My initial goal in visiting Shanghai for my 29th birthday celebration at the end of June was to feel like a kid again at Disneyland. But now it seems the trip was more of a time travel adventure than an excursion through fairyland.
One day was enough for Disneyland, so to fill the schedule we decided to visit other attractions first. Where should we go? The question was not difficult to answer, as the city itself has so many options.
The color red was commonly seen everywhere from railroad and subway stations to billboards and red-trip buses, as tourists flocked to see historic sites and relics.
As the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party approached on July 1, the festive atmosphere in the city, the birthplace of the CCP, was electric. In fact, Disneyland, the city’s most popular attraction, was challenged by the brand new Memorial at the site of the Chinese Communist Party’s First National Congress. Tourists, some with gray hair, lined up to enter, despite the hot sun.
Shanghai also has a number of former residences of luminaries, such as former prime minister Zhou Enlai and Sun Yat-sen, the forerunner of the democratic revolution in China, and his wife, Soong Ching Ling. The famous writer Lu Xun, whose essays mobilized the masses to fight, is another.
What impressed me the most was that despite the crowds, everything was in order. The attractions provided knowledge and sometimes a surprise.
At the residence of former Prime Minister Zhou, I noticed a mysterious black car under a window on a screen that worked as a guide on the site. I banged on the car and it left quickly. One sentence appeared: “Premier Zhou was under close surveillance at that time.
The residence was the Shanghai office of the CCP in the late 1940s, when the CCP and the Kuomintang negotiated to cooperate in the fight against the Japanese invaders. Zhou once lived and worked there, meeting political activists and holding press conferences with Chinese and foreign journalists. But what happened in the house was strictly monitored by the Kuomintang spies.
Touching another suspicious house in front of the residence on the screen, an animated spy character introduced himself. This type of functionality was repeated a number of times in the interactive presentation. To me, it seemed like the story spoke from faded chairs, desk tables, beds, and locked doors.
The residence of former vice president Soong Ching Ling, on the other hand, impressed me with her taste in choosing furniture, and there was a touching story of her interaction with nanny Li Yan’e. I realized that the great woman was not just a political figure but a person of compassion and elegance.
At the Memorial Site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China, I saw many tourists of different ages writing guest books, recording their feelings about the history of the Party. Some children recorded their thoughts in a fake phone booth and expressed their hopes for the future.
A lovely worker invited me to take a photo and shoot a 30 second video. She asked me what I wanted to say to the Party. The photo and video can be uploaded from the WeChat account of Knews, a local media outlet that works in cooperation with the venue. In another corner, a life-size robot-guide with artificial intelligence was patient in answering questions from curious tourists.
None of my parents are CPC members like me. But they didn’t mind visiting the red attractions. My dad loved to discuss history with me and my mom took lots of pictures. The Red Journey, enhanced by technology and interaction, helped me understand history better. And we had fun.