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Red tourism reinforces Yan’an’s place in history

A scene from the four-act drama Yan'an Nursery, which is regularly staged in Yan'an, Shaanxi province. (PHOTO / FOR CHINA DAILY)

Yan'an, a city in the northwestern province of Shaanxi and the cradle of the Chinese revolution, is a popular Red tourism destination with a wealth of revolutionary sites.

During this year's Labor Day holiday, interest in Red tourism saw people visiting museums and revolutionary sites to recall the heroic deeds of the martyrs.

A report by WeChat said more than 40 percent of visitors to Red tourism sites during the holiday were born in the 1990s and 2000s.

Yan'an has worked hard in recent years to upgrade its revolutionary scenic areas and find creative ways to promote Red tourism and enhance people's travel experiences.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China, the government recently unveiled 100 classic Red tourism routes divided into three kinds: those that focus on the CPC's history and struggle; those that illustrate China's scientific and technological breakthroughs; and those that emphasize the country's achievements in poverty alleviation, rural vitalization and construction of an ecological civilization (a CPC-led concept of sustainable development).

According to the China Tourism Academy, more than half the tourists surveyed had noticed the use of innovative methods in Red tourism, such as creative settings in scenic areas, innovative introductions and communications, and the use of advanced technologies.

According to the China Tourism Academy, more than half the tourists surveyed had noticed the use of innovative methods in Red tourism, such as creative settings in scenic areas, innovative introductions and communications, and the use of advanced technologies

Official data show that from 2014 to 2019, the number of such trips rose from 140 million to 1.41 billion, suggesting that people are increasingly eager to learn about the country's revolutionary history.

According to the Yan'an government, the city saw more than 40.25 million tourist visits in 2016, with the figure rising to 73.08 million in 2019.

Meanwhile, over the same period, the city's tourism revenue rose from 22.8 billion yuan (US$3.5 billion), to 49.5 billion yuan.

Tourist draws

In 2019, the Yangjialing Revolutionary Site was listed as a national AAAAA-level scenic area, the highest level. The site was the venue of the Yan'an Forum on Literature and Art in 1942 and the CPC's Seventh National Congress in 1945. Tourists can also visit the former offices of the CPC Central Committee in Yangjialing.

Hou Zhenlong, director of the Yangjialing Revolutionary Site management office, said they started improving the surrounding environment in 2015, with infrastructure upgrades such as a new tourist center and a parking area to better serve visitors.

The information presented by tour guides has been improved, and the exhibits on display have been upgraded.

The office has also established accounts on popular social media platforms such as WeChat and Douyin to promote historical stories via articles and short videos. Every week, the tour guides are encouraged to use the platforms to share their thoughts about related books they have read.

The administrators are planning to work with a number of businesses to present livestreams for the companies' workers overseas, so they can learn about Yangjialing's history remotely.

Last year, they established a training center to provide one-day tours offering Party classes taught by experts, which is a popular Party-building activity. There are also two or three tour guides to introduce Yangjialing's revolutionary history from different viewpoints and with specific themes.

Hou said many tour groups comprise adults, who attend the Party classes, while middle school students take study tours.

Pupils of the Zhaojin Beiliang Red Army Primary School in Zhaojin town, Tongchuan, Shaanxi province, learn the history of the Communist Party of China. (PHOTO FOR CHINA DAILY)

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"It's essential to attract tourists via interactive experiences. We are striving to use creative ways to promote Red culture, such as cartoons and cultural products," he said.

Hou added that the team is working on an augmented reality experience so visitors can scan a QR code and view a 3D cartoon about a child Red Army soldier on their smartphone screens.

Qian Wenyan's daily routine involves offering visitors an hourlong guided tour of the Yangjialing Revolutionary Site. She guides four to eight tour groups every day during peak season, which runs from April to October.

Some visitors tire easily because of the hot weather during peak season, especially in high summer, so Qian gathers them under the shade of a tree and provides detailed information.

Like her counterparts, she often sings Red songs and local folk songs and performs yangge, a popular rural folk dance, to liven things up.

"For visitors, the cave dwellings in Yan'an's revolutionary sites all look much the same, so I tell them historical stories to showcase the differences between caves," the 37-year-old veteran guide said.

She has her own methods of drawing the tourists' attention to Yangjialing's history: for Party members, she focuses on the CPC's theories; for ordinary tourists and students, she explains the history in simple terms and tells stories.

According to Qian, visitors are interested in a stone desk where Chairman Mao Zedong famously told Anna Louise Strong, a journalist from the United States, that "all reactionaries are paper tigers". She said tourists also like to visit a small patch of land where Mao grew vegetables. The land is still in use and the visitors can learn to identify different crops.

"As a guide at a revolutionary site, I realize that I shoulder a responsibility to spread the true history and revolutionary spirit of the older generation. I read extensively about the CPC's history for professional self-development," she said. "I was born and raised in Yan'an. I love my hometown and I love working here."

Her older brother is a security guard at Wangjiaping, another revolutionary site in the city. As a teenager, Qian often visited the site and gained the impression that "the tour guides were all good-looking and talented".

When she was recruited in 2006, she was the only undergraduate in Yangjialing. Now she's part of the core team and has provided guided tours for some leaders of foreign countries.

Telling revolutionary stories

In 1938, several nurseries were founded in Yan'an to take care of the children of officials, soldiers and revolutionary martyrs, including Deng Lin, the daughter of Deng Xiaoping. During the decade that followed, about 5,000 children lived in these nurseries.

Yan'an Nursery, a 70-minute, four-act drama, tells a story of sacrifice and love. The performance combines music played on the local waist-drum, yangge dances and xintianyou, the traditional folk songs of northern Shaanxi.

The drama is based on true stories. The production team traveled across the country for three months to interview more than 200 people, mainly childcare workers and children who lived in the nurseries.

Produced by the Shaanxi Tourism Group, the drama premiered on July 1, 2011, and became a regular performance in Yan'an two years later. By May 3, it had been seen by more than 2.17 million people. It will soon move to a new 1,200-seat theater, about double the current capacity, with upgraded lighting and stage designs.

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"Our performance has spread the precious 10-year history of Yan'an's nurseries, which was barely known by most people," said Hei Lele, who is in charge of marketing.

"Tourists will be moved by the spirit of Yan'an and the great maternal love. The story unfolds from a feminine perspective and tells how the female dean does her best to protect the children during wartime."

According to Hei, former residents of the nurseries and the children of early CPC leaders have watched the performance, with some moved to tears. He said it's important for destinations to develop performances to cater to tourists' different demands. Yan'an Nursery not only offers the audience a vivid demonstration of the city's revolutionary history via the performing arts, but also serves as a great example of patriotic education.

Li Xinjian, dean of the School of Tourism Management at Beijing International Studies University, said: "It's essential to promote Red tourism among young people, who constitute the majority of consumers of such services. We should do it in a way young people are familiar with. An innovative explanation of stories based on the historical facts is more likely to interest them."

To better develop Yan'an's economy via Red tourism, Li said it's important to make such tourism more appealing to visitors by developing high-quality attractions and improving both local services and the travel experience.

He added that the comprehensive development of "eating, housing, transport, travel, shopping and entertainment" is a must, and urged the city to make efforts to develop cultural products and Red-themed dining and accommodations.

As an example, he cited the success of the city's Red performances, whose innovative approach is popular among tourists.