'Red' Tours Lead Visitors Through Chinese Communist History

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An all-women combat unit dressed in revolutionary-style green caps and full soldier's uniforms are leading 'red' tourists on officially sanctioned tours of old revolutionary sites in China.

The tours are happening on the southern island province of Hainan, where groups are being led on hikes that follow a route that Red Army soldiers are said to have struggled through.

But the main attraction seems to be a 95-year-old woman named Pan Xianying, who is one of the only three remaining members of a Communist all-women army unit. Pan joined in 1931 at the ripe age of 15, the youngest in the battalion. Today visitors can join her and her husband at their home where she recalls stories of her service.

Composed of 140 women at its height, the battalion was formed by a young local Communist in a push for gender equality. The women fought rival Nationalist forces and protected party leaders, but disbanded when the Nationalists drove the Communists underground in Hainan.

The heroines have not been forgotten in China: The unit inspired a ballet, The Red Detachment of Women, that is still popular throughout the country today.

Although red tourism is hardly new in China, the tour is one of several that have sparked up to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party on July 1.

Chen Doushu, head of the agency organizing the tours, tells the Agence France Presse that red tourism reflects a desire many Chinese people have to look back at the past after more than 30 years of rapid modernization throughout the country.

"Chinese people cannot forget their history, and the best way to do that is to go and remember it, to study it. That's where red tourism comes from," he said.

Other odd tours that have popped up recently include tours of Los Angeles gang territory, a mock Mexican/U.S. border crossing role play, and trips through the slums of India.

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