All-women army unit lures 'red' tourists in China

Sitting between two of her sons, frail and wrinkled Pan Xianying does not at first glance look like a tourist attraction.

But the mother of seven, now nearly a century old, is one of three remaining members of a famed Communist all-women army unit in China and a living attraction on a "red" tour of the southern island province of Hainan.

As the Communist Party marks the 90th anniversary of its founding on July 1, a wave of officially-encouraged interest in the revolutionary era has bubbled up - even on Hainan, which is known more for its luxury hotels and beaches.

"She's not feeling too good today," one of Pan's sons said apologetically as his mother, her white hair in a neat bob, spoke in her local dialect, sometimes raising her voice in apparent confusion.

Pan's family believes she is around 95 - accurate Hainan birth records from those days are hard to come by - and was about 15 when she joined a newly created all-women army unit in 1931.

A young local Communist formed the battalion in Hainan in a push for gender equality.

Created to protect party leaders and fight rival Nationalist forces during China's protracted civil war, the unit - composed of 140 women at its height - disbanded several years later when the Nationalists drove the Communists underground in Hainan.

But its members were hailed once again as heroines after Mao Zedong's victorious forces took over China in 1949 and the unit has since inspired a popular ballet - "The Red Detachment of Women" - and several films.

Local authorities in the rural community of Qionghai decided to capitalise on the detachment's fame this year with tours of its former training grounds and meeting spots.

The tours attracted 360 people in April, some coming as part of events organised by their employers, others independently.

Besides old revolutionary sites - one of them just a bare field where influential communists once met long ago - outdoor sports such as hiking are also on offer.

The hikes are billed as instilling army-style camaraderie among tour members and follow a route that Red Army soldiers are said to have struggled through.

"When you read written records in books, it doesn't give you much of a feeling for things," said red tourist Zhao Kexin, a 20-year-old university student from the nearby city of Haikou who paid 138 yuan ($21) for a one-day tour.

"You have to go experience it yourself, what the route was like, how difficult it was to go through. Only then can you get a deeper understanding."

The tour guides sport revolutionary-style green caps complete with a red star, which visitors can buy for 10 yuan. They can also choose to wear a full soldier's uniform for 100 yuan.

'Red' tourism is not new in China, where the party has deftly managed to keep alive memories of the communist revolution even as it has transformed the country into an economic powerhouse.

The Hunan province city of Shaoshan where Mao was born and the longtime Communist base of Yan'an in Shaanxi province are already star attractions.

But the trend is gaining ground. In the southwestern city of Chongqing, authorities have ordered state radio and television to promote the mass study of "red songs" praising the Communist Party.

Citizens are being urged to download tunes from websites, while newspapers print their lyrics, state media reported. Other cities have made similar moves.

In January, Chongqing Satellite Television also set aside popular shows in favour of programmes extolling Communist ideals.

In Qionghai, tourists can meet Pan at her home nestled in a palm grove.

Her sons regale visitors with her story, such as when Pan - the unit's youngest member - fought for a day and a night, losing many comrades.

Pan's husband Huang Shishen recalled meeting her after the battalion was disbanded, falling in love and asking for her hand knowing he could get into trouble with the rival Nationalists.

By then Pan had decided to retire to her rickety old bed, worn out by all the attention.

Chen Doushu, head of the agency organising the tours, said red tourism reflects a desire by many to look fondly back at the past after more than 30 years of focus on the future during China's rapid recent modernisation.

"Chinese people cannot forget their history, and the best way to do that is to go and remember it, to study it. That's where red tourism comes from," he said.

News
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager - Commercial Cable & Wire - UK

    £60,000 - £75,000: Recruitment Genius: As a top tier supplier to the major Aer...

    ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    Day In a Page

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes