When you ask someone about tourist sites in Shanghai, they’ll tell you about the Bund, Jing’An Temple and Disneyland. When you ask someone about communist-related tourist sites in Shanghai, chances are that they look at you weirdly, or at best name the classics like the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre and the site of the First Congress of the CPC.
While these two sites are definitely worth a visit, there are many more sites worth a visit for enthusiasts of commie-glam and soviet-chic. Recently, the Chinese government has been investing massively into promoting what it calls Red Tourism; that is, tourist sites focusing on important moments in the socialist history of China. The problem is that most of these sites are mostly publicised in Chinese, probably due to the fact that the average foreigner isn’t known to be interested by this kind of stuff. But then again, you’re reading this article on a website called Young Pioneer Tours Life so you’re probably not the average laowai. Here are my five recommendation for a trip in Shanghai redder than the Chairman’s undercrackers.
Admission to all of these sites is free and most of them are closed on Mondays.
Longhua Martyr Memorial Park
My first recommendation in this list of less-visited communist historical sites is Longhua Park. Located in the quiet neighbourhood of Xuhui, it is easy to access from downtown. It is a massive site with a cemetery, a museum and prison compound all free to visit.
Longhua Park was the site of a sad event in the political history of China. During the civil war pitting the Nationalist party of China against the Communist Party of China, Longhua was a Nationalist prison where Communist sympathisers were imprisoned, executed and buried.
Since then, Longhua has been turned into a vast memorial park to honour those who “died in the struggle to bring socialism to China”. It has everything that is interesting about a visit to a traditional park of China. Definitely do come here around 10 am to see old people practice tai chi, water calligraphy, dance and play weird-ass traditional instruments and sports. But what makes Longhua special is its museum and the massive socialist-realist statues around it. The Longhua Martyr Museum is a cutting edge two-storey museum with its own 3D holographic theater, multimedia exhibits and reproductions. You could spend hours going through the biographies of Chinese martyrs, all available in Chinese and English. The last part of the museum celebrates the sacrifices of daily heroes such as police officers and firefighters.
As you end your visit, make sure not to skip the restored part of the park, where you can find the actual cells that were used to imprison Communist sympathisers and the execution grounds where their lives were abruptly taken.
Shanghai Liberation Memorial and Shanghai Songhu Campaign Memorial
599 Baoyang Rd. and 1 Youyi Rd.
This one is cheating a bit since it is not one site, but two. However, if you make it that far in the suburbs of Shanghai – that is, Baoshan district – you’ll be glad to know that there are two cool museums worth your time here. The reason why these two museums are less visited is probably their location indeed. You’ll have to ride line 3 nearly all the way to its end to get to Baoyang Station. The first location to visit is the Shanghai Liberation Memorial, at a walking distance from the station.
The Shanghai Liberation Memorial is following the older style of Chinese socialist museums, with lots of reproductions, wax statues and weapons exhibited. Outside, you can see a great socialist pillar honouring those who have fallen. Next to the pillar is a museum. This museum covers a lesser known part of Chinese history; the final stages of the all-out war between the Nationalist Party and the Communist Party. Here, you can learn about the different generals that fought in the conflict and about the campaign that brought Shanghai under the CPC’s control and forced the Nationalists out of the mainland and into Taiwan. The museum ends with a cool reproduction of a warzone, which you can walk through. Surely, you will be the only visitor there! They didn’t even bother having staff in there when I went. Surprisingly, even though this memorial probably doesn’t get much visitors and is older, it has been fully translated into English.
Once you’re done with the Liberation Memorial, head to the nearby Linjiang Park to visit what has been called the Anti-Japanese Resistance Park. Here, you will find a few realist-socialist statues and a big memorial museum by the lake. The subject here is the Songhu Campaign. Some people argue that the Songhu Campaign should be considered the actual start of World War II. It is here that Japan launched its first military invasion of China. While Japan had taken Manchuria before that, it hadn’t been an open military conflict between two sovereign nations as Nationalist China had to abandon far-away Manchuria without a fight. Shanghai was the place where China started its stand. It is here that China, outpowered and outmatched by the advancing Japanese imperial army, started the long resistance campaign it knew it couldn’t win, hoping for the eventual support of a powerful western nation. In this museum you’ll learn how the Songhu campaign, the goal of which was to stall the Japanese advance as much as possible, was a horrible conflict. It shows the evolution of the conflict opposing a more or less united (depending on which historian you ask) Chinese front to the Japanese Army. Although the battle ended as a crushing defeat for China due to its outdated technologies and military technique, the Japanese were surprised by how long it took them to take Shanghai. This gave Shanghai the somber nickname of ‘Forgotten Stalingrad’.
Songhu Memorial Museum could do with more translation; only the main ideas have been translated for now. Still, it is enough to get you to learn about the evolution of the conflict, the war crimes committed during it, and the trial of the Japanese Leaders afterwards.
Chen Yun Memorial and Former Residence
If you thought the last site was out in the sticks, well, that one is going to make you think the previous ones were a walk to the convenience store. If you ever get to Chen Yun Memorial and Former Residence, you can slap a Commie History Geek Gold Medal on your breast and earn massive bragging rights in the community. For this one, if you want to avoid taking a taxi, you’re going to have to go to the end of not one but two subway lines, one which was finished only last year, and then ride a bus. Specifically, you’ll have to get to Hongqiao Railway Station, transfer to line 17 all the way to Zhujiajiao station and then get one of the many buses to Liantang village. This epic expedition will take you to a place closer to Zhejiang than the Bund, where local people speak their own dialect while still being technically in Shanghai.
At the centre of the village of Liantang is a memorial to Chen Yun, who was born here. Chen Yun was one of the members of the Communist Party of the first hour. Chen Yun spent his childhood as an orphan, had his first socialist contacts as a print union leader, and grew to be one of the top leaders of the CPC. He led troops during World War II, fought against the Nationalists, implemented massive reforms and helped rehabilitate the likes of Deng Xiaoping and Liu Shaoqi after the Cultural Revolution. One of the few icons that stayed in the party’s grace his whole life and died of old age. An impressive feat, considering that he was known for his liberalising stance during Mao’s era and his conservatism during Deng’s era.
The first thing you’ll see at the memorial is the big museum. While it is lacking some English translation, the main ideas have been translated. The circuit of the first floor goes through Chen Yun’s biography while the second floor focuses on certain achievements of the man. Behind this museum is another museum exposing artifacts and personal goods used by Chen Yun. Communist Leader paraphernalia abounds; you can see Chen Yun’s completely worn-out shoes and his old soviet camera alongside some anecdotes about his personal life.
Once you’re done with the memorial complex, head at the back to visit the humble house that was Chen Yun’s childhood home. This very small traditional stone house was Chen Yun’s uncle’s property. Ironically, Chen Yun had specifically asked for this house not to be turned into a museum but to be used to lodge the people. Sorry, Comrade Chen…
If it was only that, maybe the memorial wouldn’t be worth the long trip. However, as you get out of Chen Yun’s former residence, you’ll end up in a very quaint and authentic water town. This water town, contrary to the ones in Kunshan and Suzhou, has been spared from the masses of tourists, for now. As visiting a water town is something on the bucket list of most visitors to Jiangsu and Shanghai, why not combine red tourism and traditional tourism? You’ll have the whole place, with all its traditional building and canals, for yourself. Don’t miss Chen Yun’s second home, where he came back after World War II for a while, and a house right next to the memorial which houses busts of dozens of communist leaders and thinkers.
The Memorial of the Fourth National Congress of the Communist Party of China
Most people visiting Shanghai learn that the Communist Party of China was founded in Shanghai. In fact, the Site of the First National Congress of the CPC is on almost all tour itineraries and recommended in all guides. It is probably the most mainstream red tourism site after Mao Zedong’s Mausoleum. In my opinion, it is very often unpleasantly crowded and not that interesting. However, very few people know that the second and fourth national congress of the CPC also happened here in Shanghai. Less people even know that all three have their own complete memorial.
Now trust me: unless you are a real constitution enthusiast, you can skip the Site of the Second Congress. Apart for a table where the CPC signed the first constitution of the party, the rest of the memorial is a series of screens where you can read every different edition of the constitution. Not exactly my definition of a party.
The Memorial (we can’t say ‘site’ since the site was destroyed in Japanese bombings) of the Fourth Congress, however, is worth a visit. Located in Hongkou district, the site is inside Chengdu park and comprises a big exhibition. It is completely translated into English and avoids the trapping of the Second Site by focusing not on what was said in the Congress (engagement to combat Imperialism) but on the era surrounding the Congress. Which is a great thing, since it wasn`t the most interesting congress… Even Mao missed it (due to miscommunications but still…)! The memorial takes us around the lesser-known history of the CPC of the 20s and 30s, its failed uprising attempts, struggles against northern warlords and repression by the Nationalists. The second part of the museum is an exhibition about the CPC’s illustrious members from Hongkou district and their contributions. Here, you’ll be able to see the different national flag propositions they had and learn more about the composers of the anthem of the PRC, amongst other things.
Sihang Warehouse Battle Memorial
Our last stop is China’s Sparta Moment, the Sihang Warehouse Battle. During the Songhu Campaign, China had a moment in history that would give Zack Snyder a hard-on. Around 400 soldiers of the Chinese United Front bunkered down a warehouse to resist against countless waves of Japanese Soldiers for days. All of this happened right in front of the international community as this neighbourhood was just in front of the International Settlement (still neutral at that time of the conflict). It is a moment that has marked Chinese history, both in the Mainland and in Taiwan. Its story and tragic ending, with the leader of the company being betrayed by his own men paid by collaborationists, has been turned into movies and novels.
Now, Sihang Warehouse has been turned into a museum with reconstitutions of the highlights of the battle using lights, sounds and life-sized wax figures. While it is hard to recognise the original site due to the way the museum covers it, it is easy to follow the evolution of the battle, scene by scene. Although the exhibition clearly lacks of English translation, it is still quite enjoyable for its dynamism and it is easy to get to from the Bund or Jing’An temple.
On your way out, don’t forget to go see the side of the building, it was kept as it was at the end of the battle with mortar and bullet holes.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these recommendations about alternative sites to visit in Shanghai. It was hard to limit myself to 5 of them amongst the twentysomething sites found in the metropolis. If you’re interested in this kind of sites, you can benefit from my compulsive obsession and visit my website comradebang.com to find the internet’s most complete list of Red Tourism sites in Shanghai, complete with the address and a review of each and every one of them.
Also, YPT can organise customised private tours to any big city of China and has group tours to the main hubs of Red China. And we know all about red tourism!