This summer in China, there’s only one party worth talking about — the Communist Party.
The country is big on celebrations, and this one is no exception. Schoolchildren in red scarfs have been preparing Communist songs. Propaganda posters and flags adorn the streets. Communist-themed museums and parks are opening. Mass weddings have been held.
Elaborate firework displays, light and drone shows and a military air show are planned. And even in space, there was a celebration at China’s new space station. Three astronauts sent a video wishing the party a happy 100th birthday.
One hundred years ago this month, 13 men, including Mao Zedong, met in a small room in Shanghai, and changed the course of history by founding the Communist Party of China, often referred to as the Chinese Communist Party.
Tony Saich, a Harvard University professor and the author of a new book on the history of the Communist Party, said the founders of the party saw it as a radical break from China’s imperial and colonial past, but that the image has changed today.
“Now, the party is talking much more about the fact that it is the inheritor of China's glorious tradition.”
“Now, the party is talking much more about the fact that it is the inheritor of China's glorious tradition,” Saich said. “And so, all those good things going back in history, you know, the Chinese Communist Party is the natural successor to that. Now, the Communist Party of China is seen as a crucial part of, not a departure from, China’s long history.
In Shanghai, the hottest ticket in town might just be the site of that first Communist Party meeting back in 1921, and the new museum that opened up just across the street. The tiny room where it happened has now been preserved. It is surrounded by a luxury shopping district, where expensive foreign brands, upscale restaurants and fake historic architecture attract a bourgeois clientele.
In preparation for the anniversary, officials have decked out the area in red, and renamed nearby subway stops for the occasion. Every morning, people wearing red and gold CPC pins on their lapels line up to visit the site. Many wear matching red T-shirts that say “Follow the Party Forever” and hold little red flags. Everyone stops for a photo in front of a big hammer and sickle outside the museum.
Inside the museum, tour guides with headsets shepherd huge groups around the exhibits. Visitors can view historical artifacts such as clothes worn by the original delegates, manuscripts and old typewriters. As the lights dim, visitors can also watch a hologram re-creation of that first meeting where delegates from around China gathered in secrecy to form the party.
The emotional climax for many visitors is the chance to renew the vows they took when they joined the party. Groups recite the pledge together, and then they take photos with raised fists in front of a giant Chinese flag. A few steps away, they can enter a glass-enclosed booth to film their own private message.
Wang Xiao Tong, a party member and a volunteer at the museum, said that joining the party is a bit like converting to a religion and that seeing the exhibit helps her better understand what Chinese people throughout history have struggled to achieve.
“The founders of the [Communist] party really had a difficult time at the beginning, but they never gave up.”
“They walked a challenging path,” she said. “The founders of the party really had a difficult time at the beginning, but they never gave up,” she said.
Learning about the history of the party makes her better appreciate how much the country has achieved today, she explained.
The main event is a speech by Xi Jinping, China’s highest-ranking Communist Party official.
Professor Saich said the anniversary celebrations are how China shows a strong image to its people and the world.
“It's to sort of project that image across the nation of, ‘We are the legitimate rulers of China. We've done good by you. You should stick with us and you should have national pride in what we've achieved.’”
The message they want people to take away, he said, is that this is one party that won’t be over anytime soon.