Last year, while reading some English-language blogs written by young Chinese, we came across an interesting phenomenon: nostalgia for the period of the Cultural Revolution. While young American and European hipsters are wearing plaid shirts, listening to vinyl LPs, and growing arugula in their rooftop gardens, their Chinese peers are frequenting tea-houses decorated with 1960s propaganda posters. It’s not a political statement, but a stylistic one: nostalgia for the period is in the air, with the really unpleasant memories of hunger, dysfunction, and political repression quietly set aside.
The Chinese government seems to be embracing this trend, as it pushes the development of “red tourism.” There has always been a market in China for travel to sites significant to the history of the People’s Republic -- travel to Mao’s birthplace, for example, or to the sites of significant battles in the war between Communists and Nationalists.
With a new generation rising, the government is eager to take the impulse and put it to political use. Although China’s President, Xi Jinping, himself spent several years living in the countryside among the peasants during the Cultural Revolution, he is presiding over the rise of a generation without direct experience of these events.
While Xi has shown evidence that he is serious about tackling China’s endemic corruption, there are other strands in
It’s being played by some official media outlets as a push-back against excesses of westernized values, and promoted as a revitalization of a distinctly Chinese way of social and economic life. In February, the People’sDaily editorialized about “decayed, outdated ideals of mammonism and extreme individualism” that had come to influence China since its opening to the west.
Patriotic tourism is the flip-side of the anti-corruption drive. On one hand, Xi is trying to convince Chinese citizens that he is serious about curbing official corruption, and on the other hand, he is inculcating a sense of national pride by encouraging Chinese to appreciate the bravery of the stalwart warriors and heroes who laid the foundations for contemporary Chinese national strength.
This is the Chinese version of the national mythologies that just about every nation has constructed as they assert themselves on the global stage, so it’s not unusual. But still, we find it interesting to observe in the light of China’s rising global ambitions. It is one more sign that China is increasingly unwilling to play second fiddle.
Investment implications: We remain concerned about the quality of Chinese accounting and appraisal practices and do not believe that many Chinese financial statements are correct. Incrementally bullish on the psychology of the Chinese consumer and prospects for reform. However some caution is warranted on the rise of nationalist sentiment and prospects for geopolitical conflict in the region.
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