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Tourism Along the Yellow River Glorifies China's Past

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Tourism Along the Yellow River Glorifies China's Past

Tourism Along the Yellow River Glorifies China's Past

Tourism Along the Yellow River Glorifies China's Past

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Construction near Yan'an i

Yan'an, the birthplace of Chinese communism and once the hideout of Chairman Mao Zedong and other party leaders, is undergoing a boom in construction. The river shown above is the Yan River, a tributary of the Yellow River. Andrea Hsu, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Andrea Hsu, NPR
Construction near Yan'an

Yan'an, the birthplace of Chinese communism and once the hideout of Chairman Mao Zedong and other party leaders, is undergoing a boom in construction. The river shown above is the Yan River, a tributary of the Yellow River.

Andrea Hsu, NPR
The Hukou waterfall. i

The rushing waters of the Yellow River's Hukou waterfall inspired a patriotic poem that was later set to music. Andrea Hsu, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Andrea Hsu, NPR
The Hukou waterfall.

The rushing waters of the Yellow River's Hukou waterfall inspired a patriotic poem that was later set to music.

Andrea Hsu, NPR
Map i
Alice Kreit, NPR
Map
Alice Kreit, NPR
A performance at the Yan'an caves i

Performer Liu Aiguo (whose given name means "love the country") sings revolutionary songs for tourists visiting Yan'an. Andrea Hsu, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Andrea Hsu, NPR
A performance at the Yan'an caves

Performer Liu Aiguo (whose given name means "love the country") sings revolutionary songs for tourists visiting Yan'an.

Andrea Hsu, NPR
A tourist dressed as Mao at the Ya'nan caves. i

A tourist at the caves where Mao Zedong lived in the 1940s dresses up in clothing from the period and pretends to spin yarn as the communist leader once did. Andrea Hsu, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Andrea Hsu, NPR
A tourist dressed as Mao at the Ya'nan caves.

A tourist at the caves where Mao Zedong lived in the 1940s dresses up in clothing from the period and pretends to spin yarn as the communist leader once did.

Andrea Hsu, NPR

The Yellow River is often called the cradle of Chinese civilization. The middle reaches of the river — where it passes through a yellow earth loess plateau — are where Chinese civilization emerged thousands of years ago.

Today, the area is experiencing a renaissance of sorts, one that is taking China in new directions.

They may be constructing the future all across modern China, but in places along the Yellow River, they are also constructing the past.

Just west of the Yellow River, as it emerges from the Black Triangle of China's coal country, is the Tomb of the Yellow Emperor, a tourist site that is being rapidly refurbished.

Searching for China's 'Roots'

The tomb is not in any foreign tourist books, but it's thronged with Chinese tourists. They have come to see the tomb of the mythical leader, who is considered to be the ancestor of all Chinese.

With China's Communist Party concerned that its legitimacy now depends entirely on a booming economy, one of the aims in enlarging and refurbishing this tomb may be to burnish the party's credentials as champion of the new Chinese nationalism.

Many of the visitors to the tomb say they are very proud to be able to celebrate their history and their culture.

"It's just like in America," says a business man named Liu, who is visiting from the city of Xi'an. "You guys have a book called Roots, right? Well, this is just the Chinese people going in search of our roots."

River's Patriotic Inspiration

Another tourist site that's generating pride among Chinese is the roaring Hukou waterfall, located on the Yellow River in Shaanxi province. The falls — and their intensity — inspired one of China's most famous poems about the Yellow River, which was soon set to music.

The Yellow River Cantata premiered in 1939 at the Communist Party base in Yan'an, about 70 miles inland from the Yellow River.

The communists under Chairman Mao Zedong retreated to this remote spot on the loess plateau in 1935, as they tried to mobilize China's peasants and bring about a socialist revolution. The cantata was a rallying cry of patriotism against the invading Japanese during World War II.

Now, however, visitors to Yan'an are greeted with a different tune.

Along the 'Red Tourism' Route

At the caves where Mao and other communist leaders lived in the 1930s and 40s, a performer dressed in traditional peasant clothes sings the communist classic, "The East Is Red." Now a tourist spot, visitors can dress up as revolutionaries and pose outside the caves, inspect the bed where Mao slept, or sing along with the performers.

A group of Chinese baby boomers, visiting Yan'an for the first time, insist that if Mao were still alive, he would like the China of today. They say China is stronger and richer now, and that would make him happy.

This spot, and others in the region, are part of a government-promoted concept called "Red Tourism." Han Ning, a 27-year-old tour guide, explains that it includes all the spots along the route taken by the Communist Army in the 1930s and 40s, when it was fighting for control of the country.

Han acknowledges that it is a little bit contradictory for the Communist Party to be earning money from its history, but adds, "We don't think too much about political things."

This story was produced for broadcast by NPR's Andrea Hsu.

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