It's the 90th birthday of the Chinese Communist Party, and Chinese restaurants, politicians and tourist companies are cashing inby Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore / July 1, 2011 / Leave a comment
The Chinese Communist Party is aiming to consolidate its rule by lionising Mao’s legacy. Photo: Damien Farrell
Down a dusty road in a remote far eastern suburb of Beijing a revolutionary-themed restaurant is busy preparing for the party of the year. Friday, 1st July, marks the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 90th anniversary and The East is Red is expecting diners to run into the hundreds.
They will come ravenous not just for the hearty cuisine but also for a heavy dose of communist nostalgia. A twice-daily show—ramped up for the anniversary —includes revolution-era songs, dance and drama, cherry picked from the chaotic days of the 1966-76 cultural revolution.
I visit on a Tuesday evening, and despite the mid-week timing and isolated location the restaurant is around half full. The imposing doorway to the cavernous building is a colossal red star—inside are stirring statues of revolutionary heroes, murals of workers clutching Mao’s Little Red Book and an army of performers dressed in Red Guard uniforms.
This is a family day out. Every customer, down to the smallest child, waves a red flag and many sway in the aisles to songs such as “Sing in Praise of the Motherland.” Across one wall gigantic red Chinese characters spell out the words: “May the Chinese Communist Party live ten thousand, 100 million years.”
Every morning and afternoon this week Zhang Nanfang, a 26-year old waitress at The East is Red (the Chinese name translates directly as “Red Classics Theme Restaurant”) practices the revolutionary dance moves she will perform on Friday. For Zhang, who has her hair carefully braided with red ribbons and the mandatory six Mao Zedong badges pinned to her chest, the occasion marks an opportunity to celebrate the “Great Helmsman,” as he is commonly known here.
“As the national leader who founded our nation, Mao is quite great. He made mistakes in the cultural revolution, but after all he did save China,” she quips as we pick at a vast spicy vat of tofu. For Zhang, The East is Red has been an education. “Before I came to work here, I had no idea about the quotations from Chairman Mao. And I’d never heard of “Fight the landlord” (an expression referring to the denouncement and criticism of landowners during the cultural revolution); but here we can act it out in dances with costumes.” She adds, smiling shyly, “it’s pretty authentic history.”