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Memories of Mao abound in Zunyi
By Tony Murray (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-09-18 08:40

Nowhere in Weston Super Mare or any other regional UK town is there a museum dedicated to the memory of Clement Attlee, who became leader of one of the country's largest political parties in 1935 and later Prime Minister. There would be little point.

Few would queue for a chance to see a replica table of the one once found in Attlee's breakfast room. Neither would cornering the market in Clement Attlee souvenirs - wall clocks, pendants or T-shirts - seem an unlikely windfall.

It's a very different story in China. Of course the country is in the grip of an emerging Attlee cult, but his counterpart, Mao Zedong, who became head of the CPC in 1935, remains the subject of endless fascination and the basis for a whole tourism sector.

Memories of Mao abound in Zunyi

This so-called "red tourism" has seen a number of China's cities jostling to assert their associations with the legendary party chairman. Zunyi has a better claim than many.

Wednesday morning in the city sees us heading off to the Zunyi Conference Center, once the scene of the historic meeting that saw Mao clinch his bid to lead his divided party, now a museum dedicated to commemorating that event and the entire history of the Long March.

The site is crammed with photographs, documents, sculptures and artifacts from that tumultuous time.

Everywhere earnest grainy black and white faces peer down as their grandchildren and great grandchildren complete a short shuffle past these long dead Long Marchers.

But this is not some somber pilgrimage. An animated presentation showing the various machinations of the Mao-led army as they crossed the country, eluding the pursuing Kuomintang, actually provokes laughter from the crowd.

It is obviously a tale oft told, but one that still inspires an affectionate chuckle at the wily Mao's confounding of his foes.

Despite a degree of official revisionism on Mao's career, there is much affection demonstrated for the man destined to be remembered as one of the most influential figures of the 20th century.

It is an affection tempered with a knowing nudge and a wink by a number of the Chinese visitors while viewing many of the artworks, which inevitably depict the former chairman as the tallest and most handsome man in any company.

Some are cynical that "red tourism" will have any real resonance with overseas visitors, but its appeal is easily apparent. Any foreigners interested in China will find the sector deeply illuminating.

Watching a generation coming to terms with its not-so distant history and reconciling their very different life experiences with those of their relatively recent ancestors is compelling and informing.

Overseas tourists may never embrace "red tourism" in the same way as the local population, but it is a hugely rewarding spectator sport for those who are seriously interested in China - and Zunyi is the ideal place to start.

(China Daily 09/18/2009 page13)