People in China celebrated the Communist Party’s centenary bash through ‘red tourism’, patriotic movies and music – all with a dash of propaganda.
The Xi Jinping-led Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s foundation day was officially celebrated on 1 July, although the first National Party Congress in 1921 was held from 23 July to 2 August, in the former French Concession in Shanghai.
The centenary celebration created a splash across Chinese social media and mainstream media platforms. The hashtag “China Communist Party Founding 100 Anniversary” appeared over 11.7 billion times on Twitter-like platform Weibo. Other platforms such as WeChat, search engine Baidu, and news platform Phoenix’s iFeng changed their website design to mark the CCP’s centenary.
‘Red tourism’ — a concerted effort
Tourists flocked to the northern city of Yan’an in Shaanxi Province, where Mao Zedong’s China and its affiliates had fought the Japanese forces during World War 2 in 1948, to participate in ‘red tourism’. Yan’an has been transformed into a “city of revolutionary museums” for the centenary this year.
According to Trip.com, a Chinese online travel portal, tourism to sites associated with the party’s history was up 208 per cent on a year-on-year basis.
Since 2005, ‘red tourism’ has become a central part of the CCP’s anniversary celebrations. Tourists are informed about the party’s official foundation narrative, and everyone from children to the old are supposed to absorb the party’s history.
A special ‘red tourism’ train runs from Shanghai to Jiaxing in Zhejiang province, where the first NPC was held on a boat and the CCP’s formation was announced. People continue to travel to various “red tourism” destinations even after the 1 July celebration.
“Those born after ’95 and ’00 become the main force of red tourism,” was a hashtag that trended on Weibo. The trend underscores the rising demographic of younger tourists — about 50 per cent visitors travelling to ‘red tourism’ sites.
One such ‘red tourism’ site is the cave in Liangjiahe village in Shaanxi Province, where President Xi Jinping had gone to experience peasant life. This was one of Mao Zedong’s campaigns to make urban youth experience a farmer’s life. Nowadays, the cave site and Liangjiahe village site are part of the ‘red tourism’ activities – solidifying Xi’s own story in the party narrative.
In June, Xi Jinping inaugurated the Museum of Communist Party of China in Beijing, which had been under construction since 2018. Located in Chaoyang district, the museum has been at the centre of tourism activities. Communist Party members, military and police personnel, regional officials, Beijing-based foreign diplomats, and others have visited the museum in large numbers in the past few weeks.
A centenary-themed exhibition was also organised in Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai.
Song and dance, for the youth
China Film Co. Ltd. has built a 21-screen movie theatre next to the party museum. The theatre will show “classic red movies” — read party propaganda movies — all year round. The theatre utilises CINITY Cinema System, a technology developed in China that combines 4K, 3D, high-definition, high frame rate, and high dynamic range.
To mark the centenary, a film titled 1921 was released. It is about the founding of the CCP. The movie’s A-list cast includes Chinese actors like Wang Renjun, who plays Mao Zedong. The movie’s young cast aims to attract China’s younger demographic.
The movie made $13 million on the first day of its release. Primarily produced by Tencent Pictures, it has made $45.4 million so far. The audience’s reaction was mixed.
“Go and see, I hope more people understand this period of history and can really find the answer to your struggle from it. Maybe after watching the movie, you will know why China is becoming stronger! Since 1921,” a viewer posted on Weibo.
“This film is really bad. The characters are in a mess. They are out of order. They don’t remember their lines. They don’t have a clear scene. It’s better to cut out a version of the awakening age,” said another.
The hashtag “film 1921” appeared 1.93 billion times on Weibo.
An original song titled ‘1921’ was also produced on the centenary. The music was composed by Tian Jingjun and Diao Qing, and Zhang Yan sang the lyrics.
“Looking back on 1921. The red boat set sail. The bright red party flag. Flying in my heart. I saw 25,000 miles of red footprints. Look at today, 21. Dream of sailing beyond ourselves. The road of confidence. Motivation to move forward. I heard the heartbeat and breathing of 1.4 billion people,” goes the lyrics. Chinese performers produced similar songs for the party’s birthday bash.
Setting up nationalist goals
Xi Jinping, who is also the party’s General Secretary, sought to promote the Communist Youth League members, seen in large numbers at the Bird’s Nest event and the Tiananmen Square on 1 July.
Xi stood at the podium in Tiananmen Square and declared China had achieved the first centenary goal of creating a “moderately prosperous society” or Xiaokang.
Earlier this year, Xi Jinping declared that China had eradicated poverty across the country. Both these goals are considered major propaganda “victory” for the party.
“China, which is about to build a well-off society in an all-round way, has a more developed economy, a more sound democracy, a more advanced science and education, a more prosperous culture, a more harmonious society, a more substantial people’s life and a more beautiful ecological environment,” said a Weibo user.
One user pointed out that while China had achieved a moderately prosperous society, regional differences between provinces remain.
“We achieved the first hundred years of struggle” was a hashtag that appeared over 29 million times on Weibo. “We are marching towards the second centenary goal” was one of the top five search trends on Baidu. The second centenary goal is the “China dream” to create a “strong, democratic, civilized, harmonious, and modern socialist country” by 2049, when the People’s Republic of China will mark its centenary as a country.
Now that the CCP’s birthday bash is over, Xi Jinping has a job to make sure the celebrations continue. The entire world is watching.
The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. He tweets @aadilbrar. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant Dixit)