Cradle of revolt hoping to cash in
Wuhan has been one big construction site for the past three years.
With city planners seeing the centenary of the 1911 revolution as a rare opportunity to promote the city to a wider world, the Hubei capital undertook an unprecedented facelift of historical sites.
The city has been so aggressive in promoting itself as the 'Capital of the First Uprising' because the revolt on October 10, 1911 in Wuchang- one of the three cities that merged to become Wuhan- was the first of a number of bloody revolts against the Qing dynasty to succeed, and soon led to the collapse of imperial rule.
A two-storey building, commonly known as the 'red chamber' that was a memorial hall for the 1911 Wuchang uprising, reopened in early September after six months of renovation. It is one of 28 sites renovated.
'What has made the restorations unprecedented this time is that we've been trying to incorporate restoration work into an overall upgrade of the city's landscape,' said Zhu Jin , a deputy director of the cultural bureau.
Zhu said his bureau spent 43 million yuan (HK$52 million) on the restoration of three 1911 revolution heritage sites, including Li Yuanhong's tomb near the east gate of Central China Normal University.
Li's tomb, once located in a crammed space of 1,300 square metres in a nondescript neighbourhood, has been expanded to nearly a hectare after residents were evicted from four buildings. And another site, known as the Uprising Gate- part of a dilapidated old city wall - also underwent major renovation.
But the centrepiece of Wuhan's preparations for the centenary celebration is a 22,000 square metre revolutionary museum located opposite the memorial hall and built with a budget of 334 million yuan.
The museum and memorial hall are now two landmarks in the newly revamped Square of the First Uprising, where much of the road traffic has been redirected to an underground tunnel.
But some projects never saw the light of day. Work on a proposed four-sided prism monument, which the municipal government wanted to build next to the museum, did not start because of central government restrictions on monuments. The design had been chosen through an international competition in 2009.
Authorities also shot down historians' proposal to instead build a high-rise tower- a defining landmark similar to the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Statue of Liberty in New York.
Some Wuhan officials said they were careful not to allow the 1911 celebrations to outshine the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party in July.
Zhu said President Hu Jintao set the tone for the centenary celebration during a speech on July 1 to mark the party's establishment.
Hu said the 1911 revolution, led by Sun Yat-sen, had been of great significance in moving the country forward, as it ended thousands of years of authoritarian imperial rule in China.
'However, it failed to change the nature of the country as a half-colonial and a half-feudalistic society, and to shake off the misery of the Chinese people,' Hu told Xinhua.
Comparing their preparations to dancing in shackles, Zhu said they needed to be careful about what his department said and did, as it supervised dozens of cultural activities and community performances.
For instance, he said Sun, a 1911 revolution pioneer and founder of the Kuomintang, cannot be referred to as 'the father of the state' in plays or public performances, as he is widely regarded as such in Taiwan. And they also had to strictly follow guidelines vetted by higher authorities about what 1911 revolution artefacts are put on display in museums and how they should be presented.
Earlier this year, Wuhan's upbeat mayor, Ruan Chengfa , promised to earmark 20 billion yuan for the centenary celebration, which helped the city gain the upper hand in a competition for the public limelight with other places associated with the revolution, such as Guangzhou and Zhongshan in Guangdong, and Nanjing in Jiangsu .
Wuhan's gamble on the anniversary was recognised in a propaganda department decision last year, when it broadened the definitions of 'red tourism sites' and 'red culture' to include all progressive events since 1840, when the first opium war, against British forces, began, rather than those since 1921, when the party was established.
Xu Xuqun , deputy director of the Wuhan Tourism Bureau , said the decision would mean more funding from higher authorities, resulting in more tourists.
Xu said Wuhan had already enjoyed a tourism boom in the last two years, following the December 2009 opening of the Wuhan-Guangzhou high-speed railway and the upgrading of tourism infrastructure in recent years.
More than 3.7 million tourists visited Wuhan during the National Day 'golden week' holiday in 2009, and the number increased by 41 per cent last year. Xu said he expected visitor numbers to increase by 5 per cent to 10 per cent as a result of celebrations of the 1911 revolution.
To prepare for more tourists, Xu, who is a member of one of the anniversary task forces, said the municipal government last year issued 2,000 new taxi licences - the first increase in 10 years- bringing the total to 15,000. He also said his department trained 1,123 travel agency staff, including more than 900 frontline tour guides specifically for the centenary anniversary celebration.
The sum Wuhan major Ruan Chengfa budgeted for spending on the centenary, giving the city bragging righrts over rivals