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Red Tourism: A Thriving Economic Industry Or Tool For Ideological Propaganda? – Analysis


By Namrata Hasija

Red Tourism has gained considerable momentum as a phenomenon in China. The government is encouraging tourism around historic sites. Is it purely an economic move? Is it primarily motivated by the need to strengthen the ideological base for the Communist Party of China? Also, is it being used as a propaganda tool for diluting the rising social tensions in China by promoting the ‘red values’ of sacrifice and hard work among the younger generation? Is it being promoted to rejuvenate the party’s popularity on its 90th anniversary?

What is Red tourism?


Red tourism refers to an aspect of the tourism industry which is dedicated to developing sites historically related to Mao Zedong and the revolutionary struggle carried out by the Communist Party of China against the Kuomintang. It has generated not only tremendous revenue for the government but has also revived interest in the country’s history, especially the role of Mao Zedong.

Many revolutionary era locations in Yan’an, Hebei, Zunyi, Gansu and so on, which have some linkages to the revolutionary struggle, have been developed into popular tourist sites. This is a governmental push which, with the help of locals, scholars and experts, has transformed these areas into significant revenue generation sites. Yan’an alone earned US$1.17 billion in 2010 from the 14.5 million tourists who visited the city for its historical connections. The Yizhang county government earned about US$215 million in 2010 from the 1.3 million tourists that visited the ‘red sites’ of the county.

Locals, officials and private entrepreneurs have pitched in different schemes to augment revenue. For example, Chu Xianyi, an entrepreneur from Zhejiang province has invested in a show titled ‘Battle Defending Yan’an’ which is a simulation of a battle fought between the Communist party and the Kuomintang in 1947. This show has become a hit with visitors (most of whom are students from affluent families), attracting 1000 plus visitors a day and generating a yearly revenue in millions. The locals of Yizhang County on their own initiative repaired the houses of the revolutionaries, built roads and even erected signs for the tourists. The Yizhang county government has also invested approximately $48 million for the restoration and improvement of historical sites. Innovative items such as Mao keychains, t-shirts, posters, mugs and wallets are being sold at these sites and have developed into a brand. Cigarette companies are pitching in with catchy slogans like ‘the only cigarettes which give you the revolutionary spirit’, indicating the momentous growth of this industry. Thus, we see that a well-rounded development has been undertaken by all sections of society which has enabled this industry to grow by leaps and bounds.

Party officials have seized the growing popularity of the movement for their ideological propaganda as articulated by Li Changchun (China’s propaganda chief): “Red tourism was a political project to strengthen the people’s conviction of sticking to the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics.” The government is trying to invigorate its position and also dilute the social tensions in China to a certain extent. This is done this by showcasing the hardships faced by Mao and other party members during their struggle. The next generation of party members are very enthusiastic about the project and have integrated several programmes such as ‘red text’, ‘red songs’ and ‘red training’ within its ambit. Under these programmes, the party members encourage colleges and other organizations to send texts to their students and employees carrying Mao’s sayings. The local party secretaries have given orders to state radio and television to promote ‘red songs’ praising the communist party. Under the ‘red training’ programme, colleges are encouraged to send students to work in the countryside.

All these moves not only promote the party before its 90th anniversary but also inculcate the so-called ‘red values’ of the Mao era among the younger generation. Special organizations have been set up (like the ‘Red Tourism Revolutionary Traditions Education Activity Leading Team’) to organize trips for college students. Many young people who were interviewed after their visits to these sites acknowledged the importance of Mao’s ideas in present day China where ‘everybody only cared for money’. They also feel that these sites have substantiated their textual knowledge of Mao’s sacrifice and hard-work, enabling them to take pride in their past. The party is in fact using Mao’s stature and values to portray their linkage with the same values.

The government views this programme as a means to reinforce socialist ideas in order to address problems of rising corruption and social inequality. Although initially it might have been a purely economic move, party leaders are now using it for reinstating the party’s image before its 90th anniversary and emphasizing the superior nature of socialism. In a way it is a two-pronged strategy, which is not only bringing rich economic dividends to poor areas but also consolidating the Communist Party of China’s grip on power.

Namrata Hasija
Research Officer, IPCS
email: [email protected]

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IPCS (Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies) conducts independent research on conventional and non-conventional security issues in the region and shares its findings with policy makers and the public. It provides a forum for discussion with the strategic community on strategic issues and strives to explore alternatives. Moreover, it works towards building capacity among young scholars for greater refinement of their analyses of South Asian security.

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