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In China, Red Tourism Stages a Comeback

Historical sites of the revolution are flooded by Chinese tourists
A reenactment of the “Defense of Yan’an”
A reenactment of the “Defense of Yan’an”Photograph by Tomas Van Houtry/VII

Ear-splitting explosions go off and plumes of gray smoke drift over the arid Shaanxi countryside of northwestern China. Ragtag Communist soldiers in blue uniforms fire their rifles at an advancing Nationalist tank while villagers run for cover. Finally, justice prevails; the red flag of the Chinese Communist Party is held proudly aloft while peasants dance in celebration.

It’s a scene repeated every day at 11 a.m. as 350 actors reenact the “Defense of Yan’an,” a famous battle against the Nationalist forces of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek that was crucial to the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. “By coming here we can understand how the party sacrificed, created the new China, and built such a beautiful country for us,” says 13-year-old Deng Yi, visiting from Wenzhou, who along with his mother and father, each shelled out 150 yuan ($24) to watch the show.