The Economist: Life of the Party

Roundup: Talking About History

THE Chinese Communist Party, having celebrated 60 years in power last year, is gearing up for another big jamboree. On July 1st 2011, it will turn 90 years old. Details of the festivities are beginning to trickle out. John Woo, a Hong Kong director of action films such as “Mission: Impossible II” (starring Tom Cruise), is said to have a hand in a blockbuster being shot to mark the occasion. The makers, knowing how to pull the crowds (and please the party), are calling it, “The Great Exploit of Building the Party”. It will open some time before the big day.

If the feature film’s synopsis sounds overly familiar to Chinese audiences—it tells the story of events leading up to the party’s founding in Shanghai—a television drama being prepared for the occasion takes a more unusual approach. It is set against the backdrop of China’s preparations to detonate its first atomic bomb in 1964. Viewers are promised a wealth of little-known facts about this achievement. The party’s mighty Publicity Department (called the “Propaganda Department” in Chinese) knows how to titillate.

But I am most looking forward to the publication of “A History of the Chinese Communist Party, Volume 2”. Writing or rewriting the party’s history keeps 17,000 people employed around China, according to a recent report [in Chinese] in Southern Weekend, one of the country’s more informative and liberal-minded state-owned newspapers. But coming up with an acceptable version takes time (the party has long acknowledged that it got the date of its founding wrong—it was actually July 23rd, not July 1st—but since it was Mao Zedong who made the mistake, during the chaos of wartime, the party has dutifully stuck with it)....
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