"Forever Red": History, Theory, and Practice of Heritage Preservation in Mao Zedong’s Birthplace

Authors: Zhe Dong*, University of Virginia - Charlottesville, VA
Topics: China
Keywords: Monument, memory, China, heritage preservation
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The decades-old slogan “Long Live Chairman Mao!” never gets obsolete in the city of Shaoshan, the birthplace of the first president of the People’s Republic of China. As the central site of Mao Zedong’s commemoration since the 1950s, Shaoshan is one of the most vital places in contemporary China that demonstrate the multifaceted memories and pursuits of the country. In this paper, I examine the social history of Shaoshan’s memorial landscape, based on which I discuss the concept of “authenticity” in the local heritage preservation. The memorial landscape in Mao’s birthplace has always been in deliberate care and constant change. Over the decades, Shaoshan has become a monument city with its own preservative system and principle. This distinct memorial culture is illustrated most clearly by one of Shaoshan’s essential monuments, the vernacular farmhouse where Mao was born. As a national heritage site, the house along with its environment and interior has gone through many transformations. The aim, however, is not to preserve its original, physical setting according to an objective history, but to recreate “a revolutionary atmosphere” for the good of “mass enlightenment,” to borrow the words from a government document. I suggest that, behind this strategy lies a distinct epistemology of time, space, and place, one that is not only fostered by Bolshevick revolution but also embedded in Chinese traditional culture.

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