Across the Great Divide

Image: Wang Xiaoyang

On 13 March Xi Jinping dusted off his Maoist vocabulary textbook and called on the Chinese people to wage a “People’s War” against Covid-19. China’s leader appeared resolute for the television cameras despite confronting an unprecedented crisis coming immediately after a tumultuous year. 

“The trade war with America has hit everyone,” Xue Ye, a curator from Hebei province told me at a dinner party in December 2019, not long before the novel coronavirus outbreak became public. “The leadership don’t know what to do about it, nor the Hong Kong issue.” 

The massive protests in Hong Kong were a popular indictment on the Middle Kingdom’s lapse into authoritarianism under the newly crowned “Emperor for Life”. The Stars and Stripes flags and the Union Jacks waving amid a sea of Hongkongers sent a message to the world. “If Hong Kong fails, so goes the world’s first line of defence,” wrote democracy activist Joshua Wong, framing Hong Kong as a new West Berlin.

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Mao-stalgia: red tourism in Zunyi, China

Gazing over a map of China, Zunyi appears far from the fray. The city is situated in the middle of landlocked Guizhou province, in the remote, mountainous and ethnically diverse southwest. Yet despite its obscurity, almost everyone in China has heard of Zunyi.

This is because in early 1935, the battle-weary Red Army held a meeting in Zunyi that would change the course of history. It was during the fabled Zunyi Conference that Chairman Mao Zedong negotiated his way to the emerging Communist party’s top spot. Today, with China more market-orientated than Marxist, this small Guizhou town is keen to exploit its red credentials, catering to the troops of sightseers now on the march across China.

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