Mao's Disneyland 'Red Tourism' Is Golden for Chinese Economy


Part 2: Looking Forward, Thinking Back

The official Communist Party line is that Mao's policies were 70 percent good and 30 percent bad. Still, the party's founder is an important part of its image. Mao's picture appears on China's money, and his portrait hangs at the entrance to the Forbidden City in Beijing.

The Cultural Revolution, of course, was not mentioned as part of the educational lectures Wu Ning's tour group attended in Yanan. Even within their group, he and his fellow travelers didn't talk about it. "We all think the Cultural Revolution was bad," Wu says. "We don't need to discuss it."

In any case, he doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about the past. Wu is far more interested in knowing how the Chinese government envisions the future of the high-tech industry. After spending the days in Yanan dutifully recording the history of the Communist Party from 1935 to 1948 in his notebook, Wu chatted over dinner with the Shanghai government officials about his company and politics. A couple of the men from his tour group have become business contacts.

If there's anyone Wu admires, it's Deng Xiaoping, the party's reformist leader between the late 1970s and early 1990s. Wu says he has Deng to thank for his company's very existence. "Deng gave our generation the opportunity to develop," says Wu, who is not a member of the Communist Party.

On the other hand, Wu Yongtang, the actor, says: "I have a great responsibility to protect Chairman Mao's image." But playing this role isn't always easy. In 2010, Chinese bloggers sharply criticized Zhang Tielin, an actor who had signed on to play Mao on TV, because he had taken British citizenship. Some felt that a person like Zhang shouldn't be allowed to portray the founder of the People's Republic. The state-run China Daily declared that no actor associated with any sort of scandal should be allowed to play the role of Mao.

Wu is still hoping to break into film. But, during the winter pause in Yanan, he gets by with performing at weddings. Every couple days, he receives a call from another couple wishing to book Mao for their wedding. Wu then dons his costume, reads out the marriage certificate and poses for a photo with the couple. He says people book him because of the "good atmosphere" he brings.

Back in Yanan, an old man with a lute stands just outside the entrance of the memorial to the revolution. The man was once a farmer, one of the people Mao wanted to liberate. Now he's a beggar who lives on what he gets from the Mao tourists.

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein


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