The museum complex felt like a mini-‘Red Base’. By the foot of the mountain, three national flags flapped in the chill wind. In the main hall, staves of the song’s music, in gold, glared on a red wall, behind a golden hammer and sickle. As someone who grew up in China and knows the lyrics by heart, I couldn’t help but start to sing aloud, to the amusement of the museum staff. In the revolutionary spirit and against the market economy trend, entrance is free.
Zhang Lijia grew up in Nanjing, where she worked in a state-owned long-distance rocket factory. She documented her youth in her book “Socialism Is Great!”: A Worker’s Memoir of the New China. Her view on the Communist’ party future is more nuanced than that of those who expect its imminent demise.
The Chinese Communist Party has about 74 million members, nearly a quarter of whom are under 35. Defying all predictions, it has proven very resilient. While loosening control in certain aspects and granting people more personal freedom, the Party has stepped up its effort to ensure the loyalty of the population, young people in particular. Funds have been allocated to build or upgrade museums that are designed to inspire the citizen’ patriotic feelings or nurture their nationalist attachment. For example, a museum to commemorate the ‘Rape of Nanjing’ was first built in 1985 and upgraded in 1995 to become state-of-the-art. Revolutionary song competitions are still held regularly at schools, universities and government organizations. Popular songs such as ‘The East is Red’ and ‘Socialism is Great’ are featured on Karaoke lists.
Zhang Lijia is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Currently she is following the prestigious International Writers program at the University of Iowa. For next year we are planning an additional US tour. When you are interested in getting more details or would like to invite her at your conference, do let us know.