Commentary

Tiananmen 20 years on: A real "Party" song

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[Editor's note: June 4th is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. For more GlobalPost coverage, read what Chinese dissidents think about the event, how a leading Chinese artist thinks about his country, the thoughts of a former student protest leader now in Taiwan, and how one museum fits into China's patriotic landscape, below.]

BEIJING — The massive museum, a modern structure of grey bricks and white-painted cement, stands a little abruptly, halfway up Xiayun Mountain. Welcome to the "Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No New China Museum," dedicated entirely to a revolutionary song.

On a recent sunny afternoon, when a friend and I made our way to this western outskirt of the capital known as "the roof of Beijing," the spacious parking lot was empty. Yiaotangshang, a quiet mountain village, isn’t on any tourist map. Now it is poised to go down in history as the birthplace of the most famous revolutionary song in China.

By the foot of the mountain, three national flags flapped in the chill wind. In the main hall, staves of the song’s music, in gold, glared on a red wall, behind a golden hammer and sickle. As someone who grew up in China and knows the lyrics by heart, I couldn’t help but start singing aloud, to the amusement of the museum staff. In the revolutionary spirit and against the market economy trend, entrance is free.

The museum is made up of three separate parts. Here photos, documents, and wax figures enlighten visitors to the song’s history, its composer Cao Huoxing and the glorious history of the Chinese Communist Party. The museum also houses a 400 square meter stage. To liven things up, there’s even an animated slide show, recounting the story how Cao composed the song.

In October, 1943, Cao, a young member of the "Iron Blood" propaganda troupe, was traveling through the village. The troupe had been staging performances in the countryside to mobilize the masses to join in the revolution and fight the invading Japanese. In responding to the Nationalists’ claim that “without the Nationalists, there would be no China,” Cao penned the music and composed these lyrics:

The Communist Party works hard for the people and strives to save China.

It’s pointed people the path to liberation.

It’s led China to a bright future.

It’s fought against the Japanese for more than eight years.

It’s improved people’s living standards.

It’s established guerrilla bases behind enemy lines.

It practices democracy and has brought along many good things.

Without the Communist Party, there would be no China.

The villagers sang the song while performing a traditional dance, complete with colorful streamers. As the Communists won the upper-hand against the Nationalists, the perky song, with its rhyming lyrics and upbeat melody, became a hit and spread across the country.

One day in 1950, when Chairman Mao heard his daughter singing it, he suggested adding a "new" in front of China. This further increased the song’s popularity and helped it earn its position as "the number one Party song."

According to the museum's website the Fangshan County government, a poor area by Beijing standards, has invested more than 10 million yuan ($1.4 million) in the museum. In 2001, a modest museum was constructed on the same site to mark the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. After it became a "Patriotic Education Base" in Beijing, the local government decided to upgrade the museum.

But who would bother to track all the way up to the mountain village in the middle of nowhere to visit this Party song museum? The museum staff, who patiently showed us every corner of it, said it received about 50,000 visitors in 2008, mostly school kids going through patriotic education.

The Chinese Communist Party has some 74 million members, nearly a quarter of whom are under 35. Defying predictions, it has proven to be very resilient. While loosening control in certain aspects and granting people more personal freedom, the Party has stepped up its effort to ensure the loyalty of the population, young people in particular.

Funds have been allocated to build or upgrade museums that are designed to inspire patriotic feelings or nurture nationalist attachments. For example, a museum to commemorate the ‘Rape of Nanjing’, was first built in 1985 and upgraded in 1995 to become state-of-the-art. Revolutionary song competitions are still held regularly at schools, universities and government organizations. Popular songs such as "The East is Red" and "Socialism is Great" are featured on Karaoke lists.

During the long drive back to Beijing, I found myself singing “Without the Communist Party, there would be no New China.” Somehow, the melody engraved itself into my brain.

Lijia Zhang is a factory worker-turned writer and journalist, and the author of "Socialism is Great! A Worker's Memoir of the New China."

 

More on the Tiananmen Square anniversary:

Tiananmen 20 years on: Dissident voices

Tiananmen 20 years on: An artist speaks out