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June 21, 2011

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Shanghai sites and thrilling tales

SHANGHAI has many red tourism sites, mostly former residences and meeting halls, but there are also many exciting tales of derring-do from the Communist Party's early days - like setting up a fake "hospital" with "staff" to hold a Party meeting. Yao Minji takes a tour.

In May 1930, at the peak of the massacre of Chinese Communists by the Kuomintang (KMT) around the country, Shanghai was a particularly dangerous place. In 1927 it suffered its own massacre (the April 12 Incident or Shanghai Massacre) and many Communists went underground.

In 1930 the financial and trading center remained on edge, the site of numerous power struggles involving parties of all kinds.

It was in May that the Communists devised one of their most audacious plans - holding one of their largest secret meetings of the National Soviet (Council) that was attended by more than 50 leading Party members.

It was a bold undertaking, one of many acts of derring-do at the time, but it was a success.

When the nationalist and concession police finally found the meeting room, it was much too late, thanks to the sophisticated and brilliant planning of undercover Party spies in Shanghai, led by Zhou Enlai.

In order to disguise the venue and protect the leaders, underground Party members rented a four-story house at the corner of today's Huanghe and Fenyang roads and transformed it into a newly opened private hospital that would fool anyone who was suspicious. It was right next to a theater so that attendees would not stand out among the many theatergoers.

Local Party guards and participants of the meeting from all over the country were disguised as doctors, nurses, patients and orderlies, all wearing uniforms or typical white coats. All carried guns, some under their white coats.

At the rear of the hospital, a ladder extending from a window linked the hospital with the house next door, also rented by Party members as an escape route. They stacked containers of flammable liquids and gas on the first floor of the hospital so that they could set it off like bomb if the KMT found the place.

Another version of how they disguised the meeting venue has that the Communists staged a large and lavish birthday party for an 80-year-old merchant (a Party member) and invited many guests.

Shanghai was filled with intrigue in those early days of the Party and there were exciting, real cloak-and-dagger events everywhere. No one knew who to trust; spies from every side and faction were everywhere. Many of these stories were buried for years, and it was difficult to confirm details when so many people died or lost contact with the Party. This also explains why some tales have multiple versions.

Revolutionary tourism, or red tourism, is a unique industry in China and includes visits to many historic sites in the history of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese Red Army (which later became the People's Liberation Army).

The frequently recommended destinations include many former battle fields or sites of major uprisings by peasants and workers, such as Nanchang in Jiangxi Province, where the Nanchang Uprising (August 1, 1927) took place; the Jinggang Mountains of Jiangxi Province, where Mao Zedong and Zhu De (later the famous Marshal Zhu De) established the first peasant soviet (a unit of organization and a council) and the Chinese Red Army; Yan'an in Shaanxi Province, near the end of the famous Long March and the revolutionary center between 1936 and 1948. Many former residences of important party and army leaders are also open to tourists.

Since the Red Army followed the idea of rural-based revolution, most red tourism destinations are in the remote countryside.

Shanghai, on the other side, is better known for more than 60 former residences and meeting places, many of which are now museums.

The most famous red tourism spots in Shanghai include 76 Xingye Road near Xintiandi, where the first National Congress of the Communist Party of China took place on July 23, 1921, with 13 Communists including Mao Zedong. At that time, there were only 53 Communists in China. It is now a museum; admission is free.

The former residence of Zhou Enlai at 73 Sinan Road, which also served as the Party office, is also a free museum. Other notable venues include the former residence of Dr Sun Yat-sen, one of the great forerunners of the Chinese republican revolution, at 7 Xiangshan Road; and the former residence of Soong Ching Ling, wife of Sun Yat-sen, at 1843 Huaihai Road M.

The meeting place for the first Communist Party conference near today's Xintiandi is described in Shanghai as the birthplace of the Party. Its status was confirmed in 1951 when the municipal government identified and researched many historic sites.

The place was a typical Shanghai-style shikumen (stone-gated) house, owned by Li Hanjun, an early Party leader who also attended the first meeting. The meeting was held for eight days and major item on the agenda was to discuss the first draft of the Party's regulations.

But it was forced to adjourn on the last day and all participants dispersed when police from the French concession suddenly appeared to investigate.

When the venue was "rediscovered" in 1951, it had a noodle restaurant on the first floor. In 1958, the government renovated the apartment and recreated furniture to make the place look exactly like the original.

Since many Party leaders who worked in Shanghai gradually publish their memoirs, many tales to rival today's best spy plots, such as the "disguised" hospital, have been pieced together.

The underground battles in Shanghai were no less thrilling than the frontline wars.

Chen Geng, one of the 10 founding generals, worked under Premier Zhou Enlai as a spy during those years and once told his son that they were able to plan many "missions impossible" that defied imagination.

In 1929, Chen participated in a large-scale project involving more than 100 special agents in order to rescue an important Party leader.

The team was disguised as a movie company about to make some outdoor car chase and shooting scenes, which explained the large number of people holding heavy equipment.

Dozens of agents were also disguised as beggars, visitors, newspaper vendors and others and stationed in the area as pickets. So as not to call attention, they waited until just before the rescue attempt and bought dozens of new guns.

But the new weapons were covered with anticorrosive oil that required laborious cleaning. It took more than an hour to ready the weapons and they lost their window of opportunity - the rescue never got off the ground.

Unlike former residences of major figures, the venues where these thrilling tales of derring-do took place are difficult to identify, since most participants have died.


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