A vil­lage clings to Mao pe­riod past

A town makes for a tourist at­trac­tion and model for old Com­mu­nist ide­ol­ogy

Bangkok Post - - ASIA -

Dis­ney­land has “Main Street, USA”, a mono­rail and Mickey Mouse. China’s Nan­jie vil­lage has “East is Red Square”, red trams and Mao Ze­dong. Ev­ery year, hun­dreds of thou­sands of vis­i­tors flock to the ham­let in cen­tral He­nan prov­ince which has be­come an at­trac­tion with its ide­alised vi­sion of vil­lage life right out of the Com­mu­nist past.

While the Com­mu­nist Party pre­pares to give a sec­ond term to its cur­rent supremo, Xi Jin­ping, at a ma­jor congress next week, Nan­jie still clings firmly to Mao, while gloss­ing over the vi­o­lence of his rule.

The vil­lage’s 3,700 res­i­dents wake up ev­ery morn­ing to broad­casts prais­ing Mao and start their work days with a hearty group ren­di­tion of “red” songs about the virtues of Com­mu­nism.

Nan­jie fol­lows a retro model of col­lec­tively-owned en­ter­prises and chirpy ide­o­log­i­cal in­doc­tri­na­tion, ap­pear­ing frozen in an era be­fore mar­ket re­forms trans­formed China into the world’s sec­ond largest econ­omy.

Tourists take small red trams with names like “Mod­er­ate Pros­per­ity” and “Chi­nese Dream” from the gi­ant Mao statue in the town’s iconic “East is Red Square” to parks, fac­to­ries and pub­lic hous­ing blocks where res­i­dents share sto­ries about the joys of col­lec­tivism.

But its brand of Com­mu­nism looks set to make a come­back, with Mr Xi re­cently telling top of­fi­cials that the party “would lose its soul and di­rec­tion” if it de­vi­ated from Marx­ism.

Even “Xi is ask­ing ev­ery­one to study Chair­man Mao,” said Wang Hong­bin, who has been Nan­jie’s party sec­re­tary since 1976.

Since tak­ing power in 2012, Mr Xi has pushed for more state con­trol over the econ­omy while Com­mu­nist Party branches are be­ing set up in­side pri­vate en­ter­prises.

In the 1980s, when most of China was sprint­ing away from Mao-era col­lec­tivism, Nan­jie’s Party Sec­re­tary Wang dou­bled down.

He turned up the ide­o­log­i­cal vol­ume and of­fered free hous­ing, health­care and food to res­i­dents work­ing for a pit­tance at vil­lage-owned en­ter­prises.

The moves found favour with the coun­try’s left­ists, but many peo­ple “didn’t un­der­stand Nan­jie, didn’t sup­port it or even crit­i­cised it,” Mr Wang said.

Since the last party congress in 2012, how­ever, “the cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s voice has grown closer and closer to Nan­jie’s way of do­ing things.”

To­day, res­i­dents live in mod­est pub­lic apart­ments, iden­ti­cal right down to the fur­ni­ture and flatscreen TVs.

“Ev­ery­thing is man­aged very well,” gov­ern­ment em­ployee Wang Chunju said as she sat in her com­mu­nity-pro­vided flat.

But it is hard to tell how much is real and how much is a show for Nan­jie’s vis­i­tors.

The vil­lage may be a Com­mu­nist col­lec­tive, but much like China’s over­all econ­omy, its devel­op­ment is mas­sively lever­aged.

In 2008, an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by South­ern Me­trop­o­lis Daily re­vealed the vil­lage took out over 1.6 bil­lion yuan (8 bil­lion baht) of bank loans due to eco­nomic is­sues.

China’s “lead­ers” or­dered He­nan to solve the is­sue, he said, and the debts were ef­fec­tively for­given.

While of­fi­cials said tourism makes only a small con­tri­bu­tion to Nan­jie’s econ­omy, its im­age is an as­set that earns it the sup­port of top politi­cians.

Out­side Nan­jie’s gates, a woman work­ing at a liquor store ad­mir­ingly ex­plained the vil­lage’s fas­ci­na­tion.

“They’re real Com­mu­nists over there,” she said with a laugh. “I guess you could say the rest of us are cap­i­tal­ists.”

Com­mu­nist Party mil­i­tary pins and uni­forms on sale at Pan­ji­ayuan an­tique mar­ket in Bei­jing. As the party pre­pares to give a sec­ond term to its cur­rent supremo, Xi Jin­ping, at a ma­jor congress next week, Nan­jie clings firmly to Mao.

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