Early records are sparse because it was hazardous for party members to be caught with revolutionary materials, but the reconstruction of the first congress was a political, not just historical, act.
In one room a tableau of waxwork figures shows Mao, clad in a flowing blue scholar’s gown, holding forth to rapt delegates. However, he was not then the party’s pre-eminent figure. As Yeh pointed out, it was Chen Duxiu (陳獨秀), who was elected general secretary, albeit in his absence.
Samuel Liang, an assistant professor at Utah Valley University and visiting research fellow at Shanghai Jiaotong University, has described the monument as “an empty shell that attempts to eternalize a reinvented past by terminating the place’s living, natural history.”
Mao noted that a revolution is not a dinner party
“Neither is revolution, I might add for Mao, a peaceful pilgrimage to a revolution museum,” Liang wrote.
That the birthplace of Chinese communism now stands in one of Shanghai’s ritzier shopping and entertainment areas, Xintiandi, makes an odd sort of sense. Superficially, the complex’s developers preserved the traditional housing. In reality, they reconstituted facades and remade interiors. Residents made way for boutiques and restaurants. Both party and neighborhood retain their shells, but the spirit that animated them has long since vanished.
“The transformation of the area into what today is known as Xintiandi is indicative of how the party has changed from leading political — or ideological — driven governance to leading economic or developmental-driven governance,” Liang said.
How the Communist Party will evolve next remains to be seen. When Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) took power a decade ago, many hoped it would bring significant change.
“The major challenge for Xi Jinping is that he will have to confront things to convince the public that they are really serious in political and economic reform,” said Zhang Jian (張健), a political scientist at Peking University. “The steam of reform has been lost in the past 10 years and the deterioration of those economic and political conditions is making reform more and more urgent.”
Upstairs at the museum, there are no such doubts: the achievements of Hu’s tenure fill two large walls detailing the 16th and 17th party congresses. No mention is made of this November’s meeting.
“The 18th congress? It hasn’t even started yet!” exclaimed a receptionist, when asked how it might be recorded.
It would take several years to add, she suggested.
To include it, the party’s historians must once again rearrange the past.