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China’s Red Tourism

China Red montageOn September 17-20, the Council on East Asian Studies hosted a conference planned in collaboration with Cambridge University and Tsinghua University, the second in a series of gatherings meant to strengthen inter-institutional and interdisciplinary ties.

The first of these conferences, held at Cambridge in spring 2008, was on the topic of modernity and cultural translation; the September conference had as its theme “Culture, Conflict, and Mediation,” and brought together historians and literary scholars to talk about conflict, the resolution of conflict, and the languages that make both possible (as well as the loopholes, inaccuracies, and ambiguities that affect both war and peace). The event included the first U.S. screening of 2009 Yale World Fellow Jian Yi’s film about “red tourism” and nostalgia for the pre-1949 heroic period of Chinese communism, “New Socialist Climax,” and a plenary lecture by Professor Mark Edward Lewis of Stanford University, entitled “Conflict Within the Self in Early China.”

The September 17 screening of “New Socialist Climax” was attended by a capacity audience in the Luce Hall Auditorium, and a deeply engaging Question and Answer session with director/producer Jian Yi followed.

The film aims at capturing and examining various levels of reality in China’s recent state-sponsored “Red Tourism,” a national campaign that brings people, especially government employees and young people, to the old Communist revolutionary bases. This documentary does not simply document the “content” of life in China today, but also tries to “restore” the different layers of reality and leave the judgment to the viewers.

On the surface, “Red Tourism” is a win-win for all parties involved: the Party gets to boost its ideological propaganda in support of its fading legitimacy; the tourists get to splurge on a free trip and to exhibit political loyalty to the establishment; and the locals get to cash in nicely with floods of Red Tourists coming and spending (often extravagantly if the government is covering their expenses).

The documentary was filmed at Mt. Jinggangshan, the cradle of the Chinese Communist revolution led by Mao Zedong, and is the first independently-made film (i.e., not within the state-controlled media establishment) on “Red Tourism.” Production was completed between June 2007 and October 2007. The year 2007 marks the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Mt. Jianggangshan Revolutionary Base, the first ever by Mao Zedong.