wings, as Mao said to his comrades, would be the revolutionaries' own corruption - as had been the case in peasant rebellions throughout history.

Compared with the party's seemingly endless yet indecisive battles against its corrupt officials today, Mao's remarks make Xibaipo all the more memorable.

And so it has become almost a ritual that every party general secretary has to visit Xibaipo to show his commitment to the fight against corruption. Jiang Zemin did it in 1991. Hu Jintao did it in 2002, only three weeks after he succeeded Jiang. And Xi Jinping , widely tipped to be the next general secretary, led his own pilgrimage three years ago.

Money flowed where the leaders went. Government funds have been pumped into the mountainous village and the surrounding area in a greater Xibaipo programme launched in August last year.

The roadworks are just part of the programme. Some 28 villages that hosted 38 central offices of the Communist Party from 1947 to 1949 will also benefit.

The aim is for greater Xibaipo to receive 10 million visitors in 2015, while earning 10 billion yuan (HK$11.9 billion) in revenue. Xibaipo Museum deputy director Chen Zongliang said the number of visitors to Xibaipo village alone increased from 1.8 million in 2009 to 3 million last year, with predictions of around 4.5 million this year.

In comparison with the rising interest in 'red tourism' gripping the mainland, China's 2004-2010 red tourism programme now appears modest indeed. It aimed to build 100 tourism sites - 80 capable of receiving half a million visitors a year - generating 100 billion yuan in combined annual revenue.

In fact, red tourism accounted for 430 million visits, or 20 per cent of China's domestic tourism last year, according to the People's Daily, the Communist Party's official mouthpiece.

Jiangxi , the province that saw the Communist Party's first military uprising and provided its first base, claimed to have received more than 100 million red tourists last year, resulting in combined business revenue of 80 billion yuan.

The National Tourism Administration has yet to officially release its 2010-15 red tourism programme. But mainland media said its goal for 2015 is to attract 800 million visits and make more than 200 billion yuan in combined revenue.

However, like many things subject to government interference, red tourism appears more serious about business than about history. It tends to focus on just a few selected names and events, such as Mao and Deng Xiaoping , and their most victorious moments.

Not all the great events in the party's history are remembered, with those forgotten ranging from battlefield setbacks in which many soldiers gave their lives, to the student movements that could serve as unwanted examples to today's radical youths.

Nothing has been said about the Cultural Revolution. Nor has much gratitude been shown to the millions of poor peasants who sheltered and protected the communists in their most difficult times.

Some cemeteries of less well-known revolutionary martyrs are poorly maintained, while others have even been bulldozed by real estate developers.

While the 100 national red tourism sites include former residences of Mao and Deng, those of former PLA commander Marshal Zhu De and Marshal Liu Bocheng are conspicuously absent. Deng was, at one time, political commissar for Liu's troops.

There are also details that have been modified, remade or unnecessarily covered up. If visitors to what is described as Mao's residence in Xibaipo ask why the trees in the courtyard are so young, the curator just answers: 'They are not the original trees.'

It is not until visitors ask how the old houses have been maintained so well that the curator will admit that they are not the original houses either.

All the houses are replicas because the original village was submerged by a reservoir - although many items at the memorial site were indeed once used by the party leaders.

Few visitors are told that it was not Mao but Zhu who decided to use the village as the site for the Communist Party's central headquarters.

Zhu and Liu Shaoqi, later chairman of the People's Republic government before dying under persecution by Mao in the Cultural Revolution, then headed a separate branch of the party centre.

They moved into the village in July 1947, almost a year earlier than Mao.

And before Mao's arrival, Liu Shaoqi had steered China's land reform programme to completion, resulting in the rural population's solid support for the would-be communist regime.


The amount of tourism revenue, in Hong Kong dollars, that Chinese authorities expect Xibaipo to earn in 2015