China’s Com­mu­nist pil­grims pay homage in Xi Jin­ping vil­lage

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Three caves in a re­mote Chi­nese vil­lage where Xi Jin­ping was sent dur­ing the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion re­ceive a con­stant stream of Com­mu­nist pil­grims, come to pay homage four years af­ter he came to power.

Xi, then 15, was or­dered to Liangjiahe in 1969 as part of Mao Ze­dong’s “Up to the Moun­tain and Down to the Coun­try­side Move­ment”, which saw ed­u­cated city youth de­ployed to ru­ral ar­eas. The ur­bane son of a Com­mu­nist Party grandee, Xi spent seven years haul­ing grain and sleep­ing in cave homes on fleabit­ten brick beds.

But he has said he “left his heart” in Liangjiahe, and cred­its the ex­pe­ri­ence with his po­lit­i­cal for­ma­tion long be­fore he be­came the most pow­er­ful man in the world’s sec­ond-largest econ­omy. Now the dusty vil­lage in Shaanxi prov­ince, 1,000 kilo­me­ters from Bei­jing, has been trans­formed into a liv­ing shrine to Xi’s years of toil, with vin­tage Mao posters, ther­moses, and kerosene lamps giv­ing the cave homes he oc­cu­pied an au­then­tic feel.

Be­tween 1,000 and 7,000 tourists visit ev­ery day, state me­dia re­ported, rid­ing in on a high­way opened this year, and Xi him­self blessed the lo­ca­tion with a re­turn jour­ney last year.

In the newly paved main street, Guo Moxi, who worked the fields with Xi, said that since he was ap­pointed as gen­eral sec­re­tary of the rul­ing party four years ago on Tues­day, ev­ery­one’s lives in Liangjiahe had seen “a big change”.

Four years Xi’s ju­nior, Guo re­calls a gen­tle per­son of “broad un­der­stand­ing” who was “very com­pas­sion­ate” to­wards or­di­nary peo­ple. “He was pre­pared to spend his life in Liangjiahe. He suf­fered a lot of hard­ship and wanted to change the face of this place.”

In a sleek mu­seum af­fil­i­ated with an elite Com­mu­nist party col­lege in nearby Yan’an, young guides in el­e­gant jack­ets nar­rated to el­derly vis­i­tors the “Four Hard­ships” Xi suf­fered-flea bites, bad food, hard labour and as­sim­i­lat­ing into the peas­antry. Yang Xian­glin, a for­mer teacher whose cave home is decked floor to ceil­ing with en­larged pho­tos of Xi and his wife, painted a pic­ture of the politi­cian as an al­most leg­endary fig­ure, read­ing books be­tween breaks in hard labour, with a fierce spirit “so one could see he was no com­mon man”.

Last month Xi, al­ready widely seen as China’s most pow­er­ful leader for decades, was named the “core” of the Com­mu­nist Party lead­er­ship, giv­ing him a personal au­thor­ity his im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sors never achieved.

His de­scent from priv­i­leged child­hood to the coun­try­side, and later re­turn to tri­umph af­ter tri­als and suf­fer­ing, con­tains “fairy tale el­e­ments” akin to the Prince and the Pau­per, deep­en­ing his com­mon ap­peal, said War­ren Sun of Aus­tralia’s Monash Univer­sity. “The cur­rent pro­mo­tion of Liangjiahe as a new ‘sa­cred site’ is ap­par­ently part of an ef­fort to bol­ster Xi’s im­age as a prince of the peo­ple,” he told AFP.

Such myth-mak­ing marks a strik­ing dif­fer­ence be­tween Xi and his pre­de­ces­sor Hu Jin­tao, said Vic­tor Shih of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia San Diego. “Hu tried to down­play his personal his­tory to avoid any ap­pear­ance of a per­son­al­ity cult,” he told AFP. “We have not seen such ef­fort in the Xi ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

Fields of cab­bage still line the road through Liangjiahe, but most res­i­dents now spend their days cater­ing to tourists. Some rent out caves or court­yard homes, oth­ers drive shut­tle buses or have opened shops sell­ing Liangji­a­he­branded red-date wine and hot sauce. Av­er­age yearly in­comes have nearly dou­bled from 7,900 yuan (now $1,200) in 2012 to more than 15,000 yuan last year, ac­cord­ing to the town’s mu­seum.

A county devel­op­ment plan calls for new restau­rants and cave inns to give up to 300 overnight guests a taste of Xi’s life, with hard brick beds and earth stoves to “strictly pro­tect the Liangjiahe brand im­age”. Pre­vi­ously free, the vil­lage now charges 20 yuan per ticket to en­ter. “When he was young, he was in­cred­i­ble,” said a re­tired teacher named Wang, de­scrib­ing his visit to Liangjiahe as “a form of spir­i­tual self-ed­u­ca­tion”.

The ex­plo­sive growth of Com­mu­nistre­lated tourism in China over re­cent years has been fu­elled in part by Xi’s charisma, and by lin­ger­ing nos­tal­gia for the sim­pler era of Mao Ze­dong. “Red Tourism has a kind of need for leader wor­ship, for hero wor­ship, for wor­ship­ping mir­a­cles,” said He Jian­min, head of tourism man­age­ment at Shang­hai Univer­sity of Fi­nance and Eco­nom­ics. “If we went to France maybe we would want to see Napoleon. Napoleon was an or­di­nary French­man, but he was a leader. Peo­ple have this kind of fond­ness for the past, a leader-wor­ship com­plex.” — AFP

HONG KONG: Pro-Bei­jing demon­stra­tors shout slo­gans and wave flags out­side the Hong Kong Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil yes­ter­day, dur­ing a rally in sup­port of an in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the city’s con­sti­tu­tion — the Ba­sic Law — by China’s Na­tional Peo­ple’s Con­gress Stand­ing Com­mit­tee (NPCSC), over the oath-tak­ing at­tempts by newly elected law­mak­ers Bag­gio Le­ung and Yau Wai-ching at the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil last month. —AFP

LIANGJIAHE, CHINA: This pic­ture taken on Oc­to­ber 22, 2016 shows peo­ple look­ing at pho­tos of Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping at a cave home where Xi lived as a youth. —AFP

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