Page last updated at 16:49 GMT, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 17:49 UK

China's 'red tourism' stopover

By Joe Boyle
BBC News

Communist Party badges, file image
Communist memorabilia is on display all around the world

With attractions such as the Forces' Meeting Memorial Hall and the Revolutionary Martyrs' Cemetery, it is hard to imagine Jinggangshan as a major hit with the tourists.

But the town's association with Communist Party history has been turned to its advantage in recent years.

In a drive to boost business in less developed parts of China, the government launched a policy known as "red tourism" in 2005.

As Zhang Xiqin, vice-president of the National Tourism Bureau, explained at the time, the policy also had the fortunate by-product of educating people about the ideals of the Communists.

Tourists who flock to Jinggangshan seeking spiritual enlightenment from late revolutionary leaders usually get much more than that
Shenzhen Daily

"It has significant importance in educating the younger generation about the country's revolutionary past," he said.

"It is an economic project, a cultural project and at the same time, a political project."

It's a uniquely Chinese take on a tourism drive - but according to state media, the policy has worked.

The People's Daily, a mouthpiece of the party, announced last December that more than 400 million people had taken red tourism holidays since the policy's inception.

More than $13.5bn (6.25bn) has rushed into the economies of places on the route, according to the paper, and almost two million people now owe their jobs to the scheme, either directly or indirectly.

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Must-see attractions on the red tourist route include a Japanese Germ Warfare Experimental Base in Harbin, the Xifeng Concentration Camp and Mao's hometown of Shaoshan.

Jinggangshan, as one of several places known as the "cradle of the revolution", is also an important player in the project.

The official website for the Red Tour Around China boasts of the town's "abundant cultural relics".

As well as a handful of buildings, memorials and cemeteries, Jinggangshan also has a former residence of Mao Zedong.

Mao's house is actually a replica - the original was destroyed by the nationalist forces of the Kuomintang when they took the town from the communists.

Visitors to Jinggangshan are also invited to pose for photographs dressed in a People's Liberation Army uniform - available for 10 yuan.

Disney jibe

The Shenzhen Daily newspaper gave a gushing appreciation of Jinggangshan's charms in a review published late last year.

"Tourists who flock to Jinggangshan seeking spiritual enlightenment from late revolutionary leaders usually get much more than that," the newspaper said.

"Magnificent mountains intertwined with heroic stories make Jinggangshan an unparalleled scenic spot for both learning and relaxing."

But not everyone is happy with the red tourism project.

Some old revolutionaries say it has led to the "Disneyfication" of what should be sacred sites.

And critics point to the irony of making money from the history of a manifestly anti-capitalist party.

But such sniping is unlikely to deter the leaders of China's modern Communist Party.

They come from a country that Mao and his comrades who hid in Jinggangshan's secluded hills would barely recognise - a China of burgeoning middle classes and property booms.

In this China, the idea of profiting from the past of the Communist Party must appear as natural as a trip to a Wal-Mart or McDonald's in downtown Beijing.

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