Mapping Red Memories
The establishment of sites of Red Tourism in contemporary China is a complex process involving different actors that range from the central government and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CCP) to local and provincial state authorities and representatives of the tourism industry. Red Tourism sites are a combination of spaces for ideological education, leisure, and tourism development while playing an important role in the current policies of poverty eradication and tourism development. Approaches in cultural geography have also pointed to the different functions of tourism, arguing that tourist sites are not only sites for passive consumption or cultural appropriation, but also produce a sense of place that can be crucial for generating identity and collective consciousness.
After the grand narrative of the revolution went bankrupt after the Cultural Revolution and the promise of socialism lost its attraction especially after the end of the Cold War in the 1990s the PRC has been busy protecting the socialist legacy in institutional structures as well as social and cultural domains. The twenty-first century, especially since the 2000s, has witnessed the state’s increasingly strong presence in shaping public feelings and political consciousness where cultural industries, school curricula, and the development of tourism alike have again received attention from the party-state.
What has developed is a seemingly systematic construction of a memoryscape whose primary intention is to protect the legitimacy of the CCP, which is why the party-state is increasingly investing in patriotism, red culture, and socialist values. In the narrative developed in the past years the need for continuous rule of the CCP across historical ruptures has received widespread attention, primarily to strengthen political consciousness and cultural identity to cope with the contradictions that have emerged after the Cultural Revolution, may it be the opening to the world in the 1980s, the economic liberalization in the 1990s, or the growing cultural and intellectual exchange with foreign countries in the process of globalization since the 2000s.
It goes without saying that the CCP is highly selective in painting a picture of communist heritage that is intended to sustain a communist identity in the ongoing development of socialism with Chinese characteristics. With heritage being value-laden it is not surprising that red tourism also includes the dissemination of the core socialist values, patriotism, and commemorations of revolutionary martyrs (both physical [for instance 1, 2, 3] and digital) and national trauma (such as the Nanjing Massacre Memorial), efforts that are combined with a variety of strategies, such as Red Stories Competitions of Tourist Guides (红色故事讲解员大赛).
The original list of 100 sites promulgated in 2004 has grown continuously which indicates the party-state’s emphasis on the role of red tourism, and in 2012 the provincial cities of Guang’an 广安, Yan’an 延安, Shaoshan 韶山, Jinggangshan 井冈山, Ruijin 瑞金, Zunyi 遵义, Shijiazhuang 石家庄, Linyi 临沂, Longyan 龙岩, and Qingyang 庆阳 signed the China Red Tourism Cities Strategic Cooperation Yan’an Declaration (红色旅游城市联盟延安战略合作宣言).
Red Tourism sites, as destinations of leisure and education, however, do not speak by themselves. They are integrated into one map that creates a nationwide and all-inclusive memoryscape under the guidance of the party-state. We understand memoryscape as a discursive space where revolutionary struggles, victories, and defeats in war battles, important events of the decades before the founding of the PRC in 1949 and sites of victory celebrations have taken place. These sites, we argue, are not exclusively physical ramifications of the revolution, but much more spaces where the physical and the virtual, the material and the discursive, and the diachronic and synchronic intersect. They are affective spaces where (urban) landscapes, historical sites, etc. are organized and put into relation to manifest or produce individual and collective experiences, feelings, and desires.
Previous research has analyzed in detail sites related to the history of the Communist Party, sacred sites of the revolution such as Ruijin, Shaoshan, and Yan’an, places of massacres and battle defeats dating from the Second Sino-Japanese War, etc. (for an overview on these sites see, next to the entries on this page, the publications of Kirk Denton). We argue in the following that to understand the process of creating and communicating such cultural and national identities requires an approach that goes beyond questions of tourist origin, tourist destination, and the connections between both, such as travel routes and transportation, or tourism advertisement that attract visitors.
It thus does not surprise that the distribution of these sites on the national map is fairly uneven where some provinces command several dozens to hundreds, and other only a few, such as the peripheral provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang. The following table derived from the red tourism sites lists of 2004 and 2016 provides a diachronic overview of the quantitative distribution:
Rather than being solitary spots on a map, the sites are interrelated in different ways, a circumstance that also determines their impact. For instance, red sites in one city or county are often under the authority and administration of one institution, thus combined in advertisements of local travel tours, with a typical case being the numerous red places in Yan’an. Others are interconnected on a provincial level, such as in the case of Hunan where the birthplaces of important revolutionary leaders such as Mao Zedong, He Long, Peng Dehuai, and Liu Shaoqi serve as a source of collective identity. Lastly, red sites are combined to create red routes that span over different lengths. In March 2005, the Central Ministry of Propaganda and the National Tourism Bureau announced thirty routes covering different regions of the country:
This list as well as the close to 800 sites indicated on the map are constantly enhanced, following both the need of omnipresent ideological education and local tourism development.