Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Red Shanghai

The 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China is upon us, with all its tanks, missiles, mass demonstrations of patriotism, closings of sensitive areas, and the general outpouring of overdone pomp and propaganda that insecure governments everywhere feel the need to display. In celebration of this glorious holiday, here is a list of the most prominent red sites in Shanghai. If you’re in the city, why not commemorate the CCP’s Diamond Jubilee by visited some of these august locations?

The Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre

This museum is, blessedly, privately run, and so should perhaps not be considered a “red site” at all since it isn’t controlled by the government. But for those interested in Chinese communist culture, this memorial to the propaganda posters of the past is not to be missed. With refreshingly honest signage, the museum guides you through some truly incredible posters from 1949 to 1979. Because many of China’s propaganda posters were recycled during the chairmanship of Deng Xiaoping, the ones on display here are extremely rare. These aren’t the copies you find on the street. Be sure to check out the shop, where you can buy original posters if you’re willing to shell out the big bucks, as well as some good reproductions. Interestingly and unfortunately, the place seems to be known only to foreigners. I asked the attendant working there whether the museum gets more foreign or Chinese visitors. He replied that all of the visitors are foreign. This is a shame. As the museum itself states, “Today China’s economic path to prosperity is well defined. But with the shift toward a more modern and forward thinking China, it would be a mistake to forget our recent history.”


To get there: The museum is a little hard to find. It’s located in the basement of building 4, block B, at 868 Huashan Road, across from Wukang Road, inside a residential complex. The nearest metro stops are Changshu Road (line one), Jing’an Si (line two), and Jiangsu Road (line two). Ask the guard at the gate of the residential complex and he’ll give you a card explaining how to find the museum.

Longhua Cemetery of Martyrs

This is a must-see for those interested in how official history of the Chinese communist movement is written. The Longhua Cemetery of Martyrs memorializes those who died fighting for the cause of communism in the early 20th century. It is built on the site of a killing ground that Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalist Party used to murder communists, students, intellectuals, members of trade unions, and others deemed to be leftist in 1927. Later it was turned into a prison. Such museums have a habit of labeling everybody who resisted the fascist tendencies of the Nationalist Party as striving for communism, though in reality the situation in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s was more complicated than that. If you can look past the historical whitewashing, however, visiting this site is still a moving experience. As I have noted before, labeling the entire memorial site “propaganda” risks dismissing too easily the deep resonance such places can have. The people commemorated here are worthy of our remembrance, regardless of who is doing the commemorating.

To get there: The memorial is located at 180 Longhua Road, by the Longhua Temple (which is also worth a visit). There isn’t an adjacent metro stop, but the closest one is the Longcao Road stop on line three. After getting off the metro, walk northeast along North Longshui Road, which turns into Longhua Road.

Mao Zedong’s former residence

This one’s a no-brainer. Any tour of Shanghai’s red sites must include homage to the place where Mao Zedong lived in the mid-1920s. As a sign makes clear, Mao’s life was highly revolutionary: “In his youth, Mao Zedong cherished a lofty revolutionary aspiration, actively seeking revolutionary truth and joined in the revolutionary practice.” The place features recreations of some of the rooms of the house, and upstairs is a little museum with, interestingly, a room devoted to Mao Anying, Mao Zedong’s son who died in the Korean War. It also includes some wonderful Chinglish, such as this caption for a photograph: “Mao Zedong gave a banquet to labor representatives and crackerjacks at technical innovation of Shanghai on March 19, 1960” (1960319月,毛泽东在锦江饭店宴请上海的工人代表,技术革新能手).


To get there: Mao’s former residence is located at 120 North Maoming Road, near the West Nanjing Road metro stop on line two.

Zhou Enlai’s former residence

Zhou Enlai was Mao’s right-hand man, and the highest-ranking official to survive the entirety of his rule. His former residence in Shanghai acted more as an office for the CCP around 1946 than as a house. It’s a beautiful place, and well worth a visit.

To get there: Zhou Enlai’s former residence is located at 73 Sinan Road, near Fuxing Park. The nearest metro stop is South Shaanxi Road on line one.

Site of the founding of the CCP

‘Nuff said. In the heart of Xintiandi, it’s easily accessible by tourists, meaning the curators were extra careful to make everything spotlessly whitewashed. A must see for red tourism, but five minutes is probably enough.

See this interesting article at the China Beat for information about the history of the building.

To get there: Head to Xintiandi, near the South Huangpi Road metro stop on line one, and follow the tour groups.

Liu Changsheng’s former residence

Liu Changsheng is a relatively minor figure in Chinese communist history. He was a leader of the underground communist movement in Shanghai from 1937 to the establishment of the People’s Republic, and was important in the formation of the Party’s labor policy in Shanghai. The small museum in his former residence focuses on underground communist activities in 1930s Shanghai, and provides a good example of how the government writes the history of this period—largely ignoring the considerable intellectual ferment of the times and emphasizing instead the central role of the Communist Party.


To get there: Liu Changsheng’s former residence is located at 81 Yiyuan Road, close to the Jing’an Si metro stop on line two.

National Anthem Memorial Hall

The history of “March of the Volunteers,” the national anthem, is indeed pretty fascinating; unfortunately, this museum is too focused on making it a tribute to the Communist Party/Chinese nation. If you can get past this kind of language (“After 70 years of trial and hardship, ‘March of the Volunteers’ has become a part of the very blood of the Chinese people and the soul of the Chinese nation”), the place has a lot of interesting tidbits. For example, “March of the Volunteers” had a broad international following during World War II, including a rendition sung by the American singer Paul Robeson, and played a role in international anti-fascist sentiment. The museum leaves the nasty historical bits out, of course—no mention, for example, how Tian Han, the lyricist of the song, died in 1968 after being persecuted during the Cultural Revolution.

To get there: The National Anthem Memorial Hall is located by the Dalian Road metro stop on line four. Go out exit three; the museum is on the southeast corner of the intersection at Dalian Road and Changyang Road.

Sites appropriated into red history

The government has attempted to appropriate the figures associated with the sites below into the history of the Communist Party. In many cases that’s not far off the mark—Song Qingling, for example, certainly ingratiated herself with China’s new masters after 1949—but their lives are much more complicated than simple allegiance to the CCP.

Cai Yuanpei’s former residence: Cai Yuanpei had a prominent influence in the development of China’s educational system, and was a main figure in the May Fourth Movement. You can see his former residence inside Lane 303 on Huashan Road, across from the Hilton Hotel, near the Jing’an Si metro stop on line two.

Sun Yatsen’s former residence: Sun Yatsen is revered in both Taiwan and in mainland China. See the CCP’s version of his life at 7 Xiangshan Road, near Fuxing Park. The nearest metro stop is South Shaanxi Road on line one.

Song Qingling’s former residence: Song Qingling, the widow of Sun Yatsen, decided to stay in China after the communists won the civil war (in stark contrast to her sister). Her residence is a beautiful mansion with lots of interesting gifts from foreign dignitaries, and a backyard perfect for lawn parties. It’s located at 1843 Middle Huai’hai Road, not too far from the Hengshan Road metro stop on line one.

Lu Xun Park and former residence: Lu Xun, probably the most important cultural figure in 1920s and 1930s China, never joined the Communist Party, but he was close friends with lots of people who did, and supported many of its activities. The CCP regards him as an important figure in its history. In Lu Xun Park, by the Hongkou Stadium metro stop on line eight, you can see his tomb (with calligraphy by Mao Zedong) and visit a museum devoted to him. Near the park is his old residence, a charming place in a relatively out-of-the-way spot, where he lived at the end of his life. It’s located in Lane 132 on Shanyin Road, southeast of the park.

Duolun Road: Duolun Road is famous for being the site of the former residences of several well-known figures, such as Guo Moruo and Mao Dun, as well as the former headquarters of the League of Left-Wing Writers. Nowadays it’s touristy, but not too annoyingly so. It’s located just south of Lu Xun Park.

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